There are times in counseling, when clients are resistant to talking about their childhood. The most common reason is because they say they don’t want to blame their parents for their current situation or state of mind.
The truth is, we don’t want to blame their parents either. Blaming gets us nowhere. Very few parents ever get up in the morning thinking “How can I mess my child up today?” That would be just plain evil. But parents have an enormous effect on the development of their children, and understanding one’s family of origin yields great insight. What kinds of insight? Often looking at what was “normal” in a family but wasn’t healthy gives us a clue to the blind spots that someone might be carrying.
- Was there heavy drinking or illegal drugs?
- Was the home environment tense all the time?
- Was there constant criticism?
- Did a parent hold impossibly high expectations and could never be pleased?
- Was there physical or emotional abuse?
- Were there relational fractures or abandonment?
- Was there poverty or deprivation?
- Was there wealth that created entitlement or superiority?
- Was there unearned or overstated parental praise that created an inflated self image?
- Was a parent or sibling frequently depressed, anxious or mentally or physically sick?
All these conditions, if normalized, have the potential to promote maladaptive coping mechanisms. They can become strategies for survival during our child and adolescent years, but ones that may challenge or destroy relationships or become self-destructive when we become independent adults.
What are some of these maladaptive coping mechanisms?
- Anger, rage, passive-aggressive behavior – resentment
- Withdrawal – timidity – dissociation – depression
- Substance abuse or other forms of self harm
- Lying, deception, shaming, blaming
I think you get the point that these are all negative and unhealthy responses under normal circumstances. They are also learned behaviors that can be unlearned when the realization of their destructive potential settles in. As I have stated in an earlier post, sometimes “our feelings haven’t caught up with our reality”. Usually this is a good thing. We are most likely safer and more powerful than we were as a child. Or at least we have more control or options regarding our circumstances and can make decisions based on reality.
Probably none of our parents did everything optimally. Most of them did their best based on their history and experience in the families they grew up in, or the education they picked up along the way. Each new generation has the opportunity to learn from the successes or failures of the previous generations and grow accordingly. The process often requires facing some grief and entering into a fearless self examination. Some people may come down off pedestals during our exploration, perhaps even ourselves. If you are a seeker after truth you will understand the value of this and proceed with the reassurance that God is with you in this journey.
Psalm 139:23 (NLT) Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.