Dear Rachel,

My family is giving me a hard time about the changes I’m making in my efforts to become more religious. They don’t understand why I won’t eat at their favorite restaurant anymore, why it’s so important for me to wear modest clothes, or why I won’t drive with them to Aunt Marsha’s on Saturday. They think that the laws are stupid and separate me from them. And sometimes, I think that they’re right! I feel so alone and it makes me question the journey that I am on.

But I want to do things according to the Torah. What they refer to as “archaic.” I see timeless wisdom. My journey would be so much easier if my family would let up and be more respectful and understanding. How can I navigate this?

Dear Awesome Woman,

I hear you, and I’m sorry that you’re experiencing this. Your journey is difficult as it is, without being ridiculed. How much more difficult it is when others are acting unkind.

And I’m so sorry that you’re feeling alone. Know that you are truly not. There are so many of us who have taken similar journeys with our own share of difficulties and loneliness, too. We have come to understand that G‑d is right there with us, and yet on this physical plane we can’t necessarily feel the support or hear the answers in each of these difficult moments. For each grimace and snide comment that our families make, there is pain.

So let’s take it slow. Here are a few suggestions:

1. You are not the rabbi for your family and friends.

You do not need to explain each law or Torah teaching to your family; that’s not your job. While you can briefly explain what you do and why you do it, it’s not your responsibility to convince them of anything. Your job is to try and maintain a loving connection despite the changes that you are making. I don’t know what your relationship has been with your family until now. Usually, the same patterns that existed before are there after you become observant, too.

2. Be as independent as you can be.

Can you work, earn money and not live in your family home if they are not keeping kashrut and observing mitzvahs like you are? Or if you must live at home, can you pay for your own food and needs?

Try not to rely on your family for sustenance. They have boundaries as well, and if they don’t understand what you’re doing, then they also don’t need to support it financially or even emotionally. Sure, we’d love them to, but that is not a requirement of a family member.

To treat you kindly and respectfully is a requirement—just like they would a stranger—but to financially or emotionally support you is not. As painful as it is, they do not need to understand you. Your rabbi or rebbetzin or friends and community who share your journey with you will understand you. Make sure to spend time developing those relationships (even connecting online will help you feel supported and understood).

3. Check your energy; how are you showing up?

People can sense our energy. If you’re feeling insecure and defensive, your family will sense that. If you’re confident in what you are doing and believing, they will feel that energy from you.

Are you being too critical of yourself? The kinder you are to yourself, the kinder others will be to you, too.

Are you being ornery? Entitled? Uncompromising? Are you being wishy-washy? Or the opposite—are you being “holier than thou” and judgmental?

If you’re judging others—“They’re not religious enough,” “They’re not doing what they’re supposed to do,” and even, “They should understand me”—that will be felt. People respond to the energy behind your words, not necessarily to the words themselves. Speak to your mentors, rabbis and rebbetzins, or enlist the help of a safe coach to guide you through this transition so you can be as respectful as possible to yourself as well as others.

4. Set boundaries to maintain your mental and emotional health.

If you’re showing up with kindness, and your family is being critical, pressuring and unkind (probably patterns from before you took the journey to religious observance), you may be feeling shame, hurt, sadness and anger. That anger may be letting you know that there is a “boundary violation” going on, and it is very important to assess for healthy boundary setting. It’s not OK to be treated with disdain. This is where you can practice speaking up for yourself, distancing when you need to and treating yourself with the respect and kindness you deserve.

It’s also important to only share what feels safe to you. Your vulnerability is very important. If family members have the past pattern of trampling on that preciousness, then it is wise to stop sharing your thoughts and feelings. This is setting boundaries for yourself: Have respectful interactions, but don’t share your innards.

If you don’t live with your family, then you can be respectful by making brief phone calls or visits. And even if you do live with them, interact wisely. Spend the time focusing on them and their welfare. You don’t need to share what you are doing or learning.

By setting up boundaries, you’ll avoid resentment and you’ll also be taking accountability for your life. You need energy for embracing this new path towards a Torah life, as well as energy for your creative endeavors. Having limits allows you to say yes to beautiful things on your soul’s path.

If your family members are the type (and you would know this by now since you have grown up with them) where it is possible to have open conversations, then do so using “I” statements. For example, you could say: “I feel misunderstood, and that makes sense considering that I am taking a different path than I used to. Maybe there is fear and worry on your part. I do love you and I am being as cautious as possible on my journey. I’d love to be close to you during this time of transition. What I need is love, kindness and acceptance as I am making my choices and decisions, as kooky as they may be to others. I will also try to be kind and respectful to you, though I won’t be choosing to do some of the things that I used to do—like eating non-kosher food or driving on Shabbat.”

5. Celebrate you!

You are on an incredibly brave journey, leaving a familiar past and entering into the unknown. Put your arms up in the air and say, “Yay, me!” What a beautiful statement of courage. The Torah life is a beautiful one—one where you choose to cherish your soul. Good for you!