A while back, we got this question from an IWT reader about what to do if you have an unsupportive family:
“I love [my family] and I want them to be happy. They wallow in misery and blame me for it. I feel very tied to them although I should just let go. How do you let go of the living who have become a source of poison and sickness in your life when you are related to them and have known them your whole life?”
Isn’t it funny (read: incredibly annoying) how as you become more successful at something — career, relationships, money, whatever — you start to encounter more and more people who just want to throw shade at your success?
We asked our readers to provide their take on answering the all too common question and here are a handful of our favorite answers — in no particular order.
1. Understand that it’s their issue. Not yours.
Christie hit upon a truth that many people don’t realize when they’re being criticized or aren’t being supported by their family: It’s often THEIR problems, not yours. Too many times, we become focused on what others are saying about us instead of focusing on accomplishing our goals, whether it’s writing that dissertation or dropping a responsibility because you have different priorities.
Sometimes, there’s just no changing the way someone looks at your actions — but you can choose how you react to them.
2. Tell only those who will support you
We love this unique framework. If you have a goal about something you want to give up such as smoking or drinking, tell everyone. However, if you have a “move-up goal” like changing careers or starting a new business, only tell those who you know will support you in your decision.
People who support you won’t just blindly say yes to whatever you’re doing, and they shouldn’t. But they’ll know how to encourage you to accomplish your goals while providing constructive feedback when necessary.
3. Be firm about your goals — and stop telling Mom
Ha! This reader’s mother sounds like a lot of other mothers we know — willing to brag to their friends about their kid’s accomplishments, but won’t give them a single inch of support in private. When this occurs, many are faced with a tough decision: Do I continue telling Mom about my goals or should I divulge this information with someone who’ll actually support me?
Thankfully, this reader chose the latter and made steps towards finding mentors who will help push her and not just constantly tear her down. You don’t have to cut your mom completely out of your life — especially if there’s still a lot of love otherwise.
4. Know when it’s time to cut them loose
Low key: One of our favorite subreddits to browse is one called /r/RaisedByNarcissists. It’s a subreddit that acts as a support group to redditors who were raised by abusive, self-absorbed people, who often care more about their own self-image than how their kids might feel. Reading the stories on that sub made us realize one thing: Sometimes, you simply have to stop putting up with the bullshit someone’s giving you, regardless of whether or not you’re related to the person.
Mindset shifts for dealing with unsupportive family members
Share your why
If you have decided to follow a particular path or chase your dreams, don’t expect your family to get onboard automatically. Explain your reasons and help them understand why their support is essential. Let them know that even though things may change, your relationship will remain the same. Reassuring your family members may put them at ease.
Since your family members are used to interacting with you in specific ways, sudden changes can be unsettling. Be patient and keep explaining why the change is essential until they get it.
If they are unsupportive, find out why. They may be afraid for you or scared that you are leaving them behind. In such cases, you are likely to feel rejected and alone. While your first instinct may be to retreat and hold back information, you need to offer more information.
Listen to their concerns patiently and put their minds at ease. Your loved ones are likely to support you if they understand you.
Let go of expectations
Expectations breed disappointment. The sooner you let go of them, the better. No matter how hard you try, you will never get the support of certain family members, and that’s okay. Come up with a way to deal with your feelings without depending on others to validate them.
When in doubt, remember that your passions are more important than what others think. Many people go through life trying to please others. They end up feeling unhappy and unfulfilled. If you are doing something you love, our founder Ramit Sethi advises that you let go of other people’s opinions.
Even though it is disheartening to lack support from your family members, life is too short to dwell on it. You don’t want to spend your life worrying about people and their opinions. Sometimes, their reasons for failing to support you are baseless and unwarranted. Follow your heart rather than the words of other people.
Build your own support network
Create a support network away from your family. The network may include your friends, mentors, and others who wish you well. According to Ramit, when others support you, your family members’ criticism may not sting as much as when you have no support.
Everyone needs a strong social support network. It is essential when you are going through significant life changes or stressful times. If you have no one to lean on for support, you may experience feelings of loneliness, hopelessness, and isolation. When family members express their lack of support, it may send you over the edge.
You can create meaningful friendships and relationships no matter how old you are. It is never too late to create your support network. Friends, mentors, and other sources of support are an essential part of life. They make it easy to navigate tough times and celebrate wins. Your network can keep you accountable, making it possible to achieve your goals even faster.
Set boundaries and stick to them
Everyone needs boundaries where their dreams are involved. While there is nothing wrong with taking the opinions of your loved ones, they must have limits. If everyone feels entitled to expressing all their views, you may be in trouble. Even when your family members disapprove of your goals, they should understand that the ultimate decision is yours.
Boundaries are guidelines to let others know what you expect from them and how they can treat you. While they are mostly requests for other people to change their behavior, they can also be things you put up to protect yourself.
One of the most significant benefits of boundaries is that they promote compassion. Even when your family doesn’t support you, boundaries can make them more compassionate. They can express their concerns and views respectfully.
Boundaries will result in less anger and resentment. When there are no boundaries, your unsupportive family is bound to offend you. When you feel mistreated, you may feel angry and resentful towards them. From unsupportive parents to spouses and siblings, boundaries will speak for themselves. The chances of disrespect are reduced, and you are less likely to resent them.
Why are some family members unsupportive?
