“My experience is that the teachers we need most are the people we’re living with right now.” ~Byron Katie
Nothing hurts like being misunderstood, and there is no place that this feeling runs rampant quite like it does with family.
I used to think I was the only one.
For years after I moved out, each visit back home would be preceded by careful, specific preparation. I would try to brace myself for whatever would be coming my way.
I would spend the entire two-hour bus ride turning all of the possible criticisms and probable arguments over and over in my head. I would rehearse ways I could react to various imagined scenarios.
I thought preparing myself would soften the blows. It didn’t.
Ram Dass once said, “If you think you are enlightened, go and spend a week with your parents.”
Imagine my embarrassment and hopelessness at thinking I’d finally cracked the secrets of peace and happiness, only to find myself welling up with the same old anger and resentment each time I faced my closest relatives.
Even after I began a journey of personal and spiritual growth, visits back home were toxic.
I would prepare. I’d show up. They would judge me. I’d react. Then, I would judge myself for letting their judgment get to me. Then, they’d judge me for letting it get to me. Then, I’d judge them for judging me. It would be a giant, exhausting mess.
Each time I returned home, I would be exhausted and wondering how I’d ever lived with these people in the first place.
One day, in the midst of recovering from such a visit, I found myself in an intimate conversation with a friend about beauty. She shared with me how she sometimes felt so disgusted by her reflection that she could hardly function.
I empathized, letting her know that I had suffered with that severity of self-hatred for close to ten years.
I said, “You know what I’ve learned? It wasn’t my reflection that was hurting me. It was my expectation that, every time I looked in the mirror, I would discover someone else, some other person who wasn’t me. Jennifer Aniston maybe? But Jennifer Aniston never showed up. It was always just same, old me. That was what really hurt—the expectation that was never met.”
Immediately after the words poured out of my mouth, my mind lit on fire.
I realized, with stark clarity, that the same relationship I used to have with my reflection, I was having with my parents. I kept showing up, time after time, expecting different people to magically appear.
I kept expecting that they would change.
When I told my partner about my epiphany later that evening, he looked amused. I asked him why he was smiling like that.
He told me, “This is what I’ve been trying to tell you. I’ve definitely said this to you. Many times! You’ve said it to me too!”
I was surprised, but not for long. I thought about my relationship with myself and how I’d heard messages of self-love, self-acceptance, and self-forgiveness, but it took me years to truly internalize them. Maybe that’s how it was with my parents. It wasn’t that I didn’t know the answer. I just had to be ready to experience it.
The next time I went home, it was like a whole new world. I didn’t brace myself for criticism, nor did I plan my words. I just showed up with the assumption that, maybe, they would never change.
This simple belief completely transformed my relationship with them. Suddenly, I could see them for who they were. They were, and always will be, flawed and beautiful, just like me.
I could suddenly smile at their criticism and laugh at their judgment. I could embrace them even if they didn’t feel like embracing me. I could understand them even if they misunderstood me.
I used to think that people who had good relationships with their parents had perfect parents.
That’s just not true.
People who get along with their parents have just as many family conflicts as anyone else. They just choose to accept those conflicts as part of life, and love their kin anyway.
For me, learning to accept my family, just as they are, opened up new doors of opportunity.
Right after I started practicing understanding and acceptance toward them, I got the inspiration to work on a book. I got the passion to start my own business. I got the courage to speak my message loudly.
All these things happened within a few months of my epiphany, and I can’t pretend that the timing was a coincidence.
I honestly believe that our expectations of our families, our own judgments about them, hold us back in ways we can’t even imagine. I honestly believe that, if you can learn to love your parents, just as they are, you’ll unlock boundless potential within you. I truly believe that this is the one missing piece that most people don’t realize is missing.
Of course, it’s not easy. Nothing worth having is easy, but it’s always simple.
And this is my simple message, today and forever: accept and allow. That is the path toward peace, love, and serenity.
Photo by pilostic