On the surface, the idea of forgiveness for your mother or father may seem strange, but the act of forgiving is potentially one of the best things we can do in our lives. Low-level childhood blame and resentment can perpetuate a cycle of emotional pain and suffering that can negatively affect adult relationships, outlook, and overall wellbeing, ultimately becoming a barrier to the love, abundance and happiness that we all deserve.
You might not notice the amount of energy it takes to hold onto an emotional wound or even a small grudge. Holding onto anger, resentment or any form of hostility requires a tremendous amount of life force energy. Decades of anger and resentment can cut years off your life, and you wouldn’t even know it. Think of it like throwing hundred dollar bills into the toilet each day, except life force energy is infinitely more valuable than all the money in the world.
Without healing our childhood wounds and subsequently forgiving our parents, we can stay emotionally stuck at the age of our earliest wounds, repeating a cycle of suffering as we keep experiencing an adult version of our childhood wounds.
For instance, let’s say you haven’t forgiven your mom for missing your tenth birthday or healed the resulting feelings of abandonment; whenever this issue is triggered by a current-day experience (someone forgets to call you), the original emotional wound is activated and you drop into an unconscious reaction. For all intents and purposes, you become your wounded ten-year-old self, and because you feel the same pain you felt then, you react by lashing out or shutting down.
Because a programmed emotional reaction is an automatic response to an unhealed wound, there is often little or no self-awareness of how this impacts our emotions and behaviour. This dynamic can play out within our present life and manifest through relationship issues. Year after year, the cumulative effect of these emotional reactions has the potential to erode the quality of our most important relationships.
Law of Attraction
According to the Law of Attraction, we unconsciously attract people who trigger our emotional wounds, and this is why a person with abandonment issues attracts potential partners who have commitment fears; not as punishment or karma but rather because our higher selves want us to heal and will use every opportunity to bring our wounds to the forefront. Unfortunately, this means that unhealed emotional wounds can prevent you from meeting your ideal partner, and even if you do find each other, the turbulent nature of emotional wounds is known to sabotage even the most ideal partnership.
Blame perpetuates Pain
Blaming your parents not only keeps the wound alive, it also tells your subconscious mind that your parents currently have power over you or your life, and, therefore, blame programs you for disempowerment. Like a virus, this dynamic can spread to every facet of your life. Whenever we blame another, we become entangled with their energy and stay entangled until we let go, and, consequently, we cannot grow beyond the parent we blame.
Of course, it’s no big surprise that forgiveness is the key to emotional freedom, but, in most cases, forgiveness is easier said than done. But why?
The Challenge of Forgiveness
Blame, anger, and various related emotions are defensive guards that protect you from future harm. True forgiveness requires releasing this defence and therefore the very act of forgiveness creates emotional risk. To forgive others, you must trust they won’t hurt you again, but, the hard truth is, you can never be certain – there is no way to predict another person’s behaviour, and sometimes loving people can unintentionally do hurtful things.
If you are still vulnerable to being hurt, and not ready to move on, your protective ego will not allow you to forgive. So before you can forgive, you need to release the blame and take full responsibility for every emotion you experience, but there is no point in assuming responsibility if you don’t also uncover the dynamics behind your underlying childhood issues. Therefore, start by pinpointing the hidden cause(s) of your childhood wounds, and once you do, you can start on the path to healing.
Understanding Emotional Wounds
Emotional wounds can often be confused with the event or experience that caused the wound, but the actual wound is not the situation or circumstance. An emotional wound is a disempowering belief we adopted in response to the experience. Without needing to analyze the details, the core emotional wound is virtually always unworthiness, and, in fact, unworthiness (or conditional worthiness) is the core wound of every other emotional wound.
All children have emotional needs that must be met to feel worthy of love and life; these needs include approval, acceptance, appreciation, understanding, validation, respect, and so on. Although children require all emotional needs to be fulfilled, one emotional need almost always stands out from the rest, and because this is usually the need least met, it is the emotional need most associated with worth, and, as a result, it becomes the child’s Primary Emotional Need (PEN).
