Is it Me?

Or could it be you just don’t know how to love?

Posted Jan 14, 2020

For an adult who lived a childhood in which she was not loved by parents, whose parents said they loved but didn’t act like it, who was seriously traumatized by abusive or neglectful parents, the healing doesn’t begin until the child, now adult, begins to understand that the parents' lacks do not mean that the child was unlovable. 

It's very difficult for a child who was raised in a home in which parents did not show affection or offer loving guidance and touch, who were abusive and/or neglectful, who touched lovingly sometimes but were physically or sexually abusive other times to see that the problem belongs to the parents, not the child.  These children very often grow up believing that they are unlovable — that if only they could have been different, their parents would have been more loving.

“My parents loved me; they just had an addiction.  And I was just a hard kid to raise.”  “I just don’t understand why I acted like that.”  “I’m the black sheep of the family (laughing)!”  These are some of the things that an adult child will say about having been raised by parents who lacked the maturity to really love them.  But when consciousness takes over, they often say something like this:  “But it’s so much easier to say it's my fault than it is to grieve the fact that my parents never were and never will be the parents I need them to be.”  There is a fear of such powerful sadness. 

In fact, many children of unloving parents will say that parents who fairly consistently acted in very unloving ways, nevertheless loved them.  “I know they loved me, they were just young and didn’t know what to do with the likes of me.”  The grief of admitting that these parents just really don’t know how to love is very difficult to face. 

The problem is that these children will often find themselves in adult relationships in which they are likewise unloved, abused, and/or neglected.  And they will often repeat the same exact mantras:  “I know he loves me, but he just has an anger problem.” 

But here are the facts:  There are many people who do not know how to love.  It has nothing to do with the recipients of that lack of love.  It says nothing about the worth of the unloved child.  It only says that the parent, or in many cases the partner, just really doesn’t know how to love.  Many parents begin raising children before they ever even get a glimpse of their own issues.  And they often project those issues onto their unwitting children—who then introject those issues as if they were their own. 

Andrea Mathews
Traversing the Inner Terrain
Source: Andrea Mathews

An adult child of unloving parents begins to heal from that wound when they begin to grieve the loss of that love they always craved but never got.  Denial—“Of course, they loved me, I was just a hard kid to raise”—does not heal us.  Bargaining just keeps us stuck trying and trying to get the person to love us by changing OUR behavior.  But a healthy anger says something like, "I love myself enough to feel some anger that you couldn’t love me in a healthy way."  A healthy sorrow says something like this:  "I’m so sad that I was never loved like I needed to be loved."  And finally, acceptance says something like this:  "I can totally see now that my parents just didn’t have the maturity to love me the way a healthy parent loves a child and it’s not my fault and it has nothing to do with my worth." 

Healing is all about reality.  Reality looks at what’s really going on without any fantasy about what should be going on being used as an overlay. When we manage to struggle into adulthood, we have arrived at a new place.  If our psychology will allow us to go ahead and grieve the childhood, we can let it go, outgrow our upbringing and begin to realize that “it’s not me.”  “I didn’t cause my parents to be bad at parenting.”  “I’m not to blame.”  “I don’t have to blame them either—I can just look at reality.” 

The truth is just like the adage:  Love looks like love.  It doesn’t look like abuse or neglect.  It doesn’t look like a lack of affection and loving touch.  It doesn’t look like cold distancing.  It doesn’t look like criticism and judgment.  It looks like kindness, openness, warmth, willingness to listen, a willingness to really see you, a desire to show affection, and loving touch.  Love is not conditioned on whether or not you’ve been “good” that day.  It isn’t conditioned at all.  Love loves. 

It's not you.  They just didn’t know how to love.