What does the word ‘family’ mean to you? For some people, the word conjures up feelings of comfort, protection and love. For others, it may conjure up feelings of lacking, unpredictability and fear. There are those family members we share DNA with and family we choose to connect with. Who is in your family? What comes to mind when you think of them?
Choice Theory tells us we have a primary caregiver we put in our Quality World from an early age. This person almost always holds a revered place in your life, but there are rare exceptions. If you happened to be a child whose parents were unable or unwilling to properly care for you, you may have developed a condition, called Reactive Attachment Disorder. This is a mental health condition that typically occurs when a child has parents who refuse to respond to the child’s crying. Either the parents ignore the crying child or hurt it to try to stop the crying. Children in these types of situations are unable to bond with their parents, and, consequently, anyone else. Their parents weren’t need-satisfying; in fact, they were need-frustrating.
In every other situation, most children put their primary caregivers in their Quality World, the place of idealism and perfection. The only two conditions necessary for something to gain access to the Quality World is that it must be need-fulfilling and feel very good. We don’t always put the actual reality in our Quality World but our idealized, perfected version. Consequently, we all have pictures of our ideal mother, father, sister, brother, etc. in our Quality World that doesn’t always match the reality of the people in our lives.
When we experience occasional disparities, it’s no big deal. We may experience momentary disappointment but it tends to dissipate quickly. The problem comes when the important people in our lives continuously fail to match the images we have in our Quality World. When that happens, we work hard to somehow force those important people into matching those Quality World versions. The problem is that we cannot make someone match our idea of perfection.
Some of the behaviors that we generate toward this end might be depression, hyperactivity, lying, anxiety, aggression and withdrawal, to name a few. These behaviors often are designed to make parents act the way the child wants, but they frequently don’t work. If you were raised in that type of environment with those behaviors, are you destined to continue this pattern forever? No, only if you want to and choose them.
When you realize that a lot of childhood dysfunction is a child’s best attempt to get the important people in their life to match the idealized picture they hold of them, you will be able to let that behavior go. Perhaps it was minimally effective during childhood, but it likely no longer serves you. One of the greatest tasks of adulting is to develop a more genuine relationship with our parents, one where we realize our parents were neither saints nor sinners. They were just regular people with strengths and flaws like everyone else has. They are not perfect, nor are they evil.
Everyone’s parents, no matter how absent, inept or abusive they were, were doing the best they could at that point in time with the information they had available to them. If they had known better, they would have done better. Knowing better does not mean there was someone telling them a better way. They had to experience that and buy into the fact that changing their behavior had a high likelihood of getting them what they want.
Recognizing your parents did the best they could can free you up to forgive them. Recognize they are not gods and goddesses. They are ordinary people trying to complete an extraordinary act of raising a child into adulthood who is safe, loving, powerful, independent and fun.
The way you were raised has a lot to do with your own current strengths and challenges. If you continuously struggle, you may want to free yourself from the poor parenting you received from your parents so you can step into the person you truly want to be. When you are a child, you can be a victim of poor parenting. There is not much children can do to protect themselves from the effects of abuse. But when you are grown and on your own, you get to choose the life you want to lead. You can work on yourself to decide who you would have been had you had the parents you deserved. You can start thinking and behaving the way you believe you would if your upbringing had been different.
In the beginning it will feel like you are acting, going through the script of a play you wrote, but over time it will become embedded in your personality. The truth is, there is a lot parents can do to make living a happy, healthy life difficult, but if you want it, are willing to practice and put in the necessary work, you will be able to become the person you are meant to be. It requires forgiveness, acceptance and understanding. You are not broken; you can learn different behaviors and thoughts that will help you live the happy, satisfying life you truly deserve.
If you had “good enough” parents, then be grateful for that. If your life felt boring but you were safe, loved, able to develop your competence, reasonably free and able to have fun on a daily basis, you are fortunate, indeed. We often take our early caregivers for granted. We didn’t get to choose them so there is a bit of rebellion around that. But getting to adulthood intact is a privilege many never experience.