Children naturally adopt beliefs that explain why one or both parents fail to provide this emotional need, so when a child doesn’t receive approval, for example, the child naturally believes she is unworthy of approval, or more likely, she believes she must meet certain conditions to prove she is worthy. Hypersensitive to this need being met, she automatically interprets approval as proof of worthiness and judgment as proof of unworthiness, and this is why judgment can cause intense emotional pain even in adulthood.
Here’s the thing: every human being is born unconditionally worthy! There is absolutely nothing you can do to prove, improve, or disprove this inherent worth. The emotional pain associated with believing you are unworthy is due to the fact it is completely untrue! Emotional pain is a warning system that alerts you to false beliefs.
Identifying False Beliefs
All disempowering beliefs, such as unworthiness, powerlessness, and victimhood, put us into survival mode, and over time can cause chronic and acute issues with serious repercussions, and, therefore, we need a warning system that alerts us to debilitating beliefs. This warning system is emotion, and, in fact, the purpose of emotional pain is to alert you to the fact you believe a falsehood. Just like physical pain alerts you the second you prick your finger with a knife, so you won’t cut your whole finger off, emotional pain alerts you to harmful beliefs so you can release them.
Without knowing that emotional pain is a sign of a false belief, most of us wrongly interpret this pain; so whenever we feel the emotional pain associated with unworthiness, the pain makes us believe the belief is true, thereby strengthening the belief and deepening the wound, and this perpetuates a cycle of emotional pain.
Furthermore, this internal warning system will stop at nothing to make you aware of a false belief, and, in fact, with increasing amplification, you will attract continuous opportunities that trigger emotional pain until you finally pay attention and release the false belief that is responsible for the pain. All emotional healing is releasing disempowering beliefs.
Entangled in the conscious or unconscious belief that worth depends on getting our parents to meet our emotional needs, we grow into adults, still expecting one or both parents to give us what we need to feel worthy. But, this just sets us up for more pain because it never works.
Understanding Our Emotional Needs
Even the most well-intentioned parents unwittingly fail to meet their children’s emotional needs. Oftentimes, childhood emotional wounds are by-products of parenting style or a parent’s own unhealed wounds or family issues. Although parental judgment, criticism, and comparison to siblings or other children are the most common causes of the worthiness wound, almost any dynamic can set the stage, for instance, when a parent is over-protective or over-controlling, a child may feel disrespected and develop the belief he is unworthy of respect. When a child is told to be seen but not heard, she may develop the belief she is not worthy to speak, or she may believe she is not important.
Unaddressed emotional wounds can often deepen over time, and as children mature into adulthood, these wound matures accordingly; manifesting as problematic relationships, financial concerns, career challenges, and health issues, while also making it difficult to pursue one’s dreams and desires.
Many adult children protect themselves from parental judgment and manipulation by closing their hearts and putting up energetic barriers, but despite the defensive quality of anger and blame, it doesn’t protect us from emotional pain because the shield actually keeps the pain inside while it also prevents healing. Regardless of age, every time your parents fail to meet your Primary Emotional Need, feelings of disappointment feed unworthiness and often lead to powerlessness.
Do you still need parental approval, acceptance, validation or permission to feel worthy? If so, do you conceal behaviours that don’t meet your parent’s expectations? This dynamic is quite common in most adults, but there is a huge cost involved because whenever you suppress authentic expression in exchange for approval or acceptance, you inadvertently give away your power.
Consequently, the relationship is based on dysfunctional dynamics where you remain a powerless child who is vulnerable to being hurt. Not only does this make you susceptible to further parental judgment and criticism, but it also makes you vulnerable to manipulation through guilt and obligation. You won’t be able to heal your emotional wounds or forgive your parents as long as you blame them for making you feel powerless and unworthy. This is why self-responsibility is the cure, and, in fact, self-responsibility is the only thing that can solve your issues. Self-responsibility means that you must own your unconditional worth and you must take back your power by releasing the expectation that your parents meet any of your emotional needs.
