I listen to someone last week talking about four types of personalities we all surround ourselves with: people that support us unconditionally to pursue our dreams, people that are neutral to us, don’t care/don’t bother type, people that love us but bring us down and people that don’t like us for different reasons and try to hurt us or hold us back. When I think about this categories, people come to mind very easily: my husband, my mum, my former boss.
I found very interesting the type of people that love you but because over-protection, jealousy, fear…they don’t like you to fly too high. They like you to be independent, they like you to be happy…but they can’t stand that you suffer, or leave your comfort zone or struggle. I think it is a very human feeling to try to spare the pain of people we love, but at the same time, feeling uncomfortable and leaving the comfort zone are the only ways to grow and expand our horizons.
Mums seem to frequent this category. The love us soo much they want to make sure nothing bad happens to us. It happens with my mum all the time. When I told her I was going to enrol in an MBA program (I had a 18 month old baby and pregnant with my daughter and was living in Sydney with my husband) she freaked out. Her first reaction was: your are not going to be able to do everything! you are gonna get sick! As Always with her, my first reaction was trying to calm her down, saying that all will be fine, that I will manage. But that’s not what she needed to hear, neither I wanted to be listening to her projected fears. I wanted to hear: wow, you are so brave. I know you can do it even if it’s hard, and I will be here to support you and help you if you need. By the way, that’s what she always does. She supports us and helps us, but from a place of fear and mum-coming-to-the-rescue, more than in a positive way.
Of course, I understand where she’s coming from. She finished her bachelor when my two sisters that are 11 months apart, where four and five. She had no support and no one really advocated for her and told her how brave and strong she was to do so. She was just judged by other people and felt isolated. My grandma told her “a madam doesn’t work”, which is funny because then my father lost the job and my mum was the one supporting the family for a while.
Because of her fearful reactions I started to stop telling her about the new challenges I was embarking on. I wanted to share them with her, but last thing I needed was her telling me all the possible catastrophic scenarios and negative outcomes.
I truly believe that the way parents talk to us become our inner voice, and for me, that voice telling me that you are not capable, has been the root of many of my insecurities and lack of self worth. Didn’t matter how many things I accomplished because I thought that I was not capable of doing them, so I tended to sabotage myself a lot. When I dropped an English course that she paid for because it was from 7 to 10 pm two days a week, she almost praised me for it, rather than telling me to persevere. So even if in many different context she showed me her appreciation and never actively told me that I was wasn’t worth it, she never told me the opposite either.
For me the way to deal with it is as follows:
1- Empathy: I understand where she comes from and the lack of support and advocacy she had for herself. I understand that she feels she worth nothing so it is hard for her to teach other people to do so. Even if she does in theory, as kids model after their parents, her actions taught me that if she wasn’t worth it, neither was I . So, keeping in mind that she doesn’t know any other way to it and she is not even aware of it .
2- Break the silence and raise awareness: I force myself to tell her my challenges and listen to what she has to say. I ask her: why are you scared? I noticed that you are freaking out about this thing I just told you… you seem scared about this…….what do you think that would happen?…open questions like this so she feel understood. Also by saying things out loud, her stress levels come down and she calms down and see my challenge from my point of view and my context, rather than from hers. Also by saying things like “you look very scared about this” I state for her and myself that is her fear not mine, that is how she sees not how I see it, and most importantly, not how actually it is.
3- Replace her voice with my voice: her thoughts and fears affect me in a deep way and can make me feel that I actually can’t. So after I tell her my challenge and listen to her concerns, I tend to leave it there. I don’t defend my position, I don’t try to convince her. I remind to myself I AM CAPABLE OF DOING IT AND HER FEARS ARE NOT MY FEARS ANYMORE.
4- Write to her after few days: Then I move on with my day and usually a day or two later I send her an email or a voice message that goes like this:
Mum, I understand your concerns about the thing I mentioned yesterday. I know you think it is challenging but that’s what I am doing it. It is important for me, it is a positive thing and I have thought about pros and cons deeply. I am very excited and I appreciate you say you will support me. I will need your encouragement and your kind words, so thanks for being there in a supportive way for me. I will feel very accomplished and proud once I have done, and I will learn a lot along the way.
I wait a couple of days so her fear is not so overwhelming. I also prefer writing so I have the time to say what I really want to say and her objections don’t make me lose track of my thoughts and jumping to defense mode. When I write I am connected to the point I want to make and I am not carried away by the conversation. I feel more powerful and strong, but because she is not in front of me, I am not trying to control her emotions saying things I don’t believe in.
Usually she is very grateful of this messages, as she also needs time to process and digest the information. she is able to think about her fears and come back to me in a more positive way that I really appreciate.
I would love to listen to your experiences with these type of personalities and how you deal with them!