People often react badly when you say something they would rather not hear.
However, it’s just as bad when you don’t say what they want to hear.
A reader writes in: “Dear Dr. Hurd: My mother just doesn’t get it. My new husband and I have a great relationship. No matter how hard I try, I can’t convince her. She’s very nice to him and doesn’t talk badly about him. But I know my mother, and I can tell she doesn’t really approve. We’ve done everything she’s asked, including having the sort of wedding she always dreamed of me having. It wasn’t exactly what I wanted, but I hoped it would appease her. Nothing works. Any ideas?”
The person who wrote this isn’t hearing what she wants to hear from her mother. Her mother is not necessarily being critical of her new husband. But the daughter (a grown adult) is seeking approval that, for whatever reasons, is not forthcoming.
My reaction is: So what?
I can’t give advice on how to appease her mother. Doing so would concede a premise that isn’t true … The premise being that she needs her mother’s approval of her choice of husband.
I realize that when you love both your mother and your husband, you would like them to like each other, or even love each other. But not everybody is the same, and this isn’t always possible. Is your life, and your marital happiness, to be held hostage to the approval of somebody else?
This isn’t always what people want to hear. The problem is magical thinking. Magical thinking involves the pursuit of things that are not possible, true or necessary. Having the approval of others is not always possible, but it’s not necessary either. Life goes on. In fact, when YOU approve of decisions you make involving yourself, the people who really matter will eventually come around. If they don’t, then what does this say about how much they matter?
Here’s another one: “Dear Dr. Hurd: I’m gay and my family is evangelical Christian. Needless to say, there are some problems. Is there anything I can do to convince my parents to become more reasonable on the subject? I don’t yet have a partner, but I expect to someday. I don’t want them to know all my personal business, but I do want them to know who I am, and to accept it.”
Again, this young person is not hearing from his parents what he wants to hear. And on the subject of being gay, I’m sure he’s hearing a lot he does not care to hear from his fundamentalist Christian parents. I’m sure it’s not easy. But like I said, your happiness cannot be held hostage to the opinions of others, no matter who those others are. Parents either love you, or they don’t. If they do, then at first they’ll be unhappy or worried if you’re doing something they (falsely) believe will make you unhappy. It’s worth trying to explain and educate, but all of this assumes people are open to reason on a certain subject. Sometimes they’re not, but this doesn’t mean they never will be. In cases like this one, you read of young people who commit suicide when they don’t get the approval they want. How unspeakably tragic. This is the ultimate sacrifice, to give up your life for a failure to get the approval you falsely believed you needed to do what you wanted in life. Most people don’t commit suicide, or even consider it. But the psychological principle is the same. Millions of people are depressed, anxious or otherwise lacking inner serenity the extent to which they don’t hear what they want to hear from significant others.
Growing up, in the deepest sense of the term, occurs the moment you stop caring about what others think. How do you stop caring? There is no “how.” You just stop! Caring, or not caring, is a choice. And not caring is a choice you’ll have to make over, and over, and over again, until it becomes habit. Sorry, there’s no shortcut.
I realize that sometimes you have to please others. Most people have to please a boss, and self-employed people have to please customers. This is necessary in order to survive and find fulfillment. It is necessary to please people regarding what you do, at least in certain cases. But you’re never going to please everyone, and you don’t have to please everyone. You only have to please yourself, using rational standards of competence or excellence at whatever you do. If your standards are rational, many others will acknowledge and appreciate them. Not everybody is rational, and not everybody cares about the exact same thing, and that’s OK!
Don’t look for validation from other people. Not for who you are. The very moment you do so, you’re making yourself dependent on others for your very happiness, serenity and stability. Not a good idea. What’s the alternative to depending on others? The exercise of thought. Use your thinking mind, your common sense, and your observation of facts. Get the help of others, but not to tell you “you’re OK” or “you’re good.” Others can only help you by reasoning things out. “These are the facts and these are my conclusions. Does that reasoning make sense to you? Do you see an error? Am I leaving anything out?” THIS is the kind of help to look for, when you seek help from another. And if the help is offered, evaluate the answer given. Don’t accept anything blindly. You’re just as able to think as anyone else, and don’t ever sell yourself short.
It’s amazing to me that human beings have come as far as they have, given how few people seem to really grasp and accept that they don’t need the acceptance of others. I can count on one hand the number of people I’ve encountered who really and honestly don’t care about what others think. Despite that, the human race has come a very long way over the centuries. Just imagine how much further people will go if they can just get past this huge psychological hurdle.