Dysfunctional Parents


It seems psychologically trite to ‘blame’ who we become on our parents. But we grew out of them. We lived in a world they were in charge of. How could it be otherwise?

In a healing journey, it is necessary to temporarily place the responsibility on them for our destructive coping strategies. We have to be willing to see ourselves as malleable souls shaped by another. Most parents have the best intentions, but their limitations hinder those intentions from coming through.

If they were fearful of the world, we learned that the world was indeed a fearful place. There was no argument or chance to discover it on our own. We were convinced it was true without questioning where those ideas came from.

When we grew old enough, we ‘rebelled’ (if we were lucky) and tried to become someone separate from them. Only we used them as the mold of our definition, forming ourselves around the edges of their shape. Again, our lives were shaped by our parents.

Everyone comes into therapy not recognizing that they have been shaped – as well as held captive – by their parents’ emotional needs. So it becomes a process of stripping away layers of defense and pretense, like stripping garish paints from furniture, to find what was really there all along.

Most of us don’t recognize ourselves without these layers. We don’t know about our own possibilities. And we are so afraid to change. Afraid to look in the mirror; thinking it will be bad stuff we’ll see: our weaknesses, our pain, our frailty.

But if we don’t do it, we’ll miss seeing our beauty, our compassion, our willingness. Instead, our strengths will remain hidden behind dark, shrouded doors.

In the middle of my healing journey, I was recovering from ‘adult child of a dysfunctional family’ issues, such as trust. I started to see how my parents’ problems had really been the cause of much of my suffering. How their need to be dominant affected me. How problematic the whole family situation had been, and how I suffered greatly at the hands of this type of dysfunction.

I was raging at them; it was all their fault. I cursed. I swore. I did dramatic things. I wanted them to hear it. I wanted them to suffer. I wanted the world to know of my suffering. And this was a necessary part of my healing journey.

Then, in the midst of it, I went to a workshop where I saw my parents as adolescents trying to please their parents. My grandparents, who had immigrated to this country due to massacres of the Armenian people. Who saw their parents killed when they were teenagers. Who as children lived in fields, sometimes eating grass, until they could find a way to come to America as teenagers.

Once here, they had children fairly quickly. And those children were my parents. My parents didn’t have a chance in hell of being healthy psychologically. They had been raised by post-traumatic stress war victims. They had no choice but to be ‘good’ kids: loyal, devoted, and honest. They had been loyal to their parents’ wounds, and boy, were those wounds deep!

When I realized how close in lineage I was to real psychological trauma, I saw my life in an entirely different tone. No longer did I view my parents as evil folks out to get me, too selfish to parent in productive, functional ways. My parents were now part of a very dramatic life play, and I was part of the lineage. They were limited, and their limitations affected me.

It’s a sad tale all of us live. Our parents were doing the best they could, but it wasn’t enough to stop the chain of abuse – intentional or otherwise – and get on with the healing journey.

Now, in order to unravel this mess, we need to place the responsibility for our pain on them. I like to think of it as placing our coat temporarily on their hook. Hang them with the blame for a while. Hold them responsible for our suffering.

Ultimately, for good healing, we will take that cloak back and wear it ourselves, but during our healing journey, our parents need to have it on them.

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