“If you felt as a child, or even now, a lot of anxiety being around your parents or fearful of being judged by them, that energy is going to come through in your relationships now. Interesting, right?”
This is what I said to a client of mine.
She has a strained relationship with her parents. She feels they are highly judgmental so she’s found a way to keep them at arm’s length, especially when it comes to her life, so that she doesn’t have to feel diminished or small when interacting with them.
This I totally get.
And yet there’s a missing piece. I’ll tell you in a few.
When our parents are consistently cautious and protective, which every parent is on some level, what that translates to as we grow up is judgment, mistrust, feeling misunderstood, and not feeling seen.
I can see, after having Sohum, how that protective parental instinct is needed. Sometimes as children, it is absolutely wanted as a way to feel safe.
But there’s a fine line; one that’s hard to put our finger on. In some moments, that protectiveness can feel suffocating versus freeing. And if you’ve had a lot of those suffocating moments with your parents, it can feel hard and hurtful.
Back to my client.
She knows, in her mind, that her parents love her, but through all of their protecting she’s felt crushed and very unexpressed, which has her feeling unloved emotionally.
Especially with her Dad. She feels her Dad can’t handle her emotions and makes her wrong for even having them.
So, when I asked her to talk with her Dad to let him know how she’s been struggling in parts of her life and how she’s been afraid to tell him because she doesn’t want to be judged, that was really hard for her to swallow.
I said, “When you experience with your Dad the opposite of feeling judged, which is feeling gotten, understood, and supported, then that belief that says ‘it’s not safe you’ll be judged’ can’t coexist.
If you can’t open up to your parents, the two people that created you out of love and would die protecting you, then how can you really let others into those deep sometimes darker parts of yourself where true intimacy lies?”
Note: this was something that made sense for my client to do.
She said to me, “But I have no problem opening up and telling my friends everything. I can even tell a stranger more about my life than I can my parents.”
I said, “Yes and here’s the distinction.
First, it’s easier to tell a stranger anything because you have NOTHING to lose.
Second, let me ask you, do you find yourself holding back or adjusting how you say things with those closest to you?
Do you after sharing something vulnerable, retreat into your head, wondering what they think of you?
If they didn’t respond the way you wanted, do you start to obsess and feel insecure about how much you revealed?”
She thought about it and said, “YES. I do this in every single relationship in my life. When sending an email at work, I obsess and think how I will be judged or perceived by writing this.”
As she thought more about it, she saw how her fear of being judged was infused in every interaction she was having.
This blew her away.
I said, “It stems from feeling this way with your parents. A belief was ingrained a long time ago to always “look” a specific way to stay safe. Hence, why your parents feel so judgmental.
But here’s the thing, staying safe in this way isn’t getting you what you want. This way of being is exhausting and in fact in many cases it’s holding you back, right?”
She said, “YES absolutely. I just didn’t know that it was connected to my parents.
And me opening up to my Dad will help me to stop feeling so judged by people in my life?”
“YES,” I said.
“When you experience with your Dad the opposite of feeling judged, which is feeling gotten, understood, and supported, then that belief that says it’s not safe you’ll be judged can’t coexist.”
She took a deep breath in and asked, “So what am I supposed to say to my Dad? This isn’t easy, it goes against everything I’ve told myself for years, and yet I get it’s important.”
“If in the conversation he starts to default into what feels like judgment to you, just let him know that it’s hurting you or that it’s making you feel misunderstood so that he’s aware of how it’s coming across. And then let him know you just need him to listen, ask more questions, or ask him to clarify what he means.
This will help you to stay engaged to move through the belief and not shut down.”
Through this conversation she was cracked open and motivated to let her Dad know what she needed.
I will keep you posted on how it all goes.
But regardless of how it goes, it will be transformative for her to open up and express herself, with the intention to experience understanding over judgment.
Do you feel judged by your parents? What would you love to hear from them?