Virginia Ironside's dilemmas: My parents call me ugly and inconsiderate

"Faced with such powerful subconscious feelings, there’s little you can do except get the hell out of there"


Dear Virginia

A year ago I visited my parents and was told that I was ugly and inconsiderate. Some of what they said to me, I can’t even repeat to my husband, whom I trust and love. They were “too busy” to attend my graduation and never came to my wedding. When I explained how they had hurt me, my parents told me that I was hysterical and that unless I apologised, they would disown me. I have two younger brothers who are adored by my parents but who also seem to dislike me. I need some insight – this situation blights my life.

Yours sincerely, Gina

Virginia says...

It sounds as if you’re the victim of scapegoating. This is very cruel family behaviour, which, if broadened out to the wider world, can create all kinds of problems, usually racial, in which one group blames another for all their misery.

In a family, one person – usually a child but sometimes a mother or father – is scapegoated by the rest of the group. The mother may be portrayed by the entire family as an over-emotional idiot, say, and is roundly abused by the father – with the children then taking their lead from him. I’ve seen fathers scapegoated by overbearing mothers, poor men constantly put down by their wives, and told that they’re useless even by their children, who learn to despise them.

In your case, you were the child and obviously you’ve been selected by your family to be blamed for all their ills.

Why? It could be that you remind one of your family – usually the strongest – of someone they disliked very much when they were young. Or, more likely, one of the family sees in you all the traits in themselves that they fear and dislike. If they can put all their hatred and rejection of these traits out there, on to you, they don’t have to deal with them in themselves.

Faced with such powerful subconscious feelings, there’s little you can do except get the hell out of there. And if I were you I wouldn’t even write a letter or announce your withdrawal. Just refuse to see them. And I imagine that, oddly, this will make them extremely uncomfortable. Because in order to survive, your family need you very badly to be around. You’re a prop on which they can hang all their bad feelings. Take away the prop and suddenly all these bad feelings will come home to roost. They’ll have to deal with them themselves.

If you can see what’s happening as something along these lines you’ll find it easier to understand your family’s behaviour. Few of them can be blamed because I’m sure none of them knows exactly what they’re doing and the leader in all this – because there will be one who is followed by everyone else – won’t have enough insight to see what’s going on. Understanding their behaviour will, I hope, make you feel less of a rightful target of their abuse. If it hadn’t been you it could have been one of your brothers who would have been picked on and you, no doubt, as a child, would probably have followed the pattern of abuse yourself because that was how you would have learnt to survive in your family.

I’m so glad you have a loving husband. Do talk about this idea of scapegoating with him and read around the subject, too. It’s nothing to do with you. It’s the result of completely dysfunctional behaviour, initiated by someone very hurt and sick who can only exist as a person by blaming someone else. The best way to help yourself is not just to understand it but, if you can, to leave it behind completely.

Readers say...

Turn to your husband

These people do not deserve to be your parents. You are trying to be a dutiful, loving daughter and they are treating you as a nuisance. They have ignored the successes in your life and do not care whether they hurt you. I would strongly advise you to reduce communication with them to the occasional phone call, if that, at least for a while, and to turn to the people who do value you. I would also urge you to open up to your husband. Perhaps by removing this barrier of communication you have set up between you, you will find the tenderness you deserve.

Catherine Rose

Stop seeking their approval

I would cut yourself off from your parents, who seem to be uncaring and very destructive. You don’t need them, so stop looking for their approval – you are wasting your precious time. Enjoy your relationship with your husband. Get checked out by your GP, you may be depressed, possibly needing medication and/or counselling. You can chose your friends but you can’t chose your relations, unfortunately.

Linda Dickens

Put your feelings in writing

If a friend told you that they thought that you were ugly and hysterical, then they wouldn’t deserve you as a friend. If your parents have said such things to you, then they don’t deserve to be a part of your life.

The fact that they have threatened to disown you for the heinous crime of daring to share your feelings with them, speaks volumes about them, not you.

Letting them go doesn’t mean you have to stop loving them, it just means accepting that they will never be the people you would like them to be and letting go of, and mourning, the dreams you have of a mutually loving relationship with them.

Instead of suddenly cutting all ties with them you could write to each of your parents and your brothers. Let them know that you will only welcome them into your life if they treat you as though they want to be a part of your life. If that is beyond them, for whatever reason, then they do not deserve you and, for your own sake, you need to let them go.

Name and address supplied

Next week's dilemma

My birthday is next week and I’ve only been in my office for two months – it’s my first job and I’m 18. I’m not sure whether to bring a cake in or whether it’s up to my colleagues to provide one for me. I’m told differing things by different members of staff. I really don’t want to put my foot in it, and I’m not sure whether it would be a good thing to mention my birthday or if I should just keep quiet about it. Presumably people know my date of birth – or at least my boss does because it was on my CV. My friend says I’m making a fuss about nothing, but I don’t want to get it wrong because I’m enjoying my work.

Yours sincerely, Amy


What would you advise Amy to do?  Write to Anyone whose advice is quoted or whose dilemma is published will receive a box of Belgian Chocolates from


React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Junior Web Designer - Client Liaison

£6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...

Recruitment Genius: Service Delivery Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

Day In a Page

Read Next

Riyadh is setting itself up as region’s policeman

Lina Khatib
Ed Miliband and David Cameron  

Cameron and Miliband should have faith in their bolder policies

Ian Birrell
No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor