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.
- 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.
- 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