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Sunday, January 22, 2012

Are Your Parents Destroying Your Dreams?

Thought for the day: Are you living in someone else's dreams? Do your fears & self doubts stop you from exploring your dreams or trying new things?
     Before I receive hate mail from every parent in the world, I want to say that I do not believe that parents destroy their children's dreams. Most parents truly want their children to be happy, successful & to reach their dreams. The parent I am referring to is the parent that children & adults internalize, sometimes mistakenly believing that they must follow their parents' wishes or that their own dreams are not acceptable choices in someone else's eyes. Read on to see how this can lead to self doubt which undermines their ability to even attempt to follow a dream.
     On January 12th, I posted a blog called: "Warning: 5 Signs You May Be Undermining Your Own Dreams." In that post, I identified 5 traits of people who tend to undermine their own dreams. I promised to return to this topic & to teach some of the ways to enhance your Dream Quotient (DQ) described in my book. Today I'd like to focus on the 1st warning sign: You question your ability to accomplish new tasks.
     People with this kind of self doubt are often seen by others as intelligent, accomplished & successful to their co-workers & friends. Linda, who's story is reported in my book, is based on an actual client of mine. All identifying details were changed to protect her confidentiality, but she was unable to reach for her dreams due largely to this kind of crippling self doubt.
     Linda called me one day to request help for her teenage daughter, Maya. Maya, a high school senior, had been horribly bullied, & developed a school phobia—choosing to be home-schooled for months. Graduating with her class was in jeopardy. After a brief course of treatment, Maya was able to return to school, her parents were relieved & grateful that their daughter was able to graduate on time.
     A few months later, Linda called again. Apparently, Maya had urged her mother to meet with me regarding Linda's personal issues. Linda was a striking forty-three year-old redhead, who dressed in a simple ‘classic’ style. Her tailored suits were a bit conservative, although she always added a splash of color with a scarf or an interesting piece of jewelry. When she arrived, this bright & well educated woman sat stiffly on the edge of the couch in my office, as if she was afraid to get too comfortable. On the phone, she’d provided no clue as to the purpose of her sudden visit, so I waited patiently for her to tell me what was wrong.
     Slowly Linda began to open up, but avoided all eye contact as she spoke. It was obvious that she was working especially hard to stay composed. She spoke slowly, taking deep breaths, as if she were trying desperately to hide any signs of fear, anxiety or sadness as she told me about her life. Linda had always felt awkward in social situations; this was how her ‘confession-type’ speech began. Her husband was a business & finance expert, because of his occupation, he traveled for speaking engagements around the world. Even though Linda sometimes accompanied him, she tried desperately to avoid going with him whenever possible. In essence, she never knew what to say to her husband’s business associates. She felt as out of place & awkward as her daughter had in high school.
      Linda was an attorney who let her license lapse when she moved from Arizona to Boston just after her daughter was born. Linda was the first person in her family to go to college. Her father was a high school dropout who worked in a garment factory as a foreman. He encouraged Linda to become a lawyer since he felt, “she would always have work.” Linda loved studying law but hated working in the field. Choosing to give up her career to raise her daughter, was an easy out.
     Motherhood was also a very good ‘job’ for Linda because she was truly good at it. She made sure to encourage Maya to follow her dreams, but lost sight of her own in the process. Over the years, while raising Maya, Linda volunteered with the PTA & was a Brownie Troop leader. She dabbled in art & wrote some short stories, but never felt confident enough to show her work to anyone. After Maya left home, her husband’s career was soaring, but Linda felt lost. She feared her marriage might fall apart, feeling she had very little to talk about with her husband, other than their daughter.
     Over time, Linda had lost her sense of self. Embarrassed, she didn’t know what she wanted to do with her life. Linda felt awkward & uncomfortable even in therapy. I assigned the Dream Positioning
System℠ (DPS) to Linda. Unready to discuss it at that time, Linda asked if she could work on the assignment on her own & stopped coming to therapy. I supported her decision to take a break. She assured me she would work at her own pace & call when she was ready to meet again, or if she got stuck in the process.
