Everyone who has been to therapy, in the first few sessions have definitely encountered the following question, or variants of it:
What can you tell me about your childhood?
Question which at first, if you’ve never been to therapy may ignite the following thoughts from you: “Why am I being asked these questions?”, “What is the purpose of this?”, “Why now?”- reaction which later, you will laugh at.
Why will you laugh? Because in possibly every therapy session you will at least once be directed back at your childhood by your therapist.
We are the summation of our past experiences.
Childhood is the key moment which defines our attachment styles, behaviours and reactions. We are more like our parents than we think. Could be also genetics, but it is most the behaviours which we have seen as children, we undoubtedly ended up imitating it.
Even in our teenage moments, most of our reactions even against our parents manifest in a way they would react in a moment of rebellion. We’re unbelievably unaware of how similar we can actually be to our parents.
Let me present you 2 situations:
Child John: “Mum! Why the f*** does Jenny eat squid???”
Mum: “John! How dare you use the F word!”
Mum in traffic: “Why the f*** did you park there?? Great! You parked to get that f***ing bread and you had to park right there. Amazing!”
*John slowly internalizes mum’s behaviour and learns how to act in such situations*
Funny perspective for a parent, right? Most times we set unrealistic expectations on our children, just to find out that they were simply mimick-ing our own behaviours.
Moral of the story — when we try to change our children, we have to see them as a sponge: they learn words & behaviours from their context. No baby is born evil, rebellious, a king/queen of cursing etc.
In therapy, your inner child “DVD” is played back to the therapist.
And most times, the stories are actually not the happiest: we end up blaming our parents for not loving us enough, not listening to us, being too busy — which is not wrong. It’s the key moment of realising these behaviours which define who we are and what type of parents we would like to be.
In our growth to maturity we go through 3 key stages on how we relate to our parents:
1. Parents = the Gods of our universe
From the perspective of a child, they are your creators, they teach you morals, what’s right, what’s wrong, they set your coordinate system on the “correct” values in society, they tell you to eat that piece of bread but put that ant down:
“Johnny, the ant is not food! put it down!” — while the child in our heart might ask:
“but the ant seems tasty! What’s wrong with the ant?”
Long story short we overly idealise our parents and see them as indestructible. This is characteristic mostly in child-parent relationships where the parents hide away their sorrows from their child. For example, my parents have very rarely shown me the hard side of life — So I took their words for a very long time as the “Bible”, I understood: “If I do what they tell me to do, I will have the perfect life I see in them” — which is rarely, almost never the case.
No one’s life is perfect.
Perfection is the quickest mindset to failure and desperation.
The enemy of “Good enough” is perfection — as the fantastic vulnerability researcher and writer, Brene Brown would say.
2. My parents are a**holes!!! (Yes, 3 exclamation marks)
Therapy helped me to move to this stage.
You might be thinking that my therapist manipulated me into seeing my parents in a bad light.
You know what the reality is?
She helped me select the values which I found correct for myself and the values that my parents “required” me to have. She helped me sepparate “me” as a unique individual, from my parents’ high & unattainable standards.
This is a painful stage but an essential one in defining who you are, what you believe in — morals which might be similar to your parents’ or they might differ tremendously.
In this stage, angry texts might arise, unanswered phone calls, curse words, written letters which were thrown away and never sent & more.
It’s a killer stage for families where there have been strong bonds, but an inevitable one for the child’s happiness and defining who they truly are.
(speaking from experience here! It might happen that not everyone goes through the same experiences as I did — this whole essay is based on my realisations in the past years)
3. My parents did the best they could do. They’re actually not that bad.
I stayed in the 2nd phase for almost 2 years and it took me quite a while to grow a more mature mindset towards my parents. Of course, we still have our monthly conflicts — which used to be daily — but now we finally get to accept our differences and just laugh at moments when we disagree and at how different we ended up being.
My perspective: I was in a lot of anger these years that my parents always had (and still have) a lot of expectations from me and for them nothing I ever did was “good enough” — them being “serial perfectionists”. All these 20–23 years I have kept my anger towards them inside — up until one day it errupted and Stage 2 kicked in.
It took me various therapy sessions to define what my values are, finally understand that I am good enough whatever I do and learn to see that behind my parents’ crazy obsession for perfectionism, lies their own sadness from their childhood spent in a Communist time in Romania. It took me a long time to understand to the core that they want the best for me, but in their own way.
My uncle (mum’s brother), who I tremendously love, told me a few months ago one line which I will never forget in this life:
“Your granddad, Tata, and your mum — have absolutely no clue how to show how much they care. They have a stupid way of showing their affection — have you noticed how they always block?”
Bear in mind, that in my family introspection, self-reflection, personal growth & all the other therapy stuff — are words which are not even used in our vocabulary. My uncle and I never spoke to this depth. It shook me.
It made me take ownership over my anger and start seeing my parents as ordinary people. They’re not the “gods” of my childhood.
They are just ordinary people, who had a tough childhood, they weren’t shown love when they needed it and they did the best they could to love me and give me the life they wanted to offer me.
Reaching this mindset made me make peace with my inner struggles and to forgive and finally see my parents as equals.
When you end up seeing your family members as ordinary people with their own struggles, you end up making peace with your childhood.
All my love ❤ ,