Adults who had parents, who led less than extraordinary lives, when it comes to raising their children with ethics, often have poor relationships. If you saw your parents (one or both) fooling around, watching porn, unstable with women/men, generally this has an effect on how you view partners as well. Men or women whose parent was absent growing up presents a dilemma also. How can you know good choices to make with a partner when you weren’t given a good example growing up?
In my own blended family there are three girls (a fourth sister died). Our birth father was not there for us growing up. He was a player who married five or six times but he cheated on all of them. I myself recall women in his house when I was there for visitation, who he was not married to. As an adult, he is still unable to admit to me what his mistakes were as a man. He will say “Well you know what I did to your mother,” which is denial in a backhanded way. All of us sisters, including the one who died had bad marriages and equally bad relationships. Only one of us has actually been married successfully a second time. Our birth dad was unavailable to all of us growing up and therefore our self-esteem, setting boundaries and asking for what we want has taken quite a toll on us emotionally. This is why I am a therapist – I can empathize with bad families. I am a good therapist because of the work I have done on myself. Experience alone is wasteful unless you have become a better person.
I have also worked with foster children for many years who have played the “Who’s your babies daddy?” game. In the inner city it is considered glamorous, in a strange sort of way, to have multiple children that you are taking no responsibility for. It shows you are a stud and guys make jokes about this. It is not funny when you see a young boy or girl struggling with their own self-esteem and following in a pattern of looking for sex for attention. It is the only way they know to get touched, even if it is inappropriate. Some touch is better than no touch at all. These kids fall prey to gangs, prostitution, drugs, crime, anything that will get them in some type of world that will pay attention to them. Many kids I worked with actually didn’t mind being behind bars. It was one safe place where they were more protected than on the streets. I could actually empathize with them. Three squares and a cot that you don’t have to sell yourself for each and every day. Someone setting boundaries with you. Going to school and not having to worry about getting on the bus. And the people who work at juvenile hall actually care about these kids. Good consistent attention and a safe haven.
Kids who have been sexually abused in families often have one or both parents who have also been sexually abused. If the parent did not have anyone to protect them growing up, how will they know what to do with their own child? Sure it sounds pretty easy but when you are a parent, you don’t come equipped with a social worker or psychotherapist license. You raise your children the way you were raised. Middle class parents tend to do the opposite in a desperate need to give their kids everything they didn’t have. They end up raising entitled children who have names like Snowden and that kid who was caught with the Taliban from Marin, CA. If rich people can’t seem to get it right, you can’t expect low-income families with severe post traumatic stress disorder, sometimes are on drugs or alcohol, to pay attention and get it right. If you don’t know how to clean a house, your house is going to be dirty.
It is not unusual then that I would have many clients who have horrible relationships. Who have partners who take advantage of them just like their parents did. This is why I prefer working with individuals. If they are coming to me, the chances are their relationship is on a one way street. Someone is giving way more than the other. There is no equality because they weren’t raised by parents who work together. They were raised with parents who were making babies with everyone in town, watching porn, using substances, turning a blind eye to someone abusing their child, or were just not there.
This is the reason that I do a family history the second session. I tell people I want to see what dynamics they grew up with that they have brought into their adult world. People always get a kick out of this because as soon as I say that, they resonate with this immediately. I also tell them that studies show, 90% of relationship problems are unmet childhood needs. Once we go over what this is in the second session, it is not unusual to see this comparison in their own spouses/partners. It is sad when they finally get this and the knowledge is often accompanied by lots of tears. Yet an awakening is followed by a new path where you can have what you want going forward – or can you?
Yes and No. It really depends on how strong someone is. Having a childhood as I have described above takes many years of therapy, homework, workshops, groups, reading, exploring your own self and then of course taking care of your body. First you have to see the connection. Then you have to be willing to do the work. You have to be open to realizing you do have an ego and taking responsibility for all the choices you have made. Yes, the partner was an ass but you attracted this person into your life based on the mindset you had. Sometimes it even takes awhile for people to realize this person is not right for them. Until they do, they continue to be taken advantage of and not get their needs met.
I don’t mind working with people, even if it takes a long time, as long as they are making some discoveries along the way. If they are not, they generally back out of therapy to continue being in a relationship that is ruining their hopes of ever having happiness. This is not so bad for them either. When a person has been raised in such a horrible environment, sometimes this is more comfortable than separating from what is normal to them.
And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom. by Anaïs Nin
Many people are stuck in the bud. When you think of a flower or better yet a caterpillar, in a cocoon, imagine how soothing this is. You are tightly wrapped up, very protected and it is dark in there. Nightime is often soothing when you are able to sleep. You are busy pretending the day never happened. Blossoming, opening up the bud, shedding the cocoon, this is risky and scary. You might not be good at this new life.
Think of these things as you raise your children. What images are you showing them? What interpretations are you making or telling yourself won’t hurt them? How much information are you giving them that they really don’t need to know? Hence the well-coined acronym “TMI.” Kids are not dumb. In fact their instincts and psychic powers are much stronger when they are little – until someone tells them that it is stupid or they are crazy. When someone says they are unworthy and will never amount to anything. This is when they begin to fall apart, lose their confidence, toss common sense to the wind and ignore their ability to see the double entendre.
Your children know you are having an affair. They might not put it in adult terms but they know something is going on that is strange and not normal for a parent to do. They know you are using substances – because everyone knows this. Because you are a new person once you’ve used them. You are no longer the good, fun parent but the evil person they have to lock their door for. They sneak out to pee and see their parent on the computer watching porn. They come into the room when adults are talking and hear the conversation about what mommy or daddy should not have done. Kids are curious, they wander around houses, they accidentally stumble on things. The truth is there. Think about how you are living your life. Is it really in the best interests of your family?