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Family's contempt eats at out-of-work woman

Out-of-work woman bothered by family's contempt

Q: I have been unemployed (laid off) for a year now, and had to move back home with my mother.

Here's my problem: I am jealous of my brother and his wife. They have a combined income of $200,000-plus. The other day my 10-year-old nephew, in so many words, called me a loser.

On some days I really do feel like a loser. My brother and his wife are looked upon like royalty in our family, and I'm the 40ish, never-married, mean spinster sister. It's hard to put on a happy face when they and other family members come around, when I'm scared about my future. And their life is just grand. So how does one move past jealousy?

Don't Want to Be Jealous

A: It's impossible for me to discern whether your brother and his wife have helped to marginalize you as "loser/spinster," or whether that's your doing alone. But if they look down on you for being single or getting laid off, or if they are raising an entitled or contemptuous child, then life for them isn't "just grand."

I feel compelled to point out the obvious, that a healthy income doesn't make your brother and his wife good or admirable people; healthy priorities do.

Letting their kid go uncorrected when he fails to treat an adult relative with courtesy and respect would mean their priorities are suspect at best, as would treating you as anything less than the equal you are.

How your family treats you may seem like a subordinate issue to the jealousy, but your jealousy is just a symptom of your dying sense of self-worth. The way they treat you will tell you what demon you must slay to revive it — a personal one, where you feel inferior despite your family's support and enlightened values, or a family-culture one, where lifting yourself up means walking away from a familial value system where trappings pass for success.

A personal battle is one best launched in your doctor's office, with a screening for depression. Even with a known situational explanation like joblessness, a low mood can give way to clinical depression.

For a cultural battle, start by identifying those who would undermine your progress, and work to minimize both their presence in and impact on your life. It's not easy to break familial habits (that might just hold up as my understatement of 2011), especially while living in their petri dish of origin, but force the issue anyway, and here's why: You need you to have your back for the next step.

That step is to search out and stick to, deliberately and with the same urgency as you're seeking a job, a sense of purpose that doesn't lie in an employer's control.

It doesn't matter whether it's to help the needy or create beauty or get in shape or learn a skill or promote a cause or clean up a neighborhood park; what matters is that you and/or the world will be better for your having done it. Push, improve, repeat.

When you see value in your contribution — vs. compensation — you'll feel more control and less envy.

And when a 10-year-old tries to knock you, you'll be more inclined to think, if not actually say, "Talk to me when you grow up."

Family's contempt eats at out-of-work woman 01/04/11 [Last modified: Monday, November 7, 2011 1:52pm]
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