This week I had an epic fail with my son. My unhealthy attachment patterns from childhood showed up and our relationship got fractured. I was upset at his behaviour (he was neglecting his chores and responsibilities because he was out playing, and I had to pick up the slack) and instead of focusing on that, I attacked his character.
Because I felt frustrated and fed up with repeatedly asking and reminding him to take care of his chores and responsibilities, it felt faster and easier to call him “lazy” and “selfish”, rather than explain to him what I was upset about and help him to improve his behaviour. Name calling and criticizing is what I learned from my parents growing up.
They would do this in hopes of changing my behaviour. But what it really did was teach me to shut down, pretend everything was okay, and numb out the pain. They never apologized for how they treated me because…I don’t think they even knew they were causing any damage.
Moreover, I learned to be a people pleaser, to make sure everyone was happy and would never voice my thoughts or feelings. I went along with others in order to appear “easygoing” and pretended everything was okay, even when it wasn’t. My self-esteem was at an all-time low, but no one would ever know because I overcompensated by being a perfectionist.
In relationships, I learned to avoid conflict and stay silent. I often didn’t know how I felt nor knew how to respond. If someone gave me feedback, I would take it as criticism and get defensive, deflect, or make excuses. I would avoid feeling shame at all costs.
Because of my childhood attachment patterns, I could understand what my son was feeling when I name called and criticized him. But here’s where the similarities end between my parents’ and my behaviour.
Over the years, I’ve done a lot of work on myself to reverse my unhealthy attachment patterns. I’m happy to say that today, I am at a much healthier place. I am able to notice, acknowledge, and understand my tendencies, and correct my unhealthy behaviour.
I am mindful of what is happening on a bigger scale (intergenerational trauma reaction) and intra-personal reactions (what is going on inside of me). Here’s what’s different:
I showed myself compassion and admitted to my mistake instead of shaming myself for being a “bad mom”. In other words, I let myself be human.
I empathized with my son’s hurt and anger towards me and listened to what he had to say instead of getting defensive or blaming him.
I offered my son a sincere apology that focused on what I did wrong and how it made him feel instead of excusing, minimizing, or denying my poor behaviour.
I forgave myself for my mistake and let it go instead of holding onto the guilt, punishing myself, and sucking up to or avoiding him.
I learned my lesson and have asked my family to hold me accountable for my tendency to be critical instead of sweeping it under the rug and pretending it didn’t happen.
I allowed myself to feel proud of reversing the unhealthy attachment patterns of my childhood instead of never acknowledging my successes.
I have empathy for my parents because I know how you can mess up as a parent, even when you love your kids, and how hard it is to change unhealthy patterns.
I was able to redeem myself from an epic fail. ️
Sometimes, when we practice these new, healthier behaviours, it feels bad and awkward at first…, alright, maybe for a while (whereas, unhealthy feels good and “normal”). But healthiness only feels bad and awkward because this is not what you are used to, because this was never done in your family of origin. Not because it is actually bad.
But I promise you, if you continue your healing journey by allowing yourself to have these corrective experiences, over time, healthy attachment will become the new norm. And what used to feel normal and easy will now feel bad and awkward.
Trust the process and experience the transformation. This might change the trajectory of your relationships.