Walking to see my own therapist I wonder what I’m going to talk about. I know many people in therapy feel like this and that it marks an interesting point between an absence of crisis and an urge to look deeper at things which might otherwise have been missed or misunderstood.
Out of the blue I find myself talking about having no memory of my mother playing with me. I imagine she did from time to time, but I can’t remember it. I can’t recall her painting with me or reading to me at bedtime. I don’t remember playing catch in the garden, or us cooking together or drawing. I have no recollection of her pushing me on the swings or laughing as she followed me down a faster than expected slide. Stranger still was that none of it had ever occurred to me before.
For years I felt a deep resentment for the influence I had allowed her to have on my life far beyond the malleable childhood years. She never seemed to attribute much value to fun and enjoyment and it caused a rift in our mutual understanding which widened with the years. What I could not know, of course, was the influence her own upbringing, her own parents had on her view of life.
My father would take me to the park to play football. He would read to me, watch TV next to me on the sofa. He took me for rides in the car and to air shows. He once bought me a Norwich City football during a work trip, and I played with that ball so much I eventually wore all the green and yellow from it. But he wasn’t a happy man, and in many respects that was so much more powerful than his willingness to engage in activities. In later years it became wearing and depressing. I didn’t consider where it might have come from, why he might have found it so hard to find optimism and joy, or why he was proud of everything I did to the extent that he taught me little about my own value. His own father, an Italian immigrant, almost certainly offered insufficient emotional nurture for a young boy if some of the eyebrow raising evidence we unearthed from a spot of genealogy some years after my fathers death is any indication.
Our past doesn’t have to shape our future but, sadly, it often seems to. Mostly because we expect it to.
It’s easiest to blame others for our own emotional weaknesses if we refuse to look at what might have shaped and defined their own difficulties. Understanding why someone acts the way that they do is useful not because it absolves them from responsibility but because the clarity gives us greater control over how we detach ourselves from the impact and forge a new route, unencumbered by someone else’s painful past.
When we see others behaviour, emotional absence, insensitivity or confusion as a negative reflection on us we do nothing more than perpetuate the problem. A difficult parent, a disrespectful lover, a wasteful friend. They don’t behave the way that they do because there is something fundamentally wrong with you, and to act as if there is simply makes it feel true. Instead, when we are challenged emotionally, we have the chance to break the cycle, and breaking the cycle is a gift.
If there was pain in your childhood it’s quite likely that you worked hard to ensure your own children were spared from something similar. If you have suffered controlling and abusive relationships there will have been a time, hopefully, when you realised you are worthy of more. If you have been taken for granted by friends there is always the chance to reflect on what sort of person you want in your life rather than blindly accept those who happen to be there already.
There is no need to feel anger and bitterness, to seek retribution, because we are all subject to the pressures and demands of the ghosts in our past, and to realise that is to give yourself a chance to stop the pattern repeating, and that is the greatest power of all.