How to Talk to Your Parents About Your Messed Up Childhood

Oct 04, 2019

*Full Transcript Below*

As a person learns more about themselves and develops emotionally, it's inevitable that you become aware of the powerful influence of your parents when you were a kid. Since there is no perfect parent and no perfect children, it can be painful to look back at some of the things that happened in childhood and hopefully none of them were physical, but there are inevitable emotional wounds.

Some children 'act out' at the time and so the parents and the caregivers know that they're really in pain or they're in fear or they're angry. But a lot of people, especially little kids, just close down and all those feelings go down inside - because children are trying to get their parents' attention and the love that they want. And they don't want to make waves. They don't want to be causing problems. And so those things can get buried deep inside.

So parents or caregivers, sometimes they don't even know that the child might have some wounds. I often hear from my clients that they get triggered by something that happens. Maybe they're in a playground and they see a bunch of kids and the parent spanks the child or something and suddenly they have a whole memory of something that happened to them in childhood - that can happen at any age! And so when that happens, some of those patterns can be underneath what's going on in our adult lives and be causing problems.

Now children make decisions based on what's happening in their lives because that's the only thing we can do. But if we live out of those decisions as we grow older, that can get in the way of us really being happy together.

My name is Linda Frazee and I've been working with individuals and organizations for the last 40 years. My belief is that you have to grow your emotional self as well as other important areas in your life or you'll never be truly happy and satisfied. Healing childhood issues is a major part of growing your emotional self.

The Enneagram is the best system I know to start the process of understanding why you do what you do and possibly even understanding what your parents do. That system gives you the opportunity of discovering the unconscious patterns that might be influencing your motivation, your behavior and decisions. And with that knowledge and awareness, you can begin the process of developing more deeply your emotional self.

Now, why is that even important? What does that have to do with having effective and healing conversations between parents and grown children?

The better you know yourself and understand your motivation, the more responsibility you can take for yourself and your past behavior. It is a sign of emotional health if grown children want to talk to their parents about their childhood issues. Now often the parents don't think that it's a sign of health, but that's another subject.

Now, here's an example. Let's say that John wishes his father Bill had encouraged him to play sports and focus more on getting good grades in school. Looking back, John sees his dad as always working, watching TV, or just not at all involved in his life. So John never remembers his dad throwing the ball or remember playing with him or encouraging him in any way. Now, John was not abused, but he feels neglected and not important to his father. It was as if John didn't really matter to his father at all, or that's what he felt. Now John is 35 years old. He and his wife are expecting their first child. They know it's a boy, and as soon as John heard he was going to be the father to his son, he noticed that his resentment about his childhood had begun to come forth.

John is determined to talk to his dad and have an authentic conversation with him about his neglected feelings and experience. Now John knows he's a 'four' on the Enneagram and that he tends to get stuck in the past and the painful emotions. He doesn't want to blame his father, but it feels important for him to have this authentic conversation with his dad before his son is born. So in this instance, what's the best way to do that?

Here's some suggestions.

If John's father has never talked about his feelings and has never shown any desire to really listen to his son - and still doesn't, there's little chance he will be willing to listen to him now. In that case, there's other ways to communicate that don't involve really talking to dad in person.

The first thing is writing a letter that you don't send - and getting those feelings out.

The second thing is to sit in front of an empty chair and talk out loud to dad and imagine him in that chair - and say all the things that you'd never dared to say before.

Now that sounds odd, but I can tell you that it really does get those feelings out. You can also do that with a coach or a therapist and that does help too. But you can do it by yourself - but as I say, anybody could say, "well, I'll just do that" - and I can't tell you how many of my clients have gone home and then said, "I couldn't do it. It's really hard" - because if you've been suppressing those feelings for a long time, it feels disrespectful to say them out loud even when nobody else is there.

Now let's go in the other direction. If dad has grown emotionally since John was young and is now open to talking about his feelings - connecting with John more than he ever has - that's a different story altogether.

John could invite his dad to go to my website and consider what Enneagram type dad might be. That would be a good place to start a conversation about how people are different and see through different eyes. Learning the Enneagram doesn't ensure a clear healing conversation, but it's a good way to start a conversation about how people look at life from different viewpoints.

That could be an opening step of talking about how John and dad relate differently, and that could ultimately open the door to a deeper conversation about John's feelings about his childhood.

Now here are five important points for the grown child to take into consideration while having that difficult conversation with their parents, if that's the way it goes.

First of all, know yourself. That's true for John, and that's true for the father Bill too! The more you know yourself, the less you're going to get triggered by those triggers that you even know you have - or your blind spots. So the more you know yourself, that's where the Enneagram comes in.

Second of all, be grounded when you have that conversation. So often these conversations happen when somebody has been drinking or drugging or at a party or there's a big family argument and then everything comes up. That's not a very productive place to have those conversations. That can be wounding. So choose a time when you're sober and you're grounded and you and your parents can sit down and calmly talk about things.

When you do start the conversation, don't start out blaming and being defensive yourself.

Use "I" statements.

To Recap (for the child):

#1. Know yourself well
#2. Be grounded when you have the conversation
#3. Don’t start out defensive
#4. Don’t blame
#5. Use “I” statements

Now, here are five important things for the parents of a grown child while listening to a difficult conversation with their grown child.

Again, know yourself well. The more you know yourself, the less likely you're going to create a trigger.

Be grounded yourself when you have this conversation. And if the, the grown child asks for this conversation and you're not grounded or you feel blindsided, asked for a different time and then keep your agreement. If you come up like, "Oh, we'll do this next week," make sure you really do it because the child has come to you. Remember - it's a sign of health, and you want to support that!

Now when they tell you what or how they felt, whatever, don't get angry and yell at them or burst into tears.

And here's some things never to say to that child, even though they're 60 years old. Don't say 'that was then. This is now.' 'It's not my fault.' 'Just get over it.' 'I did the best I could.' 'You are a difficult child.' Those are all things that you don't want to say. If you've already said those, you might want to apologize if somebody tried to have a conversation, because in all those cases you're making the child wrong and you're being defensive. You're not really listening. Number five - listen with compassion to your growing child's feelings.

To Recap (for the parent):

#1. Know yourself well.
#2, Be grounded when you have the conversation (ask for a different time if you are not feeling grounded or blindsided.) Keep your agreement for the new time.
#3. Don’t get angry or bust into tears
#4. Don’t say - That was then, this is now! It’s not my fault! Just get over it! I did the best I could - you were difficult!
#5. Listen with compassion to your grown children’s feelings.

Now there's much more to be said about these difficult conversations. If there's substance abuse, physical abuse, major mental illness or estrangement, you may need to do this in front of a therapist because you need a mediator in that case, but if not, you can do this with your parent and child together.

Any difficult conversation goes better when both parties are aware of their strengths, challenges, and blind spots. You can find out more about all these aspects of yourself by visiting my website, and watching my five part video series on the Enneagram.

xxx - Linda.

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