How I detached my sense of self-worth from social conditioning.
I love my parents. Just not all the time.
For several years, I used to struggle with the idea that because my father and mother raised me, I owe them a life of eternal gratitude and love. Growing up in a close-knit Indian family, I didn’t know any other way I could be.
This wasn’t a problem in my early childhood as my parents were the images of kindness and strength I used to look up to. But as I grew older, my views conflicted with theirs and we found ourselves at the opposite ends of several misunderstandings. The rules they wished me to abide by were simple (according to them) and constraining (according to me): don’t have boyfriends until you marry, don’t quit your well-paying job, don’t go on solo trips, be back home by 5 PM, pray to God daily, and so on.
The social conditioning made me feel guilty for standing up for what I wanted. As if I was evil just because my views didn’t align with those of my parents.
Self-Reparenting and What it Means
Yes, my parents didn’t do a perfect job of raising me. But that’s alright. They are human, and no human can be perfect all the time. Thankfully, science can come to our rescue in such cases. Researchers have defined the term self-reparenting to indicate filling in the gaps of your emotional life due to parental lapses. According to Psychology Today, here are a few steps you can take to re-parents yourself as an adult:
- Learn to define clear boundaries.
- Practice mindfulness to help you stay in the here and now.
- Allow yourself to experience vulnerability, dependency and other emotional states.
- Learn to self-soothe. Practice deep breathing, relaxation, positive visualization, and thought awareness to ease your anxious mind.
- Try and see the world as an inherently safe place where most people possess goodwill.
With time and a lot of careful self-reparenting, I was able to redefine my worldview so I don’t beat myself up each time I feel conflicted emotions about my parents. This post is about how I did that and how it changed me. I’ll share the important lessons I learned so they can help you if you’re facing a similar conflict as I did.
The Key Tenets of Self-Reparenting
The first thing I did was to reconcile with the idea that my parents are people. Just because they gave birth to me doesn’t mean their worlds should revolve around me. They have different goals and ideals and it’s okay — the same way it’s okay for me to have goals and ideals that clash with theirs.
Next, I forgave them for all the times they failed to live up to my expectations. Aside from this, I also stopped holding them to insane standards and expecting them to always do what I feel is right. I also dropped the expectations of perfectionism I held myself to, and suddenly, life became much easier.
Loving your parents and listening to everything they say aren’t mutually exclusive.
From this exercise of reparenting, here are the important lessons I learned:
Love doesn’t mean lack of space
It is okay to love your parents and want to distance yourselves from them at the same time. Wanting to live alone, doesn’t mean you are abandoning them. It is okay to seek out some personal space for your emotional, mental, and spiritual health.
Love shouldn’t stand in the way of growth
Parents, most often in the Indian context, can love you whole-heartedly. But, their “love” can prove a hindrance to your growth. This is a very hard realisation to come to terms with, especially if, like me, you had grown up extremely close to them.
The differing definitions of “good”
Some parents try their best to be “good” parents, but fall short because their definition of “good” doesn’t fit with what their children have surmised based on their experiences.
Because the parents are blindly modelling the behaviour they grew up with, they end up attempting to emotionally manipulate their children. The weight of expectations, the importance of “honour”, the feeling of pride in achievements — all lead to an environment toxic for the child’s growth.
This doesn’t mean the intentions of the parents are wrong. It’s just that, ideologies change as years pass by, and it is important to keep abreast of the times.
Yes, there is no doubt your parents love you, but this love doesn’t make their behaviour acceptable. If you feel shocked, exhausted, and hurt when they betray you, I want you to know that your feelings are valid. Not loving your parents all the time doesn’t make you a bad person. It doesn’t mean you are ungrateful, irrespective of what the world might have made you believe.
It’s okay to want to protect yourself, to take some time and space apart from your parents. The right path is often the most difficult, and there is nothing more difficult than this. Loving your parents and listening to everything they say aren’t mutually exclusive.
If you feel trapped in the limbo of exhaustion, anxiety, and confusion of loving your parents and wanting to distance yourselves from them, I want you to know that you’re not alone.
Your mixed feelings about your parents are valid.
“There is a gaping hole perhaps for all of us, where our mother does not match up with “mother” as we believe it’s meant to mean and all it’s meant to give us. What I cannot tell her is all that I would tell her if I could find a way to not still be sad and angry about that.”
— Michele Filgate, What My Mother and I Don’t Talk About