but they were hurting too, poor things!

This is a phrase I’ve heard over the years, & it always makes me mad.
You may at first think this post is harsh or unfair, BUT please remember that everything our parents were - WE internalized into our Negative Introject. As long as we deny how harmful their actions were toward us - we will continue doing the same to ourselves, mistreat others AND be mistreated as well! (see posts on ‘The Introject’ & ‘Self-hate’).

What does this phrase mean?
1. GENERALLY: It is about our parents & family - that however badly they may have acted over the years, it was the ‘best’ they could manage. It implies that they :
• used all their resources to cope
• could NOT have done any better
• meant well, even if they didn’t show it
• really tried, in spite of falling short
• didn’t have any other options ...etc.

a. THEM: It is usually said by adults, about their parents - but only by those who had painful childhoods! You won’t hear a happy, well adjusted person needing to even think this, much less say it!
The BEST they could? If our parents were verbally cold, cruel & insensitive, narcissistic, neglectful, not comforting, controlling, drunk, demanding, abusive, addicts, raging.... That was the BEST they could Do? Really?

NO. The most we could say is that they:
• did what was done to them. Yes, but they never bothered to change. One mother, when confronted, kept saying - “But there weren’t any books about this stuff when you were little”! Except the daughter knew mom never bothered with anything deep, ever. She only read ‘Readers Digest” & watched soap operas!
• did what any addict would (not just alcohol, but also food, shopping, raging, gambling, exercise, TV, sports, religion...) - everything possible to not deal with their responsibilities & emotions
• chose the ‘easiest way out’, just didn’t care enough to bother, or were self-righteous about their parenting style (“Spare the rod, spoil the child”) - anything to not take to look at themselves & the effect they had on the children & others
• refused to get whatever help that was available to them (for expl, AA & Al-Anon have been around for over 50 yrs). One mother admitted she wouldn’t be caught dead going to a therapist. Another was begged repeatedly by her daughter to go to Alanon, but always blatantly refused
• were neglectful - some of us had a parent with a genuine mental illness - but others in the family denied the problem & did little or nothing to seek out solutions, if not for the sick adult, then at least for the kids

b. US: On the surface, ACoAs mean the ‘general’ qualities listed above. Underneath that, we are really saying that we :
• can’t afford, emotionally & mentally, to admit how badly we were treated
• still believe we caused or at least deserved the hurtful, neglecting things they did / didn’t do
• “understand” why they acted that way, intellectually - so we don’t have to FEEL the hurt, sadness, frustration, rage, disappointment....
-----> And here’s the kicker: we’re saying that - since they did the best they could - we can’t possibly be angry at them! we forgive them, we exonerate them. OK, so what’s wrong with that?

Yes, it is the ultimate goal of mental health to let go of our anger, detach with love - or indifference, forgive, outgrow our need for them...
i. The PROBLEM: We want to do that without going thru the process of healing! (See posts on ‘Process’)
• Most of our parents may not have been evil - although some definitely were, & some things done to us are unforgivable - but we still have to identify exactly what went on in our family system, in order to stop copying it
• In some cases, talking to parents about what we remember & the after-effects, can be useful - even if they deny our experiences. It can help us stop pretending it was all OK.

✶✶ After may years of recovery, one woman sat at the kitchen table for 2 hrs, calmly telling her narcissistic mother what she has learned about her childhood. At the end the mother’s only comment was: “So what you’re telling me is that I should never have been a mother”. “Yes” responded the daughter, unfazed & without guilt. Then they went about making dinner! WOW
• However, in most cases it’s an absolute waste of time to ‘have it out’, ‘confront them’, ‘tell them off’ or even explain things to them. They won’t get it, & they may even hurt us more by their reactions.
➼ What’s really crucial is our motivation. WHY do we want to talk to them? Usually it’s because the IC want to do the impossible - change them, get them ‘to see’, force them to admit their culpability....

ii. The REALITY is that:
• we are very angry at our family. We need to feel that, in safe ways & places, away from them - with people who can hear our pain AND don’t have a stake in shutting us up
• our Inner Child is still in deep shock at what we lived thru. We need to identify & validate those experiences, before we can let go of them. Until that happens, our life is run by our damage (the WIC part)
• we need to have a clear picture of the negative lessons we learned from them, in order to know how to change those rules in the present
• to grow, we have to stop wanting our family’s approval & love, especially if they still can’t be there for us as adults. Some of us are lucky enough to have a better relationship with family than we had as kids, but most can not. We have to accept that or we’ll keep feeling devastated
• we cannot afford to ‘exonerate’ them, which means to white-wash the abuse & neglect. It’s what they taught us to do - to never hold them accountable. Because of that, we don’t hold others accountable for their bad behavior, now.

