Lesson 5 of 7 - evolve a high-nurturance family

Manage Disapproval
from Relatives

You have options!

By Peter K. Gerlach, MSW

Member NSRC Experts Council

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The Web address of this article is http://sfhelp.org/fam/disapproval.htm

  Updated  03-09-2015

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      This YouTube video provides perspective on what you'll read in this article. The video mentions eight lessons in this self-improvement Web site - I've reduced that to seven.

      This is one of a series of lesson-5 articles on how to evolve a high-nurturance ("functional") family. The article proposes options for responding to  significant disapproval from one or more family members. It includes a special focus on handling disapproval from (a) grandparents and parents, and (b) among divorcing-family and stepfamily relatives.

       The article assumes you're familiar with...

  • the intro to this Web site and the premises underlying it

  • self-improvement Lessons 1 thru 5 (or 7, if you're in a stepfamily)

  • requisites for satisfying relationships

  • what's unique about family relationships?; and...

  • ways to analyze and resolve most relationship problems


      Families are universal in every age and culture because they best fill many primal needs of their members - e.g. the needs to

  • belong to a group like a clan or family, and to...

  • feel worthy, valued, and respected by group members, and to...

  • get support with major life problems.  

      The need for approval varies among our many roles and relationships. Most people have a higher need for approval from their parents than from their mail carrier. Reality check: among all the adults and kids in your life now, whose approval of you matters the most? The least? What makes the difference?

      Note the difference between disliking (a preference) and disapproving (a god/bad judgment). These human emotions often overlap and feel similar, but merit different responses.

      Why is disapproval stressful? You may say "Duh - because it doesn't feel good." Yes, but why? What "doesn't feel good"? How about...

  • disapproval implies someone thinks we are wrong or bad in some way, and...

  • it may indicate the person's loss of respect for us, and...

  • it may mean that a satisfying relationship with the person isn't possible. This can be specially painful if the person is a mate, parent, child, or sibling.

      To prepare for reacting wisely to someone's disapproval, let's take a closer look at it.

Disapprove of What?

      Our need for social approval spans many different roles. Some are more important than others. For example, you may seek approval for being a "good"...
















       Our approval of each other also spans a mosaic of individual traits, like...


























      "Liking" and "respecting" someone is proportional to (a) how we prioritize traits like these ("honesty is more important than punctuality"), and (b) how many of their traits we approve of. Typical busy people in stressful relationships don't take the time to analyze these variables, so they're apt to react impulsively and regret that later.

      Another factor that affects our relationships is what we're each taught to expect from each other by our ancestors, the media, and religion. For example, most people expect parents and kids to love and respect each other, and that relatives will want to loyally support each other in troubled times. Our approval of each other is partly proportional to how well we fill others' role and relationship expectations ("I don't like my co-worker asking me personal questions.")

      Finally, note that some (wounded, insecure) people's self-esteem depends partly on the behavior of their relatives, friends, and key associates. For example, some shame-based parents feel embarrassed if their child "acts out" in public. Some mates feel responsible if their partner gets drunk and obnoxious. They disapprove of the other's behavior because they feel it makes them "look bad" ("Why are you with that sicko?")      

       So what? Knowing these things can help you choose wisely how to react to "disapproval" from relatives and others. "Wisely" means (a) protecting your integrity and self-respect, and (b) preserving or enhancing your relationships.

      So - if you're feeling significant disapproval from one or more relatives, what can you do?


      The first step in choosing how to react to significant family disapproval is to see if your true Self is guiding your personality. If not, well-meaning false selves may be unintentionally contributing to the problem/s. Online Lesson 1 here shows how to free your true Self to guide you.

      Next, identify which relative/s disapprove of you or someone you care about. If it's several relatives, focus on one at a time. Clarify how this relative makes her or his disapproval known - verbally, nonverbally (e.g. eye rolls, sounds, facial expression, and/or body language), and/or comments to other people ("behind your back").

      Assess whether your relative is a Grown Wounded Child (GWC). If s/he is, study what that means, and these options for relating well-enough to him or her.

      Decide if how your relative expresses their disapproval (respectfully or not, directly or not) may be part of the problem. ("I can live with your not approving of my raising ostriches, but I can't accept your sarcasm and name calling.") If true, get clear on what specific behavior you need your relative to change, and plan how to assert your need/s respectfully.

Three Choices

      Reflect and decide whether you need to...

  • accept conditions that you can't change (like your relative's personality),

  • avoid confrontation, and feel chronically frustrated, resentful, defensive, anxious, ashamed, or guilty (etc.). Excessive shame and guilt are symptoms of psychological wounding. Follow the link;

  • Your third choice is to ask your relative to do win-win problem-solving.

      If you choose to problem-solve, estimate what you think this relative disapproves of - you as a person, as a wo/man, or in some family role like mate, parent, child, nephew, etc. Ask your relative to explain clearly (a) what it is - specifically - s/he disapproves of, and (b) why - specifically - that it bothers her or him. Try not to explain, make excuses, or defend yourself - these lead to arguing and cutoffs, not problem solving.

      As you ask for clarification, stay aware of the difference between surface problems (needs) and underlying primary needs. Example: "I disapprove of your smoking cigars. They stink!" is a surface problem. "Underneath " it may be (a) a need to reduce fear that "you'll get cancer and I'll lose you," and/or (b) "You're modeling unhealthy behavior for my children, and I need to protect them!"

