One reason that we can feel stress when interacting with our parents is that no matter how old we are, we naturally revert back to feeling like a child. We can be a 50-year-old badass, in-charge, successful adult, but when we are in the presence of our parents, we resort to the little child who desires our parents’ approval, the little girl who wants to be nurtured, or the little boy that longs to please.
As infants and children, we work for our parents’ approval because that dictates our survival. If you’re 2, and your parent doesn’t approve of you, chances are you might not get fed! So the infant, toddler, and child in us are programmed to please and seek support.
And let’s face it, there’s nothing like being around our parents to instantly wake those love hungry children within us right back up!
So how do we deal with this craving for approval that can be uncomfortable or even lead to hurt or rejected feelings? How do we show up as adults even in the presence of our parents?
When you’re with your parents, the first thing you’ll want to do is to tune into your feelings. Often, we don’t give ourselves enough space or quiet time to actually feel what’s going on inside us and instead, we react to these unidentified feelings. Suddenly we have no idea why we feel irritated with our mom or frustrated with our dad. We are uncertain as to why we feel sad or wish to run away.
When we’re with our parents, our unhealed inner child’s hurts get activated. The awareness that the feeling is old can help you remain anchored in the present moment of your adult self.
Once you identify the feeling and trace it back to its childhood roots, you can then identify what your needs are in the moment and either meet them for yourself or share openly with your parents about what you’re needing. It’s ok as an adult to say things like, “Mom, I just need a hug and for you to tell me you love me,” or, “Dad, I would like to know if you’re proud of me and why.”
It’s the inner child who is confused or sad about what he or she needs. It’s the adult you who can identify the need you have and ask for it to be met.
If you really want to take this to a deeper level, do a little self-reflection before you gather for the holidays. Do this by diving back into your childhood either on your own, with an insightful friend, or with a professional therapist or healer. Look honestly at your childhood and identify the needs you had that may not have been met. Explore the times when you were neglected (and that doesn’t mean your parents were bad parents – it means that they were parents. It’s impossible to be attuned to someone’s every need, and children often can’t or don’t communicate what it is they are needing.) Once you’ve identified and explored your childhood, you’ll be more aware of your triggers and able to better identify them at the family gathering.
Here’s to being the best version of your adult self even when in the presence of your parents. Know your past. Know your triggers. Know your needs. Know how to self-soothe. Learn to ask for your needs to be met. After all, that is the best holiday gift we could give ourselves and our relationships.