I’m afraid of not liking my parents if I find out they hurt me when I was little. I want to be able to love them and be close to them. Maybe it isn’t worth finding out what happened to me, or is it?
That is a real and serious question. Would you rather live with the truth or with your hoped for fantasy? Would you rather have your whole self, or your relationship with your parents? I suggest you look at what troubles you in life and decide how much you want that to be different.
So what in me probably has to do with past childhood abuse? No one is perfect, what can I assume about myself is attributable to childhood abuse?
Low self esteem, relationship dissatisfaction, trust issues, lack of self actualization, unnecessary fears and anxiety, problems with your sexuality, to list only the most obvious. I have never known a person who has worked on their childhood abuse be sorry they did.
Positive self-esteem is developed in many ways in children. If your parents value you and respect your feelings, thoughts, preferences, and proclivities, while challenging you with age-appropriate, achievable goals – you will likely develop good self-esteem. This positive sense of who you are becomes a natural part of yourself – something you take for granted and something that holds up against life’s disappointments and failures.
Negative self-esteem can develop in a myriad of ways. It is pretty obvious, if you have been reading much of my blog, how being emotionally, physically or sexually abused teaches the child that they are worthless, and that certainly will grow roots of poor self-esteem. One of my Stories for the Unconscious “The Good Prince” illustrates how negative self-esteem can develop in a person who is, by all outward measures, very loved and given lots of positive regard by his parents; but wasn’t allowed to find his true self.
I have seen over the years in my practice this exact problem in some adults of wealthy parents. In this situations, the parents wanted control of their child and didn’t allow the child to investigate his /her own proclivities and learn his /her own strengths and talents. These parents have many values and directives that they press upon their child. As the child grows older, the parents continue to hold the child hostage by the magic of their money and the threat of taking it away. Other parents control the child by dint of their own personality – and use love, approval or fear as the currency of their control. Most children are influenced to some degrees in this way in that we take on our parents values. (” Of course they expected me to go to college, they talked about it ever since I can remember” – can be a positive value and directive. Oops! I guess my values are showing here!)
The difficulty lies for kids whose parents take so much control that their child, in order to win acceptance, pushes the best parts of themselves “underground” where the parents can’t see it. The abused child does this so the parents won’t damage that part of them. For example, the boy who has talent as a writer and whose father would surely ridicule and beat him so he won’t embarrass Dad by being a sissy. This kid could shove that talent so deep inside himself that he wouldn’t even know he can write well until he takes a college course in creative writing. The Good Prince put his real self underground in response to the enormous pressures of inheriting the Crown.
Forgiveness isn’t something to work towards, rather it is something that happens naturally in the process of healing. Once you are no longer suffering from the effects of what has happened, you find yourself no longer angry at your abuser. You may never want to see or speak to this person, but you do them (and ultimately yourself) the ‘favor’ of no longer seeing them as a monster. Once your rage has gone you find yourself seeing your abuser as a human being, perhaps very flawed, but human none the less. Getting to this point is good for your body and your health. This is no way implies you are condoning what happened to you, but it is forgiveness. If you try to get to the point of forgiveness instead of letting it happen naturally, you can’t help but miss essential stages in your healing.
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.
Everybody needs love from their parents. When we were kids we quite literally needed it like food, and we needed it everyday. Many of us didn’t get the love we needed. The less we got as kids the more we still need as adults. As adults we often choose our partners hoping to get what we never got from our parents. In our unconscious cleverness, we pick people that are “psychological stand-ins” for the parent(s) we most needed love from. Without knowing it, we are looking to solve the childhood problem of needing to be loved.
If a child is not getting the approval and love they need the problem is most likely in the parent’s inability to love, not in the child’s deserving of it. In our choosing a psychological stand-in, we choose some one who is like our parent(s), and therefore another person who can’t love us.In therapy you get to finish (within yourself) the emotional problem with the unloving parent. Then you are actually free to pick a good partner.
There are other strong influences that may appear as you begin exploring what is driving your choice of partner. For example: A woman was the oldest child of apparently loving parents who both had to work full time. She was needed to take care of of her syblings when both parents were working. She learned that the way to be valued was to be a caretaker and sacrifice her own needs. She chooses a partner who needs her care taking and continues sacrificing herself.
Influences from early experience formed your self image and taught you what you can expect from other people. The most powerful and longest lasting are those from our families. What you learned about yourself from peers, teachers, and other significant relationships also have a lasting effect.
We see ourselves with the eyes our parents gave us. A good therapist can be useful in understanding how you learned, and what you learned, about who you are and what you can expect for yourself in the world.