I used to have a bunch of magnets with funny sayings on them on the side of the metal filing cabinet in my office. One of the magnets said: “Blame my parents. Don’t blame me!” Whenever a client passed by and caught a glimpse of that particular one, they would inevitably respond with a big grin.
Wouldn’t it be nice if we could put all the blame on parents and not have to take any responsibility for our woes! Interestingly, the word responsibility means just what it says: “the ability to respond”. While parents play a very significant role in shaping who we become, even more important is the way we have responded to their influences. Our response is a product of many variables not the least of which are: biology, temperament, birth order, personality, learned coping skills, and how we have chosen to interpret our life experience. At some level we all know this. We know that children grow up in the same family under similar circumstances and yet they each cope and turn out differently. We know that there are people who endured great hardship in their childhood yet they manged to flourish later on in life. There’s got to be more than the facts of what happened to explain where we are today.
While it may feel comforting at first to think of oneself as the victim of a difficult upbringing, in the end, the cost is too high. After all, if parents are entirely to blame for the way you are today, there is not much that can be done, is there? In the end do you really want to feel that degree of powerlessness? I am not saying that neglect and abuse don’t occur and do damage. I am saying that how you choose to interpret what happened to you, is the more critical determinant of how you feel today. Most of the time, trauma leaves us frozen in time, interpreting past life events through the eyes of a child. Usually, the greatest damage occurs because children can’t help but blame themselves when things go wrong. As a result, they end up feeling defective, damaged and not good enough and carry these feelings into their adult years. Getting help to get unstuck from those old feelings and obtaining an objective view so that old, mistaken interpretations get updated, can make a huge difference. Psychologists understand that they can’t change what happened to you but they can help you to change how you feel, think and respond to what happened. This is where your power lies. Some call it “empowerment”. Thank goodness, the true determinant of your well being is not what happened to you in your life but rather how you choose to see it and what you do about it!