By Guest Blogger Michiel Van Der Meer at Sell Everything and Leave
We all have parents. Everyone who was ever born has. In our childhood they taught us how to live and we accepted that teaching, whether we consciously did so or not. Through our lives we base most of our decisions on their world views.
To become an adult we need to transcend our parent’s teaching and form our own understanding of reality. This article outlines how your parents influence your life, what trauma you have from their lessons and how to overcome those traumas so you can become an adult in the true sense of the word.
The relationship between parents and children
Parents interact with their children differently than children interact with their parents. This interaction evolves during the child’s growth but the basic motivation almost always stays the same for both the parents and the children.
To a parent, their child is something fragile. This is certainly true in the early stages of life where the child is not able to care for itself. Unfortunately, most parents will continue to interact with their child as if he or she is unable to make the right decisions even as the child grows up.
From a parent’s point of view, children lack the experience necessary to interact with the world. That makes every decision a child makes questionable. Usually, this perspective continues into adulthood.
Parents will likely pass this off as ‘just looking out for you’, but the underlying thought is that you are unable to make the right decision yourself; therefore, you need the help of a critical adult to come to the right conclusions.
What most parents fail to grasp is that their children grow up in a vastly different world where the mental models and values of the parents don’t always apply. This is not to say that they don’t apply for the parents; they might very well work for them, but for the children, they might be outdated.
From a child’s point of view, especially in early childhood, parents have a god-like status. Parents have all the knowledge and know all the answers. Parents keep telling children that what they’re doing is good or bad and a child has no choice but to believe them. Outside of their parents, a child has no other reference.
Later on in life, as children meet other people and gain more role models, the parent’s god-like position starts to degrade, but only a little and very slowly. Most adults still feel like they owe responsibility to their parents. Most parents still actively demand accountability from their children, even though most parents do this unconsciously.
So the parents see their children as if they’ve never grown up and the children see their parents as demi-god-like figures that require constant respect.
Both these conditions need to be overcome in order to create a mutually loving relationship between parent and child. To overcome them we need to become adults in the true sense of the word by transcending what we learned as children; particularly those things we learned which cause us to feel depressed, also known as “childhood trauma”.
A healthy, loving relationship between parent and child is recognized by a desire for mutual growth and understanding. Neither party is trying to force their values upon the other, but both parent and child try to understand the other’s point of view and grow their own character through their understanding.
It is like Bruce Lee said: “Be like water: absorb what is beneficial, discard what is useless and add what is uniquely your own.”
This process is highly personal and the result will greatly differ from person to person, even when these people are as close as a parent and a child.
The goal then, to put it differently, is not to become the same but to value the differences as a validation of your own convictions without harming or feeling threatened by the convictions of the other person.
As you can probably see, this is not only true for family life but also for all relationships you will ever have. That is why growth in one relationship will inevitably mean growth in all of your relationships.
Simply put, childhood trauma is any neurosis caused by learned behavior from childhood.
Neurosis, as I see it, is the irrational clinging to stress (depression, anxiety, etc.) by actively denying personal responsibility for the cause of the stress or the solution to the problem.
For example: whenever a person complains about how their parents caused them to feel anxious every time they have to perform in front of an audience, that is neurosis. Similarly, when a person feels depressed that they are not genetically inclined for beauty, this is neurosis.
I’m not saying that these are not valid reasons to complain or feel depressed. I’m merely stating that not taking action and thus remaining with the anxiety or depression is irrational and self-defeating. More on overcoming childhood trauma and neurosis later in this article.
There is also childhood trauma caused by positive experiences. If your parents never scolded you for doing something bad, you might have a tough time dealing with people who call you out on various behaviors. Similarly, if your parents always gave you what you asked for, you might feel especially depressed if you are rejected.
These are all mere examples of course; there are countless ways you can get childhood trauma. Not everyone will get trauma from the same event and those who do will have varying degrees. The point is everyone has it; no matter how good or bad your experience of childhood was, you will have some demons to overcome.
For parents, this is especially difficult to accept. No matter what you do as a parent, your child is going to experience difficulty in dealing with something you taught them. There is no way to raise a child without trauma.
For children, the difficulty lies in accepting that it’s not their parent’s fault for making them feel a certain way by teaching them a certain thing. Always keep in mind that you have the freedom to change your mind on a certain teaching and go your own way. Only the past is set; the future is wide open for you to create.
For this reason, you don’t have to see childhood trauma as a bad thing. In overcoming your demons you will become a wiser, more compassionate and loving person. Without the demons from your childhood, you have no room to become a fully grown individual. Without the trauma your children encounter, they might never become as wise, compassionate or loving as they could potentially be.
The ultimate goal of parenting is thus not to give your child a perfect childhood but to help your child overcome whatever difficulty he or she encounters in his or her life. As a child, you should realize that this is very difficult for most parents and you should support your parents in making an effort to help you any way you can. This is the way to a mutually loving relationship where both you as a child and your parents can grow.
