Dear Dr. Norquist:
I’m writing to you about a painful situation that I’ve been dealing with for many years now and don’t know what to do about. I’m in my mid-20s and gainfully employed as an editor. I’ve been living in Hoboken for three years now. The painful situation has to do with my relationship with my parents. I’m an only child, so all of my parent’s hopes and dreams have always rested upon me. My parents are ultra-conservative WASPs. I was born and raised in Ohio. Our values and beliefs have never coincided. We have opposing political views. Despite my family background, I have always had liberal views. I guess I’m a big disappointment to my parents. We can’t see eye to eye and I’ve never felt really accepted by them. We are cordial and we see each other at holidays but there is a very painful gulf between us. I don’t know if it can ever be different. They just don’t like who I am and it really hurts. How can I get rid of this inner pain whenever I think of them?
Dr. Norquist responds:
Your pain is palpable. Pain in life comes in many forms. Physical pain can be easier to bear than the inner emotional turmoil of psychic pain. It is the desire for your parent’s acceptance and understanding that creates your pain. As children, we all have a need to be understood and accepted. We yearn to be really ‘seen’ for who we are – like a yearning for an affirmation of our inner ‘Being.’ This need was not adequately met for you, so it lingers on.
Moving through these painful feelings requires acknowledging and accepting that, as painful and sad as it is, your parents are not able to satisfy this need for whole-hearted acceptance of who you are. This is not at all related to your worth. It is just the result of a pairing (between you and your parents) that did not lead to optimal bonding. However, I would not go so far as to say it was not ideal. Consider that perhaps all is in order and that what was ideal for your growth was to experience a nesting environment that did not perfectly meet your needs. Growth is stimulated by some sort of a lack of comfort and satisfaction. This experience no doubt pushed you to look beyond the home nest and to explore other arenas.
To move forward in resolving this inner pain, you need to allow yourself to experience the anger, sadness, frustration, grief and every other feeling that arises as you consciously let go of the hope that your parents can fulfill these needs. Letting go of this hope will allow you to break the emotional pattern of returning over and over again to the same dry well, hoping to finally find water (a quenching of the need for acceptance). Ironically, it will be through truly accepting your parents for who they are and feeling gratitude and appreciation for what they can offer that the emotional bond between all of you will solidify.
Fortunately, you are no longer a child, dependent upon one main source for meeting these needs. You can (and I’m sure you do) get these needs met elsewhere – through a combination of your current primary relationship, friendships, meaningful work activities, artistic self-expression, and, of course, through your spiritual life. Your pain will subside when you stop craving from you and your parents something that they can’t give, and start focusing on appreciating what they can and have offered.
(Dr. Sallie Norquist is a licensed psychologist (NJ #2371) in private practice and is director of Chaitanya Counseling Services, a center for upliftment and enlivenment, in Hoboken.) Dr. Norquist and the staff of Chaitanya invite you to write them at Chaitanya Counseling Services, 51 Newark St., Suite 202, Hoboken, NJ 07030 or www.chaitanya.com or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by fax at (201) 656-4700. Questions can address various topics, including relationships, life’s stresses, difficulties, mysteries and dilemmas, as well as questions related to managing stress or alternative ways of understanding health-related concerns. 2013 Chaitanya Counseling Services