Dealing with parents.
I tell you – I’ve had a week of people having to spend some time with parents that they don’t really want to be around. Not sure if it’s the lockdowns or just life.
But – I thought – heck Rebecca (I avoided swearing – did you see that?) – you need to write some stuff down to help the people who don’t have access to therapists right now or people who don’t know where to turn.
So – let’s get right into it.
One of the most frustrating questions that I hear is “How can I make them behave differently.” Or “If I change how I act or feel – then it will all be okay, right?” BUT – you, my friend, are not the weakest link. Step away from the buzzer. Cease. Desist. The only thing you have control over is your own reactions and actions. You cannot change other people. How many times I’ve wished I could, but you can’t.
A parent won’t change just because you want them to change.
In fact, they often don’t accept that they need to change. They think that you’re the one who needs to change, and they’ll tell you and anyone else around that you’ve lost touch with reality.
Please – save yourself a lot of time and money and just accept that your parent isn’t likely to change (if they do – BONUS).
Spend your time and effort, love, and money on yourself . Building yourself up so you’re less subconsciously dependant on them. Centre yourself. Ground yourself. Realise your own resilience. Find out who you are away from them.
What help am I then?
Well – Feelings can be managed. Your own – or even other people’s that have been projected onto you. You can control what you feel, the feeling’s intensity, and whether or not you speak up or act on your feelings some other way.
You have more power over your feelings than you think, and this power can help you navigate difficult situations and events with your self-absorbed parents.
I’m going to go all out here and lay my cards on the table.
I’m going to bet that you feel 4 main feelings when you’re around your parents.
Fear. Obligation. Guilt. Shame. (Just for the record: Guilt is when you feel you’ve done something wrong. Shame is when you feel that you are wrong.)
Sometimes you might feel Anger. This actually isn’t very common and occurs pretty far down the healing process. Chances are you’re turning your anger on yourself. More on that later 😊
Being around your self-absorbed parents as an adult can trigger all your old childhood feels. Feelings like helplessness, fear, or inadequacy. Confusion. Shame. Powerlessness.
This all happens, even though you’re now a “big person” and behave perfectly maturely and confidently in most aspects of your life.
You might even run a successful company, run a household – most of us actually left home early and are hyper-independent.
When your parent is in front of you, or on the phone you become flooded with feelings from your childhood and your behaviour can regress. Very quickly. Please don’t judge yourself.
As I say – your parents put the buttons there – they know how to push them.
I actually find the phone calls worse than in-person – people’s voices age slowly. On a phone call – I can’t see the frailty of my parents and only hear the same voices I heard all those years ago. Even though I am in my 50’s – when I hear that voice, my parent is 34 and I am totally dependent on them. Texts – almost as bad.
After you do see or hear your parents, you might then take these old feelings back into your current life and start analysing yourself and your life with the same eyes that you did as a child.
You might start interpreting other people’s actions “weirdly” and be very reactive to a lot of the stuff going on around you. Generally, people who love you will wonder what the heck has happened and who took their friend/partner’s personality away. My besties get this particular look on their face – which I am making now – it haunts me. Lol.
Bringing yourself back to your current life is a process you need to learn and practice so please, please don’t get mad at yourself for having any of your reactions.
The reactions we can stop. With time and work. Pinky promise.
The most radical and scary solution is to go “No Contact” – and regardless of what people think when they read my blogs and see my posts – I rarely recommend this. So –I won’t touch on that today. It is an option – but it requires thoughtful consideration and support. It requires planning and resilience. It’s not an easy or sudden decision and should never be done to punish the parent.
1st step – Learn your feelings and give them names.
Realise they are feelings and not truth.
When you acknowledge your feelings, they let up a bit on the grip that they have. They like to be noticed. Notice them and they’ll stop kicking so hard.
Then notice if you’re adding the word “I’m” to your feelings. Like “I’m dumb”. “I’m useless”. “I’m inadequate.” “I’m powerless”. “I’m overwhelming”. Take that sucker right off the start of those sentences. Voila – now you’re “feeling” dumb, useless, inadequate, powerless, and overwhelmed. All of which might be true. You can feel these things without them being true.
Finally, the toughie – changing the wording. Writing it down can help.
“I feel dumb but I’m not dumb”.
“I feel powerless but I’m not powerless.”
“I feel ashamed, but I’ve got nothing to be ashamed of.”
I can feel you cringing and wanting to argue with me. Talk to the hand.
