Ask The Therapist: “I have a special needs child..and my mother-in-law constantly asks why his therapy costs so much..”

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I am a 37-year-old woman and have been married for 14 years now. I have a special needs child and am currently living with my husband, son and mother-in-law. It’s been challenging to have the latter around as she has an extremely controlling nature. We moved abroad, and I couldn’t work due to my son’s condition. My mother-in-law insisted on knowing what I did during the day, especially when it came to the things I shopped for, and would constantly ask why my son’s therapy is costing so much money, and even opposed to the idea of him getting an education, saying that we had to save money. She goes everywhere with us and comes into our room whenever she chooses. After almost 14 years of marriage, I asked my husband if we could go for a walk with our son for 2 hours every Saturday so that we can have some alone time. But after a few weeks, she threw a huge tantrum about how we are insulting her by not including her in this plan, and that she will go with us. After all these years of her controlling behaviour, my son’s condition, and me having to apologise again and again even if it’s my fault or not, I am fed up now. I question myself and wonder if I am a bad person. Am I worthless? Once or twice I thought that I should grab my son and jump from my window and at least it will be all over. I am mentally exhausted. What should I do? Going back to my parents isn’t an option.

Shahrukh’s Response:

Dear Anon,

I can only imagine the kind of emotional burden you’ve been carrying around all these years, especially if you’ve been holding in your feelings for this long. First and foremost: let’s get one thing out of the way: you are not a bad person – what you are is human, and you have your limits – just like anyone else. You seem to be carrying a great deal of weight on your shoulders and in your heart, and perhaps it might be time to put some of it down. Given the nature of our South-Asian culture, I know navigating through difficult situations with in-laws can be a sensitive issue, yet it is something that needs to be done, especially if it’s taking a toll emotionally and/or physically. Let’s talk about this a little more and see what can be done.

They Don’t Have As Much Power As You Think

When it comes to in-laws, the one thing that we don’t actually think about is why they have so much power or authority over us. Yes, they are older and our culture dictates unconditional respect, but does that give them the right to invade boundaries to the point of antagonisation? I would say not. That being said, even if they don’t have any real power, the one fundamental obstacle that comes up is the relationship between your husband and your mother-in-law. So, first thing’s first: have a conversation with him. Talk about how your mother-in-law’s controlling behaviours are making you feel, and that it is becoming too difficult to manage. Discuss what kind of boundaries need to be set in place in order for you to stay grounded, and that help you feel safer.


Boundaries Are There To Protect All Parties Involved

The word “boundaries” is thrown around a lot these days, and in the realm of our society, it’s seen as “selfish” or “western” – what people don’t seem to understand is that they are not just set to protect the person, but the relationship as well. By setting boundaries, you are giving yourself permission to present authentically in a given moment. If a person invades your boundaries enough times, it can lead to emotional exhaustion, and eventually even lead to resentment and contempt, which can be harmful to any bond.


You Don’t Need To Apologize For Everything 

Anon, I’m a little curious about why you feel you need to apologize for things that aren’t your fault? While I’m not sure about what you carry with you in terms of your history, there could be more to this – what I do want to say is that it’s okay to apologize for things that you genuinely hold accountability for, and that’s okay because at certain points we may do things that are out of line, or hurtful. However, you do not need to apologize for another person reacting badly to something like honest and open communication – you can say that it wasn’t your intention to hurt them in any way, but you don’t need to be sorry for what you feel, or for communicating it. This can be difficult to execute, especially when healthy ways of communication haven’t been modelled or taught – so if it is challenging at first, that’s okay. Take your time, and learn to forgive yourself, and to make space for how you feel, because it is valid.


Reach Out For Help

Anon, right now, my concern is the high levels of anxiety and emotional overwhelm that you’re feeling, and the last few sentences of your letter. I really, really would urge you to seek out the support of a therapist – talk about how you’re feeling with someone who would be able to assist you in regulating your emotions, and perhaps even helping you process some things that have been left unresolved. Look after yourself – you deserve better than this, and you CAN have something better than this. You have more power and strength in you than you realize, and I hope that you’re able to get the help and support that you need.



We often think that the worst thing we can do is get into conflict, we’d much rather keep the peace at the expense of ourselves than communicate our discomfort. You deserve to be heard, Anon, you deserve peace in your life, and I hope you find it. We’re all rooting for you. Best of luck, and stay in your power!

The above article is written by Shahrukh Shahbaz Malik who is trained in humanistic integrative counselling at CPDD in the UK and currently has her own private practice in Karachi. The views expressed in this article are those of one expert. They do not necessarily represent the views of Mashion, nor do they represent the complete picture of the topic at hand. This article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for medical diagnosis, treatment or therapy.

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