Field Notes

Rehabilitating Your Parents

March 26, 2022 - 3 Comments

 

April 1, 2022

Field Note

Rehablitating Your Parents

As most of us have realized, our parents are not very open to being rehabilitated, especially by us, their children. And some of us are old enough now to have parents who went off to another plane of (non)existence. Those of us who are parents may well be thinking, “I don’t need rehabbing, but maybe my children could use some!”

 

Why am I talking about rehabilitating our parents? Why am I even thinking about such a project? Perhaps you are thinking that I have I run out of juicy topics to address in my Field Note? Not at all! This is entirely for our benefit; us their children. Recall, they are primary models for our way of being.

 

I have in previous Field Notes been speaking intently, and at some length, about how past conditioning, deeply influenced by our parents (and other elder figures but especially parents), dominates our ways of thinking, seeing, feeling (emotionally and physiologically), and rules our patterns of action and conduct. Essentially, our past is recreated every moment in the present, unless and until we decide to disrupt our deeply reified multi-level conditioning. Such disruption is, as you would know, the hardest, the seemingly, but not, impossible act that anyone can perform. Certainly, not impossible, and it is easier if we know how. This is where the idea of rehabbing our parents comes in.

 

Our parents not only produced us but have reproduced themselves in us, of course not exclusively, as there were plenty of others, and indeed a multiplicity of factors involved in our socialization. However, given their importance and prominence in our infancy, childhood, and growing up, the way they saw, thought, valued, and responded to the world became implanted, as it were, within our psyche, our inner landscape, mostly unconsciously for all parties.

 

I propose that the work of self-change towards growth and maturity (in my worldview, “enlightenment” signals this maturity) can be most effectively supported through rehabbing your parental figures who live in your inner landscape. How do we do this?

 

From my many decades of providing therapy, as well as from my own personal reflections, analysis, and inner work, the most crucial thing to ask is, what was missing in our relationship with our parents, and in their relationship with each other. This always comes down to their demonstrated ability, and inability, for relating, connection, love, intimacy, being present within themselves and for each other, and for each of us. Their ways became/become our inner and dominant model for relationship with ourselves, and with others.

 

I won’t go into developmental theory, complex discussions of bonding and attachment, or good parenting practices; at least not in any detail. I will say in summary here that most of us were affected by the limitations of our parental figures and/or their circumstances. Having said this, I suggest that we be careful not to get derailed by any inclination to blame our parents! If you are prone to blaming your parents, well, let’s just say that you have some work to do on yourself. Blaming parents is not that useful for your development.

 

Once more, as I have done in other Field Notes, I will conveniently turn to my own life story to demonstrate and illustrate the kind of inner work one can do to rehab parental figures in one’s inner landscape. To emphasize, what we are trying to achieve through this parental rehab work is changing our own interiority so that we think, feel, perceive, and act differently. Let’s just remember: if we want to change the way we act in and relate to the world, our interiority has to change. This change will be in the direction that most closely aligns with our most true, natural, and authentic ways of being.

 

My parents were together for over 50 years. The relationship could best be described as practical and traditional. My mother was a homemaker, and in retrospect, I would say she was very good at this. Our house was admirably clean. Meals were served on time. In fact, a joke in our house was that if we didn’t eat dinner at 6 pm, the earth would spin off its axis. My brother and I always had a roof over our head, and we were fed well. We were kept clean and well clothed, and while we were not wealthy, we really did not want for anything substantial in the material world. We were enrolled in school, various activities that were of interest, and encouraged to have friends who were made welcome in our house. My father was the wage earner, and my mother was open with her concerns that we would be ending up in the “poor house.”

 

Now, what was missing from the above seemingly perfect picture of a family? I never saw my parents being openly affectionate with each other. I did not see them touch each other except in the most perfunctory ways. I have memory of my mom telling me— an adult at that point—that around age three, I began to resist affection. It seems that I as a three-year old was already getting the ‘message.’

 

And my parents did not talk about feelings. I did not see them engaged and connected in a feeling way. I did not see them being friendly and warm to each other. I never saw them resolve a conflict, either. Their conversations did not demonstrate too much warmth, curiosity, or real interest in each other. I did see them speak about practical matters, be critical of each other, and perhaps most importantly speak in tones that were sharp, a bit on the hard side, and not infrequently filled with frustration and irritation with each other.

