Tag, You’re It

Mary H/ June 19, 2013/ Paul Brenner, MD, PhD

(Original Post from Dr. Brenner’s personal Blog, June 19, 2013)

The second question that I ask clients to elicit trans-generational emotional patterns is:  “What did you need from your mother and father or primary caregiver(s) in the first ten years of your life that you did not get?; meaning “What was your parental unmet need in the first ten years of life?”

I tell clients not to use the phrase, “I needed love.”   We all use the word love as if there is a common meaning; but, in truth, the meaning of love varies from one individual to another.

I believe the ‘unmet need’ from our parents is trans-generational.  Our unmet needs are uncannily similar to those of our parents and grandparents.  If a parent was raised in a critical household, they tend to be critical of themselves; as well as their spouse and children.  If a parent felt abandoned by their parent as a result of divorce, death, or separation; they will tend to instill within their children the same fear of abandonment.  It is a form of generational “tag, you’re it”.

Until a parent heals their own unmet need, that identical need tends to be taken on by their children.   Parents never want their children to experience their pain and fears, but the emotional patterns of one generation tend to become the emotional patterns of the next.  It is as if we are living our parent’s inner lives unconsciously.  We may have a different career, a different income, an apparently different family environment from that of our parents; but the inner emotional judgment of ourselves—the chatter of our minds—is very similar to those of our ancestors.

Maybe if parents could tell their truth, express to their children their childhood pain, fears and vulnerability; their children might be far healthier.

For example, the unmet need from my mother was that she was ‘not there for me.’  The unmet need from my father was that he was ‘critical’ and ‘inconsistent.’  In other words, I needed my mother to ‘be there;’ and my father to be ‘accepting’ and ‘consistent.’  As a result of my unmet needs, I unconsciously treat my best friends and patients with the wished for attention that I wanted from my mother; and acceptance that I wanted from my father.

” In acting towards another as a good parent, in phantasy we re-create and enjoy the wished for love and goodness of our parents.”  Melanie Klein

However, there is an unconscious hook in parenting others in the same manner, as you would have wished to be parented.  I want others to treat me identically to the way I treat them.  Therefore, giving to my friends comes with the unstated condition of wanting to get it back.  There is an unconscious hook of conditionality.

Of more concern to me is that I am much less attentive and accepting of my wife than my friends and patients. I believe that the memories of our family of origin and our childhood emotional pain come to the forefront in marriage and in the birth of our children.  It is during such momentous moments that the unconscious is unleashed.

The first step towards healing is to ask your best friend if you meet their needs in the way you wished your parents had met your needs.  Bring a recorder.  Ask questions until you fully know exactly how you meet their needs. Your friend’s responses will reveal to you a perfect road map for your emotional healing.  Post their answers throughout your home!

Simply put, treat yourself as you would treat your best friends.  This is how you learn to love and accept yourself.  MEET YOUR OWN NEEDS!   At such time, your giving will come from the over flow of self-love, a love with no thought of a need for return.  This is unconditional love of self and other.

Finally, our parents could not meet our needs, if those same needs were not met for them by their parents.   My mother’s mother died shortly after she was born.  Her stepmother  had five of her own children.  My mother was “not there for me” because her mother and stepmother were not there for her.  My father’s father was an angry, violent man whom my father truly despised.  How could my father give me full acceptance, if he did not receive any love from his own father.  In bedded  in our pain is forgiveness for ourselves and our parents.  Although we have taken on the  historic emotional patterns of the past, it is our responsibility now to heal ourselves, the past self loathing of our ancestors and provide a loving, healing environment for our children.

There is no blame.  The only one who can save you is YOU.   The only one who can give you the love that you want is YOU.  If not now, when?

Tag, you’re it!

The third question will be the next blog.