Let Go of Expectations
As you take responsibility for your life and your choices, you must stop seeking parental permission and emotional support, and, in fact, you don’t even need your parents to believe in you or your dreams. The same reasons your parents didn’t meet your needs in childhood are the same reasons they still don’t. So you can let them off the hook and release all expectations! When you know your unconditional worth, and you own your intrinsic power, your parents can’t hurt you emotionally, and, consequently, forgiveness becomes possible.
As dysfunctional dynamics dissolve, it gives way to a new paradigm of relationship based on unconditional worth and self-empowerment. The foundation of this deeper connection is clear boundaries, and, in fact, boundaries can take you from a powerless child to an empowered adult in a heartbeat. Indeed, your personal power is only as strong as your boundaries.
Setting Healthy Boundaries
As an adult-child, it is up to you to set healthy boundaries with your parents. Initially, it might feel uncomfortable, but, over time, strong boundaries will strengthen the relationship and allow for a deeper connection.
Effective boundaries require integrity, and this means that you must back up every boundary with proper and consistent attention. Don’t expect your parents to automatically know when they are encroaching on a boundary. When people are used to behaving in habitual ways, it takes time to recognize new boundaries and reorganize new behaviour accordingly. It’s your responsibility to manage your boundaries, and, therefore, confidently give clear feedback when they are crossing (or about to cross) a boundary.
If your boundaries are not being respected, don’t be afraid to limit interactions accordingly, but let them know why, so they have the necessary information to change their behaviour. Believe it or not, most people will eventually learn to respect boundaries, but only if you are consistent in your communication.
Reaping the Rewards
No matter how it seems, childhood wounds always present hidden gifts, such as independence, wisdom, or compassion, and without emotional challenges, our best attributes might never be revealed. If you haven’t yet recognized the positive qualities that sprung from your childhood wounds, now could be a wonderful time to do so because the recognition itself can be extremely healing. Indeed, the point is to heal the wounds but keep the benefits!
Finally, always remember that forgiveness is never for the person being forgiven. Forgiveness is the gift you give yourself.
Interesting article and there were many points that really resonated with me. At times it almost felt like I was being described and thoughts and feelings were being taken straight from my mind.
well it was ok but i have my answers
no i dot agree lets just say you are 9 and you have 6 handhelds and you parents stole them and they mean alot to you and they just got taken away and you start to build up anger and you got betrayed and got robed how would you fell about it
Article was great! I am a mother who was not the mother I wanted to be for my children. Now that I am older, I’m looking back realizing what those consequences were on my children & their life today. As I’ve researched psychology, I’ve learned why I did things bc of how I was raised. I do not using that as an excuse though. It was me that raised my children, I made the mistakes, did I know better? Yes. Are their factors as to why I did it? Yes. But being able to be honest with the kids, accept responsibility for it, ask forgiveness & hopefully come to a point of building a new relationship is all we can hope for. This article has lots of great ideas & tips! Thank you!
This article, if nothing, has put things in perspective for me. Every concept mentioned feels tremendously relatable. I’m focused on the part where the article mentions the establishment of boundaries through communication and interaction. So my only question is how to do so when communication amongst the child and the parents IS the weak point?
Great concept on ‘unconditionally worthy’.
Thank you for the article, so true.
My mother’s attitude towards bringing me up was ‘I love you – I hurt you as I have any right’. Such a ground for emotional pain into adulthood. The thing is she never believes that child may have emotional needs. We communicate much less now and she refuses to accept any boundaries.
I will read the article again and think it over.
Nanice Ellis, I cannot thank you enough for writing this article. You are an Angel in disguise. Thank you just so much.
My therapist recommended Kristen Neff to me via printed slip with the link to a TED talk re. Self-esteem versus self compassion.
Since night before last I’ve been alternating crying & fuming in the aftermath of the latest way my 77 yr mother hurt me.
