Adult Kids

February 14 2021 | by

DEAR DR. POPCAK: I am studying at university and struggling with some anxiety. I don’t have a great relationship with my father and, while my mother and I are very close, the tension throughout my family is very high. I’ve had a wonderful time at school and I feel I’ve truly become more independent. How do I go home and continue to be who I am now in this more difficult environment? I feel like I’m going home and losing my independence.


First, let me say, you are not alone in this experience. People often remark on how hard it is to go back home again. That can be true no matter what age we are. Sometimes when we visit our family-of-origin we unconsciously allow ourselves to fall into childhood roles. Other times our parents and family act as if we should continue playing those roles even to the point of acting offended if we don’t.

Another sentiment I hear quite often is, “I can’t wait to go back to school/my own home so I can be myself again.” These feelings are understandable. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

The fact is, nothing about you actually changes from place to place. No matter what your environment is like, you still maintain all of the strengths, knowledge, and abilities God has given you. You just need to give yourself permission to use them. The good news is that it’s okay to give yourself permission to display these strengths because God wouldn’t have given you those abilities if he didn’t expect you to use them. True independence comes, not from getting permission from others to be the person God wants you to be, but rather, from giving yourself permission to do so.

The reason we tend to regress when we go back home is that our negative self-talk (i.e., the frustrated, hurtful things that we think about ourselves, others, or our situation) gets in the way of us seeing the truth. In this case, that truth is that you are no longer a child, no matter how much anyone else may want to treat you as if you were.

It’s true that we can’t control other people, and that we can sometimes have a limited impact on our environment, but we can change our self-talk – intentionally moving from the negative/frustrated thoughts, to focusing more on the things you can do to exercise your strengths, values, and abilities even while you are home. Make a list of your strengths, the virtues that are important to you, or the positive characteristics that make you who you are. Maybe you would describe yourself as a caring person, a thoughtful person, a helpful person. Focus on the ways that you can use these strengths at home, such as helping someone in your family with a chore, or caring for yourself by going for a walk, taking deep breaths, or participating in your favorite hobby/activity. These are just a few examples of how to confront the negative/frustrated self-talk or thoughts and focus on what you are capable of. When you focus on what you are capable of and how you are in control of using your strengths, you will be able to recognize the ways that enable you to truly maintain your independence, no matter your situation or environment.

Your environment may change, but who you are, the strengths that you have, and how you use those strengths are entirely up to you. Finding your power in intentionally living out your strengths will help you to recognize your independence.

Updated on February 14 2021