Whenever you ask, “What do you want?” there’s the risk that you won’t like what you hear. Young Sam asked his parents if they wanted him to stay home. His parents replied, “Don’t mind us, we’ll manage.” But what Sam perceived was, “If you cared, you wouldn’t leave.”
This article is one in a series on conflict. You can find the first article in the series here.
Sam believes that this response is intended to keep him at home, using guilt and his well-entrenched sense of responsibility. He was hoping for a win-win option; he didn’t get it. However, Sam has gained information. He may not choose to agree, but he has learned something. Part of Sam’s challenge will be to recognize the difference between what his parents are actually asking versus what he is asking of himself.
The core of Sam’s conflict was being torn between responsibility and feeling trapped. His behaviour had deteriorated into resenting and depressing, while his body signalled with aches and fatigue. He knows he needs to make a change. So, now what?
Sam can remind himself of what he wants: to keep this most important relationship close, not tear it apart. He also wants to behave as a person whom he would respect.
To gain perspective, Sam might try (mentally) taking himself out of the picture. What if he wasn’t there? How would his parents cope? That vision will give Sam a better sense of how important his role really is. It provides more information as he considers, “What is the best possible use of my time right now?”
Then Sam may ask himself, “What am I prepared to do?” It doesn’t have to be “all or nothing;” he can set boundaries. So Sam, are you prepared to be home all the time? Probably not. Are you prepared to be there sometimes? Of course. Sam can make limited offers to his parents, “I can be here four evenings a week; which ones would you like?” or “Would you rather that I mow the lawn or drive you to the doctor?”
It’ll help if Sam recognizes that the decision—the choice—is his. No matter how coercive he perceives his parents’ response to be, they are not making him do anything. Ultimately it’s Sam who has to make the change, whether he changes what he is doing, or changes how he is looking at the situation.
Decisions are difficult when there are compelling upsides and downsides to each option. However, when Sam recognizes that he is choosing to act rather than being forced, he will find ways to get the freedom and fun he needs to keep from resenting.
It can be difficult to deal with behaviours that you perceive as attempting to “make” you feel guilt or any other emotion. Have you ever seen those behaviours in a relationship? What have you tried when you are on the receiving end of that kind of behaviour?
We'll follow up with Sam a little later; you can find that article here.