When a difficult situation comes up with our children, we sometimes falsely believe we’re responding in the here and now, based on what’s happening in front of us. In reality? We may be overreacting from our own childhood.
Learn to distinguish old feelings of the past from appropriate feelings of today.
Memories of our forgotten feelings and the reawakening of them influence our dealings with others — especially with our children. How? They have access to and manage to trigger these old feelings in us. Why? Because we are emotionally and deeply connected to them. Without being aware of it, we don’t always respond appropriately in the present, but instead, we allow reactivated feelings from our childhood to take over. When dealing with our child’s misbehavior, our frustration or anger can sometimes shock us. As we’re inundated with powerful emotions, it’s hardly the time for reflection. Yet, these feelings are most likely childhood memories — strong emotions that cause us to react as a child would, rather than as an adult.
Imagine that your daughter comes home from school, throws her backpack in the corner, and screams, “That stupid Nina. She’s not my friend anymore!”You immediately have plenty of advice to offer in this situation, but be aware: you may be the one feeling disappointed, and at the same time, have feelings of anger. But your daughter may not actually have those same feelings. Your anger originates in the experiences of your childhood; you are triggered. But take the time to make sure what your daughter is really feeling. You may have forgotten to check her present reality, as opposed to reacting from the experiences of your own childhood. The advice you conjure up for your child is from your own memories. Whether or not it would really help her is debatable, nor do you consider if the advice would have even really helped you back then. You are not in the here and now. You are still trapped in the memory of your old emotional experiences in your past. Is your daughter only disappointed about the behavior of her friend, or is she actually angry as well? Take a deep breath and check reality. For instance, ask your daughter, “What’s going to happen with you and Nina now?” Imagine your amazement when you hear her answer, “Oh, she’ll definitely call later and want to play with me again.” All she needed was to vent. Not a lecture. Not anger towards her friend.
Live in the present. Let the past stay in the past.
So, you have confused your childhood with your daughter’s, and at the same time, a sore spot has been triggered about how you deal with anger and disappointment. The old feelings from your childhood have come back to you. You could have overreacted, getting ready with all kinds of advice, and then have passed on – unchecked – your own problem of dealing with disappointment and anger to your child. These old feelings belong in the past and have no place in the here and now with your daughter.
Respond instead of reacting.
Asking appropriate questions of your child can help you be more understanding and help you guide them. Another option in such a situation would be to talk about your past. In first-person, tell how you were in a similar situation as a child and how you felt and what you did. This could be very liberating for both mother and daughter. Engage in thoughtful conversation instead of reacting. Evaluate your emotions to uncover your triggers and live in the present. When are you triggered by your child’s behavior? When are you triggered by their emotions? How are these related to your own memories from your childhood?
Are you able to visualize your ideal mother? Someone told me that she couldn’t do it because when she thought about all the mothers she had ever met, she didn’t want any of these to be her mother – nobody seemed suitable or ideal.
Your ideal parent can be a composite of MANY ideal characteristics.
The secret behind visualizing the ideal parent is at first be aware of the qualities in them you missed as a child. Maybe you didn’t have much fun with your parents or didn’t have support with new ideas. Maybe you needed protection from a scolding neighbor. Write a list of all characteristics you wished you’d had in them. If it’s difficult for you to put this list together intuitively, feel free to look around at other parents and put together your wish list. Among your friend’s parents, you may have found the father who always went fishing with his son, or the father who cooked with his daughter was ideal for you; the mother of your friend who had a lot of fun with her children, or your aunt who always found time to listen could indicate what you wanted.
Take the time and make the effort to craft your ideal parents in your mind.
While this may feel disloyal, you are not seeking to be negative and critical. Actually, you are building them up in your mind and you can have a more gracious, freeing relationship with them and with your own children. In your mind, you are helping them overcome their struggles and hurts. In daily life then, you can imagine your ideal parents who provide you with the right care in the situation at hand. Think about your mother who is the way you need her. Imagine and feel in detail how well she provides for you and what she advises you to do. If you are stuck somewhere and don’t know what to do, you can ask yourself, or better yet, your ideal parent for advice. Ask them, “If you were here right now as my ideal parent, what would you advise me to do?” You’ll be surprised how many supportive ideas appear as if by themselves, to help you further. We can now experience the fulfillment of our needs. Your imagined, ideal, suitable parent with the ideal support and reaction gives us a positive feeling that we now save as a memory. As Buckminster Fuller said “You never change something by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”
How can imagining your ideal parents help you in your current life? When will you take the time to do it?
