Dear Patti, 

I’m 15 and graduating high school next year. At age 3 I already had a large vocabulary, began reading adeptly, and am frequently reminded I’m extremely intelligent. While I have deep appreciation, respect and humility for all talents and abilities bestowed upon me, to grow up always considered gifted, different and “special” has more often than not felt like a curse. I’m the sole progeny on both maternal and paternal sides for two generations. All attention is on me and I’ve felt like in order to be loved and make everyone happy, I’m expected to consistently perform brilliantly. 

Coming from a long line of physicians, it was long ago decided I’d join the family profession. I never questioned this. Recently, I took a practice medical college admission test (MCAT) and a practice law school admission test (LSAT). I did extremely well on the LSAT. I realized how much I love technical writing, reading comprehension, and analytical/logical reasoning. I feel like this kind of work is what I was born for! Lately I’ve been reading everything I can get on the subject of law. I’m not performing for everybody else but simply doing what I love. While it makes me happy, it feels foreign. How can I tell my parents, grandparents and all my relatives I want to go to law school instead of medical school? I’m afraid they’d be devastated and it would break their hearts. 

  — Zoe 

Dear Zoe,

I’m concerned you’re going through life doing what’s expected of you rather than joyfully living the life you were meant to have. I recommend you seek professional counseling to help you find your true path and ensure you’re not just acquiescing to well-meaning family members who may expect you to perform for their satisfaction more than for yours.

Enmeshment is an emotional bond with another person or persons that is so enveloping it causes one to lose their sense of self; i.e., becoming a doctor to please others when you really wanted to be an attorney. In order to avoid losing a sense of self, it’s important to explore various aspects of what you want, not just what others want for you. To commence this personal discovery, start a journal and answer the following questions. What would be a meaningful career for you? What are you passionate about? If money were no object, what kind of work interests you so much you’d do it for free? What’s your true nature? Your talents? What do you value most? What’s fun for you and how do you like to play? Who are you now? Who do you want to become? What kind of life do you need to create to feel fulfilled and complete versus full of regrets? 

A healthy emotional bond with another is one that doesn’t lead to losing your own identity, dreams or goals but, instead, reinforces them. Be open to guidance and inspiration, but don’t let engulfment (enmeshment) lead to losing your unique, valuable self.

Carl Jung, a famous psychoanalyst, was the first to define “archetypes.” This is the concept we’re each born with a unique grouping of energies, traits and talents that comprise our personality. Sometimes these archetypes are totally different from those of our parents; i.e., an athlete who yearns to be a football player may encounter disappointments, misunderstandings and relationship problems with his gentle poet mother and intellectual researcher father if he’s struggling to stay true to himself and still trying to please them.

According to Jung, there’s an innate need for self-realization that leads to the exploration and integration of various aspects of one’s personality, a result called “individuation.” It’s crucial for your loved ones to recognize, understand and accept the individual driving forces within you and let you be yourself rather than follow a life-script expected of you. You’re a unique being with a unique purpose; the role of your caretakers is to guide you to discover that purpose and enjoy a happy, fulfilling existence. While this may sometimes be a lonely journey, fidelity to your rightful nature can lead you to discover your true potential. Likewise, ignoring “the self” can be dangerous.

Calmly and lovingly explain to your family that while you appreciate and respect their life choices, they need to respect your choices, too. You’re still young and inexperienced. Be open to your elders’ wisdom but stay in harmony with the person you want to be by listening to and understanding your true self. 


Patti Carmalt-Vener, a faculty member with the Southern California Society for Intensive Short Term Psychotherapy, has been a psychotherapist in private practice for 23 years and has offices in Pasadena, Santa Monica and Canoga Park. Contact her at (626) 584-8582 or email pcarmalt@aol.com. Visit her website, patticarmalt-vener.com.