Why should a normal adult person go rooting in their childhood? As a psychologist I come across that question all the time. You would think that going through difficult and painful memories is useless. Forget them and live on!
The following parable seems to give the best answer:
“For thirty years a beggar went out in the road and sat down on the same box. He put a bowl in front of him and mumbled through his toothless mouth,
‘Please spare what you can, I have nothing to eat.’
One day, a pilgrim was walking along the road and stopped by the beggar. He did not reach into his purse for a coin, but simply asked,
‘What is this box that you are sitting on?’
‘It is just a regular box. I’ve used it to sit on for 30 years.’
‘Have you ever looked inside,’ wondered the traveler.
‘No. Whatever for? It’s empty.’
‘Look anyway,’ advised the pilgrim. ‘What if there’s something valuable inside.’
The beggar unwillingly got up and pulled at the lid. You can imagine his surprise when he found gold ingots in the box. The beggar sat right on them for 30 years suffering from the cold and hunger.”
This fable from a famous book talks about the resources hidden inside us. Childhood resentment is very similar to that box that hides huge amounts of energy and wealth from us.
How unresolved problems with parents impact your life
Do you know that hard feelings about your parents (even the closed and buried memories) are reflected in adult life?
- In accepting yourself and your body. Here’s a source of low self-esteem, lack of confidence, excess weight, eating disorders and nervous breakdowns;
- In relationships with partners. In the ability to love and accept another person, to give and receive care, to talk openly and resolve conflicts. You have brought all this out of your childhood. True enough, you have changed and grown. Yes, you try your hardest not to repeat your parents’ mistakes. However, if deep down you feel resentment or store grievances, you won’t be able to depart too much from your parents’ scenario;
- In self-fulfillment. How can you find your calling if in your mind you keep blaming your parents for not giving you a good education, not bringing you up right, not teaching you what you need to know? There is just no way.
- In your career and financial wellbeing. Money is also energy. It sometimes happens that problems with parents stop that flow just like a beaver dam. You keep hitting your financial ceiling year after year. And you keep asking, ‘Why is there never enough money? Why can’t I make more?” One of the reasons is that you were never taught the right attitude to money.
- In your stereotypical reactions. Childhood experience can, for example, shape your reaction to criticism. As a result, some people “put their tail between their legs” and start apologizing, while others rush to give the critic a black eye :). Either reaction is inappropriate and is based on childhood trauma.
“I’m worried about the future! What does my childhood have to do with it?”
Most people choose to swim with the stream. They say, “I’ve no effect on the future” and quietly accept the fact that they’ll be “washed ashore.” If you are not one of them, take the future into your own hands! Yes, you will need energy, all the willpower you can muster and belief in yourself. Although, you should bear in mind that it is here that you will find your grievances against your parents. Here is how it works:
“Michael and Vlad have worked in the same engineering department for 5 years. They were reasonably paid, but they both wanted more for their families. One day, Michael finally took his chance: he put together a business plan, got a loan from his bank and started his own business. He asked Vlad to join him, but the latter kept putting off giving his answer.
Vlad looked at his strong-minded friend and thought to himself, ‘Why did my father insist that I become an engineer. I could have gone to a business school. Then, these business plans would be a piece of cake! I could have had my own business ages ago…’
At this time, all of Vlad’s energy is flowing into the past. He does not openly accuse his parents and, he thinks, he is not even resentful. His internal resources, however, are spent on a grievance against his father. Vlad is simply lacking the energy to take the decisive step, to live better or to have a bigger goal.”
However, planning your future all the time is also the wrong strategy. Our main goal is to enjoy to the utmost, have the most fun and happiness in what is going on right now; to be aware of what you are doing and feeling and to be grateful for every enjoyable minute.
Most of us certainly have something to be grateful for. Answer the following questions and you will have to agree with that statement.
- Are you healthy and active? True, after 30 most of us have chronic illnesses, as well as colds and flu in season. As well as myopia or flat feet. But you can walk, think and are capable of changing some things, after all. This is an excellent reason to thank the Universe.
- Do you make enough money to feed and clothe yourself? Do you have a job? Obviously, yes. Otherwise, you would not be reading this on your desktop or handheld device. That’s another reason to say “thank you.” By the way, you’re quite well off since you have the money for an internet connection and a device, so don’t complain too much! :)
- Do you have a home to go to at the end of the day? Somewhere you can take a shower, lie down or visit the kitchen for a snack? That means you have all the essentials! Is that not a reason for joy? Or is it a reason for some more whining? :)
Not to say the obvious, but all of the above is not readily available to every one of Earth’s residents. Your present is quite well-to-do. So why are you ready to waste your time and mental energy on regrets and grievances? On thoughts of what you have never had, what you were never given, how you were not loved enough or whipped into shape enough?
Direct these resources to the future and even a firing squad won’t stop you! :)
So, do you have to dig in your “unhappy” childhood, after all?
Just a second! I DO NOT suggest that you live through your resentment of your parents again. My professional experience shows that this way is too long. There are too many negative emotions, tears, worries and bones to pick. That said, it is far from always that a person has the guts to get things all the way to the final victory. Yet, it is better never to start than to be stuck in the middle of your childhood traumas…
My way is simpler, faster and more reasonable. You can analyze the past intellectually, not emotionally.
There is no need to spin in your head regrets like,
“Oh, if they did things differently, my life would be so much better.”
At that time, given the experience they had, your parents could only do what they did. It’s alright for you to hold forth now, in hind sight. You have more experience, knowledge and resources than they did. You parents did WHAT they could in a WAY they could do it. That’s it. It is a fact of life now!
To spin such thoughts in your head means to steal from your present the joy and happiness and to cheat yourself out of resources for happiness in the future.
That is because your energy and your attention can only be directed onto one thing: either the past or the future.
You make these decisions every minute. Automatically. By force of habit. You have stopped noticing a long time ago how stuck in the past you are.
“Alright, I got it. So what do I do? What’s the solution?”
For starters, you need to realize where your energy is directed to every minute. Actually, you only have three options:
- The present and its small joys. You can be glad of a cup of your favorite tea, of a cat purring in your lap or of the sound of rain at your window. The simplest things will bring you joy if you allow yourself to feel them;
- Things you do for the sake of the future. These may be physical actions to acquire the skills you need or specific results. If your activities are directed toward implementation of your plans everything is OK;
- Finally, the least constructive thing you can do is think about the past. Regret lost opportunities. Replay unpleasant situations, thinking, “This is what I should have said.” Or, “Why was I so polite, I should have taken him down a peg or two.” That’s the way to always feel bad in your present.
I SUGGEST THAT YOU DO A SIMPLE EXERCISE:
Every 30 minutes give yourself an answer to the following questions, “What am I doing? What am I thinking? Do I enjoy what I am doing right now?” It will be better if you write down the answers.
You can then try to calculate how much time you spend in the present, how much in the future and how much you spend habitually spinning thoughts about the past in your head. That way you will get used to nipping your trips into the past in the bud.
Naturally, a single exercise will not solve all the problems with your parents. But it is a good start to begin living in a new way! :)