When your parents do or say things that hurt you
I’ve had two very similar conversations with two separate clients recently, both in relation to their parents.
One client was struggling with social anxiety and feeling like she wasn’t very good at making friends.
She was able to recall an emotionally painful moment from her childhood where her mother once said to her, “no wonder you don’t have any friends.”
The other client told me about how difficult her relationship with her mother was, referring to her as an irresponsible, narcissistic lunatic.
Again when I probed into this, she told me about particular things about how her mother behaved towards her as a child, for example, not coming to support her at an important audition because she needed to stay at home and look after the dog.
In both cases, they were really hurt.
And they were still carrying their emotional pain decades later.
Plus, it was costing them their confidence, their inner peace, and their ability to experience love.
However, it wasn’t so much what their parents had done that was causing them their pain, but rather, what they’d made it mean.
The first client internalised the idea that there was something wrong with her, and that she was unlikeable or incapable of having friends.
The second, similarly, believed that her mother didn’t love her, and that the dogs were more important than she was.
It’s understandable how they came to these conclusions, especially given the fact that they were only children at the time.
But these conclusions were wrong.
With the first client, without knowing anything about her mother, I said:
“What if when she said that to you, she wasn’t talking about you, but she was talking about herself?”
Almost to no surprise she then started telling me about how insecure her mother had always felt about not having any friends of her own.
With the second client, again not knowing much about her mother, I said:
“What if she herself wasn’t shown love as a child?”
And again, my hypothesis was confirmed when she told me about how harsh, cold and unloving her grandfather had been towards her Mum when she herself was a child.
The behaviour of these two parents meant absolutely nothing about either of my clients, and absolutely everything about their own insecurities.
They were simply projecting their own emotional pain onto their children, because they didn’t know how else to deal with it.
Understanding this is the key to healing, both oneself and the relationship.
Seeing things from this point of view creates forgiveness and compassion, instead of resentment and self-loathing.
So next time a parent says something to you that hurts you, or if you haven't yet forgiven something they said to you or did to you in the past, consider:
How might their comment or behaviour have nothing to do with me and everything to do with their own insecurity?
And notice what changes.