One of the more difficult tasks in life can be to accept the limitations of our parents or caretakers during childhood without making it to be all about ourselves.
It’s hard when life provides us with parents or caretakers who are significantly limited…something that’s actually not unusual. Whether one’s caretaker suffers from medical, psychological, economic, or behavioral problems–or all of these–it’s hard to grow up being ignored, cursed at, hit, or molested. These experiences communicate a powerful “in your face” message that we are not lovable, and that life or God does not consider us valuable. This is hard to overcome, and thus my field of work.
Of course, you are valuable and lovable, and these behaviors never were about you. They were about the person from whom they came and their limitations, whatever they were. There are huge spiritual implications in all of this, of course, and the issue of innocent suffering immediately arises. I’m not going to deal with that here, however–that is for another time.
What I am going to do though is at least put before you the idea that our parents limitations say nothing about us. They are not personal, even though we experience them in the most personal way. And we did not cause them, even if we were difficult children to parent for some reason.
This is especially true for someone who is adopted. Parents who offer up their children for adoption typically do so for good reasons. It is often more about their lack of capacity to be a parent rather than their lack of love for their child. Simply speaking, they feel unable to offer a healthy, loving home to their child. The sense of failure for the parent can be profound, even if they try to deny it to themselves.
I have seen many situations in which I wish more parents had offered their children up for adoption to healthy parents who are unable to have their own children or who simply wanted to adopt. There are many children who would have fared better in healthy adoptive homes than in the homes that hurt them so badly.
In summary, if you were physically, verbally or sexually abused it was not about you…it never was, including if you were adopted and it happened in your adoptive home also. The task for all of us is to acknowledge our parents’ limitations, including morally, without making it to be about any lack of lovability on our part.
In therapy it’s always good news that the negative things that our parents did to us were not about us. We didn’t cause them. It wasn’t our fault. Whew…that’s good to accept!
Of course, the bad news is the same thing, that life was not all about us–not like we would like it to be. In some ways the question is not, “How could this happen to me?” The question is rather, “How could this happen to anyone?” The inequalities of life are hard at times…and that’s where spirituality comes in. A healthy spiritual life makes a huge difference in ones ability to face an uncertain and erratic future, especially when you’ve had a difficult past. In fact, you may want to do some reading and talk with others to explore the characteristics of a healthy spiritual life, since so many people have spiritual lives that are at times harmful to themselves and others.
Accepting parental or caretaker limitations is difficult, but possible. It can set you free to explore the person that you are–that is, the person your parents were supposed to reflect back to you and help you find.
Do that exploration, though, and you will be surprised by all you find yourself to be. I promise. You are more than you know.