The Curious Mind, Episode 2: Reflections on Parents Issues

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Speaker 2: (00:09) Hello everyone and welcome to the curious mind podcast. My name is Gabriel Ellis. I'm a psychotherapist and Buddhist scholar and in this podcast I take deep dives into complex psychological topics that affect our wellbeing. In general. Today I would like to discuss parents issues. Parents are a notoriously complex topic, but I would like to show that there is some structure to the chaos. The downside is that we have to learn to perceive ourselves and the people around us as much more fragmented than we are used to, but I basically want to discuss today is that there are very good reasons to resolve our issues with our parents and with which attitude to do it. Let's say for example, I have a grudge against one of my parents or both of them, then I naturally already have established distance to them or I would like to create more distance, but I am just unable to do it.

Speaker 2: (01:13) Either way I either have ambivalent or write out negative thoughts and feelings about them. Typical ones are my parents never really loved me or they always preferred one of my siblings over me or they messed up my life by raising me completely wrongly or they never listened or are close minded, ignorant or they somehow messed me up with my view on relationships because my parents stayed together while they should have divorced a long time ago and now I have this crooked views on relationships and cannot establish healthy ones myself and so forth. These are just examples for difficult views, um, that people often mentioned they have on their parents. If I have such an ambivalent or resentful attitude towards my parents, I think of them as the actual people that they are the individuals that they are with their specific life and personalities justice. I would think about an unpleasant or disagreeable neighbor or an acquaintance or work colleague.

Speaker 2: (02:31) I think it's safe to say that this is a fundamental mistake which runs against how our unconscious and US ourselves are operating. What I mean by that is that by resenting the actual personalities of our parents, we are creating two major problems which cannot be resolved at all or only with a lot of work, which means therapy or year long personal work on the relationship with the parents and often enough the negative resentful relationships between children and parents just stay like that for decades until eventually one of them is taking a major step in, is forgiving or regretting or doing something substantial to change the dynamic. The worst case is that, uh, one of the parents pass away and the resent, um, and the difficulties have not been resolved. And what then ends up happening often is that people try to compensate and try to work through the issues for often decades without really getting somewhere, for example, in therapy because the object of my resent is removed.

Speaker 2: (03:54) I, the person with whom I had the relationship difficulties has gone. So to work just on the symbolic level and to do the talk therapy for example, and to work through the issues I've had in the past and to give myself symbolically or to forgive my parents for whatever they have done can go only so far. It is in the end, much less effective than to work with the actual relationship with the parents while they are still alive. So like I said, when we are holding a grudge or continuing to have resent towards our parents, we create two major psychological issues within ourselves. The first major problem results from the fact that as babies, toddlers and kids, when we grow up, we necessarily internalize our parents. Meaning we create a representation of them, a copy of them inside of us, which is at the same time a model of them as they are and a part of us.

Speaker 2: (05:06) So it's a dual reality that we create. We create an image of them with which we operate. We test our models. We imagine what they would say if we did something. We imagine how harsh the punishment would be or how high the reward would be when we do something nice, but at the same time, we cannot escape the fact that we have created something within us that is part of ourselves. What this means is that when we dislike them, both parents or one of them, this dislike doesn't just hit the parents as the actual people and persons that they are, but we also dislike the model of our parents and side of us or in other words, we dislike a of ourselves or put even more simply by disliking our parents with dislike ourselves. The question of why and how as children we internalize our parents is infinitely more complex and psychoanalysis is just one of the sets of theories that has dealt long and as I find in a rather antiquated way of how this internalization works.

Speaker 2: (06:26) But I think it's safe to say that there's a fact that this happens and that this is one of the major building blocks of our psyche in our mind on which we develop our own personalities when we grow up. In fact, many important decisions that we take when it comes to our basic attitude towards the world and relationships is somehow based on our internalization of the parents in our early childhood. It does not necessarily mean that we just copied them. It does not mean that I as a boy, uh, try to create similar relationships, uh, as my father did and try to find a partner that is similar to my mother and so on. Often enough, I try to oppose that, but still the fact remains that this is one of the main models that I have and I somehow use it as a fundament and a springboard in order to set out my life as a teenager and as an adult.

Speaker 2: (07:37) So we cannot avoid this internalization. But I think the more practical question is how do we avoid disliking ourselves and alienating parts of ourselves when dealing with our actual problematic parents? The major clue is here that I keep in mind when I interact with my parents, that I don't just interact with them as people, but I always also react and act upon a part of myself. So what I propose is that we should develop healthy relationships with our parents, not only for them and not only for the relationship of us, but basically as a tool for self care. So let's say I have a parent visit ahead of me and I somehow dread it, I expect again that there will be some unhealthy discussions and it will lead to some tension and explosion and guilt tripping, et cetera. I think there's a different perspective I can take or can use this visit as a tool for fixing myself.