 

It is not that my parents didn’t love and care about each other. At this point in my life and in retrospect, I strongly believe that they did. However, I would say that their model for relationship was based on a strong attention to survival needs, bickering, some level of unhappiness with the other, anger, and hurt, and some activities in common that they did enjoy. In very profound and broad terms, this became my own, unconscious, model of what constitutes an important relationship.

 

At some point in my young adulthood, however, in reaction to my parents’ model of relationship, I decided that I would look for an intimate, sensual, emotionally open and connected, and communing relationship. Such seemed possible, as I had seen in films, gleaned from adolescent male friends, and various literature.

 

It certainly took me at least a couple of decades to figure out that if I wanted the above kind of relationship, then such was not a matter of finding it in others, or merely flipping some switch within myself. It became increasingly apparent that I had to become a person who had those qualities and could practice intimacy, emotional openness and connectedness, sensuality, and so on. My next challenge was to feel and figure out, which took another while, just how I could facilitate cultivation of these qualities. This is where parental rehab comes in. If I could change the way my internalized mother and internalized father were and how they interacted with each other in the living room of my own interiority, I would have changed my interiority. Results of this change would be quite palpable: for, I would have changed, however subtly, the way I think, perceive, feel, and act. (Of course, all these changes I am talking about is a process and may take years and decades. These are profound changes at the root of one’s being; really a return to what was always in you.)

 

Now, getting down to the business of transformation: I start with what I saw missing in my parents’ relationship and, consequently, what was missing in my model of relationship. For, my unconsciously transmitted and constructed (or more accurately, inherited) model of relationship was based on my parents’, for better and for worse. I was using their relationship unconsciously as a model to follow, while simultaneously, during my young adulthood, resisting this model.

 

I begin by remembering my parent’s relationship, which, mind you, was not necessarily the reality, but what is important is that this is the reality of my memory at this time as I write about my personal work. I was particularly struck by certain memories as follows:

 

 

  • I recall my dad leaving on business trips and he and my mom would give each other a little peck. This is my early and ingrained view of contact and intimacy.
  • I have many memories of sitting at the dinner table in a fury as my mom and dad discussed bridge hands. I was inarticulate about the lack of attention that I so desperately wanted.
  • I recall my dad promising me no doubt with all good intentions many things that would happen later, and that did not.
  • My mom would often complain about how she had “only one pair of hands” and that nobody was “lifting a finger to help!”
  • My mom would invariably ask my younger brother what he wanted for breakfast, and then she would make it for him. The painful contrast for me was she would ask me the same question. When I replied, she would then say, “Well, why don’t you go and make it!

 

Again, to repeat, these are my memories of how things were in my family, and they were foundational in forming my deeply held and felt ideas and practices of intimacy and connection. This sample of my deficit memories had a huge effect in terms of my unconscious pain that manifested, when I was an adolescent and young adult, as anger, hurt, and ongoing thoughts and expressions of “nobody understands me!” You can begin to see how the seeds of isolation and loneliness were being sown within my consciousness.

 

The next step in my inner parental rehab work is to take time ‘remembering’ my parents as they were together, and also how they were with me. I then spend time dreaming, or if you prefer, as creatively as I am able imagining, what I would have liked to have seen and experienced about their relationship. This involved seeing them, in my inner world, being very warm and affectionate with each other, and communicating in the most open and engaging ways. Showing their affection physically in some casual and subtle ways that I could appropriately witness.

 

The last step, above, is surprisingly difficult. My imagination kept stalling. Suffice to say I went into a lot of complex detail about their behavior, feelings, dialogue, body sensation, and expressiveness. If I were trained as a film director, or an actor, perhaps I would have done this work better!

 

The next step is deepening the sense of embodiment with respect to the new relationality that I am working out, within me, and in my inner vision between my mom and dad. The most effective way I can think of for this step is to spend time ‘becoming’ my mother and my father. For, as we know from our experience, unless what we learn becomes an embodied experience, it does not stick: it is not incorporated into our body-being. By becoming my mother and my father, I could live my newly imagined mother and father in my embodied and integrated body memories.

 

Please know that what I am offering here is a sample of possibility; hopefully enough to give you a good idea about the depth and breadth of possibility—your own possibility.

