The family system is the fundamental unit of society, with the parent-child relationship perhaps being the most influential in the group. The parent-child relationship is where we learn the basic but incredibly important parts of being a human person, from how to talk to how to function in the real world.
For many people, family is also where hurt is first learned. Where needs are not met and connections are not fostered for reasons that seem too complicated to recognize at the time. With this relationship being so significant to development, a disconnect with a parent can heavily influence the way a child perceives themselves, future relationships, and the world around them.
Young adulthood is hard enough as it is, and navigating it with parental wounds adds to the challenge. In a time characterized by relational difficulties, the struggle to find meaning and purpose, and self-esteem issues, parental wounds can affect every area of our life.
Here are things young adults should understand about managing parental wounds and having healthier relationships because of it.
It’s normal to have parental wounds.
All parents make mistakes, so parental wounds are a normal part of the human experience. Everyone has them in some shape or form, including the parent that caused yours.
Since behavioral patterns within family systems are passed on from generation to generation, there’s an essential certainty that these relationship issues did not start with the two of you.
In efforts to understand your wounds, consider what your parent’s experiences of their own family of origin were like.
- What type of models in parenting did they have?
- Which parenting skills of your grandparents did they apply in raising you?
- What kind of support did they receive when facing challenges?
- Were there any cultural influences on their family upbringing that was different from yours?
In addition, consider circumstances during your childhood that created stressors for your parents.
- Did your parent’s career, financial situation, immigration status, environmental changes, or other socioeconomic factors affect their ability to be present for you?
- Did marital issues or other relationship conflicts cause emotional instability?
- Was there a history of mental illness, addiction, or any other health concerns?
Seeking to understand your parent’s background will show that these problems are not about you, and knowing more about their experience can help you gain perspective on the mistakes they made during your childhood.
Accepting your wounds is not blaming your parents for all of your problems.
Parental wounds affect more than just the individual relationship with our parents. Parental wounds can cause co-dependency in romantic relationships, trouble making decisions without approval from others, hypersensitivity to criticism, fear of abandonment, poor boundary skills … and the list goes on.
It can be difficult to acknowledge how our parents’ issues could have hurt us so badly. It can even be embarrassing to admit it. Sometimes we feel guilty for feeling this way, but denying our wounds prevents the opportunity of healing for ourselves and/or our parents.
While parental wounds are normal, there is a self-responsibility to tend to them in adulthood. It is okay to recognize the times your parent failed you, that you needed more from them than what they gave you. By accepting your wounds, you can accept your parents for who they are.
Accepting that your parent has flaws is not denying your pain, but recognizing that they may have provided you with the best they were capable of. This is a healthy way of freeing yourself from feeling stuck in your wounds of resentment and moving towards growth.
Forgiveness is about you.
Normalizing and accepting your wounds allows you to see the issue for what it truly is. Recognizing the truth is surrendering to the reality that you can’t change your parent and you can’t change your past. The only things you have power in changing is yourself and how you will live through your wounds.
You can break the generational patterns of pain moving forward by healing your childhood through forgiveness. Forgiveness allows a person to acknowledge the wrong done to them and free themselves from the hold of resentment. Notice how there is no mention of an apology. That is because forgiveness isn’t actually about pardoning the wrong-doer; it’s about self-liberation. Therefore, you can choose to forgive in any part of your journey, with or without your parent’s participation in change.
Dr. Rick Balkin, published author and assistant department chair in Leadership and Counselor Education at the University of Mississippi, asserts that the one who forgives says to themselves,
“I don’t wish the person any ill will, and I’m not going to allow this person’s actions and behaviors toward me to impact my life anymore.”
He also describes forgiveness as a “practice” rather than a natural process that just happens. If you are not ready to forgive, ask yourself what forgiveness means to you and reflect on the remaining work needing to be done in order for you to reach that openness.
Healing looks different for everyone.
Healing parental wounds is a long-term process, and it looks different for everyone. Instead of forcing an unrealistic idea of what you think things should be like, you may just need to change your mind about what healing looks like for you.
When reconciliation isn’t the answer — whether attempting a relationship is unsafe to do so, your parent is not capable of acknowledging the issues, or if they have passed on from this life – you don’t need your parents involved in your healing. Healing could look like providing for your own emotional needs as an adult, using your experiences to better other relationships in your life, or seeking therapy to learn coping skills for resolving trauma. If continuing the relationship with your parent is beneficial for you, you can re-negotiate the relationship with boundaries.
Healing could be learning what’s important in connecting with your parent and what’s best to keep separate to protect yourself and your family. Healing could look like holding a positive conversation with your parent, or just standing in the same room as them without feeling anxiety. Find the type of healing that works for you.
These wounds make you grow.
Your parental wounds have served a large part in becoming the adult you are. Although your parent could not give you what they didn’t have for themselves, this required you to learn how to provide for your own needs. As an adult, you can now heal the hurt of your inner child through self-acceptance, showing yourself compassion, and affirming your emotions as valid and worthy of consideration.
Through healing, wounds become your motivation to better your relationships with others, especially with your own children. You can become the parent you wish you had. The self-awareness you accomplish through healing allows you to prioritize valuable, healthy connections with others by fostering positive communication skills and empathy.
Your resilience builds a greater tolerance for managing conflict and creating the safe and stable environment that you deserved when you were young. Wherever you are in your healing journey, your effort is evolving the course of the familial patterns for generations to come. You are better, not in spite of, but because of your wounds.