Dear Therapist,

I feel frustrated by the way my family sees me. I’m a successful, hard-working lawyer, but when I’m with my parents and siblings, they treat me as though I’m a screwed up adolescent. The truth is, I used to be badly behaved. I got low marks at times, took drugs, and was the family black sheep. But that was decades ago, and I’ve worked so hard to be where I am today. I’m not perfect, but I’m no longer an out of control mess up. But they make jabby remarks, like “Oh Francesca, how unusual for you to be on time, we expected you to be at least half an hour late for dinner,” – things like that. It might sound petty, but it hurts. Why can’t they see me for who I’ve become, not for who I used to be? 

Francesca, London 

Dear Francesca,

I feel your pain! For all of your hard work, it sounds as though you would understandably like some recognition. The thing is, change and growth can be threatening, as wonderful and necessary as it may be. We see this play out in the workplace, in families, in social groups, and in just so many relationships. As much as your family may have criticised you for your misadventures as an adolescent, your being the black sheep may have suited them as well, on some level. You were the designated rebel, the carrier of dysfunction, which family members could use in their sense of their own roles as well. So you becoming successful may be confusing to them. 

We typecast people and forget to update our definitions, and it’s painful. It’s fantastic that you are now living the life you’re living, and of course it would be lovely if your family could let go of an outdated sense of your behaviour. My suggestion is that you consider the distorted lens that clouds perception in every family. We don’t see ourselves or others entirely accurately, as close as we may feel. Hold onto your sense of self, and accept that you are all the things you are, even if that isn’t sufficiently appreciated. 



Do you have a question for Charlotte? Send it to [email protected]!

Further reading

Understanding and managing family dynamics

This is what happens when you visit a family therapist

Birth order: does your position in the family really make a difference?

Mothers and letting go: why weddings bring up such complicated feelings

How to change the way you see yourself