At work, I saw a video posted on a lecture given by Lord Richard Layard, author of the book, Happiness: Lessons From a New Science. He mentioned various stress levels and how a healthy amount of stress can actually stimulate people to be more productive and successful while high levels of stress are actually debilitating and harmful.
This idea causes me to reflect on my life and all the moments of healthy and high stress I have had to deal with. I’m sad to say that most of my high stress experiences were from my youth and adolescence out of fear of facing my father’s wrath over things that are now quite trivial and down right stupid (failing an exam and shaving my legs, respectively).
Most recently, the debilitating high stress I experienced was from grad school drama but the follow-up to that was yet another showdown with my father, this time as an adult. With the help of the university counseling center I was better able to understand our dynamics as a power struggle and better manage my need for dad’s approval so that I could keep my integrity in tact and follow through with the decisions I wanted to take. About a month ago, however, while pursuing knowledge on a separate matter, I came across another dynamic that has turned out to be the holy grail of answers that I’ve been looking for to help understand my dad better.
My entire life, I have interpreted my dad’s criticisms and frustrations as meaning that I was a disappointment. If he viewed me as somehow “not good enough” therefore it must be true no matter how much I may disagree with it. And as a child dependent on parents to understand the world, it’s easy to become emotionally fused and lose, or never catch hold of, our own sense of self, independent of another person’s perceptions.
The truth is, my dad’s criticisms and frustrations had little to do with me and EVERYTHING to do with his inability to manage his own anxieties. Because of his inability to manage his anxieties, I was always the victim of his perpetual concerns which continue to this day. Although well-meaning, his intrusiveness and hovering behavior have made him over-bearing and suffocating to be around. But the bottom line is this: it’s not personal. At 70+ years of age, my father never learned how to self soothe or cope with life’s many setbacks which keep him from being able to act any way other than how he always has…and probably always will.
But the good news is that it’s not personal! I’m not a screw up or a failure and I trust my instincts no matter what my father believes. He doesn’t get to pass his anxieties on to me and I need to get better at setting up boundaries so that he doesn’t.
How many of us out there could benefit from this understanding? It opens up so many possibilities in terms of how we can better relate to our anxious parents, make future decisions without the high stress surrounding their approval (or lack thereof), and so much more.
This realization is important as I’m now looking to move on to the next stage of my life. Powered with this new knowledge, I can now manage my own anxiety better as I strategize how to make it easier for them to accept the decisions I make.
I hope it helps empower you, too 🙂