“The beauty of the truth; whether it is good or bad, it is liberating.” ~Paulo Coelho
It’s around the time of your mother or father’s birthday. You browse through the card aisles of your local store getting more and more frustrated because you cannot relate to any of the cards you read. You eventually pick out the most generic birthday card you can find and think, “Okay, I’m off the hook until the next holiday.”
Celebrations often bring up a lot of unresolved issues in families, even in among the most well functioning ones. We are reminded that the relationships we have with loved ones are not only not the way we would like them to be, they are downright unfulfilling.
Sure, you can accept that your relationship with your family is not what you want. In fact, that’s the healthiest way to look at it, but you still must interact with them, and that just leaves you feeling depleted.
No one can say that they had a perfect childhood. If someone was to ask a room of people if they grew up in a dysfunctional family, I would be the first to raise my hand.
Personalities clash from time to time; however, there’s a specific way that people feel when their parents loved them with conditions. There’s a nagging outlook that something was and is always missing, a deep emptiness.
Unconditional love is when someone loves you without confines. They express their love to you whether you succeed or fail. They don’t hold it against you if you’re going through a tough time. Their love is constant.
Conditional love is when someone expects perfection at all times, and if you fail, they’re extremely disappointed. They treat failure as a character flaw and have a hard time accepting mistakes. They don’t truly see you. They rarely build you up and instead tear you down.
The emotions associated with inconsistent parental love are similar to the feelings one may experience during loss. Numbness, anger, sadness, and loneliness are common when you’re working toward acceptance, which is a vital phase of healing after an emotionally lonely childhood. In time you’ll come to the realization that you cannot change your parents and say goodbye to the relationship that will never be.
Conditional love from a parent is one of the reasons why so many people feel that they will never be enough and have a deep longing for something more in life.
Not sure if your parents love you conditionally? Here are some signs to look out for.
1. You feel drained and beaten down after seeing your parent.
No interaction is ideal from start to finish in any relationship, but if you feel consistently exhausted after seeing your parent, it’s worth looking deeper into your relationship with them. Feeling tired after each interaction with a parent is not the norm.
2. You never felt like you were good enough as a child or even now as an adult.
You are perfectly aware of all of your positive attributes in your personal life and career; however, you feel like you’re a failure. Nothing you do makes you feel like you’ve succeeded.
3. Your parents rarely beamed with pride over your accomplishments.
Your parent never really talked about you with pride, though you may have heard them boast about your brother, sister, or even acquaintances to others.
4. They downplay your achievements.
You accomplish a challenging personal goal. Someone asks you about it and before you can answer him or her, your parent talks over you denying or downplaying your achievement.
5. They openly reject you in front of others.
You show up at a family event, and even if you and your parent are seemingly on good terms, they avoid contact with you at all costs. It leaves you feeling deeply hurt and confused, wondering what you did to make them avoid you like the plague.
6. You dread expressing yourself or talking openly with your parent.
Your parent says something that may seem insensitive. You’re thrown off and would like to address it, but you’re afraid to express how you feel because you know it wouldn’t be worth the agony. You feel they might lash out, turn the tables on you, or deny your feelings.
7. You feel they don’t see the adult version of you.
No matter how much therapy you’ve been through, how many self-help books you’ve read, how many successes you’ve achieved, or how many people you meet in your adult life that make you feel that you are loved and accepted for who you are, you still feel defensive and attacked in your parent’s presence. You logically know your positive attributes, but around your parent you feel like the child who was trapped in a dysfunctional home with little hope of escaping.
You may be thinking that all this sounds strikingly similar to the relationship you have with your parent. If so, it’s going to be okay. You are not alone in this. Remember I raised my hand too when the topic of dysfunctional families came up earlier in the article?
It takes self-awareness, support, self-care, and patience to heal. Just recognizing conditional love isn’t enough to ease the pain. But there is something you can do to create a little relief when you feel those familiar feelings bubbling up.
First, take a moment to close your eyes and take some deep belly breaths, filling your stomach up with air. Feel the tension in your body. Where are you holding it most—your stomach, chest, jaw, or shoulders? Breathe and release it with each breath until your body feels completely relaxed.
Next, picture yourself in a bright, beautiful forest or open meadow. You walk through the grass and come to an enchanted pond with a pinkish, golden light. You find a metal pitcher sitting on the edge of the pond and pick it up. You then dip the pitcher into the pond collecting the beautiful liquid.
You hold it against your body and take another, deep belly breath. Then you hold the pitcher to your nose and smell it, and it smells like the scent that you love the most—like apples, peppermint, lavender, whatever it may be.
Now allow your heart to slowly open up. This may take some time. Even if your heart doesn’t feel completely open, relax and pour this magnificent liquid downward into your chest area. Let it flow through your heart, your core. DEEP BREATH.
Your chest opens even more as you sense the space you’re in. Allow yourself to focus on the presence of your surroundings. Now, just sit there for a moment. Take another deep breath and pull the presence back into your chest. Hold it in for a moment and let it flow to your feet. Hold it, then release it into the ground/Earth.
Open your eyes once you’re ready and feel how this visualization has created space for peace, acceptance, and presence.
You are and will be okay.
Take comfort in the fact that, in time, with the help of solid friendships, partners, self-care habits, support groups, coaches, or therapists, you will recognize that your experience with your parents was less about you, and more about the lack of love they may have received when they were children.
Their pain is not yours and it most definitely was and is not your fault. The best you can do is channel your experience into the changes you’re in control of. The thoughts you choose to believe, the people you select to be around, and the self-care rituals you want to have.
Recognizing your pain is the beginning of healing. Many loving wishes.
About Kimberly Diaz-Rosso
Kimberly is an LMSW, Certified Life Coach, and lifetime learner who lives in New York with her husband, son, and dog. She practices mindfulness daily and believes meditation has greatly improved her life. She can most often be seen enjoying time with her family, immersing herself in educational trainings, and connecting with others on their journey to self-improvement. Visit her at kimberlyrosso.com.
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