➼ WHY is this important? Because - as long as we negate their responsibility, we take it on as ours. (See post on ‘Responsibility’)
• This bears repeating - our self-hate tells us we were the cause of all our childhood suffering. This is a lie. Just think - our parents were fully formed in their ways before we were born, no matter how young they were. We could not have possibly been bad enough as 2 & 5 & 10 years old - to warrant the punishment & accusations we got! It was their damage, their rage, their abandonment issues, their addictions, their anxiety, back then - NOT US!

DENIAL keeps us stuck. Accurate information is the beginning of change. If we can be totally honest with ourselves, we can :
a. make a list of all the ways they hurt our feelings, disappointed us, let us down, made life harder for us, said mean things, were disrespectful, demanded too much of us, didn’t help us learn ... past & present
✶✶ One lady said that when she told her aunt about her recent marriage, the aunt said: “Oh yeah, your mother told me. She wondered how you got such a nice guy!” GRRRR

b. If possible, talk to anyone who knew our family when we were young, & ask their honest feedback about that they saw & heard. If not, then ask anyone who had dealt with them in the past few years
✶✶ Another woman, in denial about how neglectful her mother had been, was talking to her oldest friend about those early years. Her friend said “Oh yeah, don’t you remember all the time she just left you alone to go out with her boyfriends? I even told you then it wasn’t ok!”

c. Make a detailed inventory of all our lovers & friends, identifying what they all have in common, to see what we’re attracted to (how much are they like our family?) That will tell us OUR pattern of reproducing our upbringing.
✶✶ A young woman grew up a nice middle class family who were socially active, well dressed, not highly educated but practical & intelligent, generally admired & well liked. On the surface all was well, but behind the scenes, much psychological, spiritual & emotionally damage was being done - which was not acknowledged or dealt with. After all, they were “doing the best they could”! (Hint: Both parents were unrecovered ACoAs)

When the girl finally got out on her own, she ‘went wild’ & fell in with angry, disappointing friends, worked at inappropriate jobs & dated dangerous men. Most people treated her much worse than her parents had, so she must be crazy. Right? Only on the surface. Actually, she unconsciously found situations which expressed the inner reality of her home life - bringing to light the hidden abuse. She realized that:
For expl:
✓ her chief goal in life was to be dead! She remembered the first time she wished it - at age 10. At 13 she told her parents & they just brushed it aside. At 15 she was looking for a list of psychotic / schizophrenic characteristics, thinking it identified her (NOT). At 17 she had an affair with an older, married man... etc. The signs had been there all along, but no one took her seriously or just thought she was being a drama queen!
✓ ALL the men she had dated were alcoholics &/or ACoAs, & had to hate themselves & hate women - or she wasn’t interested
✓ she believed that her greatest ‘character defect’ was her need for love - after all, if she never felt loved & definitely didn’t deserve it - how could she keep wanting it? What a fool!
✓ she hated herself for being ‘so dramatic‘ & intense. Her mother often said she herself was perfect, & that she was glad she wasn’t sensitive like her kids. SO, one way to be acceptable & good was to not FEEL, which this woman could not do, being artistic & emotional.
In recovery she was eventually able to undo much of the damage

No need to go into great detail here, as many of the major points are covered in the post on “Recovery”
• You may still think they did the best they could - but it wasn’t good enough to prevent serious wounding in their children
• The important issue is whether of not we are willing to do the hard work of healing. There’s much we need to rage & mourn about
• The sad, enraging truth is that our family carelessly dumped their damage on us, and now we’re stuck having to clean up their mess. Recovery is long & stressful, but do-able, and WE are WORTH IT.
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Go to article "ACRONYMS" for meaning of all abbreviations
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Author's Bio: 

is a psychotherapist in private practice for 24 yrs in New York City, specializing in ACoA RECOVERY (adult-children of alcoholics & other narcissists).
She has appeared on radio, television & at New Life Expo, created & presented ACoA / Al-Anon intensive weekend workshops & ran an ACoA therapy group for 6 years.
She was an instructor at the NY OPEN CENTER  for 9 yrs, presenting her 12-week interactive lecture course “KNOWLEDGE Is POWER: 
What makes an ACoA”

She works with individuals & couples/partners, in person and by phone & Skype. FREE Intro Session, to see if there is compatibility.
For Testimonials, go to ("About Me")