Lacking the support of family members is more common than you may imagine. Here are a few reasons why some family members are unsupportive.
They may not understand your mindset
Sometimes, family members are unsupportive only because they don’t understand your mindset. People have different views on finances, romantic relationships, and life in general. If you seem to be doing things out of the ordinary, it’s not surprising you might lack the support.
When you are willing to take on financial, physical, or emotional risks, it may seem to them that you are making a mistake. According to Ramit, expecting everyone to understand your passion is unreasonable. The solution is to avoid discussing things with those who are unlikely to understand them. Create a balance between your passions and family life. Spend time with people who have similar interests.
They may be afraid for you
When you plan on doing something particularly risky, your family members may get afraid for you. Their fear can come out as criticism and lack of support. Everyone who loves you doesn’t want you to hurt. Even when they don’t understand your interests, they probably know what it means to you. Whether you decide to go to college, start a business, quit a toxic marriage, or pursue a new career, they may not be as confident as you. They may be afraid that you will get their hopes up only to be disappointed.
Be conscious about how you speak to them. If you are constantly dumping your feelings of shame, fear, or pain on them, they are unlikely to be supportive. Even when you need to vent, talk about the positives as much as the negatives. It creates a sense of confidence in you and your family members.
You aren’t paying attention to them
If you are putting a lot of your time and attention into something, your family may feel robbed of your time and attention. They may get jealous of the project or new interest. Since this may be hard for them to admit, they are likely to cite a different thing as the cause of their concern.
You can avoid this by communicating and avoiding promises that you can’t keep. False promises deepen the feeling of disappointment. They may create resentment towards your interests.
They may be struggling with their own issues
Sometimes, your family members cannot support you because they are dealing with their issues. Even when they try to understand your situation, they may be unable to support you actively. If, for example, someone is trying to leave their toxic relationship, they may have a hard time supporting them through their divorce. They may lack the emotional strength to handle it.
You haven’t asked for support directly
Sometimes, you have to ask for support in actual words. If your family members don’t seem to be offering enough support, don’t be afraid to ask for it. Some of them might be perfectly willing to offer their support if they knew what you needed. Be specific about the type of assistance you need, and you are likely to get it.
Perhaps, they don’t realize how much you need support, or they don’t understand the kind of support that would be most appropriate. A direct request can do more than you imagine.
You have unrealistic expectations
When you are excited about something new, you probably expect every family member to be equally excited. However, this expectation is unrealistic, and it could result in disappointment. It is unreasonable to assume that your loved ones will be supportive of everything you ever do.
Even when they are supportive, they may not express it as you expect. People have their own lives going on. They may not show up and clap every time you want them to. Managing your expectations is the secret to avoiding disappointment.
What to do when your family doesn’t support you
To close, we’ll share a story from our founder, Ramit Sethi, about a time he dealt with unsupportive family members.
When I went to visit India a while back, I had moved on from looking like this…
…to looking more like this.
I remember, one of my uncles took one look at me and said, “You have become very fat!” Which was funny because that uncle wasn’t exactly Mr. Olympia himself.
Later, another uncle saw me, squeezed my bicep, and said, “Whoa! Been working out, Ramit?”
And that uncle was actually ultra-fit!
So we had one overweight uncle tearing me down, and an uncle who worked out and knew I’d been working out too. Who was I to believe?
One of the keys to mastering my personal psychology has been choosing who to listen to — and who can be smiled at, then ignored. When it came to the situation with my uncles, or any situation with unsupportive family members, it ultimately came down to how I reacted to the situation.
Because if there’s one thing I’ve learned after over a decade with IWT, it’s that you’re ALWAYS going to get unsolicited advice from people.
Novices will get frustrated. They’ll try and fight back against the criticism like, “You can’t tell me what to do, MOM. I’m a grown-up now!”
Top Performers plan for feedback. In fact, they’ll actively seek it out. They’ll plan for the doubters, concern trolls, and outright skeptics. I’ve been working on IWT since 2004, and people STILL doubt me and leave me rude tweets.
The truth is, some people are determined to be offended, or play the victim role, or be just plain shitty to you.
When this happens, ask yourself: Is this person in the position I want to be in?
Am I willing to get relationship advice from a friend who can’t hold down a relationship more than a month?
Am I getting business advice from my brother who’s been stuck in a dead-end job for years now?
Is my overweight uncle trying to dole out fitness advice?
OR am I working on mastering my own psychology, recognizing negative feedback (not simply trying to ignore it), and improving my response to it?
Remember: Opinions are cheap. Everyone will have them, because it’s easy to point out things you’re doing wrong, or ways you “should” think about things (we call these invisible scripts):
- “Just follow your passion!”
- “A Dream Job? You should be lucky to have ANY job in this economy!”
- “You need to track your spending.”
- “Buying a house is the best investment you can ever make.”
- “Your first step needs to be social media.”
Though they might seem like logical pieces of advice, they’re all ultimately useless.
So the next time you hear someone giving you advice, ask yourself two questions:
- Is the person I’m talking to really in a position I want to be in?
- Are they giving shallow advice (“Buy a house!”), or if I pressed them on it, would they be able to back it up and give examples?
In the end though, you don’t have to listen to everyone and you definitely don’t have to give equal weight to the critics.
That goes for me too! Don’t just take everything I have to say to heart. Question my background. Question everything I’m telling you. In fact, you should do your research on me before listening to anything I have to say.
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