Question from a reader:
I have just finished reading your book, processing all the great things you’ve written, and deciding how to apply those things to my life. I have been married for three years to someone my mom actually picked out for me to meet. The relationship between my parents and my husband quickly soured, leaving me stuck in the middle. There has been no change or progress in the last three years, and I’m exhausted. I’m so tired of worrying about what my parents think of me, my decisions, and the life I’m building with my husband. The flip side of this is that my in-laws are my absolute best friends. We are actually in the process of moving in with them while we renovate a house on their property. As excited as I am about this new adventure, I am ridden with guilt and anxiety about what my parents will say about it. Any advice on how I can settle my mind about this?
Dear Adult Daughter…
Your brain is telling you things like, “Good daughters don’t _____” and “If I were a better daughter, I’d _____” and “If my parents disapprove I will _____.”
You are imagining that they are going to say something terrible about you and you are going to believe it.
So of course you feel guilty and anxious and worried. Your brain is offering you thoughts that feel crappy.
This isn’t because there’s something wrong with your particular brain. Your brain is doing exactly what it was designed to do.
And? It’s normal to want your parents’ approval. Deep in the recesses of the most ancient part of your brain is a survival impulse. It’s purpose is to keep you safe and alive. And right now it’s being triggered because it believes that if your parents disapprove of you, you will die. Literally. At one time your survival literally depended on them loving and approving of you, right?
Your logical self is like, “Oh come on, I know this isn’t true” but to the fearful, primal self it feels absolutely true.
Your brain is saying: “If I set boundaries/do what I want, I will risk the relationship and they will feel anger and sadness and they will reject me and I will feel hurt and regret for the rest of my life.”
It’s not what happens that bothers us, it’s what we’re afraid to feel when that thing happens.
When we’re emotionally resilient, we better able to trust ourselves and thus not be desperate to control what others do or think about us.
The other thing that’s going on here is that humans are wired for belonging and connection and right now it feels to you as if you are severing it. The paradox is that the more you get to know who you are, separate and apart from them, the better able you will be to have a more genuine and honest connection to them.
And that’s what healthy, mature boundaries are: clarity about who you are, what you want, your desires and preferences, your values, your thoughts and feelings.
What’s the brave, middle path you want to walk in this scenario?
Much, much love,
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“Worry pretends to be necessary.” ~ Eckhart Tolle
“You can be happy, hurting, and healing all at the same time.” ~ Unknown