Then Whose Fault Is It?

{Reblogged from my website:}

Just as I was beginning to write my last post, I ran across this article entitled: How to Land your Kid in Therapy. The author, Lori Gottlieb, starts off expressing her relief (as a parent) that parents don’t have to be perfect – that the real goal is to be a “good enough” mother. Then she talks about her experiences as a therapist. She describes how her first clients clearly suffered from having parents who were not emotionally nurturing. Then she begins to describe some other clients:

Imagine a bright, attractive 20-something woman with strong friendships, a close family, and a deep sense of emptiness. She had come in, she told me, because she was “just not happy.” And what was so upsetting, she continued, was that she felt she had nothing to be unhappy about. She reported that she had “awesome” parents, two fabulous siblings, supportive friends, an excellent education, a cool job, good health, and a nice apartment. She had no family history of depression or anxiety. So why did she have trouble sleeping at night? Why was she so indecisive, afraid of making a mistake, unable to trust her instincts and stick to her choices? Why did she feel “less amazing” than her parents had always told her she was? Why did she feel “like there’s this hole inside” her? Why did she describe herself as feeling “adrift”?
The author spends the rest of the article explaining what the parents of her young clients have done wrong to create young adults who “have it all” but are still not happy. Drawing on the most sound psychological theory, she explains how over-protecting your child from disappointment, giving them too many choices, and treating them as if they were “delicate tea cups” puts today’s young people at a disadvantage – and “lands them in therapy.” She describes what parents can do to keep from handicapping their children in this particular way.

It made me laugh. I don’t disagree with her – in the ideal world, parents would know how to provide exactly the right amount of protection balanced with the right amount of laissez-faire. I’m sure there are parents who know when to negotiate and when to stand firm in exactly the right amounts. And maybe their children grow up to be perfectly well-adjusted and happy in all the right ways.

I don’t know any of those parents, or their kids either. Maybe they exist – I just haven’t met them.

But I appreciate a person in their twenties who “has it all” and still feels that something is missing. I don’t think it means there’s something wrong with them – I think they’re on track to discover who they are and their purpose in life. I understand that they may be a bit miserable, but I don’t see any reason to hold their parents accountable for that.

Good grief, in order to be perfect parents – including being just the right kind of flawed – would take some phenomenal perfection. Ridiculous. Some people have trauma-laden pasts to heal from, others may suffer from lack of experience with difficulties – but everybody has problems. Going to therapy is one way to learn how to deal with whatever your struggles are.

Being anxious, depressed, unhappy, bored, or miserable might mean we need to make changes in how we live. It might mean we need to accept some things about how we live, or about the universe. We might need new skills or a new perspective. Maybe our childhoods were traumatic, or maybe they were “too easy.” The question is still not “What’s Wrong With Me?”

And the answer is not, “Well, here’s what my parents did wrong.” Don’t misunderstand me – if you had a traumatic childhood, as many people do, there is healing work that you need to do. If you had parents who thought you were supposed to make them happy, you have healing work to do. And if your life was so easy that you’re a bit spoiled – well, you still have work to do.

I’m pretty sure that we’re all scarred from our childhood, not to mention adolescence. Our parents are only human, and they carry their own scars. Most of them do the best they know how to do. Figuring out where your parents went wrong is not, actually, the goal. It might be a place to visit, a little exploration might help, but that’s not the end of the journey.

So if the question is not, “What’s wrong with me,” or “Where did my parents go wrong?” then what is the question?

Sometimes, just figuring out what the question is takes time and energy. Sometimes, it’s about looking at the things that have happened to us, seeing them with adult eyes and a new perspective. Looking at the rules we’ve learned about how the world works, deciding which rules are fact-based and helpful, which ones aren’t. Figuring out what we feel and where we stand and who we are. Ultimately, the question becomes, “Given all the things that I’ve been through, given the things about my life that I can’t change, given all my goals and dreams and needs, what do I need to do to be ok? Right now, what do I need to do to be ok?

About Fausta

Trauma sensitive Consultant and Coach for Compassionate professionals who experience second hand trauma and are at risk of burnout so they can keep doing the work that matters to them and to the world.

Posted on September 7, 2015, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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