“Lost time is never found again.”
Our parents have a great influence on us in negative and positive ways. Last week, I began talking about this and used an example of how parents can influence in a positive way. Negative influences give us an opportunity to grow and learn. Many times our best learning come through difficult experiences. Through challenging relationships, we can really stretch and grow and gain strengths we can use throughout our lives.
One of the exercises I do with my patients who are having a difficult time with their relationships is that I ask them to write out what they like about their parents individually, and what they don’t like. This exercise gives both them and me important information about them and how they experience life and what they bring to their relationships with others. Many times the very things we have the most trouble with in our parents are the things which we tend to continue. Another way of saying this is that the further we try to be from our parents, the more we tend to be like them, and mostly in the ways we are trying to avoid. Have you noticed that you say the same things to your children or to yourself that you heard from your mother and/or father and didn’t even like hearing them then? Do you find yourself struggling with an addiction that one of your parents had and remember that when you were young that you hated your parents drinking or overeating or drugging or yelling? The more we try to be different from them the more we tend to be like them. This is until we become conscious of what was going on with them and conscious of what we are doing and begin to see the same patterns repeating and make a decision to step out of denial and see the truth. It is true that even though we are greatly influenced by them, with an awareness of our part of what we are doing and the acceptance of our parents for who they are and were, we do have the ability to make a different decision; not out of trying to be different from but by seeing a truth and knowingly deciding that another way is better.
I have a patient who had a very difficult beginning in life. Her mother and father were teenagers when she was conceived. Her first month of life, she and her mother lived with her mother’s parents. Her dad was in the picture, but they were not living together. When she was only about 1-year-old, her mother moved them out to go to college, and they had their own place. Her father, also in school, lived with them for a time. Soon after, her parents broke up and dad moved out. Afterward there was a sequence of relationships between her mother and different men and homes. In addition, her mother’s relationships could be volatile. This young woman, then a child, witnessed many fights and break ups and moves. Her mother had more children and she felt responsible for them.
This young woman’s first experiences in life, in the womb and in the first years after her birth were chaotic, difficult and traumatic. This is a primary time when our right brain develops and our nervous system matures. She can be high-strung and volatile like her mother. In addition, she experiences body sensations very strongly and can easily become anxious enough for an anxiety attack when she doesn’t understand the sensations she is experiencing. These are all legacies of her early beginning in life.
Today she is struggling with a chronic illness in which she is beginning to see that she doesn’t need to be sick in order to bring her family together. And also that she is not responsible for bringing her family together. She is beginning to see that no matter what she does or if she is sick or well, her family will be as they are. She doesn’t have to rage or be in denial, but she decided she wants to be well and truly make different decisions in life than they were able to make for them and for their children.
She has been greatly influenced by her family in negative and positive ways. She is learning to keep the positive and let go of the negative. Through her experiences, she is realizing how strong she is as a person and how perceptive she can be about her and others. She is stretching and growing and realizing that she has strengths she couldn’t have had without her early wounds. As a young man said who was terribly abused by his mother, “he has learned to love his wounds. If he doesn’t love his wounds, how can he help others to love theirs?” We all have wounds in life and through our experiences and influences by our caretakers. Can we learn to love them so that we can live full, whole and vital lives for us and for others?
Small Lifestyle Changes that Promote Big Results:
An exercise that I like to do to help us to see what is unresolved within us, especially in keeping with today’s subject; our parents influence on us.
Take a piece of paper and a pen. Write out two columns: one column you title, what you like about your mother/and or father. You can even do this exercise the first time for your mother, and the second time for your father. In the second column, write what I don’t like about my mother. Then write out underneath the column heads 3 or 4 things you like about her, and then 3 or 4 things you don’t like. Do the same for your father.
Now, look at what you wrote. Did you find it hard to think of anything you like about them or was it easy? As you look at what you wrote and feel what you wrote in your belly’s, what still has a lot of energy in it or a lot of weight, or makes you feel angry or resentful or hurt as you feel them? Those things you don’t like that just feel like facts are probably for right now fairly resolved within you. Those things still with a lot of energy are where you can look within to help you to work on for yourself.
Next, pay attention to what you do like. How do they make you feel as you read them? And as you do, do memories pop up for you, good ones which remind you of why you wrote them down?
Read these over for the next few days and see if anything changes for you; you want to add more of either, or memories, or even awarenesses within you. And again, if you would like to share how this exercise is for you, I would love to hear from you.