Without adversity, there’s no growth. A key to happiness is the ability to use and transcend suffering: this wisdom is found in the words of Carl Jung, Viktor Frankl, Thich Nhat Hanh, and many more.
It is this wisdom that speaks to recent issues I’ve experienced with my mom, why I felt so victimized and enraged by her behavior, and why I’ve felt confused and stuck since.
There are two essential sources of mental illness. The first is organic dysfunction; problems that arise from how the physical brain develops.
The second source is trauma; physical or psychological injury, (with the latter, the majority arises from early childhood experiences – rejection, neglect/abandonment, abuse).
As the only child of an alcoholic father and a borderline mother, I’ve worked hard the last thirty years to gain a modicum of mental hygiene. Though I was not diagnosed with depression and anxiety until college, I suffered for many years prior.
One of the big ‘gotchas’ of psychotherapy is that it’s only as useful as the patient will allow it to be. No one gets into therapy thinking they are part of the problem. We go with the expectation someone will teach us how to deal with other peoples’ bullshit.
Accepting even partial responsibility for our unhappiness/confusion/anger is an unpleasant task. Often times, we’re so deeply mired in denial, it’s hard to hear that we must reflect on our own thoughts and behavior, and how those contribute to our present circumstance.
It took me a long time to make that first realization, and that paved the way for everything else I’ve learned. But even now – as I near 50 – I’ve found myself at a crossroads, unsure of direction. I needed someone to help me see how I was repeating the patterns of my childhood.
Beneath my anger are rejection and powerlessness; my self-worth is still tied to expectations of parental acceptance and approval. As I should know by now, no matter how much my parents love me, they’re incapable of meeting all my emotional needs.
No matter what has happened, the accountability for change lies with me. I can either stay sick (stuck in old patterns) or I can learn to do things differently. Self-empowerment is the only way out of pain, out of the anger. It’s the only true path to forgiveness.
I need to stand up for myself in a way that holds true to my personal values. I believe with the guidance and support of my therapist, I can figure out what that should look like. The way to let go of all this turmoil is to show up as the parent I needed when I was young. And I should not feel guilty.
It is possible to do this and be compassionate to myself and my parents. It doesn’t mean it won’t be messy. It doesn’t mean they won’t feel hurt. They may not be ready or willing to hear me. And I need to realize that’s okay. I need to hold firm on my boundaries if they’re ever going to observe them. Change is always hard.
I can only take responsibility for my intent and my actions. At the end of the day, what matters most to my mental health is that I can look in the mirror and feel good about the person looking back at me.