Don’t Let Toxic Family Members Shame You into ComplianceMay 20, 2020
Holly was one of the angriest women I had ever seen in my office. She was angry at her family’s excessive expectations of her. Her mother expected her to call her every week and to accompany her on shopping trips. If there was a family function, Holly had to be there. Her father expected her to come home for Sunday dinner. Her brother expected her to come to all of his sporting events.
And if she didn’t, Holly’s family shamed her into submission.
I agreed with Holly that her family’s expectations were extreme, but when I suggested that her family wasn’t going to change and that she had to free herself from their expectations by changing her attitude, she became angry with me. She felt that if I didn’t see her as a victim, I didn’t care. I assured her that while she had indeed been victimized growing up, she had to stop allowing herself to be victimized by freeing herself from both her family’s expectations and her expectations of them.
“I don’t have any expectations of them,” she replied. “They are the ones with the ‘shoulds.’ “
“On the contrary,” I said. “you’re just like them. They say that you should come over for dinner every Sunday, and you say that they should stop pressuring you to come.” In other words, her expectation was that they should not have any expectations.
Over the course of many sessions, I tired to help her see that until she took responsibility for her own attitude that her family “should” change, she would never be free. Since I would not agree with her that her family needed to change in order for her to get well (which was out of her control), we hit a stalemate.
She could feel I was on her side if I would agree with her that her misery was their fault and not hers. I could agree with her that they had deeply injured her and were the source of much of her pain, but they were not the ones who were continuing it in the present. She was now an adult who had control over what she did and what she allowed others to do to her. But, because she felt that I was “on their side,” she quit.
When I saw her three years later, she was still stuck, still blaming her family for their attitudes toward and expectations of her.
Whenever we feel pressured by someone to do something, it is our problem of the one who is putting the pressure on. In reality, our, “feeling pressured” is our tendency to agree with the pressurer’s attitude instead of setting forth our own. We must get in touch with how we are getting hooked into saying yes and not put the blame on the other person.
And here's how I'm going to help you do that. I want you to try this with me.