NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Thursday, November 29, 2012

Overcoming the Guilt You Feel For Not Being Able to Heal Your Parent's Emotional Wounds

Many adults come to therapy because they have longstanding guilt, which started when they were children, for not being able to heal their parents' emotional wounds.  As children, they grew up too fast in an effort to become emotional parents to their parents, instead of their parents parenting them.

Feeling Guilty For Not Being Able to Heal Your Parents' Emotional Wounds

In situations where parents are unable to emotionally parent their children, because of their own emotional deficits, a very young child often steps into this role without even realizing it, at a great emotional cost to him or herself.

The following vignette, which is a fictionalized account of many composite cases, illustrates how a child steps into the role of being her mother's mother:

By the time Sandy was six years old, she spent almost every evening at the kitchen table listening to her mother tell stories about her difficult childhood--the poverty, the loneliness, and the violence in household.  As her mother's sad stories poured out, Sandy wanted, more than anything, to make her mother happy now.  She was anxiously consumed with what she could do to make her  depressed mother happy.  She took on the role of her depressed, single mother's confidant and nurturer.

Sandy's mother was often so overwhelmed by her depression and anxiety that she didn't pay attention to what was going on in Sandy's young life.  By the time she was 11, Sandy was coming home from school, cooking dinner and coaxing her mother, who was often still in bed by late afternoon, to eat.

Going away to college was a tough decision for Sandy because she didn't want to leave her mother alone.  Sandy's mother, who was still preoccupied with her own emotional problems, never came to the college campus to see Sandy and never asked Sandy how she liked her college roommates.

By the time Sandy was in her early 30s, she continued that she just couldn't do enough to try to make her mother happy.  She was consumed with guilt, feeling that she had let her mother down because she couldn't heal her mother's emotional wounds.

When she came to therapy, Sally had no awareness of how she had sacrificed her own emotional well being by trying to be her mother's mother.  All she knew was that she felt tremendously guilty and unhappy.

Often, in situations like this, talk therapy can provide intellectual insight for the parentified child, but more often than not, it doesn't help to overcome the guilt and shame he or she feels.  There is a disconnect between what a parentified child might know on a rational level and what he or she feels on an emotional level.

I have found that mind-body oriented psychotherapy, like EMDR, clinical hypnosis, and Somatic Experiencing are much more effective to help clients to overcome the deeply ingrained guilt and shame they feel for not being able to compensate for their parents' emotional deficits.

Rather than just having intellectual insight, these clients are much more likely to heal and overcome their guilt and shame with one of these mind-body oriented psychotherapy treatment modalities. My experience has been that they usually heal on a much deeper level when psychotherapy includes the mind-body connection.

Getting Help in Therapy:  Overcoming Your Own Emotional Wounds
If you grew up as a parentified child to your own mother or father, you might still feel guilt and shame because you were unable to heal your parent's emotional wounds.

You owe it to yourself to get help to overcome your own emotional wounds so you can lead a more fulfilling life. Many people, who grew up as parentified children, have freed themselves from a history of guilt and shame about depressed and anxious parents by getting help from a licensed psychotherapist who uses the mind-body connection in treatment, and you can too.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist.  

I work with individual adults and couples.

To find out more about me, visit my website:  Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.