Doctor Neha: My guest today is Jahlel, and he is willing to ask his question so that all of you can learn. Welcome, Jahlel.
Doctor Neha: What is something that is stumping you?
Jahlel: It’s a question that deals with family. My dad has a really strong personality and an incessant sense of humor. My friends and I often joke that he missed his calling as a professional entertainer. Most of the time it’s fun to be around. People who are new to the conversation are often enamored, and he’s such the conversationalist. But sometimes it feels like he talks over me and talks over other people. I’m curious how I can broach that subject with him without hurting his feelings? He is really strong willed and has that strong personality, but he’s really sensitive to criticism. Often, I don’t say what I feel. I just sort of ride it out and let it play it’s course. How do I broach that subject with him without cutting off his energy that makes him who he is and without hurting his feelings?
Doctor Neha: This is a great question. In every family almost there seems to be that person, right? That person who’s funny and charismatic.
Jahlel: That’s definitely him.
Doctor Neha: Without him it’s like you’d be 2D black and white, but with him it’s like 3D HD color. What you’re saying is sometimes it feels like a little too much.
Jahlel: Sometimes it doesn’t stop. We are thinking, Oh, just, please, just moment of silence, please.
Doctor Neha: Your dad sounds like an amazing man.
Jahlel: He is.
Doctor Neha: I love your question because I’m thinking that there’s a way he wants to connect to you and connect to the people in the room. So the first thing to keep in mind is that any perceived weakness is actually just a strength over-used.
Jahlel: Hmm, I don’t perceive it as a weakness as much as I feel like there’s a lack of awareness—he doesn’t realize it. His opinion always seems to be the thing that has to come to the forefront, or if someone starts a story then immediately he starts telling another story of his instead of actually listening. Sometimes it feels like he doesn’t listen as well, and I’m not sure why that annoys me.
Maybe it’s part of the father-son dynamic and being the first son and having all those other pressures that you have in a family. I noticed that it makes me sort of shut down sometimes. I’m much more like my mom. I don’t need to have a conversation going all the time. I don’t mind quiet time, and yet it makes me feel like I may pull back and disengage, as opposed to really getting involved.
Just a reflection on how I feel when I’m in that situation. Not necessarily a total negative, but wondering why does that make me want to pull away? How do I engage rather than sort of shutting off and not being a part of that conversation?
Doctor Neha: This is a great question because this plays out in many families—yours in particular. Tell me what the benefits of your dad’s charisma and color have been in your life?
Jahlel: Well, he’s always been a disciplinarian to a certain extent. I appreciate that because he’s never let me slip. He’s always taken the time to tell me why he is the way he is, and why he’s telling me what he is saying. If he didn’t love me, then he wouldn’t tell me these things. I’m sure you’ve heard this before, right?
Doctor Neha: Yes.
Jahlel: Part of it is sometimes it feels like the parenting won’t ever stop.
Doctor Neha: Yeah. How old are you?
Jahlel: I’m almost forty.
I appreciate that thoughtfulness and that love—I have a pretty good understanding of where he’s coming from. And that keeps me pretty grounded in our relationship. We have a good relationship, and it’s open and good. I know his upbringing and I have insights into what’s made him the way he is.
Doctor Neha: Let’s get to you.
Doctor Neha: Okay. When is it that you hold back when you should be speaking?
Are there times that you do that? When you say, “Nope. I’m not going to bring that up,” or “I’m not going to say anything because I’m not going to create waves.”
You’re good of being more like your mom, like you said, which is you’ll let someone else have center stage.
Jahlel: I don’t feel like I need to be the center of attention, I guess. I’m comfortable with just being more on the sidelines. Often when I’m pulling back, it’s because I’ve heard the story many times before. And I think, “Oh, not this story again.” That’s part of it; I’m getting bored with the topic or whatever we’re talking about.
Jahlel: I recognize that that’s me. I have a story in my head as to what it means and where we’re going with this conversation, what the punch line is. So I’ll think, “Okay, whatever. I’ll just go do something else.” I tap out of the conversation and tune out.
Doctor Neha: What about that moment when you do need to speak up? It might not be in the relationship with your dad. It might be somewhere else in your life. Are there times that you know that you should speak up, but you don’t?
Jahlel: Recently, I was living at home and helping with the family business and there are certain things that I can say when I don’t live in my parents’ home. There are times to say certain things and times to be more reserved.
