This article deals with a highly difficult, sensitive, but important topic.
It is about the pain of having a childhood where our needs are not met, the
unresolved anger we hold towards our parents, and what we can do about it.
It will feel particularly relevant if you have been through childhood trauma, caused either by neglect, abuse, or other toxic family dynamics. The goal is not for us to harbour self-pity or to blame anyone, but simply to validate some of the painful experiences, and to look at what we can do now to release some of these emotional poisons that we have carried for far too long. Even when we are living as successful individuals in independent adult bodies, we can feel caged by these strong emotional turmoil.
The pain of unresolved relational trauma from childhood often presents as self-critical thoughts, feeling intolerant of our mistakes, or engaging in self-harming behaviors. Self-compassion allows us to transform our pain.
It is not difficult to feel compassion in response to another person’s suffering. It evokes a desire to understand their pain and be of service by offering help or kindness. This same intention of warmth and caring can be offered to ourselves in the form of self-compassion when we set an intention to respond to our own suffering with warmth and gentleness.
“Self-compassion involves two key actions. First, we must set limits with ourselves to reduce habitual negative thoughts and behaviors that perpetuate harm. Second, we must repeatedly practice new kind and loving thoughts and behaviors.”
Self-compassion Dr. Arielle Schwartz
In order to heal from childhood trauma, it is important to acknowledge the pain that you felt there. There is a clinical reason to reflect on your memories of your parents and, doing so does not make you wrong or bad, it’s important to understand that your experience with your parents may not only have been either/or, it possibly has been both/and. The ability to hold both positive and negative aspects of another person, such as your parents, is a healthy, positive thing. When we recognize that, it opens up the possibility for us to feel more fully, to make more sense of our experiences, to seek out the right supports, and to decide more clearly what, if anything, we may need or want to do in that relationship and/or just for ourselves.
As the old therapy saying goes: “We cannot heal what we cannot feel.”
Healing happens by acknowledging your full spectrum of feelings about your parents. When we can hold both views about the painful and the positive aspects of our parents, we grow more accustomed to holding integrated views of others and of ourselves.
Therapy and therapists often get negative criticism for making our clients exhume the past simply for the sake of complaining and “making mom and dad” wrong. While therapy absolutely does invite you to turn backward, to look at what was, there is intentionality and clinical reasoning to that.
When we’re able to recall our memories, to make sense of them, and to feel all of our attendant feelings about those memories in the presence of a kind, compassionate witness, we’re able to support our nervous systems and psyches in healing.
M. Soc. Sc. Prof. Counselling, Prof. Dip. Psychotherapy, GDAPP, GDPC
Counsellor/ Psychotherapist/ TA Practitioner