You are not your parent

--

Breaking the Totem

Why is it that society forbids us from casting light on certain facets of existence?

Not all parents are able to give their children the love, care, and respect they need. Fact, but one that is routinely brushed under the rug.

Society expects us to maintain a facade of happy families and picture-perfect relationships.

The Stepford Wives. The Truman Show. American Beauty. Downton Abbey.

Those who dare to speak out or expose the truth risk facing social ostracism, judgement, and ridicule.

Part of this might be for the fact that human communities evolved in small, close-knit groups throughout the Paleolithic period, with social rules and practices playing a vital role in sustaining order and collaboration. This meant that doubting parents’ authority or speaking out against them may result in social ostracism or even death — perhaps physical death in the past, but ego death for us now.

It is a taboo to admit out loud but the truth is parents are capable of behaving in toxic, manipulative, and narcissistic ways towards their children.

Even those who give it their all.

Even the most well-meaning parents.

“One thing you can’t hide — is when you’re crippled inside.”
― John Lennon

We want to believe that all parents are kind, selfless, and capable of meeting their children’s needs. However, due to circumstances, personality dysfunctions, and inherited trauma, this is not always the case.

Parents can use guilt, shame, or other emotional manipulation techniques.

Parents may use their child as an emotional crutch and demand all-time attention from them.

Parents may cross the line by invading their child’s privacy.

Parents may constantly dismiss, invalidate, or disregard their child’s feelings.

Parents may favor one of their children over the others, sowing the seeds of lifelong conflict and resentment within the family.

Parents can put pressure on their children to live the life they have always wanted to live, imposing their values and living vicariously through them.

Adult children can be verbally abused by their parents by calling them names, making fun of them, or yelling at them.

Some parents may use their children to improve their social standing or to gain bragging rights.

This is true even after the child has reached adulthood.

Parents may become overly reliant on their adult child for emotional or financial support.

By withholding help or resources, parents can use their money to manipulate or control their adult children.

Parents may mock or humiliate their adult children if they perceive them as a threat.

However, we are often conditioned to keep these secrets hidden and protected like a sacred totem, in order to preserve the illusion of a cohesive and harmonious family unit, and to prevent any feelings of embarrassment or disgrace.

“The fear of abandonment forced me to comply as a child, but I’m not forced to comply anymore. The key people in my life did reject me for telling the truth about my abuse, but I’m not alone. Even if the consequence for telling the truth is rejection from everyone I know, that’s not the same death threat that it was when I was a child. I’m a self-sufficient adult and abandonment no longer means the end of my life.”
― Christina Enevoldsen

You are not your parents

As mental health awareness grows, more of us are realizing the profound impact that childhood trauma and parental abuse can have on our lives. We now know now that being mistreated with abuse and neglect as a child can lead to mental health issues, PTSD, depression; it can cause relationship and attachment difficulties, cause trust issues, lead to low self-esteem, difficulty managing our own emotions, and so on.

But there is a fear that often goes unspoken, lurking in the shadows of our minds. It is the fear that we will one day become like those who inflicted harm upon us — our own parents.

The fear of becoming like our parents can be an unseen burden that prevents us from living fully. It’s a voice in our heads, a nagging doubt that whispers in our ears, telling us that we’re toxic, that we’ll hurt those around us, that we’re not cut out for parenthood.

We may become hypervigilant, constantly monitoring our own behavior and actions, second-guessing and questioning our own motivations.

We may carry deep shame and self-doubt with us, wondering if we are doomed to repeat the cycle of abuse and trauma.

When we are haunted by the fear of becoming like our toxic parents, we usually resort to three coping mechanisms: surrender, avoidance, and overcompensation.

Surrender:

Some people simply ‘surrender’ to the fear of becoming like their parents. They become so overtaken by fear that they simply surrender and allow it to govern their lives. They consider themselves powerless prisoners of circumstance, doomed to repeat history, and give up trying to break free.

Avoidance:

Others may strive to avoid any event that can trigger this dread, preferring to distance themselves from others, or anything that would remind them of their longing for a family. They would not admit to themselves, even, that they want anything different. They go about their regular lives as if they had a joyful upbringing. They are probably too terrified even to try because, what if they find out that there is no way out of the vicious cycle of abuse and neglect?

