There are so many of us out there who could identify as being under parented. What does this mean?
Perhaps one or both of your parents died when you were young? Or perhaps both of your parents were alive but were not physically around for your growing up? Or perhaps they were physically around but were mentally or emotionally absent? They provided the basics physical needs of survival but not the higher needs of nurturing?
This experience of being under parented is a complex experience that affects each of us in different ways.
The circumstances will vary from person to person – parents with mental health difficulties, addictions, parents whom themselves may also not have had good enough parenting from their own parents.
This is what may be at its root for you – that you did not receive the nurturing, guidance and protection that you needed then. Not receiving this good enough parenting may leave you with that feeling that there is something “missing” or “not quite right”.
In day to day life this may feel like you are carrying a weight of some kind or becoming overwhelmed with feelings of sadness, anger or even happiness for no apparent reason.
It is often these feelings and how they can impact people’s lives that first prompts someone to meet with a therapist. So what will meeting with a therapist bring?
As a therapist I believe in the power of the therapeutic relationship between you and me as the way to first explore your story and at the same time start the healing process. The first part of this process or journey is to bring awareness to what may be going on for you.
As part of the journey of working with you is to first get to know what it is you did and did not receive in terms of parenting. This is a very important step as without awareness healing will not always follow. The awareness in itself may take a long or a short time to come about; it is unique for each person. Often someone might come to see a therapist with a different issue that is causing them difficulty and in the course of the work talk might come around to family and parents. It is often this way that people would have their awareness about their own parenting.
As awareness increases what is often experienced next is sadness and grief – grief for what you did not receive.
When we think of grief we think of loss, usually the loss of a loved one thorough death – parent, sibling, family member, friend. Grief can also be for the loss of a job, a marriage, a parental divorce, a house, a pet. What is often overlooked is the grief that we feel for something that we did n’t have in the first place – a grief for what never was.
In therapy you have the opportunity to grieve and mourn the way in which you were not parented and the ways in which your parents could not (and maybe still cannot) support you.
You have the opportunity to grieve that one/both of your parents died before you got to know them and they you.
You have the opportunity to grieve that one/both of your parents had a mental illness/addiction and could not give you the emotional support you needed.
You have the opportunity to grieve that one/both of your parents expected you to be the parent (whether it was obvious or not).
You have the opportunity to grieve that one/both of your parents were not capable of parenting you because they were still child-like themselves (maybe they were never parented).
You have the opportunity to grieve that one/both of your parents lived their lives through you expecting you to be what they wanted and not what you wanted for yourself.
You have the opportunity to grieve all of your losses and unmet needs.
There is no time scale for grieving; it takes as long as it takes and is unique to you. This is the opportunity for you to mourn all the ways in which your younger self yearned and needed to be protected, taken care of, but was not.
But even in your grieving and mourning, you can begin the next stage of your healing journey.
Reparative relationship in therapy
The relationship between you and me in therapy is an important part of your healing process. A reparative relationship is one that heals or helps support you in ways which you did not have while growing up.
What is a reparative relationship in therapy? At first it is the way for you to re-experience how it was or is for you as the child. In a simple way it is “as if” I am your parent and you get to say and do what was perhaps not allowed or not responded to when you were young. This is slow and careful work and done in a safe and contained way with you, at your pace.
With me on this journey where I show you positive regard and being non-judgemental the opportunity is created for you to experience with me what you did not get when you were young. Together there is the opportunity to experience the parenting you did not get.
It is important to say that the gender of the therapist is not so important – for example, a female client working with a male therapist may experience the male therapist as her mother.
The goal of the therapeutic work is to become your own “good enough inner parent”. This involves the awareness what you lacked when younger, grieving what you did not have and experiencing a therapeutic reparative relationship with another.
This is the outline of the process but it is not necessarily linear. It is an ongoing, dynamic process that may need differing amounts of time for each part, and possibly re-visiting each part. It is unique and different for each person and sometimes the reparative relationship is experienced as awareness develops.
It is also worth noting that the work around parenting, or any psychotherapy work is not to blame or shame parents; they too may be carrying something from their own parenting experience. Also you are not alone if you in feeling like this and no matter your age, change is always possible.