Jessica had a rocky childhood (not her real name). It was plagued by a lot of emotional turmoil and conflict as a result of feeling unwanted. Her parents were emotionally disconnected and her older brother became her mother’s confidant. Her mother had expectations of her, to do chores and not get in trouble, but there was little warmth between them. Her father checked out of the family emotionally and spent as much time at his job as possible. So Jessica grew up feeling that she was not lovable and worthy of attention.
Eventually Jessica moved out, got married and started a family of her own. Unlike her father, her husband was warm and supportive. They moved several hundred miles away from her parent’s home. Things were certainly better, but she still felt somewhat insecure and anxious, especially when it came time to make the annual trip to see her parents and siblings for Christmas.
What was driving this anxiety about visiting home?
Jessica still held expectations that things within her family of origin would change. Each year she visited, she hoped that she would finally feel special and loved. But her Mom, an active narcissist, still primarily pursued and got attention from her brother and his family. Her Dad was better these days and connected with her family, but not intimately with her. Each year she let her unmet childhood needs rule her thinking and her emotions.
So what should Jessica expect when she visits home each year?
Nothing. Tough as it sounds, grieving the loss of the way it should have been growing up and holding no expectations of change in the future is the only healthy choice. She can actively choose to go through a process of forgiving her parents for the hurts they caused when she was growing up. And she can lovingly detach when she visits, keeping the interactions light and polite.
It probably sounds unfair that Jessica needs to do the work of healing. After all, it’s her parents who missed the mark. And it isn’t fair – but it’s necessary. Otherwise, Jessica will be re-wounded every time she visits and she will become more and more bitter and resentful, and it will leak into her relationships with her husband and children.
Christ did not ask us to walk the easy path. He asked us to walk the path of freedom. Often that path is uphill and twisty, and hard to see ahead. And we have to trust that the path leads us to where we want to go. Trust is the belief in an unseen outcome, because of the assurance of the source of our information. Hopefully you place your trust in Jesus Christ, who is the same yesterday, today and forever. (Hebrews 13:8)