     About a year later Linda & her husband contacted me. They were concerned about Maya who was having trouble with a roommate at college. They feared she might develop a new school phobia. We met & I helped them deal with the issue at hand. Maya began seeing a therapist at college.
     I was impressed when I learned of the huge strides Linda had made in the interim. Confident & poised, she resembled a new person. With a smile, she told me she attributed the changes to having done her “homework.” She had completed her Dream Positioning System℠, had gone back to school,  & was preparing to take the Massachusetts Bar Exam. She loved being back in school & was working as a teaching assistant in the graduate school.
     You see, Linda had lost sight of her dreams while following the dreams of others. First, in college, she followed her father’s dream. Then, after her daughter was born, she followed her husband’s dream—disregarding her own predisposition & love for studying & teaching. She even feared that therapy might interfere with her ability to follow her own unique path, & chose to take time on her own to explore & discover her DPS. By supporting her decision to take a break from therapy sessions, I encouraged that independence. In doing so, I modeled a ‘dream parenting’ skill for Linda to emulate & incorporate into her self-parenting skills, which worked impeccably.
     Linda’s story illustrates the fact that the first, & possibly strongest, factors affecting the ability to reach for one’s dreams are early parental & societal influences. When children are young, their parents & teachers play a significant role in children's life choices. In an ideal situation, children's talents & strengths are recognized & encouraged as they grow. These children develop what I call an “inner dream parent.” This parent is the child’s internal cheerleader, coach & biggest fan. Whenever they feel challenged, the inner dream parent reassures them that, if they work hard, they will succeed, & this helps them discover & move toward their dreams. In this scenario the child, following the suggestions or encouragement of a family member or teacher, attains lifelong satisfaction with their choices. Even if, in adulthood, these individuals change & find themselves unhappy with the choices they made earlier in life, they will be better equipped to change their direction.
     Most children aren’t raised in such ideal circumstances. If parents & teachers fail to help them develop their talents & strengths, or miss the mark in their suggestions for their future, people may not be satisfied with the choices they make. They may feel lost, & have trouble recognizing or redirecting their lives toward their dreams. In such situations, children may internalize an overcritical parent & always have that “inner critic” or “inner critical back seat driver” who finds fault with their desires & dreams. The inner critic or dream busting internal parent is the antithesis of the inner dream parent. The inner critic’s interference becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy blocking the way to dreams, & the child grows up questioning their ability to succeed. This may happen even when there parents try to encourage their children & give positive feedback. (Children may compare themselves to older siblings & classmates & become their own inner critical parent.)
     In some families, children feel pressured to follow family traditions. They may become doctors, lawyers, or join the military without even considering other options; or, they may ignore their own wishes to follow a predetermined path. If they are aware of their dreams & their families refuse to support them, it may lead to significant conflict with their parents and dissatisfaction for the rest of their lives.
     How many of us have heard of parents who refuse to pay for college if their child wants to study areas such as music or art, & will only pay for business or law school? Since children need their family's support, many of their dreams become abandoned at a young age. The same kind of pressure can occur with other life choices, such as; where to live, where to go to school, who to date or marry, or, questions of a religious nature.
     Linda’s well-intentioned father encouraged his daughter to follow what may have been one of his unfulfilled dreams. His bright, dutiful daughter complied, lacking the support she needed in order to recognize that her father’s dream did not suit her personality. Later in life, she latched onto her husband’s dream. Instead of struggling with, & finding her own fulfillment, Linda supported the dreams of her husband & her daughter. She took pride in their accomplishments, but felt less and less satisfied with herself.
     Linda was able to develop a more positive inner parent & started moving towards her dreams. It is never too late to recognize this problem, fire the "inner" critical  parent & adopt an inner "dream parent" in it's place. 
    Have you struggled with an inner dream busting parent? How have you overcome this? Do you need some additional ideas to help you gain self confidence? Let me know how I can help. Techniques are explained further in my book & will be addressed in later posts here.
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