Auntie SparkNotes: How Can I Deal With My Hypercritical Parents?
I’m a 17-year-old girl, and, like many teens, I don’t get along particularly well with my parents. But it isn’t for the usual teenage reasons — “they took away my phone” or “they made me stay home and study” — but because they are always, and I mean ALWAYS, judging and criticizing me. They nitpick at everything about me, from things as important as who I am as a person, to complete trivialities like my shoe size (“She has chubby feet,” said my mom, in an unflattering tone.)
Nearly everyday I hear something like “you are too quiet” or “you always stay home and never do anything” or “you have a terrible personality.” They are particularly horrible about my lack of a boyfriend; I’ve never dated, and though I would like a boyfriend, I don’t currently like anyone. They constantly talk about how my singleness worries them, how I'd better hurry up and get some dating experience or I’m going to be alone forever, how no guy will ever want to date me unless I completely change my personality, how they will have to find me a boyfriend or husband someday because I am too boring, quiet, and unflirty to find one on my own, etc.
This breaks my heart and destroys my confidence. I feel like crying every time this comes up, and believe me, it comes up frequently. I’m pretty insecure as it is, so these comments, especially the fact that they are coming from my own parents, really hurt. I’ve tried talking to them about how they make me feel when they say this stuff, I’ve tried ignoring them, I’ve tried telling them to stop talking about it, but they always blow me off or say that they only say these things because they care about me and worry for my future. I just don’t know what to do because I feel so hopeless whenever they bring this up. I seriously begin to believe that there is some severe defect in my personality that will stop me from ever finding love or happiness. It scares me and makes me want to cry, eat a gallon of ice cream, and sleep all day. What should I do?
For starters, you can wrap your head around the fact that your personality "defects"—also known as human flaws, which every single one of us have in some form or another—are in no way a hopeless obstacle to living a happy life. Because in case you hadn't noticed, personal perfection isn't a prerequisite for love and happiness... and if you don't believe me, then look no further than your parents, who are hypercritical, cruel, fault-finding, and obsessed with bizarre and shallow trivialities like the relative fatness of people's feet, and who have nevertheless managed to connect with another compatible human being and escape the horror of being FOREVER ALONE. And frankly, the next time they start telling you that your "boring" personality will forever be a obstacle to your getting a boyfriend, you would be more than entitled to respond with: "Really, guys? Because having totally crap-tastic personalities doesn't seem to have stopped either of you from finding someone."
...After which you should shout, "OOOOOOH, BUUUUUUURN!", and perform a glorious Dance of Pwnage featuring a dubstep beat, a party hat, and copious amounts of pelvic thrusting.
But okay: if you don't feel like giving as good as you're getting (or if your parents wouldn't take kindly to getting pwned), then try this, instead:
Give yourself permission to not give a damn.
Seriously, from here on out, when it comes to your worth and value as a human being, allow yourself to treat your parents' opinions as nothing more or less than useless, meaningless, and thoroughly disposable. Which they are. And while you can respond outwardly however you like—I recommend a cheerful and dismissive, "Okay!", which makes it easy for you to breeze past these issues with minimal engagement, and virtually impossible for your parents to continue discussing them—what's more important is how you handle their comments internally... which, not to put too fine a point on it, is to allow them to pass unabsorbed through your system with all the rest of the worthless crap.
Because seriously, sweetheart, a person whose idea of "caring" is making constant, unsolicited remarks about how much you suck (not to mention who thinks that the fleshiness of your feet is a valid measure of your loveability) is a person whose good opinion you neither need nor want.
Yes, even if that person is your parent.
And I know, I know: this is so much easier said than done, especially when we're all taught from birth to rely on our parents' approval as a measure of what to do, how to act, and who to be. But part of growing up is making this change. It's about turning inward for the answer to whether or not you're okay. It's about recognizing that you, not your parents, and not anyone else either, are the authority on how you should live. It's understanding that the brightest version of yourself is the one you like best, not the one someone thinks is best for you. It's knowing that your good opinion is the one that counts the most, and that those of professional nay-sayers should count not at all.
And if you can get to that place—a place where the uninformed opinions of fault-finding people are just so much noise you don't care about—I promise, you'll be free. Free to live on your own terms, free to wait for someone worth connecting with to come along rather than amassing dating experience for the hell of it, and free to eventually find someone who loves you for the quiet, thoughtful homebody you are.
Give it a try, and tell us what happens. I'll be rooting for you.
Do your parents constantly find fault with you? Your personality? Your feet? Tell us in the comments! And to get advice from Auntie, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.