      Note that if your relative is psychologically wounded, s/he (a false self) may be distorting reality and misjudging you. If so, logic, appeals, hints, demands, or explanations probably won't reduce the distortion.

      If their disapproval is about...

  • a values conflict - including family loyalties - ask your relative to read and discuss this with you.

  • a behavior, habit, or personality trait of yours, then review your personal rights and life priorities and decide whether you're willing to change. If the behavior has to do with a possible addiction, read and discuss this. To avoid resentment and "relapsing," you must want to change for your own sake, not for theirs.

      Note that well-intentioned false selves may be causing your "problem" trait or behavior. If so, freeing your true Self (Lesson 1) is a more relevant goal than changing your behavior!

If you're relative disapproves of

  • something to do with money, read and discuss this with the person;

      or if they think badly of...

  • a relationship of yours, dig down to uncover why that bothers them.

      Did you know you have so many choices? Compare these options to how you would normally react to significant family disapproval.

Special Cases

      Three situations merit special awareness: disapproval (a) by parents or grandparents, and disapproval among (b) divorcing-family and (c) stepfamily relatives. Disapproval and conflict between mates merits it's own article.

Parents and Grandparents

      In our first weeks outside the womb, we begin to learn that displeasing the giants who tend to us is painful and even terrifying. Their faces, voices, and behaviors foster "good me" and/or "bad me" (shame) feelings well before we have a vocabulary and start to separate ourselves from them. Our media, school, and religion teach us we must respect and please the adults who raise us. They  also command us to respect the wisdom and dignity of older people like grandparents.

      These early lessons become primal (unconscious) values in many people, which make perceived disapproval from parents and grandparents specially impactful. Wounded parents and seniors can use this to c/overtly manipulate adult kids and their mates by guilt and shame, compounding mutual relationship problems.

      All parents and kids face the same task: separating from each other psychologically as children become independent young adults. Grown Wounded Children (GWCs) often have major difficulty separating. Others never bonded with one or both parents and/or senior relatives, and feel no duty to please them.

      If you're distressed because a parent or senior family member disapproves of something about you, you can...

  • choose among the options above,

  • evolve and live by a declaration of personal rights as a unique, worthy adult;

  • tailor your own strategy to master family loyalty conflicts,

  • intentionally replace the old inner rules (shoulds, musts and have to's) about pleasing your relatives with new rules like...

"I should be true to my own beliefs and values even if my mother / father / grandparent doesn't approve of them,"  and...

"I am a good person whether my (grand)parents approve of me or not."

      If you have trouble doing this, you may have one or more Inner Kids who still live in the past. Consider doing ''parts work'' (Lesson 1) to free your true Self and identify them, bring them to the present, and teach them your new rules.

  • If you feel significant guilt about doing this, study these options about reducing excessive guilt to normal after you finish this.

 Divorcing-family and Stepfamily Disapprovals

      Psychological and legal divorce can cause a welter of feelings among relatives who care about each other. Psychologically-wounded relatives and in-laws may blame one mate or the other for being "wrong" or "bad." Their disapprovals can stem from empathy for a loved-one's pain and/or loyalty to them vs. "the other people." They also may come from trying to avoid feeling some responsibility for the family disruptions and marital "failure" - specially if minor kids are affected.

      Divorce-related disapprovals are often more emotionally-complex than other situations, and can be compounded in ex-mates and their parents by self-criticism, guilt, shame, hurt, resentments, grief, and religious beliefs . Managing disapprovals in a divorcing family is one part of the organic process of "divorce recovery." The options above still apply.

      Typical stepfamilies are even more complex, and are formed by the merger of three or more multi-generational biofamilies. Most stepfamilies follow one or more divorces, and biofamily members may or may not have "recovered" from them  personally and socially before starting to merge.

      Relatives' disapprovals of stepfamily co-parents can include things like...

"You (or your partner) shouldn't have divorced."

"You're re/marrying too soon."

"You're re/marrying the wrong person."

"S/H's not a fit (step)parent."

"You should put your (or our) kids first!"

...and many other things like child custody, visitations, parenting, names, discipline, financial support, holidays, health, religion, and so on.

      A major part of adjusting well to stressful new-stepfamily mergers is adults' learning how to spot and resolve concurrent values and loyalty conflicts and divisive relationship triangles - often caused by disapprovals. Resolution is often hard to find because...

  • typical stepfamily adults are psychologically wounded and unaware, haven't fully grieved their losses, and can't problem-solve effectively; and...

  • there is little effective informed help available locally and in the media.

      If you're troubled by disapprovals among stepfamily relatives, adopt a long-range (multi-year) attitude, accept your identity as a normal stepfamily and what that means,  and patiently study and discuss lessons 1 thru 7 in this nonprofit Web site.

      What are you aware of now? What did you just learn? What do you want to do with these ideas?


      For primal reasons, adults and kids need to feel other family members accept and approve of (like, respect, and admire) them. Significant disapproval can cause shame, guilt, resentment, anxieties, anger, frustration, fighting, and other relationship problems.

      This Lesson-5 article examines aspects of "family disapproval," and proposes specific options for reacting to a disapproving relative. It includes options for responding effectively to disapproval from parents and grandparents, and among divorcing-family and stepfamily relatives and inlaws.

      Pause, breathe, and reflect - why did you read this article? Did you get what you needed? If not, what do you need? Who's answering these questions - your true Self, or ''someone else''?

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