Doctor Neha: Choosing your battles.
Jahlel: Yes—not wanting to rock the boat when you can’t get off the boat. There are times when I could just speak my mind, but I think about the two or three things that are going to happen after that, and having to deal with the repercussions of his emotions and our immediate dynamics. I don’t feel like I’m holding back. I feel like I’m managing it. It’s nothing very emotional or big issues necessarily.
Doctor Neha: It’s not an emotional landmine.
Doctor Neha: It’s just a little bit of discomfort. You’re speaking about the everyday dynamics in families.
Many people can resonate with this. Your father is this amazing, colorful, charismatic man, and he shows up in the world as that. There are times that it kind of rubs up against you. First, he takes responsibility for himself and if people are going to give him feedback, it’s his job to manage that.
What you’re doing is, not only are you managing yourself, but you’re also trying to manage everybody else three steps down the road. You’re thinking, If I say this, this is what they’re going to do, and this is what this is going to happen…” Do you see how you’re not just taking care of yourself? You’re actually using how other people might respond as a reason why you don’t show up as who you are.
Jahlel: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Doctor Neha: Do you understand that?
Jahlel: I do understand that. I feel like our relationship is a lot better from a thousand miles away? When I visit, or if I’m there for a short period of time then I speak my mind much more. I’m much more ready to just wear it on my sleeve and to say it. In recent situations, I’ve been living there, so it’s been in really close quarters.
I hear what you’re saying as far as trying to manage other people’s responses instead of just being responsible for myself. Point taken there.
Doctor Neha: When you do that, what it’s going to require is self-trust. It’s going to require that when you have a conversation, you feel confident enough. Let’s role-play; you are your dad and I’ll be you.
I have to be confident enough to say, “Hey, Dad. There’s something that I wanted to talk to you about. Yesterday at dinner I noticed I left a little bit early because I disconnected from our conversation…” You’re going to tell him something changed.
Then what you’re going to say is, “Hey, Dad. I noticed that I shut down and left yesterday, and I didn’t speak to you. I know how much you love me and how much you care, and I notice that sometimes I disconnect. The reason I think I do that is because I wasn’t feeling heard. I didn’t hear you acknowledge what I said. I think there’s a part of me that became a little boy again, and I was waiting for you to tell me it was a good idea.”
This is when pronouns become very important. When you’re speaking to your father, pay attention to the pronouns you’re using. If you say, “You don’t ever listen to me, and you told me that story five times,” that’s very different than saying “I wasn’t feeling heard. I was disappointed.” Do you see the difference?
Jahlel: Mm-hmm (affirmative). I think that we’ve both been guilty of that; I am sometimes guilty of that.
Jahlel: Thank you. I see I need to focus on myself more and to come at it from a position of me as opposed to what someone else is doing to me.
Doctor Neha: That’s where you shift into self-trust, and you say, “I’ll stay curious, and I can handle what comes next.”
Jahlel: Yeah. That’s a good takeaway. Thank you.
Doctor Neha: If any of you sometimes look forward to seeing everyone for the holidays, but it’s different than you expected when you get there, you’re going to appreciate what Jahlel is going through.
There was something beautiful that Jahlel said about knowing your relationship with your family members and exactly what distance is the right amount of distance, whether it be physical distance, living in someone’s home or living 3,000 miles away or five hundred miles. Pay attention to what distance you might need to help you create the type of relationship that you want.
Here’s to improving your relationships with family, knowing whom you are, and trusting yourself enough to show up authentically. Use the right pronouns, and be curious about the other person and how you can connect better to them.
If you have some thoughts on this, drop me a tweet at #AskDoctorNeha.
- Be aware of how your body physically lets you know something is bothering you (muscle tightening, heart racing, stomach turning, etc.) This is your body’s alarm.
- Focus on yourself—even though it may seem more natural to shift attention to managing someone else. Use soft-belly breathing to ground yourself. This will help you pause and respond, rather than react.
- Get clear about what was said, seen, heard or observed that triggered a strong reaction in you.
- Speak from your own experience and use “I” pronouns to express yourself.
- Trust that you can show up authentically as who you are—no matter what other personalities are present.
You may need to evaluate the best distance and settings to maintain healthy family relationships. Jahlel realized how much more he enjoys his family relationships when there is some physical distance between them.
To family — our greatest teachers,