When You Have Unhappy Parents

One of my aunts passed this morning, and I have to admit I felt relief getting the news. This aunt was so miserable at this point in her life, and actually, I don’t think  I can ever remember a time when she was happy.  As I was processing the news with my cousin (her daughter), I realized this is a conversation I’m having with a lot of clients:

How do we process having parents that don’t know how to be happy (and may die that way)?

Our parents are oftentimes very different from us, and let’s face it, they are likely not going to change much in the later years of their lives.  The differences we have with our parents can be so prevalent that we feel the need to distance ourselves as a coping strategy or protective mechanism. Coping from what? Well, for example, from the realizations such as:

  • your parent(s) may not emanate happiness in this lifetime
  • their emotional state is a choice they made, oftentimes despite you trying to help them become aware of this choice
  • you can’t ‘save’ them
  • you never really learned how to be happy because they didn’t know how to teach you that
  • perhaps they trigger you to the extent that you need to create boundaries for your interaction with them

We come into this life instinctively looking to our parents to teach us the many ways to navigate it successfully. As I tweeted the other day, joy is the only true measure of our success. So when you learn that your parent can’t teach you how to cultivate joy, it can be emotionally devastating.

We feel like we have to take this big thing of life on alone, unassisted, or unguided. That brings in fear and overwhelm, and a lack of trust that the universe supports you. And then there’s the the unhealthy patterns we picked up in childhood that we are aware we need to rewire. (deep breath here)

So here’s my recipe for navigating this experience:

1. Create space

We need space and time to process this. If you are in this dynamic with your parent everyday, or several times a week, you may need to carve out clear time to “detox” from that pattern. If you’ve already distanced yourself from a parent relationship like this, you may have already taken this space but not had time to process the emotions. Maybe now is the time to address how you feel about this situation, and it can take any form (e.g. therapy, journaling, processing with a friend).

2. Self care

It’s important that you know in your core that you are showing up for yourself in every way you have intended. I don’t mean you need to be perfect, or have accomplished everything your think you should have. Think about how you nurture and care for yourself, and how you would like to. Then prioritize those intentions. Then fulfill them.

Your self care ritual is the foundation for your happiness. For all of you who have heard me talk about “energetic containers,” the time you engage in self-care is the time you are sitting in the feelings of being nurtured, of trusting, of receiving, of regarding your well being as most important. The more time you spend in this energetic container, the more time you spend attracting these feelings in every aspect of your life.

3. Calling in your support

You are completely supported by the universe. If it doesn’t feel that way now. Think about whom you are looking to for support. (And you may want to read this post on When Someone isn’t Meeting Your Needs) One of my mentors always said, “your needs are not met by any particular person, place, or thing.” If the people in your life are not able to emotionally support you, there are more people that will. Perhaps, to begin the process of feeling supported, we see a therapist (or business coach, or support group…etc). That’s a great way to start having regular structure and sacred space for emotional processing in your life, regardless of the modality. Once we cultivate the feeling of being supported, we only attract more experiences in which we feel that way.

4. Be aware of the doshas

Most of our elders are already in the vata stage of life. This is a time where they can be very susceptible to vata imbalance (signs and symptoms of vata imbalance). If you are taking care of a vata-imbalanced parent, there is great opportunity to help to balance vata to help ease their experience of life (and yours :)). If you aren’t in the position to help them balance vata, you can be aware of the energetics and minimize the vata in your interaction with them (e.g. regularly scheduled interaction, certain times of day, aromatherapy, colors, foods, activities, etc.).

In addition, you can be aware of your energetics and interact accordingly. For example, perhaps you minimize interaction during times when you are in vata imbalance (e.g. transition, depletion).

5. Gratitude for the contrast

If you are reading this post, you are likely part of the group of us whom are consciously trying to optimize our experience in this lifetime. Look around you. This group is still not the majority of our population. We are so blessed to have the awareness of our incredible power to create our reality (even if we haven’t completely created that yet). The awareness is the first step. We likely wouldn’t have come to this awareness of conscious co-creation if we didn’t have people in our lives who showed us the opposite. Being able to witness the state of unhappiness as a lifestyle, sparked a desire for something different within us. Even if there are times at which we operate much like the patterns we see in our parents, if we are aware of that, and even at times operate differently, we have benefited from the contrast.

Thank you parent(s) for helping me define what I wanted in this lifetime. (repeat as necessary)

What better gift can a parent give than the ambition to be happy and break old unhealthy patterns? Plus, your gratitude will soften your interaction with them, and pave the way for any forgiveness that may need to take place.

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