Dear Dr. Faizal,

I consider myself to be a pretty confident person. I have a successful career, I’m happy with who I am… life is good! For some reason, whenever I see my boyfriend’s parents, I say the stupidest things that don’t depict me for who I am!!! One time I said, “Turning 19 was the best day of my life”, and now they think I’m a heavy drinker! Obviously, turning 19 was not the best day of my life. I get so nervous that I blurt out things that make no sense and sometimes aren’t even true. Why am I like this with them but not in other aspects of my life? Help!!

– An Average Consumer of Liquor

Dear Average,

It’s wonderful that you have a successful career and are happy with who you are. Such an achievement takes self-confidence in knowing what one wants and how to get it.

However, sometimes we become nervous in certain situations and lose this confidence in ourselves when we develop fears – perhaps fears of the unknown. Could it be that you are trying very hard to please your boyfriend’s parents because you do not know if they like you or approve of you dating their son?

Such efforts, motivated by fear (perhaps of being rejected), most times leads people to say or do things that are uncharacteristic of who they are. They, like you, “blurt out things that make no sense and sometimes aren’t even true.” Cut yourself some slack – we’ve all been there, and your boyfriend’s parents probably recognize this behavior in you as you simply being nervous. As much as you’d like to show them the real you, I can bet that’s also what they’re waiting for – to get to know why their son picked you.

To get the wheels of connecting with the parents in motion, you could first ask your boyfriend to have a heart-to-heart talk with them about his feelings for you. He could share with his parents how you both met, what he found attractive (physically, mentally, emotionally) about you, how you are different from his past girlfriends, and, most importantly, how you make him happy.

All parents want to see their children happy. Your boyfriend’s parents, once appreciating that you are making their son happy, will eventually approve of you, which would lessen your fears and nervousness around them, leading to some real opportunities of connecting.

You see, for a meaningful connection between people to occur, fears and anxieties must be resolved. “Flooding” is one technique I use with clients who are experiencing some form of fear. The theory behind this intervention is that you repeatedly place yourself in situations that provoke anxiety (in your case, being around your boyfriend’s parents) so that you eventually become desensitized to the situation and are better able to deal with – and even enjoy – the experience.

You can create positive experiences with your boyfriend’s parents by doing enjoyable activities with them. Perhaps, if you like cooking, share their kitchen with them and, together, cook up a storm with them for dinner. If watching sports is more your thing, why not get the entire family tickets to a sports event and go with them.

One quality that parents admire about their son’s girlfriend is her wanting to know about their son. So, one evening (perhaps after dinner), ask to view the family album and pay special attention to your boyfriend’s photobiography. Comments, for example, like, “He’s so cute,” “Look at him in his birthday suit,” “Wow, what a man!” etc. will undoubtedly bring laughs, and humor reduces tension and brings people together.

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