I get it. It’s tough as heck. But – it’s possible with practice.
2nd Step – Block the personal attacks.
Some ways that your self-absorbed parent can attack you, are by using criticism, blame, and by using devaluing and demeaning comments. They sometimes do it in private – but – they might also wait until they have an audience. They believe there’s strength in numbers. The more people hear it – the more truthful it is. Joy.
Let me delight you with some examples:
“Why can’t you ever (get it right, be more successful, look better, dress well, keep your hair fixed, and so on)?”
“You never (or you always) …”
“You ought to know (do, be,) better than that (this).”
“Your (sister, brother, cousin, acquaintance, a random stranger) can do (something). Why can’t you be more like that person?”
Your natural instinct will be to react, fight, defend yourself and all of this is very normal.
But it’s not always the best course of action.
Hands up if you’ve tried this and it backfired?
Did you end being the one who felt like they’d done something wrong?
I’ve even been known to apologise just to keep the peace. I just wanted the situation to go away – and apologising was the path of least resistance. Trust me I never heard the end of it. It backfired in all the wrong ways. I was “flaky”. I was a “liar”. I didn’t know what I thought, or meant, or wanted. They “knew me better than I knew myself”. I was “attention-seeking”. Cough.
Avoid conflict if you can. It isn’t giving in. It isn’t agreeing with them. It’s an act of self-love.
Ask yourself why you need to win.
Ask if having a disagreement or major blow-up has made you feel better in the past?
Take yourself away from the situation if you have to.
Hang up. Block their number. It’s tough but worth every second of biting your tongue.
If you can’t leave:
- Smile and fog the situation. “Fogging” means to perform emotional voodoo and completely change the discussion. Tactics for fogging include changing the topic, focusing on something totally irrelevant, and bringing something completely random into the conversation.
- Shrug your shoulders – on the outside or inside.
- Don’t try and correct facts – this will make it all worse. Trust me on this one. You’ll never get an “I’m sorry I was wrong about that.”
- Go to the toilet, check if you left your keys in the car, get something to eat or drink, check with the babysitter. Get my drift? Breathe.
3rd step: Leave others out of the conflict.
The next suggestion is to not try and gain support from other people around you at the time. When you try to include others, it makes them uncomfortable and doesn’t provide the support you were seeking.
Having said that, seek support for your position later from someone like a friend or a therapist. Some time and distance might provide you with an opportunity to be more self-reflective. It can reduce some emotional intensity.
If you feel you need support, explore this with someone you trust. Preferably someone with no connection AT ALL to your parents – or a therapist who can maintain confidentiality.
Knowing a therapist can’t talk about it is weirdly comforting. Especially when you’re used to your parents/family spreading your private information around like confetti.
4th step: Manage your feelings.
This tip sounds strange but it’s to not show your feelings on your face or body if you can—keep them private.
Use some emotional distance to prevent revealing your feelings in the heat of the moment. Your reaction – positive or negative – is what they want.
Revealing your feelings at this time won’t be helpful and can even hurt you.
Your parent has never changed their opinions because of your feelings. They may have even turned them against you to make you appear even more wrong or inadequate.
I’ll guarantee you’ve usually been left feeling worse after trying to explain things. Nothing has changed that would lead you to believe that all of a sudden, your feelings will matter to your parent.
So – 4 steps. Pop the highlights on your phone – so they’re ready and there even in the case of a surprise visit. Because we all know some parents/people like to catch you on the back foot. 😊
You can do this.
Practise with someone you trust. They can help your voice become stronger. You will get more comfortable with hearing these words come out of your mouth. It is very important that you sound firm and not like you are asking a question or permission for you to say how you feel. Do you know that little upward inflection at the end of a word or sentence? Not a good thing in these circumstances. It sounds like you’re not really sure about what you’re saying.
If you need help – and to be honest, most of us do – get some help.
Don’t do these until you are feeling fairly confident. Don’t wait for 100% confidence – or we’ll be here forever – but just enough confidence to try these 4 steps once.
The 1st time is the hardest.
One final thing I’d like to say. Doing these things doesn’t make you a bad child. It doesn’t make you crazy. It doesn’t make you selfish or disrespectful. You are not an ungrateful git.
You’ve tried being the good kid, listening to your parents, and being respectful.
This isn’t something you do for shits and giggles – and you wouldn’t be thinking about it unless you were forced into a corner.
Hold that thought – chat soon.