Most people do complain about their childhoods. I have met few individuals – inside or outside the psychological consulting office – who believe their childhood was wonderful and their parents were warm and capable. Almost everyone attributes today's stress reactions, phobias and relationship problems to the way he or she was raised.
And why not? Parent-bashing is a sport that requires little in the way of preparation or experience. After all, most of us had parents.
From Oedipus Rex to Menendez Brothers, parents are blamed for all sorts of misdeeds.
Of course, violent andor abusive parents deserve the censure of not only their children, but society as well. However, it is my experience that victims of true abuse are often reluctant to talk about it.
After years of listening to people blame their parents for life's problems, I've come to the conclusion that, for the most part, Mom and Dad serve as a universal excuse for our own frustrations and inadequacies. (Most) need to learn that, in order to change, (they) have to let go of the past and take responsibility for (their) present behavior. (They need to percieve (their parents) as individuals with their own problems and reasons for acting they way they do.
What many fail to realize is that this media-generated, stereo-typed family image is a MYTH, and always was. Our own parents struggled to raise us without scripts, backdrps, and guaranteed happy endings.
Yet, we expect our parents to be perfect in all ways – almost godlike. Instead, they set a bad example, gave us poor coping skills, weren't there when we needed them and never showed enough love – in other words, were all too human.
It is then that the gods are found to have feet of clay. Some people never get over the disappointment.
The first step toward growth is to acknowledge the pain, then move on.
At some point in our lives we must learn to develop a sense of compassion for our parents. Remember they had other roles besides mother and father; they were individuals who dealt with their conflicts and imperfections the best way they knew how.
Sometimes at the heart of parent-resentment lies self-hate. If we do not like what we have become, then someone else must be responsible. Since we are their creation, it must be them.
Even if our parents DID fail us, it is quite unrealistic to expect them to go back 20, 30 even 40 years and "fix" us. If we are boorish, cruel, or emotionally distant, a note from our parents reading "Don't blame him/her, it was OUR fault" won't be of much use. Plainly put, if we don't like who we are today, it's up to us to make the necessary improvements.
The past is over and done. We alone are responsible for our present behavior and emotional condition. We are responsible for our own history as we write it daily. Therein lies the true source of self-empowerment.
The common theme in all of the above is that, ultimately, to live a full and meaningful life in the present, we have to let go of the past. Why hang on to painful memories that take their emotional toll? Why inflict them on others? Even if we manage to win sympathy from others or instill guilt in our parents, what does it accomplish? Like a suitcase filled with psychological junk that we are trying to lug through life, this kind of excess baggage weighs us down and prevents us from enjoying the trip.
Keep in mind that childhood was but one step along a personal path of life and growth. At most it consisted of less than 20 years, formative years to be sure, but what we do with the next 50 or so is up to us.
Remember and cherish the good parts of childhood. Spontaneity, and even vulnerability, are traits we can use to our advantage today. Acknowledge the child that was, or risk becoming psychologically stilted, automatic and emotionless.
Yet children, even "inner" children, should never be put in charge. Temper the spontaneity and vulnerability of childhood with wisdom, experience and perspective of adulthood.
What else is life but time and energy – an opportunity to be and experience the world in our own unique and special way? We needlessly spent too much of that precious time and energy in ways that block our self-growth, understanding and enjoyment.
Ultimately, we must develop compassion for our past care-givers, while putting their role in our lives in perspective. Through this process, we, as adults, can become more of what we aspire to be without allowing fear, anger and resentment to disable us emotionally.
2008. Gerald Loren Fishkin, PhD. All rights reserved.
From: "If it weren't for childhood, we'd all be perfect!"
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