I was recently speaking on a panel of experts on awakening your best self. A young woman raised her hand and asked what to do if she knows what she is passionate about, but she doesn’t feel supported by her family. "Where do you draw the line? How far do you let your family in when you feel like they are not really on board with your dreams?" she asked.
What an amazing question, I thought.
Here are a few things I knew about this woman just based on the fact that she posed that question:
1. She loves her family and they probably love her too, otherwise she wouldn’t care to even have this conversation.
2. Her love for her passion was also substantial and real, because she knew that she needed to implement boundaries with her family in order to prevent sacrificing her own journey.
3. She was hurting at the thought that part of her was not accepted and not recognized as worthy.
Family is tricky and often the source of immense love and immense pain. As we grow up, we transition from being completely dependent on our parents for the essentials like food and shelter, and as guidance figures who teach us how to make it in the world: how to interact with others, how to choose right from wrong, and how to carry ourselves in order to create successful lives. These are all valuable lessons during which we learn that our parents' approval matters. However, at some point during puberty, we begin to develop our independence and ideally become our own guide for what’s right and wrong. We want to become our own stamp of approval.
As we adapt to new circumstance, our parents have to as well. The child-parent relationship takes on a new face. Our parents must also learn how to adjust and withhold their own judgement so that their child can learn to trust herself/himself. This is often a difficult phase and can become quite painful when these familial relationships shift from treating a child to treating an adult.
In my coaching practice, I see many women struggle with this issue of setting boundaries because they fear that they will be disliked, seen as selfish, or maybe even abandoned. And so they continue to make decisions in their lives that are based on fear of disapproval rather than on their love for something they really want to do in their lives. Some women even go as far as sacrificing their own health and well-being to appease their family's immediate wants.
The essential lesson is in learning how to create boundaries that don’t come at the expense of our relationships with those we love.
Here are five steps to take in order to follow your dreams without losing your family relationships:
1. Create awareness.
Notice when you make decision that puts the needs of others before your own. Pay attention to when your energy gets drained. Witness yourself. How does it feel if you ditch your dreams? What’s it like for you to feel disapproved of?
2. Begin to implement one small boundary at a time.
You have every right to create the life you desire, so begin to carve out small spaces for your true self to shine through. For example, answer the phone a little bit less often or say that you will have to call someone back when you have more time. Quit being available 24/7. Once you become comfortable with that, create a slightly bigger boundary. For example, resist the urge to ask others what they think you should do and instead tell them what you have planned. Begin to take more ownership over the life you want to create for yourself.
3. Shift your mindset.
The intention behind your boundaries is not to keep your family out. The intention is to live the life of your dreams and be who you really are. In everything we do, it is incredibly important that the motivation behind our actions is rooted in positivity and in our authentic desires rather than in negativity or fear!
4. Stop being apologetic about yourself and your dreams.
If you act as if your decisions are offensive, wrong in other people’s eyes or will draw disapproval, that is what you will get. Instead, practice saying what you have planned for yourself with confidence and passion in your voice and body language.
5. Get a great support system of friends and people who DO "get you" and your dreams.
They say you cannot pick your family, but I would like to challenge that: as we get older, we choose our friends and we choose our partner. These people become our family as well, so make sure you choose these people wisely. Ask yourself, “Does this person love me for me?” Share your dreams and passions with those who get you.
I know this can seem daunting, with all the emotions tied up in family dynamics, but I know you can do this. It’s OK to take it slow and it’s OK to mess up. Give yourself permission to learn these skills over time. Now, what dreams do you want to really commit yourself to?
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