As an integrative coach, trauma counsellor and educator for the past 20 years, I have heard many female clients say: …”Now I realise how much my father’s unpredictability and emotional distance shaped so much of my childhood, and has continued to shape me as an adult!”
And my male clients: …”Now I realise how much my mum’s anxiety and overwhelming love shaped so much my childhood, and has continued to shape me as an adult! “
I have also stated the same lines myself when processing my own story in therapy. My daughter also recently said to me “Mum do you realise how we all get screwed up by our parents?”
I smiled first. Then I looked inward and began to elaborate how meaningful what she had said was.
I could not agree more with her.
I was recently taken by surprise when my supervisor here in Barcelona, an experienced psychologist and EMDR therapist, affirmed “Elisabetta, you know what? All men are screwed up by their Moms.” I exploded in a loud laugh. I found that affirmation so true and amusing. So aligned to all that I came to observe and then to believe in years of work on myself and with clients.
My supervisor, Jesus, kept looking at me and said “Don’t you agree, Elisabetta?”
And I could not agree more with him.
Besides, being Italian, it did not surprise me to hear people talking about the influence mothers have on their son’s lives. The Italian Mama attitude is one that is known about globally!
I am aware that you might be in complete disagreement with this, but I have my own reasons to support what Jesus had said. These reasons have inspired me to write a series of articles on the influence that our parents can have in our lives as young or mature adults, looking at happiness, success in relationships and work. I would also add influence on our mental, emotional and spiritual health too.
A REALITY CHECK
Are we aware that our children’s lives are a chapter in our life stories?
Are we aware that our own lives as parents are a chapter in our own parents’ life stories?
EACH GENERATION IS INFLUENCED BY THE PRECEDING GENERATIONS AND INFLUENCES FUTURE GENERATIONS
Our life stories as children and then as parents evolve along our journey. The capacity to elaborate and integrate the past, present, and future allows us to move into more coherent levels of self-knowledge and this can be translated into parenting skills too.
As babies we are born into this world dependent upon our parents for survival. We are supposed to experience an intimate connection with our mothers, that give us as infants a sense of security. With our fathers it is another story, but the bond is still just as important.
Attachment lays a foundation for how we, as children, come to approach the world, and a healthy attachment in our early years provides a secure base from which we as children can learn about ourselves and others.
But parents are not always able or educated enough to give us the experiences of connection and security in our childhoods. And when I say that I include all parents.
However, I am mostly referring to parents who abuse, neglect or suffocate their children with too much love. Or silently seduce their children or families. To situations where, even if physical abuse is absent, the child is repeated subjected to verbal or emotional experiences in which the parent’s behaviour is very frightening or disorienting.
These situations often involve parents who grew up in the middle of domestic violence and chaos, an emotional desert or being idolised and loved too much by one or both parents. As a consequence they have not made sense of these difficult experiences and faced up to the ways that they have had to adapt when their attachment needs went unmet.
I strongly believe that it is never too late to move toward making sense of your experiences and heal your past. Nevertheless, I agree it requires deep willingness and love for life as well as courage to face the unknown.
THE ROOT OF THE PROBLEM
As mentioned in previous articles and a stated by Svagito R. Liebermeister, German psychologist, his book The Roots of Love, there exists two basics type of relationships in a family system: one between superior and an inferior, such as the relationship between parents and their children, and one between equals, such as a man and a woman who become husband and wife, or agree to live together.
THE PARENT-CHILD RELATIONSHIP
When we look at what goes on between a parent and a child, we immediately see an clear imbalance. The child is relatively helpless and therefore doesn’t not have much responsibility for their actions, whereas an adult is or at least should be more responsible for what their actions.
Furthermore the child is always dependent on the adult: the mother or father gives more and the child takes more.
Svagito R. Liebermeister goes on to say that “In the parent-child relationship the sentences we use to express the intrinsic dynamic are: “You are big and I am small, you give, I receive” ( Pg. 124 The Roots of Love).
One more thing I strongly believe should be pointed out is, as I stated in Stella’s Mum Book years ago, that the child position may emotionally swing from the ‘victim’ to the mother or father ‘rescuer’. The parent position may swing from the person responsible or persecutor of the child. The parent is never the victim of a child. The SMALL child can never express hate or negative feelings against the BIG parent. They are in fear of abandonment or rejection. So they succumb.
