I recently had a conversation with a client about her need to defend herself and her choices to her (grown) children. Without sharing too many details, suffice it to say, as she enters into her retirement years, she is making some new choices on who she wants to spend time with, how she wants to live her life, where she wants to live. She is a woman who has had a successful 30-year career and raised three beautiful children. But, suddenly these children (and some other close family members) are questioning her ability to make decisions about this next phase of her life. Part of me understood their concerns. These choices seem a bit “far-fetched” based on how she has always lived; and yet, she’s entering into a new phase of life and wants it to be different. Therefore, her choices are new and different.
As I spoke with her further about her need to justify and defend her choices to her children, I inquired about why she felt this way. She said she didn’t like that they were questioning her judgment and “trying to tell her how to live.” I pulled that thread a bit further because my gut told me that she was misinterpreting their questions for judgment or trying to inflict their own choices on her; when I sensed they were simply concerned. We eventually got to the real reason behind her defensiveness with her children. It was because SHE was uncomfortable with her choices. She wasn’t sure she was making the best decisions or that she “approved” of them. Therefore, she was questioning her own judgment, and when her children expressed their concern, she felt an overwhelming need to defend herself. In reality, she was trying to get their approval because she didn’t have her own. If they approved of and were happy about her choices, then she might have felt better about them. And actually, this would not give her what she was seeking. She needed to feel comfortable about the decisions she was making in her life, and until or unless she did, it wouldn’t matter what anyone else thought or said.
The more I thought about her situation, the more I realized that this is often the case for many of us. When we feel good about what we’re doing or how we’re living our lives, it doesn’t matter what anyone thinks or says. We know what we’re doing is right for us, is good and true to who we are, and ultimately, what is best for those around us. But when we are uncertain or do not feel good about how we’re living or the choices we’re making, we seek that external validation from others to help us feel better. When we don’t get it, we often react defensively and feel the need to justify our choices to others who are “judging us.”
If you find yourself seeking external validation for your life choices or needing to defend your choices to others, step back, and ask yourself if you’re comfortable with what you’re doing and choosing. If the answer is a true yes, my guess is you won’t feel the need to defend yourself to anyone at all.