Are You More like Your Parents than You Think?

Judging how much you take after your parents becomes a question of whether you can bear reality, at least if they fell short. 

Short of what?

Benign attributes such as respectability, kindness, or caretaking.

In that case, our forgiving brains tend to airbrush the reflected image shining back at us from the mirror, so we miss the resemblance.

We’d rather observe a face we admire or tolerate than one with enough flaws to trigger the scream, “Oh, no!”

Why?

We are prone not to unsettle our self-evaluation or family relationships. Nor does society want to hear from “ungrateful” children.

A human’s capacity to create a beam of insight into himself and the world always contends with his desire to sleepwalk through the undesirable parts.

Experience suggests the majority choose the parent they like as the one who they most resemble. The adult child also may have acquired a blindspot for his own dark side, the part resembling one or the other guardian.

Clinical psychologists, however, comment on the danger of becoming like the person you hate, as if you received a transfusion of his hot temper or critical nature. Therapists encounter patients with unresolved parental issues with regularity.

Psychotherapists attribute the cause to continuing anger at the one who harmed them. As the top painting illustrates, such emotion gets displaced, whether at another or ourselves.

We all possess the capacity for ire, a quality required for self-defense. If the fund of internal fury looms larger or smaller than conditions justify, it becomes a problem.

Anger turned inward is a longstanding definition of clinical depression. An oversized storehouse of rage within a human receptacle is corrosive no matter where it is directed.

To continue the topic of blindspots, we not only turn from recognition of lamentable similarities to a disliked parent, we often put the “good” one on a pedestal. This calls for a bit of a whitewash to disguise his shortcomings or invent excuses for him.

The paint-over also ignores our favorite’s failure to acknowledge or prevent unfortunate actions by the one we identify as the principal contributor to our unhappiness.

Our folks always require some slack, especially when they lack supportive social institutions, friends, or family to help with childrearing. Neither does single parenthood, and the necessity of moneymaking allow much room for attention to little ones. Inadequate housing, unsafe communities, and more compound the demands of bringing up offspring.

No mom or dad manages the task without mistakes.

Part of our life’s work is to choose models for our behavior. Parents are the obvious and necessary candidates because of every youngster’s long period of dependency. Therefore, the default tendency is to view them as better than they are, lest we live in fear of having no adequate protectors.

With the passage of time and the enlargement of independence, it is beneficial to recognize this pair represents only two versions of pursuing a satisfying life — two sets of values and choices.

Moreover, because they are usually older than we are by a matter of decades, their perspective and guidance do not necessarily fit us.

A wise parent remembers enough of his early years to be helpful. One with little recall of what it means to be young might not do his best.

Nor do those who dismiss the unique difficulties of their children’s lives increase their chances of offering the young ones empathy.

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The ability to discover ourselves in our folks must overcome the age difference. The obstacles to seeing sameness are magnified by the physical and psychological differences that come with the passing years.

Allow me to explain.

A dad, say, 30 or more years your senior, later might no longer be the same person he was when governing his life and yours. Aging, personal growth, self-reflection, and experience cause revisions of his former state, though not every alteration enhances his being.

On the other hand, you may begin to recognize similarities not before discernable when you get older. Growth into adulthood should increase psychological awareness, though not everyone becomes enlightened.

Once the wellspring of your existence is dead, of course, he doesn’t run ahead of you in chronological progression, and you might perceive yourself in the later versions of who he was.

Gender differences also hide qualities that would have been discerned had you shared the identical birth assignment of sex with the parent you believe to be less akin to you.

The essential message here is to beware of mutating into a form of yourself you would advise others not to become.

Consider taking an occasional moment to reflect on the characteristics describing those who gave you life. Time and experience sometimes alter the look back.

While I cannot promise what visions then emerge, don’t rule out the possibility of surprise. By examining the contents of old luggage and saved correspondence, the opportunity exists to assume the role of historians of our families and ourselves.

The task can be like reading an outstanding book for a second or third time, spaced years apart. The writing has not changed, but the reader has, thus remaking the words and their meaning.

