Adult children can end up feeling very small and young, when family dynamics get in the way. Sometimes we are ready to grow up a little. But how?
As adult children we all have our own unique relationship with our parents.
The ones we have.
The ones we wish we had.
The ones we never had.
Or the ones we may be about to lose.
I remember when my mother started ‘warning’ me, that one day I would find out what it is like to lose a mother. I was in my 30s or 40s. She said it most often after her own mother had died. It made me feel ungrateful, like a bad daughter.
Since my treatment for cancer some years ago, my mother is more preoccupied with dreading the possibility of losing a child. It makes me feel worried for her and responsible.
We all have our own unique stories full of difficult emotions, unresolved issues, memories, hopes or disappointments, resentment, sadness, grief and pain.
We may realise, that we have either moved on a lot or not as much as we had hoped, or that we struggle (or not) with what may lie ahead.
How can we deal with such challenges and grow up, at least a little?
What stops us adult children from moving on?
More often than not, what gets in the way and stops us from moving on are fear, resentment, guilt and (self) criticism.
Our thinking, feeling and pattern of relating to others and ourselves are often deeply affected by any one or a combination of these attitudes and feelings.
This is a heavy burden to carry, which takes energy and can keep us in the victim mode. Over time we adult children can get very rigid in this position, which overshadows our view of life and informs the experiences we have.
Unless we can deal with fear, resentment, guilt and criticism we are bound to live our lives in a way that will repeat more of the same. @KarinSieger (Click to Tweet!)
We may find it hard to accept the limitations of others and our own.
We might feel responsible for the problems and for making things better.
If our parents were not loved and not encouraged to love and positively accept themselves, then they might struggle to teach us children how to love and value ourselves.
Not everybody grows up with their birth parents. Even adult children may feel abandoned, rejected or not good enough because of it.
If we experienced a lot of criticism in our childhood, then there is a good chance we have been left with a tendency to be highly critical of others and ourselves.
If our parents have died we adult children may be grieving their loss, or not.
If we adult children have lost a child or have never been able to have our own, then we too may be grieving for those who have passed too soon, or for the chance we have never had.
Some say that the antidote to those very understandable and human difficulties is the willingness to love, forgive and to let go of the past.
All too easily can we get stuck in the past, concede control and power of our lives to what has or could have been. With that perspective on life and heavy heart it is difficult to move on.
Allowing ourselves to become less rigid and entertaining the belief that we have done the best we could is an important start in addressing some of the difficulties we may experience.
Realising and accepting that we adult children cannot change our parents, but only ourselves.
Ultimately, we adult children have choices and we are responsible for our individual lives and the consequences of the choices we make.
It took me a long time to let go of my sense of responsibility for my parents’ lives and relationship. I felt I had to make sure they are ok. But that is a huge burden for a child of any age. It gets in the way of living our own life and most of all, it does not work.
The day I could truely accept and believe that I am not responsible, I gained a huge sense of inner peace of freedom.
Dealing with fear, resentment, guilt and criticism.
These are very potent feelings.
Even if we want something else for our life (like peace of mind, self worth and feeling safe) we may reject any attempt to make changes.
Fear and self criticism can keep us trapped. We fear failure or pain which might happen with change. This in turn feeds resentment and guilt.
It is a vicious circle, which can be brought to an end – without blame or judgment.
We all do what we do and think what we think for a reason.
Sometimes in life we may recognise that pattern and its limitations, accept it for what it is, and then we may be ready and willing to move on.
If some of this resonates with you, then perhaps you may be ready to let the past be what it is, step out of its confines and start choosing what you want to do next.
You are in charge of how you think about yourself and your life.
You are entitled to and capable of repeating negative thoughts and beliefs.
You are equally entitled to and capable of adopting a less restrictive and more positive attitude towards yourself, life and the world around you.
If you feel any internal resistance or disbelief about what I have said, than your are on the first step to change, which starts with noticing resistance, not fighting it, but not giving in to it either.
We adult children can move gracefully through this resistance and find the first hurdle dissolving very quickly, if we let it.
Conflict is not always bad.
When we change, there are always people who are impacted, and people who may not like it.
When adult children grow up a little, it will change some family dynamics. We may be frightened this leads to conflict. And it may. But not growing up a little can also lead to conflict (external or internal with the heavy burden we carry).
Sometimes a little conflict is necessary and healthy. It can be overcome, or differences of opinion might just have to be accepted. Disagreement can be a natural part of change and can evaporize once change has settled in.
It might need to be the price we pay for growing up and living our own lives, however short or long they may be.
Watch the video below about when our families disappoint us.
Karin Sieger is a UK-based psychotherapist and writer specialising in personal transitions, endings, making peace and the emotional impact of cancer, for which Karin has been treated herself. She does her writing on her orange houseboat in London. Karin posts regularly on her website KarinSieger.com. You can sign up for her Newsletter, follow her on YouTube, Twitter and Facebook or connect via LinkedIn.
Image courtesy of geralt.