Overcompensate:

Others may overcompensate, expending all of their life energy to ensure that they are nothing like their parents. They may try to be overly empathic and caring, shouldering the emotional problems of others to the exclusion of their own. They may believe that they must continuously prove their value as a “good person,” so they people-please, become co-dependent, and measure their self-worth on how much they can please others.

It is not that we knowingly adopt these unhealthy coping mechanisms — but the fear be so overwhelming that our system just does not have the capacity to deal with it.

Unfortunately, none of these coping strategies work in the long run unless we embark on a real journey to heal.

Fully believing that you are doomed to be just like your parents can make you feel stuck in life, unable to move forward with your goals and pursuits.

Avoidance unduly isolates you. The underlying assumption that you are toxic or unlovable is never addressed and may even be reinforced as you ruminate day in and out.

Overcompensating may appear productive at first, but it can lead to burnout and ultimately prevent you from being loved for your actual self. Crafting your life in such a way that you run and run from any possibilities of being anything like your parents is, ironically, yet another way of remaining bound to and controlled by them.

But today, I truly want to reassure you that having toxic and abusive parents does not mean you will simply repeat history. In reality, the opposite is often true.

Growing up in an emotionally neglectful environment may have the opposite effect on someone who is already emotionally porous, and intense by nature. The result is that you become hypersensitive, if not hypervigilant, to the subtle shifts in feelings and needs of others. If you were emotionally gifted, you most likely spent your entire life trying to make up for the household’s missing link.

You may have been groomed as the emotional caretaker of everyone in the family. You were the one who had to keep the peace and make sure everyone was okay. You had to learn how to read people and respond appropriately, even when your own emotions were sidelined.

You had to become a master at navigating the complex terrain of your household, and that has given you extraordinary sensitivity and resilience.

Because you have suffered invisible trauma yourself, you have developed a deep compassion for others who are also invisibly wounded. Abuse is not always physical, and you know that.

You know all too well what it’s like to be in pain and not have anyone to turn to.

You know how much it means to be there for someone and hold the space, so you do it beautifully.

You know that is true because strangers, children and friends are drawn to you when they need a compassionate witness.

You are not your parent.

Yes, unfortunately, perhaps due to the lack of role model, you have adopted some of their negative patterns and mindset. Perhaps you have indeed let some of the trans-generational shame seep into your psyche.

Maybe you do share some similar traits, but that doesn’t mean you will become like them.

You are not your parent, and your concern about becoming like them is a clear indication.

You have the power to choose.

By being gentle with yourself and acknowledging the impact of your upbringing, you can begin to heal and grow into the person, friend, partner, and parent you want to be.

You can also take proactive steps to ensure that you don’t perpetuate negative patterns from your past — you can read, you can learn, you can find mentors and spiritual parents, you can surround yourself with very different people.

Trust yourself, you have broken many, many toxic cycles in the past and albeit this might be one of the highest hike you have to make, you can do it.

This journey is going to involve back and forth, but the point is not to ‘arrive’ somewhere but to honor yourself along the way.

And one more thing-

As you break the chains of transgenerational trauma, you also create a ripple effect.

It doesn’t even mean you have to become a parent, but by emerging as a resilient soul who also speaks the language of trauma, you are in a unique position to light up the path for everyone.

Your love will ripple out to the communities and the world at large, for we live in an interconnected world.

So, please let me remind you one more time-

You are not your past.

You are not your trauma.

You can emerge from the other side,

You can create new legacies for yourself and others.

You can become who you are meant to be, whether it is in spite of or because of your trauma.

“Your pain didn’t start with you, but it can end with you.”
― Stephanie M. Hutchins

Imi x

For more on:
Toxic Family Dynamics that may still be haunting you today

Parentification and becoming an emotional clutch

Shame and the inability to take up space

How to stop turning to those who hurts you the most

--

--

Imi Lo (Eggshell Therapy and Coaching)

Imi works with intense, highly sensitive and gifted people. More at Eggshell Therapy and Coaching: eggshelltherapy.com/about-imi, or imiloimilo.com