 

As My Mother: I am very receptive and appreciative of my husband. I take great pleasure in his company and companionship. I get a very warm feeling when I am with him and a curiosity about what he will share with me and what will emerge that is surprising and delightful about him and about us together. He is surely my true North. Of course, we do fight at times but I am never worried about this as we always find a way through and seem to find a deeper connection between us arising out of any heated encounter. I also know that I can count on his support, no matter what.

 

In his presence and even when thinking about him, I have such a beautiful warm feeling in my body, and my heart opens to and with him. I know that I am safe with him, and that he will never knowingly do anything hurtful. I am aware that if I do feel wounded, that is not something he meant to do. My trust and love for and with him is very strong.

 

As My Father: I am invariably delighted to anticipate being with my wife, and then to finally be with her. I am so appreciative of her kind ways and her unending warmth towards me. The beauty of her in every way warms me gently and constantly. And, it is certainly very pleasing to me to know that she is invariably happy to be with me in the moments and overall, and that she anticipates our being in each other’s company with excitement and curiosity.I experience an ongoing invitation from her and a consistent receptivity. I have a humming vibration in my body while with her and often even in anticipation of our connection. I know in my bones and my soul that she is my companion along the way in all things.

 

As I continue this dialogue, I begin to be able to see my parents’ faces with expressions that reflected the feelings of connection and intimacy. And as I become more practiced in my imagination, a thought comes to me that what I was imagining for them might have been actually how they wanted to be and that they just didn’t know how to create this within and between. Comforted by such a thought, I spent a fair bit of time with variations on their engagement with each other. I should add that experiencing my profound resistance to ‘seeing’ them in ways other than how I remembered tells me how strongly I was affected in my life by these deeply embedded images and ideas about relationship. I have stopped short of actually offering the high dream of their dialogue for two reasons: 1) length of the note, 2) to encourage you to ‘play’ with this dialogue in the context of your own parental rehabbing (please think about sharing your discoveries in the Comments).

 

My purpose in telling you this story from my life and sharing with you my inner work process of rehabbing my internalized parents is that, hopefully, you would also see what is embedded in your consciousness about intimacy and relationship that doesn’t work for you and open the possibilities of your highest dream about relationship. In undertaking this work, you would also need to explore the shadows of darkness within your consciousness that controls your way of being in your most intimate relationships. I will add that since whatever darkness you see about the other is in you, you can do the inner shadow work on your own. In fact, the expectation that the other must be a certain way for your relationship to work or before you can be happier is part of what hampers your own growth in these dimensions.

 

As always, my gratitude to Heesoon for her continued support and fine-tuning with these Field Notes, including this current one.

 

Shalom,

Avraham

 

 

COMMENTS

  • Karen Meyer April 3, 2022 at 3:07 pm

    I recently visited my elder parents. The visit was long overdue because of Covid restrictions, etc. In this visit in their home, I could see their struggles of maintaining life in their 90s. Yes, they were the same mom and dad I had known in my early years (and not perfect), but my sense of compassion for how well they take on the struggles they now face, had a rehabilitating effect on me, similar to what you are saying.

    Reply
    • Avraham Cohen April 3, 2022 at 7:33 pm

      Lovely Karen!
      …Avraham

      Reply
  • Susan Mavor April 5, 2022 at 11:27 am

    Thank you, Avi, for another clear and practical means of approaching inner well-being. I tried it (at home) and found my immediate aversion to the task gave way to a remarkable creative endeavor. My memories of my parents are of two quite separate characters, doing things apart in different areas of the house, with little interaction. And none of it affectionate really. The times I witnessed togetherness the most was from the back seat of family road trips, both seated in their own place, strapped in and facing forward. Maybe talking. I have no good memories, I realize, of warm conversation, no recollection of them dancing together at weddings, etc., although I can remember dancing with my dad. And although we have family photos of everything under the sun, there are no pictures of them alone together as a couple, except their wedding day. So strange, I realized, doing your remembering exercise. It was informative, therefore, to rehab this, to engage in the inner theatre of reconnecting them. I imagined them creating a special outing, doing something they both would have enjoyed. I had an impression they were now cardboard dolls dressed for an evening in flowery, soft and probably impractical outfits. It felt good, but sweet and sad, to me in an embodied way. I think they would have wanted it but couldn’t quite get there. Or I didn’t see it. As you say, for the purpose of this exercise, maybe it’s the same thing.

    Reply

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