Los Angeles Chapter — California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists
Los Angeles Chapter — CAMFT
When in Doubt, Blame Your Parents
This was a slogan on a card I received that I’ve never thrown out because it makes me laugh every time I see it. That would be an easy out, right? You don’t need to accept responsibility for yourself because your parents made you the way you are. If you do something harmful to yourself or someone else, it’s not your fault; it’s your parents’!
Sounds silly put that way, but you’d be surprised. People who had difficult childhoods sometimes use that as a justification for why their lives are not working today. Oprah Winfrey, certainly a successful person, has shared that she overcame being sexually molested as a child; obviously, she didn’t consider that an excuse. There are many people who had traumatic childhoods whose lives are flourishing, so we really can’t blame the parents.
Clients in therapy may be reticent to do historical work because they love their parents, feel loyalty to them, and don’t want to blame them. The clients are afraid we’re going to find out the parents were villains, which is rarely the case. Usually, although not always, our parents were well-meaning people like ourselves doing the best they could with what was handed down from their own parents.
It’s not necessary to stop loving your parents to see what they taught you that wasn’t helpful, but it is necessary to identify the messages from the parents that were not accurate. I sometimes call these false messages “brainwashing” to underscore for clients just how strong this conditioning can be.
If, for example, you were taught that sex is sinful, you might want to change that brainwashing. If you were taught you should never speak up, or that your ideas are nonsense, or that you don’t have your own special form of attractiveness—these beliefs taught by well-meaning parents are not helpful in the world of adults and would benefit from examination, then elimination.
© 2022 Catherine Auman
Catherine Auman, LMFT is a licensed therapist with advanced training in both traditional and spiritual psychology with over thirty years of successful professional experience helping thousands of clients. She has headed nationally based psychiatric programs as well as worked through alternative methodologies based on ancient traditions and wisdom teachings. Visit her online at catherineauman.com.
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California Association of Marriage & Family Therapists
Los Angeles Chapter