“I hate the way I look — I wish my mom would have instilled more confidence in me.”
“I suck at sports. Great job teaching me the basics, dad.”
“I’m too freakishly neurotic to ever find peace in my life — my parents really screwed me up.”
Maybe all of that is true. We don’t get to choose our parents. (It might be an even more catastrophic world if that were the case.) If you didn’t want children, yet one miraculously appeared in your life nine months later, then a good thing to do involves treating that child like a human being. Children are not stupid. They pick up on things. They internalize these things. Twenty, 30 or 40 years later, they are talking to a therapist about these things.
The tricky part is when you blame your parents, or any caretaker or authority figure who played a part in rearing you, for everything — whether minor disappointments or major traumas — wrong with your life. Blame is part of the healing process. But if you’re not careful, you’ll never leave that place. You’ll end up stuck in a strange purgatory where you want to get better but can’t, because you just can’t let go. And when you can’t let go, you can’t accept responsibility.
Responsibility doesn’t mean that whatever happened to you was your fault. Responsibility means you are able to acknowledge that, “Yes, that horrible thing happened. Yes, that person may have been a monster.” (Or maybe they truly are a good person, just not a good parent.) Responsibility means, “These sad or horrendous things happened, but now I’m an adult. Maybe I don’t feel like an adult, but I am. So now what can I do? What can I do to get better?”
The “I” in “What can I do?” I is the most important part here. You can’t change the past. You certainly can’t change people. You can change the way you react. If you don’t, you’ll never gain back the control you’ve lost over your life (if you had any to begin with).
It’s important to acknowledge that things were not perfect. Traumatic things happened. Maybe those who were cruel to you truly regret the way they reared you or treated you. Maybe they don’t. But in the end, does it matter? (This is assuming, of course, that that person is no longer hurting other people). But you have to ask yourself, “Who is this bottled-up, unrelenting anger hurting more?” The answer is most likely you.
Anyone who goes through hardship or trauma will feel pain. From that pain often stems the need for blame. We don’t want to believe we are the own source of our pain. And in many cases, we aren’t. That doesn’t mean we get to stew in our own feelings of injustice forever. It means we deny, we grieve, we’re sad, we act out, we’re angry, we do incredibly stupid things. Eventually, that cycle gets pretty darn old. If you’re not at that point, I assure you, it will happen eventually.
So how did I learn to let go? Well, I’m certainly not perfect. There are many things that happened in my past that continue to affect my life, my relationship, my friendships and my career. I let go because I had no other choice. I had exhausted all other options. It was either forgive (though you are never required to forget) or continue running on that same hamster wheel no matter how squeaky, dilapidated and rusty it gets.
At some point, I got tired of the squeaks. I escaped the cage and found freedom from the wood pellets and stale feeder food. Maybe certain people tried to look for me; maybe they didn’t. I didn’t care. I was a hamster with a plan. I came to a fork, took the road less traveled and began running like my life depended on it (and hey, maybe it did). After all, it was a lot better than that squeaky old wheel.