I grew up blaming my parents for everything – breathing, sneezing, talking, walking up, going to sleep. Snoring, chewing, driving, and sitting. Why couldn’t they just accept me for me, and be like all the other moms and dads? How come my mom didn’t go to the PTA meetings like Mary Ellen’s mom who was a nurse at school? And why didn’t my mom talk with the other parents who got together at the diner on Route 9 with the flashing neon lights – to have coffee and talk about how to discipline all of us kids in the 8th grade. My dad? Well, he was either at work or playing golf. Frankly, what did my parents want from me anyway? Sound familiar? If you are reading this, I bet you can relate to the focus on wondering what your parents wanted from you. Who did they want you to be–versions of themselves or your own individuals, blazing your own path in the most individual and astonishing way? (Sounds like a fantasy if you ask me!) Did your parents want you to rebel or conform? Have you ever asked yourself how much of your choices were made by your true self and how much of your choices were made in reaction to not becoming like your parents?
The pressure or lack of pressure that parents put on us in childhood leaves marks on us throughout life. Too much pressure or not enough? Have we forgotten details or willfully chosen not to remember, because of the pain of being misunderstood? Childhood stains and colors us for the good and not so good. Details stand out in the most bazaar and detailed ways, sometimes sharp and sometimes fuzzy. It’s common knowledge that permissive parents often produce kids who are their own sharpest critics. They are the perfectionists. And it’s also common knowledge that strict parents often produce the wildest and rebellious kids who spend their lives living in reaction to what they don’t want to become. Perhaps you are a little of both – a perfectionist living in reaction to what you did not like about your childhood?
I came across a book the other day that I had read years ago, and a light bulb went off in my head. The book is called The Drama of The Gifted Child by Alice Miller, and it talks about the fact that kids who grow up focused on their parents needs often end up neglecting their own needs at a cost. Alice Miller calls these children who learn to survive in emotionally neglectful or abusive households “gifted” because they have learned to adapt by ignoring their own feelings. Maybe you have done this to survive – put your own feelings aside in service of the family’s good? It is a “skill” after all, to learn to suppress your needs, a skill that must be unlearned though if you want to lead a happy and productive life. Well, maybe “happy” is too much to ask. But at least a life where you are not being chased by demons and feelings that you have ignored. Maybe peace is what we all want, because all my Buddhist friends remind me thatF happiness is an illusion.
But we can build and create the kind of life we want – with normal ups and downs that pass like the clouds in the sky. The little boy in the book by Maurice Sendak called Where the Wild Things Are made peace with the monsters once he admitted they were there. I’m still trying to make peace with my own childhood – and I bet you are too. But I have to say that once I faced the demons and looked at them – I was so much better off. And I bet you too can try and make peace with the monsters inside by looking at them and talking about them.
What are your inner voices saying to you? What voices belong to you and what voices belong to the parents you have internalized in order to survive? When we turn off the mechanism in our head that is the compass to who we are, we often become numb and emotionless. Can you relate to feeling a sense of ennui and a lack of both purpose and meaning? Bothered by people while being unable to articulate why exactly they bother you? I grew up trying to please my parents and I never did. As an adult, I kept trying to make everybody happy and was the epitome of “being all things to all people.” But guess what? I failed when I succeeded because I kept ignoring the one authentic voice that got louder as the years passed. And if you have followed me thus far, you can guess that that one voice became my one authentic self as my words took shape and became the narrative, I now call myself.