How to Mindfully Cope with Difficult Parents

If we have dealt with challenging or damaging behaviour from our parents in the past, this can make our present relationship with them feel like an emotional minefield.

We may even feel that we don’t want a relationship with them at all, but feel guilty for that, because there is so much pressure from society to have positive relationships with our parents.

 

How can we navigate these complicated dynamics and look after our own well-being at the same time?

 

And, if we want to have a good relationship with our parents;

 

How can we remain open and present with them when there may be so much pain from the past?

 

Accepting Our Feelings

Many of us probably loved our parents unconditionally when we were children. Although there may have been times when their decisions or behaviour seemed unfair, we generally accepted that they must know best. This may mean that they unknowingly left us with some negative beliefs about ourselves. For example, if a parent had a quick temper, we may have grown up thinking that they were right to get so angry all the time because we are bad. It’s usually not until we’re older, and can see our parents with more objectivity, that we realise the problem wasn’t with us, it was with them. Even so, those old, ingrained beliefs can be hard to shake off, and so we may find it difficult to let go and forgive. But this is okay.

Mindfulness practice helps us notice our true feelings, and encourages us to accept them without judging or clinging. Although it can be tempting to think that judging ourselves for having feelings of anger, resentment or disappointment may push us into letting them go and replacing them with more ‘acceptable’ feelings, it usually does the reverse. By judging our feelings as bad, we end up holding onto them more tightly, fuelling our original feelings with added guilt and shame.

Accepting our feelings simply means that we acknowledge the reality of the moment, whatever that contains. It’s not about what is right or wrong, or good or bad, or what should or shouldn’t be in an ideal world. It’s about saying to ourselves, “These are my feelings. This is my current experience. And that is okay.”

The Importance of Self Care

Now that we are adults, we have the option to give ourselves the care and understanding which may have been lacking in our childhood. Rather than pushing our feelings away or making them wrong (in ways that may echo how our parents reacted to us when we were in need), we can use some self-compassion to finally acknowledge ourselves and take care of ourselves.

We can also use this self-compassion to create clear boundaries with parents who may be behaving unreasonably. Although we may feel that we ought to always be around for our parents, especially as they get older, if they are being emotional abusive we can give ourselves permission to take a step back. This could be in temporary ways, for example we cut back on how often we visit or telephone our parents. Or this stepping back could be more permanent, depending on what we feel is right for our situation.

Caring for ourselves doesn’t necessarily mean that we do anything differently when we’re with our parents. We don’t have to tell them how we feel about them, although sometimes that may feel right to do. Coping with difficult parents, rather than changing anything on the outside might actually be a very personal, private process, which is more about coming to terms with uncomfortable feelings, and giving those feelings a kind and patient space to exist within.

Becoming Clear on What is Right For Us

If we go through life mindlessly, we may feel that we are not really in control of anything. We might make decisions that are based on old beliefs, habits or the expectations or wishes of others, rather than having a clear idea of our own present values and needs. In a parent-child dynamic this can feel magnified.

We are so used to interacting with our parents in a certain way; perhaps with us giving our power away to them, and perhaps them expecting it to be that way too. In some ways this is inevitable; they spent years guiding us, making decisions for us and shaping who we are. Yet by becoming more mindful about what we want to get out of, and give into, the relationships in our lives, we can start to make more conscious decisions about what is and what is not okay for us – even with our parents.

Being more mindful in these difficult situations with our parents can help take us out of knee-jerk reactions and auto-pilot responses, so that we can act with greater clarity, self-compassion and in ways which are more aligned with our values.

 

Join a mindfulness courses or workshops with The Mindfulness Project.

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