Recently, I traveled to my family home town to see my parents and other relatives after long months of no see due to the pandemic and the fact that I live miles away from them, in another country.
Upon my departure which I enthusiastically shared with a few close friends, I’ve heard a lot of similar comments sounding something like: ‘’This is going to be amazing for you, home is such a healing place to be and you’ll experience a lot of love and healing.’’
Healing capacity of family bonds
One reason why they all talked about healing is that this year had a big-time rock-n-rolling curve for me, I went through multiple shifts and changes in my life (relationship and business-wise) that I am yet left to complete processing and to close the circle of healing through acceptance.
I know all my friends meant well and I am grateful they shared their perspectives. However, upon spending a few days in my family home, I had to reflect back on these statements and check whether they actually apply to me. And the realization was a bit bitter, because they don’t.
Unfortunately, my family doesn’t have healing effects on me in this sense.
I could get sad and cynical about it, but that’d only signify that I am living within my limiting belief of taking the role of a victim, who I am not. I’ve been thinking that in the past and it’s been very painful. However, I’ve overcome that limited mindset by accepting a different one — the growth mindset and understanding that comes from mindfulness and spirituality and goes something along these lines:
This profound understanding is of self-expansion, not self-depletion. And it enables me to understand, relate to, appreciate, love, care for and respect my family exactly for who they are. Not who I’d have preferred them to be.
That means appreciating what they do and can provide me with based on their capacity of giving — sharing love and recognizing that rather than having unrealistic expectations from them or holding a grudge against them for how my childhood has been, thinking that they owe me something.
Such as me, probably many other readers have similar experiences of having families who they may relate to, love dearly, care for and respect, yet they don’t feel truly loved, nurtured, understood and supported by them.
Nature of family bonds
What impacts our relationship and the dynamic with our family — parents or caregivers, mostly comes down to the nature of the relationship between them. How psychologically healthy (emotionally and mentally) they are and the bond between them suggests what will our bond with them look like.
We, upon being born, become a part of an already existing — established and deeply profound family ecosystem by its rules. The bond formed with our family impacts how we function within this family ecosystem but also outside it, in our own world and personal relationships.
I’ve read a brilliant book on this phenomenon that addresses the power and importance of our family bonds, it’s called The Human Magnet Syndrome — Why We Love People Who Hurt Us by Ross Rosenberg. Ross is a psychotherapist, thought leader, educator, globally known for his expertise in codependency, narcissism, narcissistic abuse and trauma treatment.
According to Ross, people either form healthy and functional or less healthy, dysfunctional romantic relationships (esoteric literature would also call them toxic or karmic), all based on their level of psychological health and self-awareness.
‘’When individuals with healthy emotional backgrounds meet, the irresistible “love force” creates a sustainable, reciprocal and stable relationship. Codependents and emotional manipulators are similarly enveloped in a seductive dreamlike state; however, it will later unfold into a painful “seesaw” of love, pain, hope and disappointment.’’
As a consequence, psychologically healthy couple, later on, parents, become unconditionally loving and affirming to each other and their offspring. While unhealthy parents lack this capability and become either emotionally manipulating (narcissists, borderline or antisocial personalities), or codependent — unable to support a truly healthy upbringing of their child. This is also given by their past experiences of growing up that form their capacity to be balanced parents or a lack of it.
Family bonds formed between co-dependents and emotional manipulators are a classic relationship match for most people and most romantic relationships.
There’s a scale, called Continuum of Self Values, marking how codependent or manipulative an individual is, based on their behavioural characteristics. It ranges from 1–5, that is slight, mild, fair, very high to extreme values with 0 being a neutral ground marking a person with a healthy sense of self.
To summarize, how psychologically healthy the parents are determines how healthy a relationship with their offspring would be. While healthy parents provide each other and their child with an unconditional affirmation — love, care, support and acceptance. Less healthy, dysfunctional parents are unable to do so and instead, their love, care, support and acceptance towards each other and their child is limited to their capacity of giving.
From my story and that from my friends as well as clients, it seems that a vast majority of individuals had an experience with unhealthy family bonds at some scale. This determines whether we’re later on able to safely and comfortably bond with our families, as well as to form healthy relationships and set healthy boundaries for ourselves.
And if your family didn’t support you while you were a child, they’d most probably fail as you grow up. Unless the parents undergo therapy or other deep transformational work on themselves. So, rather than having unrealistic expectations about what your parents (and siblings) owe you and should do for you, or falling into the limiting — judging or victimhood trap, here’s what you can do for yourself to heal.