THE COUPLE RELATIONSHIP
When we look at the relationship between couples, we see a balance of reciprocation and giving, taking and receiving in which both parties play the part of giver and receiver in roughly equal amount.
As Svagito R. Liebermeister says in his The Roots of Love “A man is receiving from the woman what he is missing and giving to the woman what she is missing; a woman is receiving from the man what she is missing, and giving to him what he is missing. Both must be ready to exchanged in a balance way. They must be ready to show that they need something from the other. The more they give and receive from each other, the stronger the bond will be between them.”
SERIOUS STUFF RARELY TALKED ABOUT: THE PARENT-CHILD RELATIONSHIP
I start remembering when my daughter announced “How our parents screwed us over, Mum!”. What a deep truth pronounced by an aware and awakened daughter and young adult of 27!
At this point I want to quote two personalities who have been a strong voice when talking and writing on the parent – child relationship: Alice Miller and Kenneth M.Adams.
Alice Miller, Swiss psychologist and best selling author, in her preface in Rage to Courage says: “I became aware of my patients’ deeply entrenched resistance to remembering these painful events: they were extremely reluctant to feel the tragic situation they had been in as children and to take it seriously. Some of them described acts of monstrous cruelty with a complete lack of emotion, as if they were something that was only to be expected. They believed their parents had loved them and that as children they had richly deserved severe punishment because they were so insufferable.
The regularity with which true feelings were denied or split off made me realize that almost all of us tend to deny, or at least play down, the pain caused by the injuries we suffered in childhood. We do this because we still fear punishment at the hands of our parents, who could not bear to accept us as we truly were. These childhood fears live on in the adult. If they remain unconscious, that is if they are not identified as such, then they will retain their virulence to the end of our lives.”
Kenneth M.Adams, PH.D and author says : “As a therapist I hear comments such as, ‘“I can’t stand it when my dad keeps telling me how much he loves ‘ his little princess” or “ I wish my mom would stop telling me about her loneliness. It’s not my business” or “ I know my dad doesn’t mean anything by it, but it feels funny when he seems so worried about how I dress and gets jealous when I got out with men.” The list is endless, but the theme is the same: a sense of violation and boundaries crossed. These violations are usually done in the name of ‘love’ and ‘caring.”
There is nothing loving or caring about a close parent-child relationship when it services the needs and feelings of the parent rather than the child. ‘Feeling close’ with your parents, with a parent of opposite gender, is not the source of comfort the image suggests. It is a relationship in which the individual, both as a child and later as an adult, feel silently seduced by the parent.
‘….one of the consequences of being victimised is feeling objectified and used, not loved. As a result you also relate to yourself and others as objects to be used. You probably struggle to love yourself , having never felt love for who you are.’ ( Pg. 106 The Roots of Love )
‘….as a child , you needed your parent to provide a safe haven where you would be nurtured when you took personal risk of autonomy. Your parent needed you too much to permit you the freedom to take risk. Being robbed of the freedom of autonomy is what interfere with developing trust of your intuition. It is a crucial factor in creating ambivalence regarding commitments.’ ( Pg. 107 The Roots of Love )
What do you think after reading all above? How do you feel?
Can you in any way relate to what I have explored above?
I do. My daughter does and I am sure the majority of my clients too.
OUR MENTAL HEALTH AND THE PARENT-CHILD RELATIONSHIP
Do you know that our mental and emotional health starts from the very first relationships in life, the Mom-child relationships and/or the Dad-Child relationships?
So what happens we if deny or avoid to look at these fundamental and crucial relationships in our life?
I can assure you that our own relationships can still be easily ‘screwed up’. Unfortunately, severe neglect and abuse in childhood is still rarely recognised and properly addressed.
It remains not denounced and buried in lost memories.
Normally, that part of society, unaware of the real consequences on our mental and emotional health, consider it part of a normal upbringing. The total denial of the pain and hurt we, as children, have suffered not only thwarts recognition of the wrongs done. Above all, it negates the anger of the little inner child that has to be suppressed in our body for fear of punishment.