People tell me that they find themselves in situations that seem familiar to them, that they have experienced before. Or they have the feeling that they are repeating the same experiences over and over again; like a trap door that opens and shuts, preventing them from escaping and preventing peace and happiness in life.
A young woman falls in love again and again with men who are not serious about her. Each rejection hurts, yet she seeks out the same type of man in the next relationship. A man is overlooked for promotions at work, leaving him feeling there is something wrong with him. Each recurrence proves he is not worthy. Have you had that feeling that you’re repeating some mistake in your life? Have you experienced the question, “How can this be happening again?” That’s a relationship pattern trap. You experienced the first trap in your life during your childhood, with your parents. This happened at a time when your conscious mind wasn’t yet developed. This means that these experiences are part of your subconscious mind. Everyone has faults, including parents. Like almost every one of us, parents don’t know the causes and effects of these faults.
The trap is the double message you received from your parents.
Parents want their children to have a better life than they had. A mother wishes, for example, that her daughter will one day have a happier marriage than she has. However, at the same time, unconsciously, she knows that she couldn’t stand it if her child were happier in marriage than she is. The mother would then see what she herself had missed and it would hurt her too much, although she also wishes for a better life for her daughter. This is a double message to the child: the wish for a better life for the child AND the wish to avoid seeing better results in the child because of hurt. The daughter, after growing up, tries to fulfill the expectations of her mother and be happier but will attract the wrong man for a better marriage, so as to not hurt or outshine her mother.
Identify and be freed from the double messages.
To get out of the trap of the relationship patterns, you need to be aware of the double messages you received from your parents. Start this process by remembering the suffering and injustices you heard them mention while growing up.
What did your parents tell you about the world and their interpretation of it?
Did they complain about each other?
Did they criticize people at work or the company, co-workers, or bosses?
If they ran a business, did they complain about employees or customers?
Were they upset about politics, politicians, or government?
What was their opinion about money, who had it, and who didn’t?
What was their opinion about their larger family?
The complaints and negativity you heard points to their own hurts and disappointments. Do you see how this complaining and criticism could create a double message? “I want you to have a stable job because I hated running a business that struggled. You need a steady paycheck.”
But what if you’re a better business person than your parents? What if you’re an instinctive entrepreneur? Having a steady paycheck may not be fulfilling at all, but you may resist showing your parents up by running multiple, successful businesses and, instead, just settle for a 9-5 job that you hate.
Take time to figure out what double messages you heard.
Then you’ll be able to see the trap. With your new awareness, this is the moment when you can make new choices. How will you apply this exercise this week? What double messages did you uncover?
Our parents were our first and primary relationships. How they interacted with us, and us with them, contributed significantly to how our experiences were internalized. This, in turn, shaped our life patterns. However, our parents had parents of their own. The way they dealt with us, therefore, depended on their relationships with their parents.
A childhood can never be viewed in isolation.
It’s part of a chain of childhoods from previous generations. Even the quality of the grandparents’ marriages can influence the views, experiences, and actions of the grandchildren. None of us really had perfect parents as children — parents who provided us with all the care we needed, exactly as we needed it. Our parents carried their own childhood idiosyncrasies, which interfered with their ability to always react in a way that was appropriate with us. Our current relationships, professional conduct, and parenting style are based on our childhood environment. Our relationship to our parents during our childhood are the reasons for our paradigms, or belief systems. Experiences as we grew up determined our basic feelings. In your early childhood, you learned intuitively what you needed to do in your family to get the love you needed. Every child wants to feel the approval of their parents. However, this is subjective. In some families getting approval means being quiet. In others, it may mean having high grades or holding in emotions.
What did getting approval mean in your family?
Everyone, without fail, needs to feel love for proper emotional development. The behavior patterns that you developed were survival strategies and were based on emotional dependence, wanting to feel loved. Children and adults alike are willing to do anything to get love. This is why you hold onto and repeat childhood patterns in every relationship. Your paradigms are your childhood systems for winning parental approval and love. You carry this into adulthood, subconsciously. Even though we know they weren’t perfect parents, we continue to try and seek their approval. We want what our parents taught us to be right. We don’t want to consider that the way our parents taught us to view ourselves and the world could possibly be wrong.
Acknowledging that our parents failed us is the first step to change.
Please hear me clearly. This isn’t about blame. This is about recognizing your childhood patterns of interacting with the two most influential people in your young, developing life. Once you see where and how the patterns were formed and admit that they aren’t all productive, only then can you make real and lasting changes in your adult lives. Especially in your interaction with your own children. I look forward to walking this journey with you so that you can put the past in perspective and moving into stronger relationships in the here and now.