Forgiving Your Parents
In 1998, researchers tracked the childhood experiences of about 17,000 people. They categorized ten kinds of childhood adversities, ranging from abuse, neglect, domestic violence, alcoholic or drug abusive parents, parents with mental illness, or divorce and separation. Over 60% of the participants had been through at least one childhood trauma.
Researchers found that childhood trauma is directly linked to an astonishingly long list of physical illnesses in adults—heart and liver diseases, obesity, sleep issues, among others—as well as many mental health issues like depression, substance abuse, and suicide attempts.
It was also established that the more trauma that participants had faced as children, the higher their chances were to develop a chronic disease. This research has now been substantiated numerous times, and it’s clear: if you had a traumatic childhood, your brain configuration changes forever and you are more susceptible to health problems as an adult.
How Do We Forgive Faulty Parenting?
Those of us hurt by our families hold on to a lot of anger, and by doing that, we stand in our own way. Holding on to a past hurt is like burying yourself alive. Ultimately, you’re the one getting choked by anger, resentment, and strategies of revenge.
To forgive is to liberate yourself and float up to the present moment. And that’s what being an adult means – to take responsibility for the present despite the past.
It might take years, decades even, and sometimes, you will give up. But that’s okay, try again. Here, I have compiled a list that could give you some perspective on forgiving your parents: why you should do it, and how to do it.
Seeing Parents As Humans
Children place parents on a pedestal. That maintains an isolating gap where parents and children get stuck inside their own mental prisons. It helps to alter your perspective and view your parents from the eyes of an adult. Empathize with their struggles and their limited mindsets. Parents are humans after all: flawed, sad, lonely, and overwhelmed.
Don’t Fight The Parent, Fight the Internalized Parent
When we argue with parents, it’s mostly about some core issues. How they don’t understand us, or can’t see our perspective, etc. We end up going in circles, letting off steam at the moment but creating self-harming patterns in the long run. Self-parenting is a process undertaken by you, for you. The equation you’re trying to change is the one you have with yourself, so don’t bring your parents into it. Fighting within a family is just another burden on top of already heavy baggage.
Focus your energy on creating an ideal, loving parent inside yourself.
Ongoing Issues / Dealing with Emotionally Unstable Parents
Emotionally unstable or immature parents obstruct you from forgiving them. One helpful way is to Introduce a healthy emotional distance from them. Don’t shun them but try not to get into emotionally charged conversations that could end up in bitter arguments. Instead, talk about safe topics, like hobbies or health.
It’s key to adopt realistic expectations from toxic parents. Always remember: you cannot control other people. You can only control how you receive and react to them.
Often, there are unspoken rules in a family that are pretty unhealthy. Usually, these are:
1. “You are family so I can treat you any which way”.
2. Conflicting life values.
The Minimalists, in their fantastic podcast on this topic, suggest some strategies to overcome familial grudges.
Firstly, they ask us to make a value chart where we list our fundamental values about life. You can see the value chart here. You might realize, after doing this, that your parents may not share the same values about life. And that’s okay. You can both co-exist with different sets of values. Just avoid stepping into the area of conflicting values.
Grieve Your Imagined Childhood
Psychologist Kati Morton offers a liberating strategy: to grieve, properly grieve, the relationship that you wanted to have with your parents. You could do this by talking to yourself, writing about your feelings, or even crying about them.
It’s comfortable to live inside a fantasy so we cling to our grudges. But know that that only blocks our own growth. Ultimately, what serves us, in the long run, is to exchange our fantasies of “having a different childhood” or “our parents having a radical personality change”, with the reality—that while we recreate or relive the past, we can always fight our fears and take accountability of our lives.
Inner Child Work Exercise
Start a dialogue with your Inner Child.
Write a letter to your Inner Child asking specific questions:
• What does being “at home” mean?
• Did you feel properly loved, in a way you needed to be loved?
• Is there something you want to tell me now?
• What do you want to tell [Mom / Dad / sibling]?
Now, it’s time to learn about the strategies for re-parenting yourself. In tomorrow’s lesson, you will learn about Attachment Styles.
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