Journeying through adulthood has an interesting way of forcing us to look at how our parental relationships have shaped us. Our habits, temperament, behavior, relationships, personality, and way of living are all very telling. If we’re being mindful, we prioritize introspection surrounding these things. This self-examination gives us space to ask questions about who we are and who we want to be. Among these thoughts, we may think of the impact our parents had on our development.
Our childhood, upbringing, and parental figures have lasting imprints on our lives. When our experiences in these areas are negative they can take an adverse toll on our mental and emotional well-being. We have expectations and assumptions of our parents throughout our entire lives. They are supposed to be our first places of love, learning, and protection. But what happens when they aren’t? What happens when they don’t show up for us? What happens when we feel disconnected from them? What happens when we’ve been hurt but are conflicted because we still love them? Listen. It’s heavy stuff to unpack. It takes strength to even acknowledge disappointment, resentment or hurt we’ve experienced byway of our parental relationships. It’s a vulnerable admission.
Some people have thriving healthy relationships with their parents and others have painful or traumatic relationships with their parents. Some of us had parents who made us feel small. Some of us had parents who terrified us. Some of us had parents who didn’t care. Some of us had parents who left. Some of us had parents who couldn’t love. Some parents were a combination of many; nonetheless I’m sure it was painful. It may still be painful now. Please know, admitting that is okay. Feeling negatively toward a parent is okay. We do not have to falsify a relationship in our minds, or to others, that has caused us pain and maybe even changed us somehow. It is okay to be angry, to be hurt, to feel abandoned, to be sad. But, we cannot stay there.
How do we heal? How do we move forward? How do we get it right for the next generation? These are all questions I am constantly asking myself. I am still figuring these out every day. A few big themes in concluding my answers have been boundary setting, forgiveness, and release.
Setting personal boundaries in my parental relationships has allowed me to protect myself. It allows me to honor my feelings and well being first. Forgiveness is something I am working on. I appreciate the perspective that it is ultimately for us, not them. Forgiving them for what they did allows us to be free; it allows us to accept what has happened and move forward. It reminds us that our hurt is not our own fault. But I will never say forgiveness is mandatory. Considering forgiveness might feel more painful than the pain. Everyone’s process is different. Choosing to release what has damaged me is challenging but makes me feel free. It’s ongoing, it’s ugly, it’s beautiful, and above all it’s healing.
My daily work in my own healing constantly reminds me that parents are just people. They are human — meaning they will mess up, be disappointing, and or cause harm. They are not perfect. They’ve experienced their own trauma, pain, loss, and brokenness the same way anyone else has. Maybe they never healed. Maybe they never knew they needed to heal. Maybe they still don’t. We can recognize this while knowing there is no excuse for what they have done or continue to do. However, understanding they are only human is a frame of reference. It is merely a lens.
I am encouraged to fight for my healing. Knowing there is work to be done is half the battle. I often see the terms ‘reparenting’ and ‘inner-child work’ floating around on social media and can only feel gratitude for this visibility. ( I strongly suggest researching both terms and feeling for what resonates). There are other people who have stories and experiences like mine, like yours. It’s always reassuring to feel seen.
The idea of being the voice we needed to hear growing up is crucial to our healing process. Affirming ourselves is major. Acknowledging our childhood feelings that have followed us into adulthood is major. Taking time to do the things that made us happy or feel like our truest selves reframes our outlook as adults. We can find new ways to move forward through our pain.