The question: My parents have never emotionally supported me and see me as a disappointment because I am divorced, yet I feel a responsibility to maintain regular contact and be there to help them with whatever they need (attending medical appointments, booking their travel). I'm 44 years old, live my life according to good values and am a mom myself, so why do I constantly take the role of unassertive doormat in my family?
The answer: The interesting thing about families is that we might not always like them, but we often have a love for them that supersedes all else. Unfortunately, we don't choose our family, yet are stuck with them for the long haul, warts and all.
It still never ceases to amaze me how, despite being adults, virtually all of us (myself included) tend to play out the dynamics and roles in our families that we adopted when we were children. My role, for example – which continues through to this day – was to be "the mature, responsible one," and behaviours that were tolerated among my younger siblings were (and are) completely unacceptable coming from me.
As children, regardless of age, most of us have a strong need to be accepted by our parents. We want them to unconditionally love and accept us, and we want to make them proud. Unfortunately, we often have little control over how our parents, or any other person in our life for that matter, view us. We can, however, actively do things to buffer the impact that our parents' potentially negative views have on us.
There's a quote from self-help author Dr. Wayne Dyer that I love: "What other people think of me is none of my business." The only thing you can do is live your life in a way that stays consistent with your values, with no regrets.
You sound like a values-driven person who places strong emphasis on taking responsibility for your parents. It sounds important to you to do things to help them, in spite of not receiving their recognition or appreciation. The reality is that your parents won't always be here. Don't compromise what you value – providing them with support when needed – out of anger or spite. Continue to be the bigger person.
The best advice I have is to do what you do for them without expectation. Often we feel disappointed in others because we expect them to respond differently than how our past experience tell us they'll react.
Strike a balance between your needs and theirs. Be mindful of not bending over backward at the expense of other things you want to do in your life. It may be that you always have been at their beck and call, so therefore they expect you to always be so. Do not feel that you always have to immediately respond to their requests. Adding in a delay to requests may make them appreciate what you do for them more than they currently do.
Finally, choose to have friends and others in your life that provide you with the emotional support that you need. The social supports that we have around us provide the best buffer against other less than ideal relationships in our life.
Dr. Joti Samra, R.Psych., is a clinical psychologist and organizational & media consultant. She is the host of OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network's Million Dollar Neighbourhood and is the psychological consultant to CITY-TV's The Bachelor Canada. Her website is www.drjotisamra.com and she can be followed @drjotisamra .
Click here to submit your questions. Our Health Experts will answer select questions, which could appear in The Globe and Mail and/or on The Globe and Mail web site. Your name will not be published if your question is chosen.
The content provided in The Globe and Mail's Ask a Health Expert centre is for information purposes only and is neither intended to be relied upon nor to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.