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Sometimes, you struggle with the way family sees you. Maybe you are the black sheep that is doing everything wrong. Or maybe you have some conservative family members that love you but consider you a failure because you are not married and with children. Being single is not an option and you couldn’t possibly be happy. Prioritising your study and career over that is seen as a big mistake. So, they push you and keep pressuring you to the point that they are willing to destroy your self-esteem until you change. Of course, they think it’s for your own good.

That is me.

Notice I’m not saying was, I’m still the black sheep. I never changed and neither did they. They still think I am wrong and that I will regret my life choices.

In a way, I always hoped that they came to accept me as I am. I had always hoped that since they love me, and their intentions were good, that eventually, they would understand that I made the right choices for myself – that not all women want to prioritise marrying and having children. I mean, it was obvious. I was happy and didn’t mind being single. How difficult could it be to see and understand that?


So, What Changed?

Well, I was at my first job in IT. I’ve been almost two years there and they were happy with my work. A few months ago, a co-worker I befriended with, had a motorbike accident and had to take about six months off to recover. I was the one expected to pick up his workload while still doing my own. And I did. Somehow, I managed to get all work done and keep customers happy. It is safe to say that I was expecting a promotion or, at least, a rise for all the extra effort.

Instead, it was my co-worker, the one that wasn’t there for the past months who got a rise while I got a pat on the back. A pep talk where my boss explained how happy they were with my work because it was really good and lots of encouragement to “keep doing that great”. Of course, I didn’t understand. I had proved myself, shouldn’t I deserve at least a small rise? So, I asked why I didn’t get a rise and his answer left me even more puzzled. “Because you have a boyfriend.” At that point, I barely was able to ask again about what had to do with my work. So, my boss, very patiently explained to me: “Because now, you would marry and have children and when that happens, we won’t fire you.”

When I heard that something in me snapped. Though I was calm and ended the conversation politely, I knew that nothing I could say would get me that rise. Just like the conservative part of my family, he won’t listen. He had already decided that my potential to get pregnant meant that I didn’t deserve a rise.

In case someone wondered, that was about ten years ago. The advice we usually get in situations like this is “lean in,” to work even harder until someone realised of our value and, eventually, we get the rise. Right? Well, I didn’t.

What changed at that moment was the way I saw things. I realised that the other people intentions won’t change the results of their actions. Possibly, my old boss thought that he was doing me a favour by ‘letting me focus on family’. He might have assumed he ‘knew better’ and what was really good for me was to have a low wage, so my boyfriend won’t felt threatened. Or maybe he just wanted a higher bonus I not giving me a rise was the way to make numbers even.

It didn’t really matter. What counted was that I had neither a promotion or a rise. Even if his intentions would have been good, he hurt me. Not only that, I didn’t need to know what his intentions were. I already had all the information I needed to make decisions. He was down paying me and won’t change that, everything else was irrelevant.


Moving On

That very same day I updated my CV, got in touch with some headhunters and arranged some interviews. Two weeks later, I had already accepted a new position at another company with a huge rise (more than 50%) and handed my boss a resignation. I didn’t need my boss approval, persuade him of his wrong ways or even get proof of him being unfair to get the promotion and the rise.

And I also got a lesson that has helped me lots of times:

You can’t know what others really think or their intentions, and you don’t need to. You know their actions and that is enough.

People lie all the time to get their way, but their actions and consequences remain. Promises that aren’t followed are worthless. In this situation, all the pep talk and praise didn’t put more money into my account and it made harder for me to save money.

Sometimes intentions are irrelevant. Someone can be a good person and still hurt you a lot. Maybe they really, really intend to make things right or make up for whatever, but if they don’t, even if they tried but somehow always fail to do that, then it doesn’t matter. In fact, after I handed my resignation, they promised me that “in six months I would receive the same rise that my co-worker already had.”

I refused. Not only was that rise lower than the one I already had by changing companies, they expected me to patiently wait six months to get it. And I couldn’t even trust them anymore to be fair and keep their word. So, I walked away.

Conversely, the people who offered me a promotion and a rise, didn’t do it because they were nice or goodness, they did it because they needed my work. Self-interest. But the money every month wasn’t less welcome for that.

And if you think this lesson only apply as a career advice, you’ll be wrong. This same logic applies to the conservative part of the family. Their reason to meddle, nit-pick, pressure, emotional blackmail and other manipulations to make me change didn’t make them less hurtful. And I’ve also found this behaviour in boyfriends.

If someone cause you anxiety, makes you feel drained, or sad, insecure, depressed, worthless, or even the classical ‘not good enough’, then that person’s reasons won’t change that. And the people who have bad intentions won’t tell you the truth anyway.

I’m aware that not knowing and not making sense might drive some people mad. It is frustrating when someone who is supposed to love you or value you, hurt you on a regular basis and you can’t see the reasons for that. But they are hurting you and they would keep hurting you until they stop doing whatever they are doing to cause you harm. You don’t even need to know what it is exactly they are doing, only that with them you feel depressed or anxious.


My Time Is Valuable

Now, I won’t waste time trying to understand why they do things or learn their intentions. I ask them to stop. If they don’t, I know they would keep hurting me and that is really all the information you need to make a decision.

You don’t need to prove that the effects of their actions are bad. 

Not to them, not to anyone. You don’t need to show the world that they are wrong or, even, offer the “presumption of innocence.” That is only for trials and they won’t go to jail because you refuse to be shortchanged or keep feeling anxious for their constant mood changes or apparent irrational rage directed at you.

The only thing you actually need is to love yourself and take care to be physically and mentally healthy, and for that, the easier way is to walk away from the source of damage.

Was I discriminated against? Probably. But proving it would have been difficult if possible at all and wouldn’t have solved my problem. A trial might have taken years and lots of money I didn’t have. Wasn’t practical. Not only that, a trial might have got me the original rise that was lower than the one I got by changing companies, but I’m sure the boss would have resent me and retaliated in future assignments or promotions.

By walking away, I got new opportunities and forced them to seek a replacement. Not surprisingly, the replacement they found was a freelance which I’m sure was way more expensive than the rise would have been. They asked me to not say goodbye to the customers. I didn’t comply. Why would I? No matter their reasons, that would have hurt me. And no matter the consequences for them, they were the result of their actions.

I’m sure the freelance did well and I would never know if they learnt to value more their workers. What I know is that I make the right choice for me. As for the conservative part of the family, I have managed to improve the relationship with them by asking them to stop doing the meddling, emotional blackmail and all the pressure to be a traditional woman. At the end of the day, their love weighted more than their beliefs. What if they didn’t stop? I would have spent a lot less time with them and I would be better for it.


You Already Know

So next time you found yourself questioning someone’s intentions or motives to justify a damage they are doing to you, stop. Ask instead, what action is causing this damage? If I ask them to stop doing that, would they?

In doubt, you can ask a couple of times to stop the hurtful thing. If they don’t stop, they can’t claim anymore that they “didn’t know”. They know because you have told them, they just don’t care enough about not hurting you and whatever reason they have to do that is more important. You already know all you need to know: Walk away and don’t look back. That is the only change you really need.


A guest post by Elisa Mariño.