How to stop needing my parents' approval?
May 29, 2014 12:25 PM Subscribe
I am trying to become more emotionally independent from my parents. I had a very traumatic experience with them many years ago, and I don't know how to resolve the lingering insecurity. Due to the nature of the trauma, I've had a lot of trouble using therapy to resolve this issue. What can I do to stop craving their approval?
posted by elasticExplosive to Health & Fitness (14 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
On the surface it looks like my parents are not exercising much influence over my life. I live with my wife in a city a few hundred miles away from them; I have a steady job with which I support myself and my wife; we visit them once or twice a year, and call them on their birthdays and Father's and Mother's Day.
I'm in my late 30s, they are in their mid-60s.
But I feel overwhelmingly restricted by my fear of displeasing them, and that seems to be keeping me from doing what's best for myself. I am deeply dissatisfied with my career and marriage, and I think I need to quit my dead-end job and separate from my wife, but I can't bring myself to make either of these life changes because I am afraid that being jobless and divorced will make me feel powerless and frustrated when I communicate with my parents. I am worried that it will make me behave weak, suggestible, and immature, which will convince them that I am not a responsible adult.
I know that plenty of people are uncomfortable about looking weak in front of their parents, but there's a more serious problem at work here: in my mid-20s, my parents committed me to a psychiatric facility.
Brief background: After college I ended up living at my parents' home without a job or life plans. They were uncomfortable with my behavior, and had me placed on an involuntary 72-hour hold.
Having done some research, I don't think my condition qualified as a grave disability, and so it's disconcerting to me that I could behave in a seemingly reasonable way and still end up confined without my consent. But I recognize that my assessment of my mental health at the time is subjective.
So I have tried to put the incident behind me and get on with my life. And I have vowed to never again put myself in a position where I need my parents to shelter or protect me.
But I can't stop wanting to please them, to show them that I'm not crazy and absolutely nothing is wrong with my life. The experience showed that even as an adult, they could take away my liberty without due process if they disapproved of my actions. It was humiliating, and it's made it difficult for me to have confidence that I'm really in charge of my own life.
A lot of things are different now: I have friends, money, my own place to live, and marketable job skills. But I don't feel confident about taking the steps that I need to do what's important to me, because on some deep level I'm scared that if I make a misstep then I'll end up at my parents' mercy again. And I am very cautious about any interactions with mental health practitioners.
The obvious solution is to get some therapy, and I've tried that, but it's very hard to open up to a psychotherapist and make any real progress, because I'm worried that if I say the wrong thing then they will commit me. And this fundamental distrust has resulted in a lot of early and abrupt terminations.
I would really like to get over this trauma, and stop putting my life on hold out of fear that my parents will punish me if I do something that they don't like. The health resources that I've used so far have been inadequate. What do you suggest?