The child of parents who were violent, controlling or just cold can turn the pain they suffered into a deep understanding of themselves.
Like it or not, our relationship with our Parents will have a lifelong influence on our existence, health, behavior, and self-love. If we’re lucky, that legacy will be at best a positive one. But what happens when you are raised by a ‘difficult’ parent?
For most parents and their children, whatever their conflicts, misunderstand or different in their opinion, the relationship is largely nourishing, supportive and loveable. But for some, there’s more pain in the parent-child relationship than comfort and joy.
‘My mother’s violent and unpredictable outbursts can still affect me today’, says Susan, a participant from the last Primal Process in Lithuania.
When I completed my thesis in Clinical Psychology 27 years ago, I found out that difficult parents seemed to fall into a distinct sequence of their negative emotional behavior and negative traits, each resulting in its own particular personality; a lifelong influence for the child.
Once you become aware of which of the patterns your “difficult” parent belongs to, and take time to feel what really happened in your relationship with them, you can understand much more about your life, the way you relate with people and how you can or do not love yourself.
There are three major parent dysfunctional patterns of behavior that I see frequently in groups and sessions.
A parent’s prolonged emotional absence has even been shown to affect the physical and chemical child’s brain.
‘Affective sharing’, or emotional exchanges between parent and child, increases brain growth and generates those crucial brain systems that help us manage our own emotions, organize our thoughts, and plan our lives.
Children with a depressed, emotionally unavailable parent can grow up seeing their role as a comforter and protector. They may feel guilty for feeling happy and often take on large amounts of responsibility to make up for her ‘absence’.
You may also have deep-seated beliefs about the role you should play in intimacy relationships, believing that other people’s needs are more important than your own, that you always have to be mature and ‘grown-up’, and that you cannot trust people to be there for you.
If you look at yourself now and start to question some of the ways you behave (perhaps you frequently discount the importance of your own feelings, feel guilty when others are unhappy and hold yourself back from growing and gaining confidence), you will realize that a big step is becoming aware, to confront the old one and make space for new experiences.
The controlling parenting style is sometimes also called authoritarian or helicopter parenting, and this is because the parent is acting in an authoritarian manner or is hovering over the child and controlling their lives.
The behavior of this type of parent involves violating the child’s boundaries or not meeting the child’s true needs. He charges every aspect of a child’s life — to the extent that this parent even tells the child what to see, feel and want.
In a healthy parent-child relationship, control is used to shape general values and set down specific rules, but it is always informed by listening, and it respects a growing child’s ability to make sensible decisions of its own.
Where a controlling parent implies: ‘I know who you are, and you don’t’, or ‘I know what it’s the best for you’ or ‘Till I say you do’ or ‘What I need you to be is more important than what you want to be.’ Just a few as an example.
Children of controlling parents can become distrustful of their own wants, needs, and opinions. Even simple independent decisions can fill them with anxiety. They also learn to lie — to say what the controlling parent wants to hear — in order to keep them at distance.
The other side of this difficult growing up is that you are likely to have developed a thoughtful personality, having learned to weigh up your thoughts and opinions before you share them with others.
You may still carry the wounds of that relationship. Sharing and speaking the truth of what happened to you in groups or in session will definitely help you identify how difficult the relationship was and how it has affected you and your life.
It will also help you to become more in tune with your own feelings and needs, identifying with clarity what you want and think in different areas of your life.
Take time to listen to yourself, become more attuned with your own body, noticing what attracts you and what feels not right or comfortable. Understand and learn to set clear boundaries.
We are aware that all parents get angry — usually when they are tired or stressed, or when we need to warn children of danger or teach them an important life lesson.
One off-situation where a parent snaps or is rude to their child is not characteristic of an emotionally abusive parent. People aren’t perfect.
But repetitive insults and put-downs can turn into emotional abuse. Parents have overt ways of emotionally abusing their children such as desertion or speaking hurtful words that break their hearts, cast blame, and make them lose their self-worth.
Examples of abusive/angry phrases are: “I wish you weren’t born”, ‘I wish you were more like your sister”, “You are a lost cause.”, or “You worth nothing”.
Many adult children of angry parents grew up feeling as if they were constantly being ‘wrong’, and often still panic in the face of their parent’s abusive words today.
These people will often become submissive — gearing themselves to please and placate others, or on the other side be angry, like their parents, towards everybody else.
If you belong to the first, you may find yourself very diplomat, or being able to mediate in a conflict situation, because you’re so good at smoothing difficult situations. If you belong to the second, your threshold to contain feelings is very tin and you might find yourself lose your temper very easily.
Whatever happened in your childhood isn’t your fault, however the opportunity is to become aware, and take responsibility for yourself and your life.
First of all to see and acknowledge your tendency to please others, and beyond recognize the ability to just be yourself, and make real contact and authentic connections. And second, so that you might discover that your emotions (of anger, resentment, etc) are the incredible fuel for your fire to express yourself, as you are, in so many creative ways.
Take time to open up and let people get to know the real you.
Our parents may not be able to acknowledge our childhood feelings or memories, because it means they would have to open their heart to feel the pain that they simply aren’t ready to feel. No matter what, you don’t need their permission or validation to transform your wound into love.
You aren’t meant to suppress, you are meant to express and connect. When you choose to let go, the weight lifts and you feel lighter. It opens the door to discovering your true self and presents space to love.
In your hands, you hold the potential for a total re-ordering of your life as you know it.
The next Primal Process takes place 10 – 16 July 2022 in Tuscany, Italy. For more info click here.