Seeing them then and now.
Reality of the Past
I’d like you to look at the picture above carefully and notice what you observe and feel based on what’s happening in it.
This was somewhat of an accurate representation of how I saw my parents, and the dynamic between us when I was a child.
I saw two, tall towering parents who seemed to always be angry with me, or were at the very least in a bad mood most of the time. They had all the power and all I wanted was to gain their approval so I could feel worthy and okay about myself.
To feel worthy isn’t just a nice, pleasant feeling to have. To feel worthy is to have your emotions regulated to some degree, and to be able to go out in to the world, whether it’s at school or the park with other kids, and enjoy yourself.
It’s the difference between a good and a bad life (childhood) so to speak and so this is why I, and I imagine everybody else, chased validation and approval from our parents, and from everyone and everything else we thought we could get it from in our lives.
It’s that important.
So as a child I saw an unfair power dynamic between myself and them. They had the power to mold my brain and tell me who I was. They had the ability to make my life the most wonderful experience a person could ever have, or a living hell.
Whatever they did in my first few years of life was going to affect how I lived for most of the rest of my life. So getting their approval and love was of paramount importance.
Along with the unfair power dynamic came the idea of status. Because they were older and more powerful, and I was younger and inexperienced, their status automatically became one of authority and so whatever they said must be true and whatever they did must’ve been justified.
If my father slapped me then I must be bad or wrong. If my mother pulled away from me then I must have also been doing something wrong and so I needed to watch for her cues in order to know what was correct, so that I can be “right” and good.
As a child I had no choice but to accept their status and what the reality of the situation was that they were portraying. Deep down I think a part of me knew that I wasn’t such a bad (shameful) kid, but I also knew that my survival depended upon these two people and so I accepted it.
Reality of the Present (& Past)
Now look at this new image. Study it again take note of what you feel and how you interpret it.
This new image is one I’ve come across while meditating after doing lots of inner work. It seemed to have come up out of nowhere and immediately made me feel less tense and stressed.
Looking at that image in my mind’s eye was me looking back on the past with my adult glasses on and getting a newer, more accurate interpretation of what happened back then.
What I see in this image is a child looking at two other children, not 2 parents. Those two other children have been around longer and know more things than the child does, but they are still children nonetheless emotionally.
When I first was able to access this image (after years of therapy and introspection and accessing it by accident) the first thing that happened like I said was my body immediately felt less tense. That tension was like a low resolution, permanent resentment that I was carrying around toward my parents since forever.
The reason that in that moment my anger subsided was because the image immediately discredited the two assumptions about my parents that I’d always been carrying around for years. The first assumption was that they qualified as an authority figure and so whatever they said and did was correct.
But now that their authority status is gone, I (me then) no longer have to believe what they say anymore. They become more like an older brother or sister than they are parents.
The second assumption was that I must be bad because they’re always angry with me and they have more power than I do. I must be wrong in some way and because of that I carry around a ton of shame with me.
This assumption again is destroyed because the power dynamic, at least emotionally, is no longer true and couple that with the loss of their status as an authority figure ( again emotionally) and they become no more grown-up than I was at the time.
Basically my inner dialogue goes something like this,”Oh, you guys are not what I thought you were! I thought you were all-knowing, right-thinking, mature adults who were treating me the way I deserved to be treated because I didn’t know any better, because I was 4 years old. Oh, you guys are children who are not yet developed emotionally and so you weren’t trying to hurt me necessarily, or tell me that I was no good, you were just trying to deal with your own unresolved issues, and you didn’t even really see me? If you can’t see me then when you yelled at me you weren’t really yelling at me, you were blinded by your issue.”
What I’m trying to say is that I was able to realize in that moment that my parents hurt me very badly but that they weren’t trying to and that makes all the difference in the world.
So that means that when I was a child I interpreted reality incorrectly.
*** It’s important to note though that my reality as a child was also correct. It did happen, they did hurt me and I did suffer a lot as a consequence to that. They did something wrong.
The idea that I interpreted their actions incorrectly doesn’t mean they were not at fault for something, or that my experience wasn’t authentic and based in reality. My father did slap me and my mother did pull away from me and those are experiences that are damaging to a child.
Imagine for a moment to that two, inexperienced and unintelligent parents allowed their young children to watch the “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” horror movie. Most people know that this is obviously wrong and will end up damaging the children to some degree. But from these parents’ point of view, they did nothing wrong because after all it’s only a movie which means that it’s all pretend.
Those children are going to grow up resenting the parents for it, but once they’re able to see that their parents have issues to some degree then the experience takes on a different meaning, “Oh, my parents are aloof and disconnected most of the time.”
Another example would be to have grown up with a mother who was anxious and neglectful your whole life, resulting in trauma that manifests itself as you being awkward in school, having no friends, thinking depressing thoughts and being in and out of therapy since the age of 13.
You grow up absolutely hating her for the damage she had done to you. Neglect is one of the most damaging forms of abuse to children. But what’s if you then learned that the age of 25 your mother was captive in a harsh prisoner of war camp that she had to endure for eight years prior to you being born?
Well then you’d still have some resentment toward her but a lot less. You’d also have compassion and understanding (tout comprendre c’est tout pardonner) which would not change anything for her, but it would make you feel a lot better knowing that your mother didn’t do anything on purpose.
You don’t carry around so much hate and blame and resentment and that makes you feel better.
The new Image doesn’t Hold
That new image which dissolved some of the resentment I had toward my parents lasted only a few hours and then my body returned to its baseline emotional state, which was anxiety and frustration tension.
That deflated me somewhat because I thought that discovering the image was like discovering a permanent change in my psychology and the way I felt going forward.
So time went on and then I came across that image again while talking with my inner child and felt that same relief.
Then it went away and I was frustrated again. Over time I started to piece together a few other parts of my own therapy work that I’m doing and realized that just because I get a glimpse of a new piece of information, doesn’t mean that it can stick.
My environment (parents) growing up sent me over 10,000 messages telling me that I was bad, wrong and shameful. And so just because I create one message to the contrary, doesn’t mean that it’s enough to counter that early damage.
So my work now I imagine is to talk to my inner child again, every single night for many years to come. What I’m hoping to do is to create enough counter messages so that the new reality that I just discovered about my parents (being children themselves) is the more dominant one in my brain and once that happens I’ll start to feel better permanently.
This isn’t to let my parents off the hook, or to blame them or to have anything to do with them at all. This is about me making myself feel better based on truth and reality.
Once that happens I’ll still have the damage to contend with, fear of anger and anxiety around all that but I imagine it will be much more manageable when I feel like I was, and still am dealing with different people (parents and the world). People who had issues themselves and who I’m still angry with, but not because they were malicious, wicked, uncaring or mean.
*** If you’re going through something similar then I hope this helped. If you are, I invite you to share it with me and everybody else who visits here by typing it up and emailing it over. I’ll post it on the blog which would benefit everyone; you for writing it up – which gets you in touch with your unconscious more and with this issue of yours specifically – and us for relating with it and perhaps seeing our own issue from a different angle
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