Is The Fear of Letting Your Parents Down Stopping You?

In the book, ‘Think Like a Monk,‘ Jay Shetty writes:

I see this fear around my parents – of them not getting along and of me, at a young age, trying to mediate their marriage. Of thinking, how can I please both of them? How can I manage them and make sure they’re happy? That’s when I find the root of my fear. What am I really scared of. I am afraid that I can’t make my parents happy.

As a child, I feel I had parents who were extremely supportive of me. They helped me enhance my skills and always pushed me to be better than what I was. They wanted me to be academically proficient but also wanted me to explore all my non-academic possibilities. And I’ve always felt that I come from a position of privilege. I grew up in a household where I could voice out my repulsion towards ideas and beliefs that I did not agree with. Moreover, as I grew up, my elders evolved with me.

This evolution of thought in my elders is a position of privilege for me because these were liberties that not many children my age had access to. And this is where I want to define my ideology of ‘supportive parents.’ When I say ‘supportive,’ I define it with a reasonable bandwidth because I believe that the generation our parents have descended from, some pushback towards newer opinions is natural. Nevertheless, if your parents have had a rigid set of beliefs but they have been willing to have a discussion around understanding your perspective and needs, I’d call them supportive.

Why I’m clarifying on these aspects is because – this discussion is not a criticism on parents. This is a take on kids who have been unable to express their selves in spite of having supportive parents because they are the ones who held themselves back.

With all this context in place, let’s come back to where we started. Do you think you’re so scared of letting your parents down that you’ve stopped standing up for yourself?

Let me tell you about my personal experience with this:

Being scared of letting my parents down has been a part of me since forever. There have been pathways that I never wanted to take. There are decisions that I feel I emotionally coerced myself into pursuing. And for the majority of my teenage years, I believed that my parents were to blame. I believed that they would never understand what I wanted out of a career. The worst part about this is that I never even tried having a candid discussion with them about this.

When I was 14, I tried a meek attempt at telling them that I’ll probably switch my field of knowledge. They were terrified, especially my dad. Frankly, I would be too – because I made this statement three days prior to the last day of filling in my college applications. There was a fit of tantrums from both ends, but ultimately they left the decision-making to me.

Now, I knew that no matter what I chose that day, my parents would try their best to guide me through that decision. However, my final call was calling truce at the age of 14. I ended up choosing what I felt would please my parents. That was no shocker there, I’ve been a people pleaser all my life. All that followed was me blaming them for the next 6 years until I underwent therapy.

During one of my sessions two years back, my psychologist told me, “Nobody ever forced you to pick a field you weren’t interested in. You chose it for yourself and you ended up not being happy with your decision. And even then, you had all this time to switch. You could’ve gone back and explained why you did not want this anymore. Why do you want to keep blaming them for your decisions?”

That conversation changed the way I viewed my life. I realized that I had simply been cribbing about being wronged by my parents because I did not like my life the way it was. Yes, I wanted change and I also wanted growth. But the truth is – I was scared of making my own decisions because sooner or later, I would have to own up to them. The easier alternative was to make a decision where I could blame others if anything went downhill.

Taking that decision at the age of fourteen was also about me not wanting to face conflict so that I could continue feeling like I deserved the love my parents were showering on me. I remember even lacking the courage to research on alternate options because I was so scared of letting my parents down. I accepted my current situation to be the ultimate truth of my life. I never fought the people-pleaser in me. All I wanted was a person to blame when I was the one who was chicken-hearted.

It was really difficult for me to accept this because I had always believed that I was loved because I did things for people. But that decision was disrupting my internal relations with my parents and I had to find a healthier way of showing mom and dad that I loved them. And so it began, I started backing off of all those decisions that I took to please them.

Honestly, it wasn’t that difficult. All I had to do was sit them down and tell them this is not what I want. Suprisingly, there was so much of support that I received from them. This also made me realize that my internal dialogue was what convinced me that they won’t understand whereas all it took was a moment of courage to just speak up. Yes, they took some time and there were lots of initial questions. However, they ended up understanding me and being so supportive of my needs. I can only imagine how difficult it must have been to adapt to the idea of me not wanting to pursue my previous field any longer.

All I remember now is that although I faced some resistance in the beginning, it was not the end of the world. Of course, it was difficult taking the first step, but no relationships were strained. No love was compromised. If anything, I felt more loved than I ever have. I felt like my feelings were acceptable and my worth was not dependent on making my parents happy.

When I reflected back on my life, I realized that I was always in control of what happened. I could have always been the driver, not the passenger. What an amazing ride it would have been. For years, I had pre-determined how my parents would feel about my decisions. In conclusion, it was a hard (and long) way for me to understand that if you don’t ask, the answer is always no!

What you can do about this:

All I’m trying to say in this 1000-word narrative of my life is – don’t hold yourself back. Life has a way of surprising you. And maybe today, you feel like your parents won’t understand you but don’t make this decision for them. Go ahead and talk to them. Address the things that are important to you. You might face some resistance, but you might also end up realizing that they were always on Team You! They’ll definitely need you to guide them with understanding what’s important for you and what makes you happy. Nobody else can fill in this gap but you.

What I also suggest based on my own experience is start taking charge of your life. If you’re a people-pleaser, start the journey of recovering from it today. Try to be a little more diligent about what is important to you as a person. You’d do so better in life if you could invest some time into understanding what your values are and whether you’re living a life that supports them.

With me, I did not ask for what was important to me because I wanted to continue believing that my parents are happy because of me. Because I made a compromise.

Spoiler, they never wanted me to “compromise.”

Think Like a Monk has been an amazing read for me. And I would love for you to grab your own copy on the way home. The book is loaded with life lessons and inspirations. You can get your own paperback here.

Until next time!

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