How To Find Happiness When Your Parents Don’t Accept You

Accepting yourself, particularly your sexuality, can feel difficult and at times impossible to navigate. This challenge compounds when the ones you love fail to see you for who you are. Two years ago, after years of dating men, I told my parents that I was in a relationship with a woman. I wish I could say that they reacted positively, but their reaction was the farthest thing from that. From a sin to selfishness, my relationship was everything but glorified in my household. Although progress has certainly been made, my parents do not fully accept my relationship. My dad has not yet met my girlfriend, and my relationship with her has led to a painfully large gap in my relationship with him. Recently, my mom met my girlfriend at a family event—finally, a small dose of relief to distract my mind from what has felt to be an insurmountable battle. 

Progress and growth are not linear, and anger and happiness can co-exist. One day I will break down, crying to my girlfriend over feelings of abandonment and grief, and the next I’ll be laughing with my sister and friends as we celebrate their love and happiness for me. Their unwavering support were bandages to what felt like a chronic wound.

But the truth is, the love from your parents is irreplaceable, especially when you grew up in such a tight-knit household. I spent much of my childhood and early adult years with my family. Whether it was a summer vacation or a simple weekend at home, my family was my biggest fan, constantly filling up my glass with love and support.

At age 27, I sat with an empty glass, asking myself: How can I become myself when the ones I love the most do not see me for who I am? 

Dissect Your Thoughts 

You will never be happy if you marry a woman” is a painful sentiment that lives in my subconscious and often rears its head in my conscious mind. Many of us grow up conditioned by our parent’s beliefs. Our brains are malleable, especially as children, and it is only natural that we internalize our parent’s thoughts. Our parent’s opinions can be pervasive in our minds, and if we don’t question them, they can ultimately become our own—until the day that you wake up and realize that your identity is much more than the beliefs you have been conditioned to believe.

This realization takes time. The first step is to notice, observe, and dissect your thoughts. For example, when I was overcome with extreme disgust about myself or my relationship, feeling like it was “wrong,” I started to ask myself: Do you really believe these thoughts? How can you feel this way if you are so in love with your girlfriend? A combination of mediation, journaling, and therapy helped me to slowly de-condition and detach from my thoughts. I realized that I was stuck in a battle of internalizing the thoughts and emotions of my parents, which, for them, was a result of their own conditioning and internalization from their childhood. Someone has to break the cycle of family conditioning; turns out it was me. 

Resistance and Expectations 

Often, our unmet expectations are at the root of our suffering. I felt so uncomfortable going back home to visit my parents. “I can’t live like this.” “It’s going to feel so awkward being around my dad.” “Things are not normal anymore and I can’t handle it.” Reasonable thoughts and emotions, but perhaps unrealistic expectations. I started to dissect my emotions and realized that my expectations were creating a lot of my suffering. I expected everything to feel normal, and these expectations lead to disappointment and suffering. I realized that I could change how I experienced situations. For example, awkwardness is only perceived when there’s an inconsistency between your expectations of a situation and how the situation is actually occurring. What if I just accepted that it made sense that there was a wedge between me and my dad? I would no longer be perceiving the situation as “awkward” or “bad”, because “awkward” and “bad” are labels, and labels exacerbate suffering.

My family dynamic was torn up by the roots, so, naturally, I felt distraught, confused, and out of place. But, I was growing, and growth is often accompanied by pain. It made sense that things were the way they were at this point in time, and it was unrealistic for me to expect things to go back to normal, at least overnight. With acceptance comes less resistance, and less resistance often leads to happiness with the present moment.

Conflicting Emotions

As a psychology major, I learned that cognitive dissonance results from having two conflicting beliefs, often leading to mental discomfort. It felt wrong for me to love my parents when I felt that I was not receiving love back. “How is it possible that I still love my dad if he is making me feel this way? Why am I sending my mom a birthday gift if she still won’t talk about my relationship?” Slowly, the answer became clear: I still did love them, and that was okay.

Love and anger are contrasting emotions, but I learned that you can experience both simultaneously. This was an important reminder when conversing with my parents. I learned that I could go home and visit my parents, feel deeply hurt, but still love them. Why? Because I knew that my parents still loved me. Similar to my own internalized thoughts, their love was just colored by years and years of conditioning from their own upbringing. As I began to see that my parents were fighting their own battle, my anger was slowly replaced with love and empathy. The pain and anger that I felt, and continue to feel, is real, but so too is the love. And love, especially a deep love for your parents, does not fade.  

