Being a parent is a tremendous responsibility by any measure and one that involves love and care. There is a danger however that parents may sometimes put a lot of pressure on their children. And, this pressure can at times be the unconscious result of shame parents may feel about their children. What complicates matters is that such parental shame can often be disguised as “caring”.
Parents seeking to impose their vision of how life-ought-to-be-lived on their children because they “care” is a telling sign of shame appearing in disguise. Such behaviour can even continue once children are independent adults and successfully following their own paths in life.
It can become emotionally very confusing for children when faced with parents who impose their ideas by saying “we just want what’s best for you”. Because of course, deep down most parents want the best for their children. What’s more, some parental concerns may be understandable fears around their children’s economic security, for example.
The problems arise when this caring is entangled with shame about children not fulfilling certain parental expectations.
World renown shame and vulnerability researcher Brené Brown describes shame as the gremlin that says “you are not good enough”.
She contrasts it with guilt, noting that shame is a focus on self, while guilt is a focus on behaviour. Speaking from a place of guilt, we might say, “I’m sorry, I made a mistake.” Speaking from a place of shame we might say, “I’m sorry, I am a mistake.”
Masquerading as caring
Parents might feel shame when their children do not fulfil certain occupational, gender or cultural norms found in their communities. And, these norms will naturally vary from community to community.
Parents who judge themselves by their family’s conformism to certain norms might feel a sense of failure and therefore shame if their children deviate from these. So, when parents insist that they “just want what’s best for you”, it is important to consider if their seemingly caring words are unconsciously entangled with their own parental shame.
In some cases, “caring” can even become a form of emotional blackmail. Such shame-driven parental pressure may end-up making children themselves feel ashamed for letting their parents down. This can become psychologically crippling for children as they feel torn between embracing the lives they want and fulfilling the expectations of their parents.
Becoming aware of any existence of such a dynamic is the starting point. Once the situation is known, conversations may need to be had and certain boundaries might need to be created. And, doing this will probably not be easy.
By approaching the situation with compassion, gratitude and confidence you can give yourself a chance. A chance to break free and create a healthier dynamic.
Compassion allows you to recognise that your parents are probably doing the best they can. Gratitude is about acknowledging all that they have given to you. Finally, confidence is about believing in your own path no matter how different to their expectations that might be.
Ultimately, only you can decide what is right for you!
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