Creating healing space for oneself
I’ve done this for myself and it made me outgrow my family and limitations, the pain from my childhood and a lack of understanding, attention and affection from my parents as I was growing up. It helped me to expand myself into a better, stronger and more self-aware person that I am today.
Many of us will be left to do this if we want to process and heal our past properly, outgrow it, progress and become better individuals. And if we do our active work, we are working towards better personal relationships and better families that we eventually create ourselves.
1. Accept your family for what it is
It’s important to first acknowledge and then accept your family, but most of all understand its roots given by the dynamics of and between your parents, their personalities and behaviours.
Try to understand why do they act how they do, why did they treat you as they did? It’s surely coming from somewhere and it must have been a formula that someone else taught them back then. They must have equally experienced dysfunctional childhood that shaped who they’ve become. And although they could have worked on their self-improvement, it’s not our place to judge them. We know little about their soul plan and it takes mental and emotional maturity for a person to change.
Holding grudges will never allow you to move ahead from where you are now, only keep you in the same loop.
Your anger and perhaps even deep dislike, is not damaging anyone but yourself.
Understand that your anger is just a (false) limiting belief — the one that you can’t forgive and forget what your parents have done to you and move on. The opposite is true, freeing yourself from that anger is what opens your hands, eyes and heart to love, to self-love, gratitude and receiving many blessings from the universe. It only goes through acceptance and healing. Never from anger and blame.
Accepting through understanding creates a sense of belonging, empathy and purpose towards our caretakers.
There’s a reason why your parents are who they are. Ask yourself questions such as why could you have been born to them precisely?
What have they taught you, and what did you learn yourself by being around them or by them not teaching you? Not telling you or showing you?
Keep exploring this until you understand more there is to your family — parents or caretakers.
2. Recognize who you are
The book, The Celestine Prophecy addresses the depth behind our family bonds in a deeply spiritual, mindful and psychological way in a few chapters. According to the author, we are supposed to become a better version of not only one, but both the people that we were born to. Or raised by.
Understanding the characteristics, behaviours and reactions of our parents unlocks where we fall. It helps us to understand our own patterns of behaviour, cognition, limitations as well as unique qualities and abilities.
Look into what your parents think and believe in, how they act and present themselves to the world. Now, where do you stand? What differences do you see between them and yourself? What resonates with you deeply that doesn’t with them?
Where your main misunderstandings lie? Where do they derive from? It’s a nudge into how your thinking differs from theirs and what are your, truly your deep beliefs.
My parents shaped me to become a self-reliant, empathetic, responsible, thoughtful and mindful individual. However, they didn’t create healthy boundaries for themselves when it comes to their levels of empathy, independence, responsibility-taking, care etc. Due to seeing their behaviours and actions and even my experience with following their example first, I can now identify where to draw the line for myself to be better, healthier, more successful and to keep my mental health first.
You have to realize that you’re not your parents, you’re not their thoughts, their actions, their beliefs and opinions.
We often end up following something, wrongly assured that it’s our own concept, desire or a belief. However, we only follow the belief systems and expectations of others. Question why you do things that you do?
Is it because they’re your source of joy and fulfilment or they’re somebody else’s? Keep asking yourself this to understand yourself more.
3. Accept yourself with love
We all have our inner children within us, those who may still feel hurt, judged, misunderstood, rejected, mistreated, abused and unsafe. And we need to appreciate those parts of us and accept them with love. And forgive ourselves for not forgiving, not accepting ourselves earlier on.
I used to think that I am not enough for a very long time because of my parents’ high expectations and what was not enough for them. This limiting belief kept me away from living fully — meaningfully and doing the things that I love and give me joy. Such as writing. Painting. Getting creative.
Maybe part of your process of self-acceptance, healing, letting go and loving yourself first would involve limiting your contact with your family, your parents. Maybe for some time or longer. And that’s perfectly fine. What’s important is that you need to learn to respect yourself, your needs and boundaries first.
Maybe you’d need to spend much more time with yourself and give yourself more than you usually give, and certainly more than you give to others.
4. Spend a healthy time with your family
Are there times and activities you can do with your family that don’t drain your energy or disappoint you, ending up in disagreements or arguments? Is there at least one you can peacefully do and enjoy with them?
Think about which one or few there are.
