How is it that we often continue to experience the most painful parts of our childhood over and over in our adult lives? If abandonment was present when we were children we find ourselves in recurring relationships, friends and lovers alike, with abandoners. . If you lived with a critical parent, the person you love will likely mirror that parent, criticism and all. If a person’s childhood home was consumed by chaos, she often brings people into her adult life who create the very chaos she is certainly trying to avoid. Clearly it sounds ridiculous to claim we will reconstruct the parts of our lives we most wanted to escape. It is not a conscious choice. It is simply a subconscious instinct to gravitate toward the familiar. We are often comfortable with what we know, good or bad.
It is not unusual to have clients who wonder how in the world they repeatedly end up in the same unhealthy situations. They do not recognize they are replaying their childhood because they live with the edited memory of a perfect (or perfect enough) childhood. It takes work and courage to dig deep and become vulnerable to the truth. Please know that I am not saying that all childhoods are horrible and debilitating. It is not the case that we all need to be angry at our parents for their parenting limitations. It is simply important to understand how childhood and our family of origin dynamics feed into our adult lives. One of the ways is as described above. The return to what we know. Again, not because we desire the result but rather because it is familiar to our inner self and that self knows what to expect, good or bad.
My client L, who I write about with her permission, repeatedly found herself in painful situations and relationships. She did not live under the illusion of a perfect childhood; however she did not understand how that played into the choices she made and the results of those choices. She worked very hard in therapy and one of the things she realized was that she was unconsciously recreating the emotional chaos she had grown up with. As her insight developed, she suggested comfortable was not the best way to refer to her chaotic state. We agreed to replace it with familiar.
S is a client with whom I recently began working. She willingly shares this part of her story. S also came to counseling with awareness that her experience as a child was far from perfect. Her overarching memory of growing up was loneliness and a feeling that she was unimportant. As an adult she has repeatedly and unknowingly recreated that loneliness. Most of her relationships have supported her sense of being unimportant. At this point in our work, S and I suspect she self-sabotages by undermining relationships which may override those childhood impressions. Sharing her journey is a joy as I watch her work, grow, and rewrite her story.
Now the good news! As we recreate the painful scenarios of our youth in adulthood, we are given the opportunity to work through and heal those childhood wounds. All it takes is a lot of emotional elbow grease in the form of willingness to be vulnerable and to work hard to find the truth deep within.
As always, I offer gratitude to the clients who allow me to share their journey toward wholeness and healing.
Visit Family Tree Counseling on YouTube for a number of videos which address family of origin issues.