What is worse, I believe, is that parents are honoured out of fear! We, adult children, wait a whole lifetime for our insight and love, thus remaining trapped in a form of parental attachment sustained by the fear of being even as adult abandoned or rejected. I know it well because this is what I needed to face when I took responsibility for my own abusive behaviour as a mother and wife and wrote a book denouncing myself and of course my own parents.
All I wanted indeed was to be acknowledged for my own pain and then reach full forgiveness so to liberate myself first and them too.
The consequences of attachments that are dependent on the absence of true feelings are mental, emotional and physical disorders and the suppression and sacrifice of life satisfaction and happiness and healthy relationships.
WHAT IS THE ROOT OF ALL?
After 20 years in my professions as a coach and relationship/trauma counsellor, after having heard so many stories, after so much work done on myself, and after seeing my own daughter going through self-actualisation work today from the age of 23, I fully agree with and sustain what Alice Miller had the courage to denounce in all of her books.
Unquestioning adulation of parents and ancestors, regardless of what they have done, is required not only by SOME religions but by ALL of them, without exception. Although the adult-children frequently have to pay for this self-denial with severe illness symptoms. The reason why this is the case is not difficult to identify, through it is rarely taken into account.
Children are forced to ignore their needs for respect and are not allowed to express it. As a result they later look to their own children to gratify that need. This is the origin of the Fourth /Fifth Commandment ‘Honour Your Father and Mother’ ( From Rage to Courage by Alice Miller)
After deep reflections over all above and years of researching and observing my now relationships and the achievement of my own emotional health and balance, I believe that we all need to admit a truth: all has its roots in family. Our happiness, success, our ability to build mature relationships and be healthy parents, our passion to serve the world and look for a higher purpose, it all depends on how true we can become with ourselves on the topic of Mum and Dad and their influence in our lives. Denial doesn’t serve us to get out of the prison where we all are as adults, especially if we refuse to take courage to look inside and outside truthfully. This can be at any age. And we don’t only sabotage ourselves if we don’t do so, we also sabotage the success and happiness our children and grandchildren.
Alice Miller also says: “I received a great deal of praise for my investigations, and yet no one followed in my footsteps. Why? Presumably because almost all of us are victims of more or less severe cruelty, but this is something we either cannot or will not acknowledge until we have finally faced up to the fact. Naturally I cannot prove this hypothesis because I cannot investigate the lives of all the people in the world.”
In this time of historical change isn’t it time to look at the truth when it comes to family ties? Not to remain in anger, not to express violent feelings never expressed and addressed to the right targets as children. The aim is to detoxify our hearts, minds and bodies from all that has been stored eventually in our lost memories and unconscious. And all that has been caused by overt abuse and neglect and by silent emotional enmeshment with our parents. This will lead us to encounter deep, true forgiveness and peace, and let go of all of the unconscious and conscious toxic guilt and shame which don’t belong to us, which are not ours.
I’d like to close with a quote by Dr. Scott Peck that I used also in my first book, Stella’s Mum Gets Her groove Back:
“A great many people suffer from the problem I have come to call ‘cheap forgiveness.” They come from their first session with a therapist and say: ‘Well I know that I didn’t have the greatest of childhood , but my parents did the best they could and I have forgiven them”. But as the therapist gets to know them , he finds that they have not forgiven their parents at all. They have simply convinced themselves that they have. with such people the first part of therapy consists of putting their parents on trial. And it is a lot of work. It requires briefs for the prosecution, and briefs for the defense, and then appeals and counter appeals, until a judgement is finally brought in. “
Because this process requires so much work, most people top for cheap forgiveness. But it is only when a guilty verdict is brought in – ‘No, my parents did not do the best they could; they could have done better; they committed certain offences against me.’ – that the work of real forgiveness can begin. You cannot pardon someone for a crime he hasn’t committed. Only after a guilty verdict can there be a pardon.
Roots of Love by Svagito R. Liebermeister https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/6221754-the-roots-of-love
From Rage to Courage by Alice Miller https://www.alice-miller.com/en/from-rage-to-courage/