Ask The Therapist: “How can they be so heartless?”

In 2016, the number of people estimated to be suffering from mental health issues like depression and anxiety amounted to roughly 1.1 billion. Since then, numbers have likely continued to rise. Moreover, studies have also shown women especially on average are a) more likely to suffer from mental health issues, and b) less likely to talk about them. The taboo in Pakistan surrounding depression and anxiety disorders only serve to aggravate the individuals suffering even more. For the women who cannot seek out full time therapy, or simply need advice about their problems, we’ve enlisted the help of a trained counsellor. You sent us in your questions – here are the answers!

“I want to be independent and do something for my name but the only thing stopping me is my family and their thinking. I’m not allowed to go out, I’m not allowed to meet friends. My life is just nothing. Being so cut off from everything is hurting me deeply. How can they be so heartless?”

Haya’s Response:

Dear Anonymous,

The best thing for you in this situation is to maintain being polite and respectful. If you continually show that you are respectful of their authority and mature enough to make good decisions, they’ll eventually give you the independence you deserve.

The key is communication. Bottling up emotions can deteriorate the relationship you have with your parents. You should be able to tell them how much something is affecting you. If an issue is important to you, bring it up to your parents and keep your tone calm and neutral. Use “I” statements that talk about how you feel instead of “you” statements that’ll trap you in the blame game. Allow time for them to respond and share how they feel.

Still struggling? Here are some tips below that’ll help you communicate better:

1. Talk About Everyday Stuff — and Do It Every Day

The more you do something, the easier it’ll get. Talking to the adults in your life about everyday stuff builds a bond that can smooth the way for when you need to discuss something more serious. Start by talking about something trivial everyday – how your work project is going or what one of your teachers said in school. If your relationship with them is strained, try easing into the conversation. Talk about a cute video you saw or even some small talk about what’s for dinner can help. These everyday conversations will help build a stronger bond with your parents because they’ll feel connected to your daily life – and this will help in the long run when something really important comes up.

2. Raising Difficult Topics

Maybe you need to break bad news to a parent, like failing an exam, or perhaps you’re feeling scared about something. Or maybe you just really want to tell your parents about your new boyfriend or girlfriend but don’t know how they’ll react, how it will feel to tell them, or how to find the words.

Here are 3 steps to help you prepare for that talk:

  • Step 1: Know What You Want From the Conversation – figure out what you want the conversation to achieve, whether you want them to just listen, give you permission, or offer some advice and guidance. When you know what you want, it’ll help you talk in a way that communicates what you need.

Example: “Mom, I need to tell you about a problem I’m having but I just need you to listen, okay? Don’t give me advice, I just need you to know what’s bothering me.”

  • Step 2: Identify Your Feelings – it can be awkward to talk about personal feelings with anyone, let alone a parent, and it’s natural to be nervous. Recognize how you’re feeling and put them into words as part of the conversation

Example: “Dad, I need to talk to you about something – but it’s kind of embarrassing.”

  • Step 3: Pick a Good Time to Talk – approach your parents when they aren’t busy with something. Driving in the car or going for a walk can be good opportunities. But be prepared and think of what you want to say ahead of time.

Example: “Can we talk? Is now a good time?”

3. How to Talk So Parents Will Listen

As most of us know, talking and listening don’t go smoothly every time. Emotions and past experiences can get in the way. Will your parents take you seriously, believe what you say, listen to and respect your opinions, and hear you out without interrupting? A lot depends on your parents, but some of what happens depends on you, too. Since communication is a two-way street, the way you talk to them can influence how well a parent listens and understands you. Here are some guidelines to consider:

  • Be clear and direct and give details that’ll help them understand your situation.
  • Be honest – lying to your parents will make it hard for them to ever trust you again.
  • Try to understand their point of view – it’ll help them be open to see your point of view as well.
  • Use a friendly and respectful tone so they take you seriously.

4. What If Talking to Parents Doesn’t Work?

Your parents won’t always see things your way and they won’t always say yes to what you ask. They might listen respectfully, understand your point of view and do everything you need except say yes. It can be hard to take no for an answer but gracefully accepting a no can help you get more yeses in the future.

Sometimes it’s a lot more complicated than that. Some parents have troubles of their own. Others just can’t be available in the ways their kids need and deserve. Others have a hard time being flexible. If you can’t talk to your parent, seek out other adults you can trust. Find a relative, a teacher, or a counselor who will listen, understand, encourage and care. Then follow all the tips above to get the most from your conversation with that person.

Always remember, the biggest of hurdles can be overcome via communicating with one another.

Good luck!

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