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RandomGirl's avatar

My parents' presences seem to make me self-conscious and insecure. Any advice?

Asked by RandomGirl (3352 points ) January 8th, 2013

I’ll try to keep this short.
I’m 16.
I’ve been noticing this for a while… In certain situations, I find it hard to make eye contact with people. I’ll listen to what they’re saying, but I’ll concentrate on the wall, or my shoe, or a hangnail. It’s kind of hard to describe the type of situation I’m talking about. Most often, someone’s confronting me about something. It happens in other instances, as well, but confrontation is the big issue.

When my parents are around (especially when they are the ones confronting me), I really have trouble making eye contact. It’s nearly impossible.

When they aren’t present, though, I can make eye contact. It does still take willpower to take my eyes off the ground and look some people in the eye, but I can do it! (I think it’s just a matter of practice in these situations.) I resolve issues much more easily in these instances and forge good relationships with these people.

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about this issue, and I’ve boiled it down to my parents. They’re great parents and everything, but something about their presence makes me self-conscious and insecure. It’s like I don’t want to let them see what’s truly going on inside my head, although I’m not really hiding anything from them.

I can’t figure this out and it’s really frustrating. I need to get down to the heart of it, though, and get it resolved quickly, because the career path I’m thinking about requires an ability to connect with people (counseling of some sort). Being an important part in someone’s life as they go through a hard time is the most fulfilling thing I’ve ever experienced, and I really think it’d be a great career. But I need to get over this first. :/

Thanks for any insight you might have, as well as advice!

P.S. Woops – it wasn’t as short as I had been hoping. Sorry.

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19 Answers

WestRiverrat's avatar

I don’t have any advice, just wanted to reassure you that it is a normal reaction. Hopefully as you mature and gain confidence you will outgrow the insecurities.

Sunny2's avatar

It’s part of growing pains. Regarding your career path, don’t fret. Being at school, away from your folks will help a lot. Meanwhile, when you’re in a group and someone is talking, look at them in the eye. Chances are the speaker will not be looking at you specifically. Don’t look away from their eyes. Practice. And keep your head up. Your self confidence should grow as you get used to it.

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Pachy's avatar

Ah, to be 16 again and worry about such things instead of whether Medicare will keep paying. But truly, @RandomGirl, I empathize with you. I agree with what everybody above says, especially the growing pains part. Hang in, you’ve got a wonderful life ahead.

Pachy's avatar

By the way, @RandomGirl, kudos for articulating your feelings so well. Without even knowing you, I know you’ll be okay because you’re able to do that.

Shippy's avatar

Gosh this is weird. I had the same thing with my parents. I used to wonder the same. I think maybe I was really angry at them for a whole bunch of things. I also felt they didn’t understand the type of person I really was. Maybe communicate it?

RandomGirl's avatar

@ays_billones: The more I think about it, the more I come to the conclusion that the problem is my relationship with my mom. My dad’s all right, but my mom’s behavior makes me kind of skittish around her. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that I look exactly the same as she did at my age, and I’ve noticed some of her characteristics showing thrmselves in me, and I’m determined not to turn out like her (childish, illogical, demanding, etc.).

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

@RandomGirl A lot of it is just getting comfortable with yourself as a person. But if you think you may turn out like your mom and you don’t like that idea it’s going to be hard to relax around her. You don’t have to be like your mom, especially since you’ve already identified the things you don’t find attractive in her. Just take your time and find your own indentity and make it your own..

SadieMartinPaul's avatar

Because you’re 16-years-old, your parents are still very domineering, authoritative figures in your life. You’re transitioning from the child that you were into the adult you’re going to be, and it’s difficult to figure out your parents’ role in all of that.

They’re the people who scolded and punished you when misbehaved. They continue to give you advice—often unwelcomed—and try to set you straight when they think you’re doing something wrong. You still want their approval, and you internally cringe when they give you those critical, disapproving looks. Is it any wonder why they make you so uncomfortable?

I hope that things will improve as the years go by. Many adult children have comfortable, mutually-respectful relationships with their parents.

