Dear Therapist:

As a teenage boy I am going through lots of ups and downs. Throughout this period there is one particular issue that is getting worse and worse. That is my parents. As it stands now, I cannot "open up" to them about anything personal in my life. Whether it is about friends, family, teachers, or anything that is personal, I find it practically impossible to speak to my parents (though I do find it easier to speak about personal issues with my...[rabbis]). I know this is a bad thing. Can I ask "The Couch" for ways to get out of this problem?

 

Response:

You weren’t clear on the reason that you have trouble discussing personal matters with your parents. I don’t know whether this issue relates to your level of comfort, each parent’s responses, your relationship with each parent, or your relationship with both parents as a unit.

What bothers you about not being able to discuss things of a personal nature with your parents? You seem to have other people with whom you can speak. Is the problem that you need people in your life with whom you can have intimate discussions? Or is what’s bothering you the fact that your relationship with your parents isn’t what you want it to be—and your trouble discussing personal things with them is simply a symptom of this general issue?

Are you generally comfortable discussing personal things with others? If so, what is it about your parents, or your relationship with them, that precludes this? Are you concerned that they will view you differently? Look down at you? Treat you differently? Why is this different with other people?

There are many possible reasons for the problem that you identified. However, without more information, it is difficult to offer specific guidance. Generally speaking, having feelings out in the open is a good thing. Of course, I don’t know anything about your parents or the ways in which they respond within emotional conversations.

Sometimes when something bothers us, there are multiple aspects to the issue, but we mentally focus on just one. Or we place more emphasis on one aspect than it deserves. In your case, you may be bothered both by your need to discuss and vent your feelings and by your desire to form a more emotional relationship with your parents. Identifying each need separately and setting separate goals for each can help to remove some of the extraneous emotion.

As far as your emotional needs are concerned, it is important for you to have at least one or two people toward whom to turn. Naturally, it would feel good for those people to be your parents. If this is not feasible, however, be sure to identify others who can fill that role for you. Even if your relationship with your parents will never be an emotional one, you can certainly set goals for becoming closer with them. As long as you focus on each issue separately, it will likely be easier for you to make progress toward the goals that you set.

-Yehuda Lieberman, LCSW

  psychotherapist in private practice

  Woodmere, NY

  adjunct professor at Touro College

  Graduate School of Social Work

  author of Self-Esteem: A Primer

  www.ylcsw.com / 516-218-4200