Vulnerability 

Vulnerability hurts, but a lack of it may perpetuate the pain. It was very hard to express my true emotions to my parents.  At first, I bottled up much of the pain that I was experiencing, especially when around my family. I had never experienced hardship within my family, so, naturally, I did not know how to be vulnerable. I soon realized that I had to lay my guard down and show them how much I was hurting. How else would they know? They wouldn’t. I learned how to cry. I learned how to tell my dad how deeply I miss and love him, and that all I wanted was to be his best friend again. I laid all my feelings out on the table. And boy, it felt good. 

But the truth is, vulnerability in it of itself does not guarantee change. I poured my heart out to my dad, and still, nothing. But that was okay. I realized that the goal was no longer for my parents to accept my relationship, but rather to show them how badly I was hurting and how much I still loved them. If I was able to do that, I was doing enough.  

Boundaries 

There is a misconception that setting boundaries means that you do not love someone. My experience teaches me otherwise: boundaries are love. 

It did not feel good to skip Father’s Day or miss my sister’s 21st birthday dinner. These decisions were not ones that came easy. How could I miss my little sister and best friend’s birthday? Was I being selfish? Am I a bad daughter for not celebrating Father’s Day? As I gently placed my hand over my heart, I answered back to myself: Of course not. I was not in the right place emotionally to attend these events. I began to understand that protecting your heart and emotions does not make you selfish or a bad person. Rather, it means that you love yourself, and loving yourself is the foundation to growth. 

I had never set boundaries previously with my family before, so naturally, doing so for the first time, just as anything in life, felt uncomfortable. Though, without those boundaries, I would never have been able to make the growth I needed to heal. Please do not feel guilty for setting boundaries with your loved ones. With time, the ones that you love will stick around and respect those boundaries. 

Small Victories 

Growth is growth and progress is progress, despite the size of the victory. I was sad after my mom met my girlfriend for the first time. “But my dad still doesn’t accept me–who cares if my mom met her.” Who cares? I do! I just had to give myself permission to see it. My mom, after a year of resisting, decided she was ready to meet my girlfriend. This was, and still is, a huge deal. Above all, this was progress. This was a victory, despite the size

It’s hard to see progress while you are still climbing the mountain. But the truth is, continuing to climb is the only way that you will reach the top. Do not undermine a victory or progress just because there is still more growth to be had, because each victory, no matter the size, is one step closer to where you want to be. 

No Such Thing As Good or Bad

It is impossible to ascertain whether any situation is “good” or “bad”. Two years ago, I was convinced that I would be miserable and that happiness would be unobtainable. How could I be happy in light of such a “bad” situation? I was wrong. As a way of coping with the pain, I started to find outlets to express myself. I started a TikTok page where I could share my thoughts and have received so much positive feedback. My girlfriend and I started a podcast which has reached and helped to validate so many people. It became clear that experiencing pain allowed me to grow in ways that I never have before. Of course, I never would have picked for my life to unfold this way, but at the same time, I would never take back all of the greatness and growth that has transpired. You never know what will come out of any misfortune or fortune. Try to resist the urge to label a situation as good or bad because the worst day of your life may lead to the best day of your life.

Moving Forward

Becoming and accepting yourself can be painful, but if you allow yourself to feel your emotions, it can be so beautiful at the same time. These past two years have been full of every emotion I could ever imagine. But what matters is that I felt them. My heart has endured sadness, but that sadness allowed me to feel the joy and love that I currently share with my girlfriend. I learned that crying releases endorphins and the importance of not suppressing tears. The pain is part of the process; every emotion is.  Please do not be scared of the painful emotions. Sadness and grief are just as important to feel as happiness and joy, and it is the contrast of these emotions that allow us to experience the highs of the positive ones.

At this point, about two years in, my mom is much more accepting than she was initially. She now asks about my girlfriend and mentions her in conversations. I can feel that her fear has subsided, and I think she is finally starting to see the love that me and my girlfriend share. I hope and believe that one day both my parents will fully see me for who I am and accept my truth. Until then, I choose to love them, and I choose to love myself. I hope you choose to do the same.