KNOWITALL's avatar

I did the same thing when I was a teen, but my mom would FORCE me to look at her and have an open dialogue so I didn’t shut down on her. I hated it at the time, but now that I’m older, I think it’s the best thing she could have done for me.

If I were you, I think I’d force myself to meet their eyes. They are not monsters (I hope) and if you love them and they love you, you need to. Good luck, welcome!!

SadieMartinPaul's avatar

Maybe you can meet your parents’ eyes if you try to think about how they feel.

Their little girl has grown, changed, and morphed into a young woman, and they might often wonder who the heck you are. They were once the center of your entire world; now, you have a life of your own and need some privacy and independence. When you were younger, your parents protected you and solved all your problems; at 16, you need to make mistakes, fix them yourself, and learn from them. Of course, the very thought of you doing something unfortunate, and maybe even getting into trouble, terrifies them.

Also, do you sigh, roll your eyes, and slam doors when your parents try to communicate with you? If yes, it’s ok; every teenage girl does those things. :-) But, such actions are very unpleasant and create barriers.

One final thought… When you try to talk with your parents, do you express yourself intelligently or do you, like, you know, talk the way, like, many teenage girls enjoy, you know, speaking?

KNOWITALL's avatar

@PaulSadieMartin “I… don’t… know” is the answer to everything for my 13 yr old niece. Eye-rolling, not meeting eyes, walking as if she’d done hard labor breaking rocks all day, so much drama….lol

SadieMartinPaul's avatar

@KNOWITALL I know a man whose (then) teenage daughter loved to slam her bedroom door. Whenever she was frustrated, annoyed, or otherwise experiencing an emotion, it was the way she expressed herself. The father tried talking with her, many times, about how door-slamming is disrespectful and rude, and how she needed to stop.

Finally, he got his toolbox, removed her bedroom door from its hinges, and kept the door for two weeks. After living for a while with household noise and no privacy, she never, ever slammed the door again!

RandomGirl's avatar

@PaulSadieMartin: I’ve heard of taking bedroom doors off their hinges… Makes me wonder how teenagers get to that point.

burntbonez's avatar

I think your age is probably the hardest age there is. Most teens experience the most problems with their parents around age 16. You are changing so much. Your hormones are going crazy. Many teens are have been getting involved in dating and sex and if they aren’t, they might be feeling lonely or isolated. They are growing intellectually and want to discuss so many thing, but it seems impossible to discuss anything honestly with parents because they don’t understand.

Parents are mostly concerned with keeping you on the straight and narrow. So they seem strict. Judgmental. It makes you not want to talk to them.

So yes, your feelings are common. Most likely, they will change in the next couple of years. Certainly things will change if you move out or go to college. But right now, if it helps, know that this is pretty common. Be tough, mentally. Remember your parents love you and want what’s best for you. Tell them what you can tell them, and add detail. This will make them feel better. You don’t have to talk about anything you don’t want to talk about. If you have any problems at all at school or wherever, ask your parents for advice. Parents love to give advice. It makes them feel needed. It should be easier to look them in the eye when asking advice.

wundayatta's avatar

My daughter is 16. She spends an awful lot of her time in her room, although lately, since I gave the kids a picture puzzle for Xmas, she has been spending more time in public with us. After she did the one puzzle, she brought down another one she had, and has been spending time with us. We don’t say much. I fluther. She does the puzzle. Sometimes we work on the puzzle together. Often she will ask me sort of nonsensical questions, like how are you? It is nonsensical in that she just asked it five minutes before.

I think she is reaching out and just wants to play. It’s nice.

We never pressured her to be around more. When she had a boyfriend for a while, we would take her to his house in the evening. We trust her. I think they broke up because he wanted to start getting intimate, and she wasn’t interested.

My daughter is funny and silly like me and her mother, I guess. It’s sort of weird to see your children do things you did or do. Like it’s nice because she’s doing the same thing, but it’s weird because she’s doing the same thing. So that doesn’t make sense, but I don’t know how to explain it.

We put all our hopes in our kids. Then some of us become aware of that, and we try to draw back so they won’t feel all this pressure. Yet we want them to feel some guidance. But we also want them to be themselves. But what happens if they do something we don’t approve of? Like what if she wanted to be a fundamentalist Christian? That would be really hard. That would feel like a rejection of everything we stand for. Fortunately, she identifies as an atheist.

