A reader the other day asked a very important question:

Do you have thoughts on what I can do to improve relationship with my parents?

I have always had a strained relationship with them and recently moved out to begin to stay with my friend (I’m never pulling my weight nor living up to potential). Because I didn’t feel comfortable being around them, and still don’t.

They are great and provided for all my material needs, but they had psychological flaws that I don’t imagine they think would have been a problem for a young child (being overbearing, shouting down, pressuring me to always be top of my class).

I grew up with anxiety and unable to socialize and got into benzos at some point (I was 23). A habit I am working on kicking now. I know difficulty socializing is what made me take drugs, so now I spend most time alone and have been off drugs for a while.

But my moving out of the house (I actually snuck out one morning) has left them, especially mum, worried. But I can’t go back because I do not feel comfortable around them – and around other people – and I’m worried I’ll be tempted to go back to drugs then. I also would like to strike out on my own now (I’m now 25).

But I’d like to improve my relationship with them still; do you have any ideas on how to do it?

Yes, I do.

But first off — congratulations on taking a big step towards independence. Obviously, sneaking out of the house isn’t the best way to “move out”… but I understand given the circumstances why you did it.

The fundamental issue with your parents is they don’t respect your autonomy — in other words, your boundaries — and you haven’t learned to enforce those muscles yourself.

They’ve put pressure and expectations on you your whole life — you’ve been told since you were very young that you weren’t “good enough;” that you had to perform in order to be loved.

No wonder you have anxiety. There is a subconscious feeling that you are going to disappoint others (a feeling magnified in social situations, when everyone is theoretically ‘watching you’) — and so you seek out meds, etc. to numb yourself from the pain.

The impulse to “sneak out” rather than address your parents directly is derivative of this problem. You’d rather run away than seek a confrontation.

Even though that confrontation is exactly what’s required.

Make no mistake, your parents love you, and they’ve done the best they could for you. They are NOT bad people. Do not hate them — forgive them.

But your parents have their own issues, and they projected all of this baggage onto you. You had to be some fantasy child with them so they would feel better about yourself.

You need to tell them how you feel about this co-dependent relationship they’ve created, and how you are no longer interested in being a part of it.

I find the most effective way to bring the conversation to the direction you want it to go, is to call them out on how they’ve treated you — and to ask them why they did it. And to ask them if they love you, and why would they treat someone they loved this way… finally directing the conversation to the big question…

Whether or not they love themselves.

The nuance of this is tricky, but the essence doesn’t change. In order to heal yourself you must attempt to heal your parents. Maybe they will accept this gift, maybe they will not.

But don’t act like a victim during the confrontation. Act like a leader. It’s the first step to establishing your boundaries and cultivating your self-worth.

And if you want help with this?

Apply to work with me: www.patstedman.com/application

I’ve navigated these situations with my own parents… and scores of my clients.

You’re guaranteed to clear out your own emotional baggage in the process… and very often, your parents’ as well.

(Which is worth the price of admission alone. Cause once you do, your relationship with them will change for the better — forever.)

– Pat