Speaker 2: (08:53) So I'm not necessarily interested in how the interaction will be and how my parents will feel and what they are doing. I'm basically quite selfish in the sense that I'm using this interaction in order to get access to the parts of myself that I have learned to dislike. So it's like something in my home is broken and only by parents have a very specific toolkit that I can borrow in order to fix my home. Now granted, many people actually have and George difficult times with their parents when they grew up. There is actual abuse, there's actual neglect, there's actual bad child raring. And especially when we think back to the past generations, the generations that have endured wars, and we're raised in a very traditional conservative way, sometimes even with corporal punishment, still things that fortunately are not very common anymore. But still of course happen.

Speaker 2: (10:04) So many people have actually experienced difficult things with their parents. This is not just mine made stuff. So in those cases, I'm not asking to do the extremely difficult thing, which is basically to forgive them for what they did and to understand where they were coming from and what difficult hardships they had to endure and the responsibilities that they had and the, they were basically also clueless of how to properly raise a child. So these things are that are along the way of a therapeutic healing. But especially in the beginning, I think this is too demanding to ask of someone who tries to make the first steps in that direction. So what I'm saying is forget for the moment your actual parents and see how the way that you think about your parents inevitably creates a tension within yourself that is extremely difficult to resolve.

Speaker 2: (11:12) So retreat to a rather self oriented if you like, selfish position and interact in a kind understanding or at least neutral way to your actual parents so that you can integrate and heal the parts of yourself that you have split off in childhood or during teenage times or even afterwards when you reacted to your parents and what they did in a negative way. So when you change your attitude and start acting kindly towards your parents for your own sake, you should be able to see quite quickly positive pacifying calming effects within yourself. The key here again is to forget about the actual parents and have they deserved such a kind behavior, et Cetera, but only to think about yourself and your mental hygiene and self care and at least neutral or sympathetic relationship with your parents is therefore an investment into your future wellbeing.

Speaker 2: (12:22) I mentioned in the beginning that with a resentful attitude towards my parents, I create two major issues. The first one I mentioned is that I dislike a part of myself, which is obviously unhealthy. The second issue is more universal and is rooted in a cultural and maybe even genetic structure that we all have over the Millennia of human development, motherhood, Fatherhood and childhood became archetypes that stand for themselves. What I mean is that most people know what motherhood is supposed to be, even if we are not ourselves mothers or even if our own mother behaved in a very unusual way. Motherhood is supposed to be nourishing, comforting, loving, caring, et cetera. While fatherhood often enough is associated with something like a tough love attitude, a preparation and education for the harsh outside world restriction protection, the teaching of skills are some of the other archetypal universal characteristics of fatherhood and of course we again find these general characteristics inside of us and this is the important part

Speaker 2: (13:42) No matter if our actual parents acted this way or not. What we have here are simply blueprints which have been transmitted over Millennia and which we can find an ancient literature just as well as in contemporary movies. So what are the implications for our lives? What it means is that by continuing a resentful attitude towards our parents, we don't just dislike and split off a part of ourselves, but we also act against a broad impersonal principle which has transmitted culturally and maybe even genetically as I mentioned, and this necessarily creates difficulties within our minds because it touches so many general aspects of life like love, care and boundaries which are so essential for us dealing with relationships and the outside world in general. It is interesting that traditional cultures, for example in Asia, the Middle East or Africa are very aware of this or at least until recently there.

Speaker 2: (14:50) It simply doesn't matter how the individual parents behaved. The individual just has to respect them and essential aspect, for example, off Confucianism is a deep respect for parents and ancestors in general and in traditional India. Daily rituals for the ancient fathers as they are called or ancestors were essential for the social and religious fabric. Again, regardless of the actual parents and their behavior today because of the complex changes in our modern societies and what they are going through, it seems very alien to us to respect our parents no matter what. Just think for example of Germany and the generation that was born after the war, an important part of the 60s movement in Germany was young people questioning the role of their parents and Nazi Germany and the horrible crimes that were committed. This was a generation that broke with a traditional respect for seniority and learned to critically question parenthood and authority what was historically absolutely necessary, namely to hold the parents generation accountable and responsible for the crimes committed, created at the same time mental problems because this young generation had to deal with the dislike of part of themselves, the internalized parts of the parents and the problem of going against the traditional respect for parents which is so deeply connected with our mental fabric in general.

Speaker 2: (16:32) This after war generation is of course a very specific example but I hope it makes you understand this deeper layer of parenthood inside ourselves that even orphans have to deal with which is completely impersonal. To sum it up, I tried to show that there are good psychological reasons to establish a kind benevolent relationship with our parents or at least a neutral one basically as an act of self care and self preservation. Obviously in some cases the process to do this can be quite difficult and demanding in others it is quite easy and just requires more attention, time and priority. In any case, I think that this is time and effort, well invested simply because the improvement of the relationship can bring about positive, noticeable, and in some cases even dramatic results for our own wellbeing. That's it for today. Thanks everyone for listening. Feel free to leave a comment, and if you enjoyed it, tune into another episode on this channel below. You can also find a link to my website, Ellis and my Facebook page, Ellis counseling and psychotherapy where you can contact me for online therapy or counseling sessions.

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