New discoveries and insights are possible when we revisit the memory of long-departed people, especially those who were once so important. Unrealized gifts can be uncovered even in the baggage they leave behind, including an unsuspected one: your forgiveness of them and its blessing to you.

As I’ve implied, holding anger forever punishes the one who holds it regardless of whether the other ever receives his just deserts.

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The top image is called Anger Transference by Richard Sargent, 1954. It was sourced from History Daily. The next one is Happy Parents and Baby by Sheldonl, from Wikimedia Commons.

One Strategy to Reduce Your Unhappiness

Is it possible those who harm us might, after a passage of time, appear to be people who helped us learn something important?

Is it possible their very same cruel act enabled our growth and happiness?

I appreciate what I’m suggesting sounds odd, unusual, even crazy. Consider, however, a view based on a Buddhist text called The Vimalakirti Sutra. Its ancient wisdom offers those keen observations about the best way to live.

Imagine you are driving down a superhighway at high speed. Another driver cuts you off, raising your rage and your blood pressure. Not the first time.

Perhaps you swear and lean on the horn. Maybe you race to overtake the “evil” one, hoping to cut him off as well. Retaliation has taken hostage of all cooler thoughts.

Such animal vengeance is dangerous, both to you, the incident’s instigator, and other innocent drivers and their passengers. This time, however — this time — you tame your scorching animosity, internal disarray, and recklessness. This time you learn.

You recognize yourself in the other driver’s careless or mindless behavior: “I shall not become the thing I hate.” You no longer discount the possibility you — now — not the other man, inhabit the potential to create mayhem or death. You begin to transform the anger and impulsivity long a part of how you react to frustration.

The success in mending your problem contributes to an ironic insight: the man who almost maimed you did you a “favor.” Without him, your change may never have happened. It might also have occurred much later, after creating more sadness, fear, or hurt in others, as well as the suffering within.

Waiting in line offers a similar example of how we cause ourselves agony. The queue is long. You have other tasks to perform. Why is the clerk so chatty, so slow?

The blockhead is inefficient. Doesn’t the man realize time is slipping away? He ought to call someone to help with the flood of people!

Viewpoints like this grind the insides and ruin your day, but approaching them in a more Buddhist fashion achieves a better result. Ofttimes therapists counsel patients to “reframe” their distressing experiences — to envision them from an alternative perspective.

Tell yourself the unwanted wait is an opportunity to enhance patience. Consider the episode in a bigger picture. Will catastrophe occur if you spend more time than expected standing still? Use the moments to accomplish something else. Chat with the person in front of or behind you. Plan the week in your head.

Indeed, the unwitting agent behind the desk can be viewed as your benefactor: the one who helps you become more tolerant.

Happier, too.

If you are prone to holding grudges, changing your mindset reduces obsessive ideas about life’s unfairness. Perhaps, too, the world begins to appear more benign.

I’m not saying everything happens for a reason, but not all grievances lead without remedy to long-term misery. The “teachers” needn’t have intended kindness, but occasional gratitude toward them takes you a step nearer to a more fulfilling life.

Yes, some hurts are so grievous their perpetrators need to be brought to justice. Counselors are experts in aiding one’s mourning process when sizeable damage occurs.

A proverb often attributed to Buddhism tells us, “When the pupil is ready, the Master will appear.” Another formulation uses the word teacher for master, with the same meaning: someone who gives us wise guidance.

The one who harmed you might be the Master in disguise.

Either way, our job is to open ourselves to unexpected enlightenment. Overcoming the worst of the torments on life’s menu remains our responsibility, no matter the pain’s origin.

Unless we make something better of at least some of the misfortunes beyond our control, they will make us their plaything.

Hardship invites us to redefine it by the actions we take. When the dark invitation arrives, we do well to open it to find its hidden light.

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The top image is called Enlightenment by Peter Buirlakov. The sculpture photo is A Helping Hand by Forest Runner. Both were sourced from Wikimedia Commons.