For instance, my parents have two gardens where they grow fruits and vegetables and we all enjoy going there and picking the crops together, as well as going to forests for walks. We also enjoy hand-making and crafting and when we get creative together, the energy between us is pure love, peace and joy. We could easily argue during other activities, which I am able to identify by now and I am consciously avoiding getting too involved in them to protect my mental health as well as theirs.
What I learned thanks to being with my family
My experience of being at home this time reminded me of just how much my childhood and upbringing impacted my life — my decisions and actions, my relationships and interactions with others. As well as how much I transformed over the years.
I created a lot of toxic patterns of behaviour for myself previously that I was using for dealing with people based on how my parents acted between each other — communicated, dealt together and with me as well as on the outside.
I had issues with receiving feedback from others even if it was constructive because none of my parents is capable to do so. I’ve never given a straightforward answer to a simple — yes or no — question because so doesn’t my mum until now. And I used to proudly think I was right in my mindset, wasn’t taking responsibility for my actions, rather blaming the circumstances for what’s happened to me, positioning myself as a victim. I was enthusiastic to start various new projects (actions, tasks and practical steps in my life) but unable to complete them because that’s the example I’ve received. I had no healthy personal boundaries and accepted what was dysfunctional because so did they.
But this has to stop somewhere. And it stopped for me by a conscious decision of taking responsibility for my life while accepting that I am not my parents and that I’ve got the power within me to create a better present and the future for myself.
My family isn’t healing in a straightforward sense of a word as their capacity for unconditional giving and affirming is limited. Seeing how they work can awaken painful memories from my childhood or of my younger self that was following their example and getting hurt in the process.
However, I accept them for who they are and the life they’ve chosen. So did I choose my one. I am looking at them with the awareness I’ve gained by transforming myself. And while I sometimes feel the pain for the consequences of their behaviour — which are clear to me, I am not here to change them. It’s not my place to.
My family isn’t healing by being unconditionally loving and affirming, but it does something equally important for me that’s transformational.
It facilitates a space for my personal growth and self-improvement through my constant awareness and reflection, by being an example.
It’s helping me to create my own, safe healing space. It’s my consciousness. And it serves me as reminder of where all those behaviours, patterns and limitations I have are coming from. As well as how far I’ve gone already and how far I can still go to grow by seeing the shadows of my behaviour and shining a light at all the sensitive areas I am yet to change about myself.
So essentially, my family is healing. Only that it’s healing in a different way than what most people know and understand.
My good friend, London based astrologer, María José-García H. also says that healing has many different forms and it doesn’t always come as a consequence of pleasures and joyful experiences. It may also result from processing pain and gaining new realizations. Maria says:
We come to this world to learn, to experience limitations, being the physical world, but the Soul guides us to the unconditional — love and connection. We have to realize that we have to outgrow this ‘lack’ and start taking a good care of ourselves. Truly love ourselves unconditionally. This is true for everyone as no one had a perfect childhood. When we have contact with this, (self-love), we find the nourishment that we need.
I love my parents and I feel blessed to have them.
I love my mum and appreciate she’s always given me all she could from her capacity, even that it’s been manifesting as emotional manipulation. And I do love my dad and appreciate all his efforts to do the best for me, and to love me in his capacity, although he’s been a distant father for most of my childhood who’s not been there when I needed him.
I’ve not received unconditional love from my parents as a child because if a person doesn’t know such love themselves, they can hardly give it.
Yet, I do know that they’ve always loved me — from their capacity and given by their circumstances.
It’s in my power to heal, accept and love myself for who I am and always was. Truly and completely. Without restrictions. Unconditionally. It’s the most powerful thing I can ever do for myself. And loving myself allows me to love my family.
And so I am healing through this awareness, self-care, self-love, self-respect and a strive to be a better human than who I was yesterday. By acknowledging who I am, who I’ve become and appreciating all the facets of me.
I am learning through and thanks to my family just how complete healing can be by connecting with ourselves deeply — self-nourishing ourselves and loving ourselves unconditionally.
Trust me, it is possible. And I wish everyone does this for themselves.
I’d like to thank a few people here who got to read this piece before I choose to publish it and that’s amazing Tori Nauer — thank you for your feedback and kind words, Tori. And the same goes for Dipanshu Rawal who reviewed this for me. Both great writers and inspiring coaches. And last but not least, my dear friend, Maria J. Garcia. Thank you all.