She doesn’t do drugs. I actually am not opposed to drugs, although I think it is wise to wait until you are older to do them. Smoking, of course, is not good for you and I would hate it if she did that, but then, so would she.

She asked a funny thing yesterday. She asked if I thought she should be a model. Whoa! What a mine field! She’s a beautiful girl, but I don’t want her to feel her beauty defines her. But if someone did ask her to be a model, I think it would be flattering. But I also think it’s not as easy a job as a lot of people think. Most models don’t make much money doing it. It’s the supermodels who make the big bucks and few can be supermodels. So I wouldn’t really want her in that field, just because it’s so tough, but maybe to do it a few times for experience would be good.

I said a little of that. But she asked it in a jokey way, so I didn’t say all of that. Still, it was nice to hear something on her mind as she worked on the puzzle. Sometimes she talks about friends. She has a friend who is sexually active, and so we find out every time this friend has a hookup. This friend also does drugs. We don’t know the friend’s name, but it’s nice she’s tells us these things.

I think she’s testing us as we test her. Can we be trusted? Will we freak out? What can she tell us?

I suspect your parents might freak out more than we do, and that’s what is causing the tension you feel. Your family is more religious and that probably adds some tension due to the strictness of the rules you guys have. I’m not saying this is good or bad, just that it can lead to tension.

I don’t know if your parents remember being a teenager, but I never wanted to forget because it was the worst time of my life. I want my children to know that I do love them and I am here for them no matter what, but I don’t say that. I try to act it.

So I ask you to look at what your parents do, and not what they say. What story does their behavior tell you? That’s the real story. If that is a story that bothers you, then that explains why you can’t meet their eyes. And if you are doing things you know they won’t react well to, that’s part of the story. If you are doing those things, you can be sure your parents know. They were teens once, too.

How you talk honestly, I don’t know. I’m not there. I don’t know your family dynamic. Hopefully, they can be understanding. It’s tough being a teen. I think teens should be given a lot of understanding, but most often, parents respond by clamping down. They are afraid you’ll get hurt. It’s natural. But I think it often has the opposite affect from intended. By clamping down, teens rebel more.

By being open, and relaxing the rules, perhaps teens will reach out. It’s like training a cat, I guess. You go after the cat, and the cat runs. You ignore the cat, and the cat starts making your life hell (well, in my case, since I don’t like cats). But I love my daughter and son, and by giving them space, perhaps they are reaching out. For that, I am grateful.

I suspect your parents want to know you. They want to be in your life. This is a time when most teens want separation and to prove they can be adult. So if you can give your parents connection, they may be able to relax their ties to you.

RandomGirl's avatar

@wundayatta: I think you touched on on something there: My family is religious. That’s all. My parents go through the motions week in and week out. They try to be “good Christians”, but it always fails, because it’s all about rules for them. They’ve just forgotten about why they’re Christians. I’m not like that. My faith isn’t about rules, it’s about a relationship. It isn’t about going to church, it’s about learning and growing. So I think that also has something to do with it.

Also, I’ve realized that I’ve done a lot of growing and changing completely separate from them in the last 18 months or so. I spent the last two summers working at a Bible camp, and I grew in my faith a lot. It was a shock to come home and remember that my family just goes through the motions. They’ve never met my “camp self”. I spend about 8 hours a week in town on my own, for work. I know people they’ve never met. I flourish in my work environment, but my parents have never seen that.

I can’t look my parents in the eye because I’m a very different person than they think I am. That’s why. I just need to come up with a way to show them who I really am, and then I’ll be fine. They’ll be surprised, but fine with it. I have no intentions of doing something they disapprove of.

wundayatta's avatar

I think you’re right, @RandomGirl. You need to show them who you really are. But guess what? I’ll bet that’s what they want, too. They love you. They just want to know who you are. They may be surprised, but that’s ok. The way to do it is to start telling stories. Tell stories about camp. Tell stories about the people you work with. That’s all it will take. You will find a chance to talk about what faith means to you during one of these conversations. I guarantee it will come up eventually.

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