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I was asked recently to give advice on a friend’s struggle with her relationship with parents, especially her mother. It’s that time of year where relationships are often tested. We can feel forced to sit around the table with people whom we’d rather not share lunch/dinner/time in general, and sometimes, those people are our parents.

So, it got me thinking that perhaps the crux of our discussion over difficult parental relationships might resonate for more than just my friend right now. If you’re finding yourself in a similar place, read on.

My friend asked how she could stop the urge to continue seeking validation from her parents, and especially from her mother. She was frustrated that – even in the face of their criticism and lack of support of her life choices – she couldn’t stop herself wishing that she had her mother’s approval. She had enjoyed a loving relationship with her Mum and Dad as a younger child, but upon deciding to follow her heart as an adult and step out of mainstream corporate life, she had received verbal criticism, taunts, and even been “disowned” for a time. Here is my response:

 

Wired for Approval…

“It sounds like your parents, and especially your Mum, continue to be a significant and toxic influence upon your general peacefulness (or attempts to create peace). I can “hear” in your messages the level of struggle you are experiencing and how much hurt it’s causing you.

I wish there was an easy answer to seeking validation from parents and feeling rejected when we don’t get it, but unfortunately, “just ignore them” proves to be quite an unsuccessful therapeutic strategy! So, I promise I’m not going to say that.

I need you to understand that our brains are wired for connection. I know you already know this on an intellectual level, but I need you to understand it from an emotional level, too. In other words, it’s “normal” for you to be pulled towards wanting your parents’ approval because doing so would have protected you as a cave baby 100 000 years ago and the software of the brain remains the same today. And rejection feels like shit for everyone, no matter who you are. But how we experience that is that the heart talks and we listen and it sounds like this:

Connection = Approval = Lovable = Worthy

No approval = Unlovable = Unworthy

Our parents have a job and that job is to raise a child that has the emotional, psychological, and practical skills to survive adulthood independently. Some parents do it well, others not so much. And the part that is the most fragile to stuff ups is the development and maintenance of self worth. It seems that your Mum has conditions for what makes her child worthy and these conditions were not so obvious when you were meeting them (ie had corporate job, met expectations). Now that you’re walking a different path, one that is much more pleasing to your own heart, these conditions are blatantly in play and your mum lacks the filter, insight, and/or empathy to keep a lid on her judgements around that. It’s worth noting that your Mum’s own upbringing, beliefs, experiences and values will be influencing her behaviour. I don’t say that to excuse her, I simply say that to highlight that many people haven’t done the work to cultivate insight into their behaviour like you have, and so your Mum’s intentions may be more “automatic pilot” and less “heartless wonder” than you may realise. But we don’t know that.

Dig deep into your values…

So, where am I going with this? Well, firstly your parents rewarded you as long as your life looked as they thought it should.

Secondly, it seems that you have bought into their conditions for worthiness. Each time you feel judged based on those conditions, you feel worthless because you’re internally measuring yourself against the same yardstick. Then you feel confused because your intuition gets involved and keeps telling you that you’re much happier now and that you’re living far closer to your values than ever, so what’s the problem? And so, the internal conflict goes…and you find yourself trying to turn inside out to please them, but then feeling like a fraud when you next speak with your heart.

There are no easy answers, but I do have some suggestions, for what it’s worth:

  • Remember that because we are wired to do so, you’ll probably always wish to have your Mum’s approval;
  • If you’re determined to keep them in your life, then it’s likely there will always be a level of toxicity that you’ll have to navigate (unless your Mum and/or Dad cultivate some solid personal growth in this area in the meantime). My favourite technique for this is “Issue Bingo” where you mentally cross off every time your Mum does what you’re expecting her to do when you speak or see each other e.g. “Yep, there she goes rubbishing my business idea again.” Aside from that technique, this one is about acceptance which is definitely a practice;
  • Get clear again on your own values and how you define self worth. I am positive you don’t define worthiness as your Mum does, so gently acknowledge when you’ve defaulted to applying her definition to yourself and instead remind yourself of the actual definition in your own eyes and according to your own beliefs.
  • Forgive yourself for the struggle, and then practice stepping out of the struggle. Practice letting your Mum be as she is without having to invest into it. This one takes much more energy and conscious awareness initially, but it’s worth it; and,
  • Don’t forget, that while ever you feel that time with Mum and Dad is more harmful than helpful, consider giving them only a small percentage of your social space (any space where you connect with another human) and an equivalent amount of energy and no more. Fill the remainder of the space with people who are good for your mental health.

 

Treat yourself gently…

For anyone experiencing something similar, I hope this may be of use, at least to remind you that you’re not alone. And if it continues getting you down, please consider seeing a therapist. Unpacking these issues with a professional can be very effective.

Did this post speak to you, lovely one?

If you want to dig deeper, please check out my book, Setting Boundaries. I wrote it for you.

Setting Boundaries

Setting Boundaries will help you define your circles of empowerment. It will help you understand that boundaries are not just about knowing when to say no. Boundaries are the natural result of knowing your worth, trusting your instincts and listening to your inner leader.

In the face of ever-increasing professional and personal demands, it is easy to exhaust your time and energy in ways that don’t serve your goals or values. 

Setting Boundaries​ will help you overcome the day-to-day situations and interactions that make life difficult, like:

  • The consistently-late friend, whose repeated behaviour signifies their time is more important than yours
  • The partner who thoughtlessly assumes you will manage the home-schooling of your shared children
  • The work colleague who consistently ends up passing the undesirable tasks on to you

These ‘boundary pushers’ can leave you feeling stressed, drained or dissatisfied, but never fear, Setting Boundaries is your guide to taking your power back.

What if Your Parents Are Toxic In Your Life?

      What If Your Parents Are Toxic