I tried journal venting… 3 times. I tried telling Dave, who means well, but he has no clue.
I noticed she called (& didn’t leave a voicemail) a couple of hours ago, & it stirred up the hurt/rage me again to the point that I found myself bawling & couldn’t swallow lunch.
I reenacted all of the reasons I‘ve blamed her for how lost & broken I feel, while reminding myself she did the best she could considering how her mother also neglected & abused her (passed thru generations).
So just now I googled “how to forgive your parents.“
At the top of the list (rightfully) was this excellent article by Kristen Neff.
I’m not sure If or how you explored early on that it might be best for you not to procreate, but my reasoning at age 12 was pretty clear – tho I know there’s no such thing as a perfect parent, I didn’t Trust myself or want the responsibility of not accidentally wounding another innocent child (“The buck stops here.”)
So how do we take responsibility for our lives & stop blaming the abusive parent(s)? How do we learn self compassion and treat ourselves with the acceptance & kindness that have been missing all our lives? ♀️ ♀️
And Damn, why am I always misplacing my magic wand?
COVID-19 – Be safe; be well
Luck is just probability taken personally!
Some of the best advice I received was when I was experiencing a lot of pain confronting the abuse I endured from my family and later romantic relationships. I opened my heart to a pastor about the hurt in my life and he told me “you don’t have to make yourself feel vulnerable in person and forgive someone face-to-face. Forgiveness can be done at anytime from a safe distance.” I never looked at things that way and it helped me let go of pain and guilt I felt throughout my life. As my parents are still alive, although I have distanced myself for my overall wellbeing, I still had the need to reach out because I recently found out my husband and I are expecting a baby of our own and I wanted to say how I felt to lay my feelings to rest once and for all. It was cathartic to write out my feelings and realize how strong of a person I am and how my family has missed out on knowing me thinking I’m good for nothing. I was able to Express how I am passionate about raising my child in a loving environment free of violence and apathy and it felt good to express how I feel without the need for validation and no expectations. The response I got was apathetic and stoic, histocially as they have behaved towards me, they never claimed any responsibility for their actions I expressed in my letter nor validated my feelings (which was the source of my pain for years) but it didn’t matter to me because I know I did what I felt I needed to do – I needed to confront the hell they put me through, their lack of love and support and share despite that I forgive them and I still love them because that’s the woman I am, I recognize they brought me into this world and now I have the opportunity to do better because if the woman I have become. I am a strong and beautiful being despite them, I didn’t have their support then and I don’t need it now because I have an inner strength that has sculpted me to be steadfast. I reached out to them to express how I feel and face them at the same opportunity, I did this so when they pass I know I gave them the chance to be open hearted, I forgave them and they chose otherwise (I can release myself from feeling like my feelings are unsolved or have any guilt). I’m a spiritual person so I wanted to honour my parents and treat them as I want to be treated and release myself from feelings of unworthiness and powerlessness because their limiting beliefs don’t have to be mine anymore. Everyone copes with pain and trauma differently, and the rejection and abuse by your birth family can be damaging as society puts so much emphasis on close family bonds being the norm. Something that has brought me a lot of peace is that ‘family’ doesn’t have to be defined by those connected to us by DNA, by letting go of my birth family it has made room for real love and peace in my life. I felt a void in my life by not having my parents to stand by me or siblings who cared about me and I filled that void by being a sister and child to those without that connection (seniors, orphaned and neglected children, etc). Everyone copes differently so what works for some may not work for others but for me reaching out and volunteering (formally and informally) has brought a lot of love into my life. I never developed a close bond with my parents but there are hundreds if not thousands of people I opened my heart to and had a genuine connection with, making the world a little brighter. In reading others feedback I do agree there is the danger of making bad choices by feeling “needy” for love and validation – hence how I ended up in abusive relationships over the years, making unhealthy choices. That’s why I talk about my experiences and own upto my mistakes to maybe help others from undergoing the pain I experienced when feeling unworthy and seeking validation in all the wrong ways (binge drinking to ‘fit in’ and ‘numb out’, having numerous flings and seeking validation from men, etc). I also spoke to counselors and other survivors of abuse to work through the trauma and make healthy choices, it took me a lot of years of pain and suffering to realize I don’t need to revictimize myself, I deserve better and need to love myself for me and I need to be selfish and put myself first, approve myself and be proud of myself. I didn’t need my family to do that for me, I needed to love myself. Just like forgiving my family, it allowed me to forgive myself for my mistakes and move on. I hope this helps.
