As children, we look to the trusted adults in our lives to discern who it is we should be. This is a normal part of developing a healthy sense of self. The only challenge is we are watching beautifully complex and flawed human beings for our cues. This can lead to quite a bit of confusion in our journey! In a perfect world without pain and a desire to climb to the top, we would all develop a clear idea of who we are and that would be supported by all the adults in our lives who are also living out the people they are. It gets tricky because our world is full of brokenness and pain.
Hold onto this phrase as we continue: Hurt people hurt people.
Let’s look at three powerful insights that come from those four simple words, hurt people hurt people, and then we will see what this means for how we develop our sense of self.
Pain brings on more pain UNLESS the pain’s source is identified and intentionally healed. Each generation endures their own pain. And, each generation navigates some of the pain and wounding of generations that have come before.
Hurt people can feel their pain, but often don’t know what to do with that pain because what was modeled for them was causing more pain and/or pushing the pain deep inside.
Our pain cannot be healed by hurting another person.
The bottom line is part of how we see ourselves is through the pain and wounds of those trusted adults. When we don’t attend to our relational wounds through proper channels such as therapy, prayer, EMDR, journaling, talking with trusted friends, etc., we will try and resolve those wounds through other relationships. We choose the people closest to us such as a spouse or child. When we choose a child, that child is now partially forming his/her sense of identity through our pain.
How many of you have kiddos in sports? How many of you have witnessed “that parent” at a sporting event? You know the one, the parent who yells harsh things at their child while that child is playing the game (and probably at the refs and coaches too!). That parent really does want their child to succeed and grow. What that parent doesn’t realize is somewhere deep in their history someone criticized or rebuked or yelled at them for how they performed whether in sports or academics or the arts and they haven’t faced that wound full on seeking healing. Instead, their ego has unconsciously convinced them that if their child succeeds, all will be well. Their past short-comings will be smoothed over in their child’s success.
It isn’t just sports. We do this in about a billion ways! We over share with our kids because we were kept in the dark in our own childhoods. We hover close by at all times because our parents left us unattended and someone took advantage of us. We place strict boundaries around our kids out of fear instead of love because our parents didn’t protect us. We get involved where we should allow our kids to try on their own people skills because we are haunted by memories of bullies in our own childhood. We befriend our kids instead of parent them because we have a broken relationship with our own parents.
You get the point, right? So much of what shapes our identity is found in how the adults in our lives handled themselves. The adults in our lives meant well. What they didn’t realize was sometimes when they told us who we should be, it was so they could feel safe and loved and empowered and purposeful. When it is about the adult and his/her needs, the child gets confused because s/he feels like they are this person and they are being told to be another person.
We can change this for ourselves and for generations to come. First, take care of yourself. If you need to do some healing work, do it. Make it a priority. Second, get real about what is your stuff, meaning know what you expect your kids or spouse or friends to do and be so you can feel safe and secure. Then, release them to be themselves through simple mantras such as “May you be well” and caring for yourself well so what you need flows to you. Third, be vulnerable with your kids if you find yourself in this position. You probably can’t undo what was done to you or even make your parents understand how their lack of healing shaped you, but you can do something about yourself and your family. Remind your kids you each have your own journey. Celebrate your unique gifts and how you complement one another as you work together as a family unit. Talk to your children about their unique personality and affirm what they bring into the world. You will be amazed at how your child lights up AND how much insight you gain into yourself when you regularly talk about each person’s talents, gifts, and personality.