We are each and everyone one of us the product of our genes and our life experiences. No doubt one of the most influential relationships we have is with our parents. They form us in ways that we hardly know and drive a good many of us to swear that “I’ll never treat my children like that!”
Recognizing your mother or father in your own behavior is enough to send a fair number of us to the bottle, the shrink or to a monastery.
My parents were both wounded people who unfortunately met each other. My father was the product of a hard father and a mother who hated the father and later men in general. He was pliable enough to do as she bid to get along.
My mother was the product of a nice enough father but a mother who would today be diagnosed as a bipolar. Unmedicated, she ended up in an asylum and my mother was often in foster care since her dad was a railroad man and away from home for days at a time.
Both, for various reasons became “conditional lovers”. By that I mean that they apparently concluded that love was about being good, and rejection and disgust was expected when one was not. This they both expressed to me, not just as a child but well into adulthood.
I do not fault them for this, but I recognize the pain it caused me as a child and as an adult. I struggled with self-esteem issues for decades.
To explain is not to solve. To say that I grew up in a dysfunctional home is to say nothing very new, since most people do to one degree or other. There are few of us who have the benefit of the perfection of parenting expressed in the “family sitcoms” of the 60’s and 70’s. They presented us with all that we were not, and we searched for that family, some of us for all our lives.
To admit that you were one of the wounded is not an excuse, but a starting place. I know plenty of people who use their childhoods as an excuse, or worse yet, because they find that accusation too frightening, have transferred their anger onto some other group or person as being the one at fault for all their troubles.
We are all good at doing that of course. It’s hard to look at oneself and take responsibility for the state of one’s unhappiness. You cannot forever blame others. At some point you have to take responsibility for your own future and happiness.
You have to be willing to fix what is wrong. This is what introspection is all about. It’s what growth is all about. It’s about what maturing is all about.
If your history is filled with failed marriages and/or failed relationships, then you have to begin asking yourself–what am I doing to sabotage my life? Almost always the answer is fear–fear that the real you isn’t loveable and that may be because significant people in your past have made it clear that to them you weren’t.
This doesn’t mean of course that you are fatally flawed. In fact it’s not about self-blame at all. It’s about digging into the fear, finding out why you feel that every relationship is a test of “do you really really love me?”
The signs are obvious. Are you the perfect partner for the first few months–always doing whatever you perceive the other person likes or wants? This can’t go on forever, and it’s not fair to blame the other person when you start asserting your own likes and dislikes. To them it appears that you’ve suddenly changed, and indeed you have. Don’t blame them for walking away scratching their head. You were the dishonest one, too afraid to be who you really are, because somewhere along the line you learned that the real you might not be loveable.
You are loveable, however you may have some really bad traits as a result of being conditionally loved way back when. You may “test” people, be more accusatory over minor things, be suspicious, jealous without reason. You may be more “needy”, more demanding of affection, reassurance. If these sound familiar–then you need to fix you before you can expect someone else to join your life.
The way to do this are myriad of course. Professional help may be the way to start–it can give you some good insights about how deep the problems are, how complex. Unweaving the person our parents tried to make us into from who we really are can be tough. Or it may be glaringly obvious after just a few sessions.
Books help, but always remember that every “self-help” writer writes from their own experiences and though you may share some examples, you won’t fit all, and you also will have been more traumatized by some than the other person and less so regarding others. So these are just jumping off points to decide what you will benefit from most.
Getting older helps in that one becomes increasingly tired of “being what others expect”. Becoming more authentic comes naturally as you age–you don’t have the time to waste any more.
Model people who you know who seem well-centered, happy, and at ease in their own skin. These are wonderful people to talk with if they are willing. They will probably tell you that they have problems like everyone else, but you will find it helpful to recognize how they don’t let small things overwhelm them. Their sense of calm self-assurance can be a positive expression of what you can achieve with work.
Make sure that you develop ways of being successful. Be a great quilter, or golfer, or a great friend, by learning to be a good listener. Volunteer and realize how good you feel as a person. Learn something new and enjoy your success at developing a new skill. Be a good citizen–learn the issues, participate, vote. Take a class.
If life in your sixties is nothing more than waiting for the kid to call or the grandkid to be dropped off, then life has sadly passed you by. Happy people are having relationships with friends and significant others. They are traveling, engaging in hobbies, volunteering. They are busy, busier than they were in their working lives. They are hard to catch up with. I find that entirely too many people on Facebook spend all their time talking about the “good old days” and their children and grandkids and their hope to see more of them.
They have their own lives, and you need one too. It’s time to stop blaming others for your life, and take charge of it. It’s never too late to be YOU, for you are so very worth it.