Only thing I am doing now is trying to set boundary.
This was a good article, although it did speak to surface type wounds rather than deep, ongoing abuse and neglect. I believe the idea, that my not forgiving is hurting me far more than my parents. I have come around to accepting my father as just a fine human being, even if he was an absent father. My mom, though… that is proving very difficult. She was crazy and violent and volatile in every way. We could not count on her to be calm, loving or receptive to our common problems in growing up. As the oldest, I was parentified and was always expected to be years older, to make up for their shortfalls. I RESENT this. I RESENT their blindness and irresponsibility. But, this resentment ages me.. causes me more internal pain and ongoing mental anguish. There is simply no good thing in it for me. I wish I could not think about them the way they don’t think about me, at the very least.
thanks but for my story is ,
i come from a muslem background but i got saved and i thought am not going to be rooted and now its like i will never look back and its now coming to five years.
it happens that one day i went to church and i spent there one week cause we were in fasting and praying and i felt like being the church so coming back home ,my elder sister and my mom got mad of me and beat me up even as i speak i still have wounds,
they threw me out of my home and even denounced me of being one of her children and i went to church its where am residing per now the worst part of it my sister is an aids victim and she bated me and when i went to the hospitali was given arvs
but i feel i want to fogive my mom but i feel i resentment for her yet right now she bed ridden and she needs my help but when i even think of meeting her ijust shade tears please help me .its yvonne
Exactly. I saved my sister from immediate death from their negligence, and I ended my relationship with my mother (finally at 61) when she called me a GDB because I expressed my heartbreak at my brother not visiting me when I traveled 1k miles to see him. Bad parents really do exist. Get over it.
I am a person that has been beaten, seen my mother beaten, seen my sister beaten. But my mother is still there and he is still there. So what do you do? The only thing that really matters in the end is me. Ive been a terrible mother and I cannot forgive myself but reading this information is helping me more than anything. So if I can forgive my dad maybe I can forgive myself for being such a bad parent. Lost!
I am a psychologist and I often work with abused children. This article is disgraceful. There is a reason child abuse is a crime. Articles like this perpetuate abusive patterns, and self-blame. You have no idea how much harm articles like this cause.
Totally agree. And then the guilt that articles like this create because there is no way to stay sane with contact just makes it worse!
this is all well and fine provided your parents are not predatory psychopaths feeding off of your misery and the only way to possibly escape or let go is when they die. I am praying mine does.
Life must truly be easy for you if all you have to forgive is a missed birthday. Try forgiving being molested by father and mother knowing about it and blaming you for it. Learning from your own daughter that your father was starting to molest her and again grandma knew and pushed under carpet reporting it to police and mommy dearest telling you that if your father died from the stress she would never forgive you. Trust me when I say forgiving those that betrayed you is never simple and this article is BS.
Being a parent and bringing up children is the hardest job in the world especially if you have suffered yourself as a child and do not know how to handle a given situation, you pass on your reactions to your children because you do not know any better. As an adult if you can see through their faults, all to the good, then foregiveness and healing can begin
I think there are far worse abuses than just missing a birthday. There are parents who don’t even remember your name .when I was at the age of 14, my father in my case. Believe me, even this is the very least worst thing he did compared to what he did all my life and still doing. But the article describes some core emotions I am still feeling. Letting it go is still unbearable. Forgiving seems impossible. I really want to but the pain is too much to do it. It is not that easy.