It strikes me, the longer I’m a therapist, how badly we all want to be heard. That’s why I am a therapist. Someone took the time to hear me at a time when I was so well defended, I wouldn’t let anyone close. When I say we want “to be heard”, I mean not just that someone acknowledges what we say, but in a deep, and profound way, we want someone to hear what we say, and understand what that means about us on our deepest level, and accept us without judgement.
How I visualize this in my work and in my life, is the adult who stands in front − defended, upset, and hurt − with a younger version, peeking around the body, and waving, trying to attract attention to what’s really going on, and who’s really there. When I work with couples, I often try and get them to hear the message behind the message. I try and challenge myself to do that as well.
In a perfect world, this kind of hearing and understanding would come from our parents. We do know that we don’t live in a perfect world. The perfect world, with the perfect family is another of the fantasies that we hold onto in this world. The vast majority of children grow up in homes where parents have never received this from their own parents, and are unable to give it to their children, because they are so unknowingly consumed with getting this for themselves. This is part of the reason why so many weddings are taken over by the mother, trying to get what she wanted and didn’t get from her mother, and why our parents so often transfer their dreams onto their children, hoping to find fulfillment vicariously through them. When we don’t get what we need from our parents, we seek for it in friends, partners and children, but the truth is that this is something that friends can learn to give us on a limited level, if they’ve already had it for themselves. Partners can learn to help us heal these hurts, and it is not our children’s obligation to give this to us.
Learning to give this to ourselves is a lifelong pursuit, and allowing our children to give it to themselves is a huge struggle, while we try and share it with them. Learning to love ourselves, the way we are, and allow ourselves to grow and mature and be safe enough to be seen, and heard by others, without apology, and without fear of censure, is a difficult and slow process. Being able to give up our dreams of who we want our children to be, and see who they really are, is even harder, but it is an incredibly wonderful gift. For some of us, this is easier with grandchildren. No one gives it perfectly or all the time. We are indeed fallible.
Sometimes, this is the reason people enter therapy. Certainly, it is a gift I got from therapists I saw. I hope it is a gift others get from me, and that I’m able to give my children from time to time. I do give it to myself when I can.