Why Family Pressure Is Heavy Pressure and How to Lighten the Load

Even the people I know with really good people skills are often little babies when it comes to handling family pressure on them to think, feel or act in certain ways. They may be able to easily refuse a colleague’s invitation to go bowling, but when mom asks them to visit for dinner, they just can’t say no.

The fact that our families have more influence on us than most other people is not all bad of course, considering they do play a big role in our lives. But this is the first layer. Beyond it, there is a huge ability of many close family members to pressure us into doing things we don’t really want to do and we don’t regard as good for us.

I have seen people get in and out of jobs, colleges, marriages and cities in order to please their families. Close family members often have this way of pushing our emotional buttons and making us comply with them even when it would be saner to nail our heads to the wall.

First of all, it’s important for us to understand why. Looking at this phenomenon in terms of people skills and attitudes, I conclude that there are 2 major factors at play.

  1. Family members know what buttons to push. Having usually spent a lot of time interacting with us, they understand our needs, our vulnerabilities and our emotional buttons. And consciously or not, they use this knowledge to pick the right channels in order to make us conform to their desires, even if those channels involve emotional manipulation and putting pressure on us.
  2. We give family members a lot of meaning. We generally perceive disappointing a family member as something very bad, which will affect us greatly. And because of this, so it does: at an emotional level. We add so much meaning to what our parents, brothers, wives or husbands think and feel about us, that we can’t tolerate emotionally not to please them. 

You can’t really influence the first factor. It’s natural for close family members to know which buttons to push, and it’s pretty much impossible to get them to not use this knowledge in a manipulative way if they do. What you can control is the second factor.

Putting things back into proportions. Talking in practical consequences, it is relevant for us to please our family. It’s not very fun to live with a parent or a wife who thinks you’re an idiot because you got on the wrong career path and who treats you like one.

But at the same time, we blow things out of proportions in this area. A lot of the practical negative consequences of not pleasing our families our simply dramatized in our heads. We delude ourselves into believing it’s intolerable to not make your parent proud, your family happy, when it’s mostly water under the bridge.

We set ourselves up to fail by thinking that the approval family members can give us is a must now, just as it seemed when we were 6. However, we are not 6 anymore, and our options have improved significantly. We have options to distance ourselves from family members who don’t appreciate us and to not tolerate rude treatment from anyone. This is a big part of what having good people skills is all about.

Once you realize the kind of power you really have and the kind of obligations you don’t, things naturally get put into their real proportions. Families become relevant but not essential, family pressure is something you no longer feel, and you are emotionally free to follow your own way in life.

Image courtesy of woodleywonderworks


  1. Lol, I think the first no is the hardest for both parties but after that it gets easier and they realise we still love them even if we can’t talk to them on the phone every day!:)

    • I agree Annabel. Once family members realize that a no is not the same as rejecting a person, the relationships between them improve.

  2. Personally, I do not identify myself with the family. This does not mean that I do not love them, but it means that I will make it clear to each of my family members that they can not affect my choices, and I will not interfere in their choice.

    Often I see people who are guided by “the opinion of the family” and I am firmly convinced that this is not the best solution.

    Interesting, informative article Eduard… Continue the good work. 😉

    • Marko, This is something I would like to see more people learn: not identifying with their family, with how other family members feel of what they think.

  3. I couldn’t agree more. Well put.

    Family members do know where the buttons are don’t they. But it’s important to remember how practical there advice maybe and where it’s coming from. Most opinions expressed from family members that conflict with what you are wanting to do are usually give through a fear of your potential failure (and your protection from it) and through a realisation that you are living a life they want for themselves.

    • Ben, I see this fear of failure manifesting a lot when family members give advice (or sometimes commands). They usually mean well, but their fears get the better of them.

  4. I am very guilty here – and for all my life I have put so much stake in what my parents think. In the recent years only I have learned to do as I please and so long as I am a good kind sincere and loving daughter, I can live the life I wish – and it will never be the life they wish for me….the worst was when I was living the life I lived and had guilt all over me. Now slowly the guilt is lifting too. Thank you for touching on a sensitive topic!!!

    • Farnoosh, on thing I like about you is how you openly admit your mistakes and then set off to do something about them. That’s very rare 😉

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