Our lives are a constant growth. This means that there are always new limitations we have to face. Children are merely in the early stages of this process, but adults will also always have more problems to overcome. In helping your children overcome these same problems, you are helping yourself. In helping your parents overcome their demons, you are helping yourself as well.
That’s why I said that the ultimate relationship between parent and child (and for that matter every relationship) is recognized by constant mutual growth and understanding. Both parties help each other, and thus themselves, overcome new difficulties.
A few words about love
To fully understand this article you must understand the definition of love I use.
Most people confuse love with the feeling they have when they have a ‘crush’ (someone they feel desperately attracted to) or they confuse love with selflessly sacrificing their own priorities for the perceived good of the other.
Love is neither of those two. The best description I’ve read about love comes from the book The Road Less Traveled by Scott Peck. The book states the following as the definition of love: “The will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth.”
If you drive your child to school every day out of fear that they might get hurt on their way to school, even when they could easily go themselves, you are not doing this out of love. Love is allowing them to gain self-reliance and perception by extending yourself beyond your fear of their imminent demise. I’m not saying to send your four-year-old out to cross busy streets, of course; but in my town it was perfectly safe for a kid to ride a bike to school. Most places are not as dangerous as you make them out to be and your children are not as helpless as they were as babies or toddlers.
Your protection causes your children to miss out on potential growth and is motivated by your own narrow thinking. Therefore, your actions are not love, but a form of narrow-minded possessiveness: a futile attempt to keep them helpless so you can feel superior and in control.
To love is to allow yourself, your children and your parents to make mistakes that are potentially harmful. To love is to forgive yourself and others and to learn how growth can occur from the experience. To love is to place yourself in someone else’s situation in an attempt to fully understand their thinking and thus to expand yourself to include their view of the world.
Overcoming childhood trauma through love
As we have established, everyone has childhood trauma we have to overcome in order to grow up. Through this process, we become adults in the true sense of the word. Someone can be an adult under the law (18 or 21 years old), but still be a child or adolescent in their behavior.
A child is dependent on the approval of others. It is constantly seeking to interact in such a way that it is acknowledged. A child also accepts everything that he or she is told as the truth. Children absorb everything they encounter, thus creating trauma that only becomes apparent later in life.
Adolescents start becoming individuals by rejecting most of what others tell them. They slow down the accumulation of new trauma because they stop believing, and thus accepting, the convictions of others. However, they are not yet overcoming their traumas and are mostly depressed by the appearance of the rigidity of the world. Something seems to be wrong with them in their own eyes and they don’t know what. This realization is usually projected back on their surroundings by anger, depression, seclusion or extremism or a combination thereof. Most people stay stuck at this stage of personal development.
To become an adult you have to learn to love yourself and others through the relationships you have with them. This means that you will have to extend yourself to accept your own thoughts, the thoughts of your parents and the thoughts of others you have a relationship with. From that point, you can grow yourself into a person that either supports or rejects those thoughts without remorse towards yourself or hostility towards the other.
This kind of love requires discipline; it is hard work. To be able to do this you have to realize for yourself that growth is the only way towards a fulfilled life. You will not only have to understand but also firmly believe that love is the highest form of self-expression and that even though it is hard work, you do it anyway. You have to push yourself beyond the laziness of adolescence in order to realize your highest potential.
You have a responsibility to yourself to actively love everyone you have a relationship with, including and perhaps most importantly yourself.
Through this act of love, you will realize yourself as an individual while becoming a structural part of the whole. This is the paradox of life. You are separate, but simultaneously part of everything. You have your own thoughts that are partially formed by the thoughts of all others around you and before you. Those same thoughts influence others around you as well.
This is what makes love possible. To see another is to see yourself. To see the struggle of the other is to see the struggle within yourself. To help another is to help yourself. To laugh with another is to laugh with yourself and to make fun of another is to make fun of yourself. All actions reflect back to you and all observations are observations of yourself.
This also works in the opposite way. Through your growth, we all grow. Through your insights, we all gain wisdom.
For me, this is the highest calling, the ultimate purpose in life: to grow in spirit and lift the entirety of humanity higher. The world seems to be in enormous peril all the time. If you watch the news all you see is problems. Knowing that our personal growth directly or indirectly contributes to solving these problems is my greatest motivation.
I hope you’ll be willing to take these steps with me. I hope you’re working on your own growth. I hope you’re working on other people’s growth through your loving relationships with them. You’re making the world a better place if you are.
Grow any way you can. Read books and write articles. Discuss your opinions with others. Share your wisdom and gain theirs. Love your parents and your children. Help anyone you know and everyone who asks.
Let’s get to work!
Visit Sell Everything and Leave for more wise words from Michiel Van Der Meer.
Michiel is a world explorer. Sick of his 9-5 grind he quit his job and vowed to travel the world for as long as possible, helping people realize their own dreams along the way.
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