Carl Jung said "People will ask you what you are, and if you do not know, they will tell you."
Unfortunately, people also start "telling us" who and what we "should" be at a very young age, even before we begin to realise who we really are ourselves (and should we try to express that, if it is not in alignment with the "scripts" of those who care for us, it is often dismissed or suppressed by them). Of course this is not to say that all learning and behaviour "tweaks" are bad...it's extremely beneficial to learn to "persevere" when maybe your instinct is to give in; or it's wonderful to know that if you are discerning in who you approach for help/companionship/or indeed anything, you might receive the support you have been seeking; and it's certainly helpful to be taught - or perhaps empowered - to problem solve with help rather than think it's ok - my "golden parachute*" will sort all of that out.
*sometimes known as "helicopter parent" (does everything with or for) or "snow plough parent" (clears obstacles)
Related to that last point about empowerment, some people may also find themselves in a situation where everything is handed to them - but it is not what they wanted, and they face the dilemma of seeming ungrateful, while knowing that although their physical needs may have been met, their emotional ones were neglected, dismissed or "overruled" by trappings of gifts eg: I'll get you a car, so that means you don't have to go out and work; I'll buy you that course so that you don't have to "try and make it as an artist".
Emotional neglect, especially when physical or financial input was given in abundance, is one of the hardest dilemmas people face when it comes to living authentically. While of course I am not dismissing how hard it is to even survive without financial or physical support, there can still be a sense of freedom of knowing you are on your own, compared to (and I know how it sounds), - knowing what you will have to lose first.
"Symptoms" of emotional neglect (when physical and financial needs are met)
- You seek the approval of your parents, even when you "know" you don't want nor need it, AND when you really wish to pursue whatever your path is, regardless of what they say (but you still would prefer it for them to say yes!)
- You may not have learned to "stand on your own" - your experience may be of your parents bailing you out or solving your problem (sometimes by being able to throw money at it), and as such you may struggle with solving problems without going directly to "paying for it to be fixed".
- You may lack structure because it's "OK to drift" in that you have a lifeline financially...there's no real fear, except your own pride, in "playing life by ear"...related to this, your parents may even have told you "it's important to find what really makes you happy" - and nothing is quite perfect (because of course EVERYTHING has difficult moments, and we DO need to persevere through them for the true rewards!)...but you may end up choosing "nothing" for longer than is healthy.
- Because of your privilege and because you have not really been allowed to sort out your mistakes, you may not have learned to be discerning with your choices, especially when it comes to friendships. In the first instance, money may be your method of connection - but (and you, being the child, are a different case(!)), money tends only to bring those who seek money to you...rather than those who want a true authentic (warts n all) relationship.
- You might even judge relationships based on how much they "give" you in a material manner - because this is what you have learned yourself - money seemed to buy you...
- ...and then you experience the pain that you may have been bought!
Accepting your situation
One of the most important things you can do for yourself is remind yourself that ANYTHING your parents gave you - even though their intention may well have been to "control your choices" in some way is to be treated as a gift. When you gift something to someone, aside from a note of appreciation, what they then choose to give to you is then YOURS to do with what you wish, and without strings attached (unless there was an explicit agreement, for which you would have needed to be made aware of the terms clearly!) Yes you were privileged, but also YES, your parents probably also need to be grateful you didn't spend it all on nefarious means!!!
Tip 1: Unless there was an explicit agreement, just because your parents gave you "x", doesn't mean you have to become "y" because that was their intention. (Or more simply, try not to add guilt into an already complex emotional state).
While perhaps you may feel let down, or even angry that your parents deprived you of the opportunity to learn (by picking up after you...although you might have thought you were lucky at the time), remember it is never too late to learn, to ask, to reach out - on your terms, AND the fact that you are doing it, when the other option (phoning home) really IS the "easy one available to you" is something to be proud of.
Tip 2: You may not be as adept as others at "sorting out your life for you", but any step you take towards it, is a start and is a win. Be aware that your parents may still try to guide you, and even offer you more to solve whatever predicament you are in - and it is always your choice to take it or not, but just remain aware of what the consequences may be of taking that help - when you now know it may not be pure in intent. Refusing it also helps you live within your means, and may even help you to be more creative in working to get what you want or need.
Tip 3: And try to work out who it is you really are by getting in touch with:
- Your values: what behaviours do you stand for, and how do you want others to perceive you?
- Meaning: what do YOU enjoy - pure and simple!!
- People who love you for you: and spend more time with them
Of course, if you are doing this at the age of 45, it is harder than recognising and addressing it at the age of 25, BUT it doesn't mean it cannot be done. It may mean some lifestyle changes, it may mean making new or different choices, but each step you take, if you are aware of your values and what is meaningful to you (and your network is of those who accept rather than "tell"), is a step towards authentic growth.
And when it comes to supporting your parents in turn - perhaps your option will be a financial one only, but remember while it may not have been malicious nor deliberate, that may be the language of love that they understand the best.
Money can just be money, it doesn't always get to talk!
Dr Audrey Tang is a chartered psychologist and author with a specialty in the practical "how to take action", rather than just giving explanation and advice. Listen to her podcast Retrain Your Brain here; or her Radio Show "The Wellbeing Lounge", and catch her practical masterclasses Psych Back to Basics on DisruptiveTV & Energy Top Up for resilience. For self development tools based within positive psychology: click Her YouTube Channel . Twitter/IG @draudreyt
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