Sophie is a petite 24-year-old woman with a contagious smile that immediately attracts you to her. But, the closer you get, the more you encounter a defensive, chip-on-her-shoulder attitude designed to keep people at a distance. This attitude, however, is cloaked by a veil of joviality, which softens, but does not obscure the message, “No vacancy. I’m not available.”
As Sophie’s story unravels, you’ll understand why this young lady adopted a defense mechanism of this nature. She is a middle child with two brothers, an older one, who left home at an early age and is basically estranged from the family and a younger one who does little, accomplishes less and still lives at home.
While Sophie was growing up, her father was gone half the time. Her mother, on the other hand, was always there. In Sophie’s words, “Sometimes too much. She was excessively involved, overly agreeable and always supportive of whatever activity I chose.” However, if Sophie’s choice proved faulty, she was quick to say, “I never thought it was right for you.” Mother’s behavior strongly contributed to Sophie’s distrust of others. It also belied what I like to think were mother’s positive intentions. Extrapolating from her experience with both parents, you can see why Sophie would believe that, if you love someone, they either won’t be there for you or, if they are, you can’t trust what they say.
You might ask, one, “Why describe Sophie so thoroughly? It’s interesting, but what can I learn from it?” and two, “How could basically well-meaning, intelligent, genuinely good people wind up parenting in such a manner that one child would be estranged, another totally unmotivated and a third so desperately needy of love?” Let me tell you. When I asked Sophie, “What do you want from your parents?”, she answered, “I don’t want them upset with me.” She was totally unable to say, “I want their support, involvement and love”, or, better yet, “I want to know if they really care.”
Which brings me to my answer to your questions. It’s to help you to understand how to deal with parents who you feel have injured you. To begin with, you need to accept that how you are parented affects you for the rest of your life. Fathers, for the most part, provide you with role models reflecting what you can expect from the outside world. Your relationship with your father determines how you will later deal with your community, with authority figures and regulations. Consequently, your relationship with your father determines how much you later bend rules, what your values are and how much support you expect from authority figures.
Conversely, your relationship with your mother is the foundation for your basic sense of inner worth, level of self-confidence and expectations of people you love. It also determines how you’ll love in a marriage, i.e., the way you elicit affection, what you perceive as genuine caring and who you’ll one day pick for a partner.
The problem is, parents aren’t perfect. In fact, my basic definition of a parent is failure. Therefore, the lessons and messages they try to impart to you aren’t always on target, perfectly executed, or sure to stick. They are, however, of extreme importance because they are the foundation for your later emotional development. Ideally, parents need to be today what they want their children to be tomorrow. If they want you to succeed interpersonally, emotionally and socially, they must be the role model for these behaviors. Unfortunately, they can’t be if they haven’t dealt with their own problems, have limited interpersonal awareness and sensitivity, or aren’t capable of constructively demonstrating their love. In any one of those scenarios, you are left having to pick your own role models, which too often results in a disaster. Even when you choose well and are successful, your self esteem will almost always be lacking. To overcome this, no matter your age, you need to develop a healthy means of coping with your early hurts. Initially, that requires that you run toward parents you feel failed you. You need to articulate your feelings, state what you feel and relate what you want now. The purpose being to give them an opportunity to supply it. Not every parent will come through. That only occurs in the best of situations. But, what counts is that you had the courage to face your fears and risk their wrath or rejection.
By virtue of that, you’ll feel yourself a person of worth, if for no other reason than because you were willing to deal with the emotional wounds in you that needed to be healed and were able to ask for love in a clear, concise manner. Instead of denying, harboring resentment, acting vitriolically, or, in Sophie’s case, hiding behind sarcasm, you interacted with them in an adult fashion. You took your first step toward becoming a mature adult, whose opinions and statements are worthy of being listened to. Even more, your newly increased sense of worth will contribute considerably to your ability to develop future relationships based on your conscious desires, rather than on immature behavioral patterns learned in childhood. The lesson you will have learned is that you can change the course you navigate in life and the direction you wish to follow to become the kind of person you want to be.