Why get mad at my parents?

Question: It seems that when my friends go to therapy, they end up being mad at their parents. I don’t see why this has to happen; I love my folks and think I had a good childhood.  Relationships are a struggle for me and I would like to change that, but I don’t want to be turned against my parents.

It is not a necessary for you to “get mad” at your parents to have success in therapy.  After all, as adults it is our job to take responsibility for ourselves and not just blame our parents for being inadequate.  Although understanding your relationship with your parents is part of the therapeutic process, it is not the end.

Often  people will go through a stage in their therapy where they realize that their parents did make mistakes that have deeply effected them, or were actually destructive. Becoming aware of this leads to a healthier perception of themselves.

In therapy you will come to realize that you are not inherently bad or deserving of what happened to you as a kid and that this can free you to have better relationships. During therapy it is common to get angry about what you needed as a child and didn’t get. More and more you will realize if you had been treated differently as a child you would expect good treatment from intimates in your adult life.  Life would now be much easier. In this case being angry at your parents is part of no longer blaming and diminishing yourself.

But — if someone in therapy stays at this stage, they have not finished healing, they aren’t growing up.

The way people act in adult relationships is influenced by they ways they learned to gain love and approval from their parents. Children need to see  parents are “all good”, so if you fail in getting truly loved, you must be in inadequate or they would of course love you the way you need them to. Unless, when your become an adult, you see your parents as human and not perfect , you may continue acting in the same old ways hoping you will finally get loved.

It’s amazing what people can discover they are doing to get their parents to love them, sometimes even after the parent is dead: Giving up even knowing your true feelings because Mom or Dad needed you to be “good” and not make any trouble, not leaving a lifeless marriage because Mom would be upset if there was a divorce in the family, staying in a profession you don’t like because Dad was proud of you, keeping the house immaculate because Mom thought clean houses were a sign of good character, etc.

Growing up means giving up the hope that your parents are going to make you gloriously happy if you can only please them enough. Growing up means realizing that you have to make yourself happy. It means accepting that your parents aren’t going to change and give you what you needed as a kid, and even if they did, you’re not a kid any more.

You get to to grieve this truth about your parents, which includes sadness and anger. Your parents are who they are and it is your job now to become what you want to be, internally and externally. When you are no longer suffering or being limited by what they did or didn’t do, your anger naturally falls away and you can see them as people, with whatever strengths and weaknesses they have. For people who were severely abused that may mean no longer being in contact with their parents, but in any case, as an adult you decide what is good for you in relationship to your parents as with everything else.

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