There’s a story I share with my clients that comes from Robert Bly, an author and poet who wrote a book called “A Little Book About the Human Shadow”. He says we’re all born as beautiful, loving golden globes of light and energy. As we grow up in our families, go to school and develop friends, we feel loved or not, to varying degrees. In response, we often give up parts of ourselves to please our parents, our teachers, churches, friends, etc. By the time we’re 18, most of us are no longer golden globes of loving energy, but (my words, not Bly’s) more like a colander; half there and full of holes. The good news is that we can heal our hearts and reclaim our original wholeness.
As I like to say, we all have our “stuff”. My dad could be funny and charming, especially with other adults. He was a people pleaser and loved to play practical jokes. At home, he wore his anxiety, which fueled his anger, like the cloud following pig-pen in the Peanuts cartoon. Mom, a 60s housewife, would have been much happier as a career woman than mother to three children. Dad made it clear, the only option she had was being a “good” wife and mom. Not thrilled with housewife as career path, she became depressed and drank. Most days she had her head buried in a book and an always-present cigarette between her fingers. Let’s just say I had plenty of material to keep me in counseling and I’m so grateful to the many therapists who helped me get to a happier place.
The differences between someone who rises above a difficult childhood and one who doesn’t are many. One important thing is that those who go on to have a happy and successful (enough) life, find a way to come to terms with their childhood. They are able to work through and make peace with their story rather than get stuck in the past. Of course, there are those that do get stuck, perhaps even relish the pain a bit. Some of us even use it to wrap ourselves in self-pity and make excuses for what isn’t working in our lives.
Once we’re adults (anywhere from age 18 to 30ish), it’s time to start reclaiming our original beauty. To do that we have to find a way to honor and be grateful for the good our parents did and WORK THROUGH the pain of their parental failures. If we don’t, the resentments, anger and depression that trails our adult life can contaminate our desire for happiness and peace!
Whether it’s the little “t” traumas of a parent who criticizes more than supports, provides physical care but not much affection, or benign neglect; the working mother whose kids have to raise themselves – or the big “T” traumas of child abuse – healing our past pain opens us to the ability to more deeply love and connect with ourselves and others. The ability to connect so needed for a happy, healthy life.
The beliefs we develop about whether we are ok as a human being or not develop with the love and care, abuse or neglect we experience in our families. But, thankfully, that’s not the end of the story. Once we recognize there’s healing to be done, there are tons of books, podcasts, online support and real time therapists to support us.
There’s an old saying that the best revenge for the effects of poor parenting is a happy life. Here’s to your health and happiness! For specific strategies on how to heal the heart I recommend Intentional JOY: How to Turn Stress, Fear & Addiction into Freedom. Free download of Introduction & stress reducing visualization.