Why your family's opinion matters

Or, why you keep listening. The short answer to why your family's opinion matters is...because you let it.

The longer answer has to do with history.

No matter your relationship with your family, they have been with you the longest. When you were a baby, they were the first people you encountered. Your relationship with them taught you how to relate to the world, how to learn, and what love looks like.

Your first opinions of yourself even came from them.

In some ways, it's as if the umbilical cord is still attached. Whether you like it or not, the words they say get inside your head faster and stay there longer than anyone else's ever will.

Because this began at birth, you can't just rationally decide to stop listening. This connection is ingrained. It was made before you had rational thought.

The ties can be broken. Therapy helps with that.

What's more interesting to me, though, is to see how to live with this connection.

But first, it helps to understand just how ingrained it is.

Let me tell you a little story from when I was in the hospital. A story I didn't share in my book.

It was following my surgeries to remove and treat a brain tumor. I was in the intensive care unit after contracting meningitis, a serious and debilitating bacterial infection of the membranes covering the brain and spine.

Though everyone involved was weary, we all were beginning to sigh with relief. I had made it through the worst of it. I was weak but recovering and it would only be a couple more days until I would go home for good.

That's when my mom turned to me as she left for the day and said:

You don't want to leave the ICU, Lauree. I hope you can stay an extra night.

She had a point. Being there meant I had my own nurse, and this ICU in particular was tailored to cranial and spinal surgery patients. Things had to be really serious for you to be there, but by my third visit we were all fairly accustomed to that part of the deal.

Leaving the ICU meant returning to the normal ward for a couple days. It meant overworked nursing staffs, and needing to be on top of my medical needs. Knowing medications and how often I took them in case they forgot (which they did during each of my three stays).

Then again, going to the normal ward meant I was getting better, something we all wanted very badly. Especially after multiple surgeries and bacterial meningitis thrown in.

I have the luxury of distance now to explain the elements of this story. At the time, only days before this I had been crying out in pain and hallucinating. I weighed under 100 lbs.

My whole life was that little room and the people who entered it. It was as close to a return to childhood as I think an adult can get.

Here's how I know that the imaginary umbilical cord is still attached.

Right after she left, my heart raced.

The machines in the room began beeping. I could feel my heart pounding through my chest, and you could see my hospital gown shift in steady, intense rhythms.

A cardiologist was called in and ordered several EKGs to make sure I didn't have a blood clot.

After hours of tests and monitoring, they couldn't find anything wrong.

But they kept me in the ICU an extra night just to be sure.


Time has passed, but some things don't change. I don't have heart palpitations when mom worries about my upcoming adventure.

But her words, and my dad's, have just as much sway over me as they did in the hospital. The only difference is that now I can't tell as easily.

They still seep into my thoughts, make me worry even though I don't know why.

The umbilical cord is why.

What's even more interesting? It works both ways.

Your words have profound affect on your family too. Your children, your siblings, and your parents. They are taking in what you say, and how you act -- your opinion is getting ingrained -- without anyone noticing.

After spending the last month with my parents, I've seen first hand how sensitive we all are to each other. How one side glance from me sends dad into the other room to hide in front of the TV.

Why I've told both of them in great detail where I'm heading in August, and why I cringe waiting for their response. Why I want so much for them to say they think my trip is a good idea, and why even when they say the right things I wonder if they really mean them.

It's because their opinion matters. More than any of us would care to admit.

The next time you speak to, or even think about, your family notice your interactions closely. Pay attention to how you react and the stories you continue to tell yourself days and years later.

If they came from someone else in your life, they wouldn't mean as much.

Remember that you don't get to choose your family. You also don't have a lot of control over how they affect you.

But you always, always, always get to notice the effect, and decide what you do about it.