While reading Mark Epstein’s Open to Desire: the Truth about what Buddha Taught, I came across the following passage:
If people have never felt loved or accepted by their parents, for example, they will be much more likely to find themselves in intimate relationships in which they continue to feel unloved. Then they try extra hard to make themselves lovable while continuing to feel there is something wrong with them.
This struck rather close to home. Epstein argues that a proper understanding of renunciation is helpful in such circumstances:
By voluntarily forsaking compulsive patterns of thought and behaviour, where there are ongoing but futile attempts to get unmet needs satisfied, it is possible to open up other pathways that prove more fulfilling … Renunciation can be the missing ingredient when patterns like these predominate. It takes force of will to create circumstances in which something new can happen.
Which certainly accords with my own experience.
Epstein then goes on to discuss Tibetan lamas reporting being surprised at how much anger at parents their Western followers express. This is Epstein’s explanation to a Tibetan lama of this pattern.
Western parents don’t feel that their children already are who they are—they feel it is their job to make them who they should be. They treat their children more as objects than as individuals who already are themselves. Children feel this as a burden … A pressure. And they develop armour to guard against it. Their anger is a reflection of that armour … All the energy is going into the resistance … But inside, the child feels empty. They don’t know who they are or what they want. They can’t feel their own desire, they know only anger. The anger that comes from being treated as an object … A child creates a false self to deal with excessive expectations or with early abandonment: too much parental pressure—or too little … there is not enough holding, not just physical holding , but emotional holding too.
Which very much fits with my own experience. Epstein continues:
The problem with this scenario … is that the child often loses touch with who they are on the inside. After a while, they know only the armour, the anger, fear or emptiness. They have a yearning to be known, found or discovered, but no means to make it happen, not trust that is can happen.
Which also very much fits with my own experience (aggravated by having the “wrong” sexuality). One of the lamas responds:
Parents seem to see raising their children only as a duty or a job. When the child is grown they just let go. They are finished. They’ve done their job, fulfilled their obligations. The child feels cut off—they need that thread.
Back in the main narrative, Epstein continues:
Parents sometimes feel that their only purpose is to help their children separate and individuate, but they think about it in objective terms, as another thing to accomplish. Once it has happened, such parents feel useless or obsolete. Often they divorce as soon as the child leaves for college, throwing the children into crisis just as they are needing to move more deeply into themselves.
Various people may feel this scenario is familiar.
Compounding the problem is the inevitable estrangement of adolescence , when the first stirrings of grown-up anger make themselves known. Many parents never recover from these upheavals. Their emotional connections with their offspring are so tenuous that when the first expressions of disdain are hurled at them, they retreat forever. Hurt by their children’s anger, they feel ignored and unappreciated, not understanding that the child, in addition to wanting to be known by the parents, also wants to know them in a real way.
Epstein suggests that meditative retreats:
… tended to put people in a place where they could not avoid how much unfinished business they had. Treated as objects by their well-meaning parents, they were still struggling for subjecthood, but their own tendencies to their parents as “bad objects” were holding them back from their goals … By relinquishing their attachment to achieving this milestone, they could learn from how not to make the same mistake. They could stop treating their parents as bad objects, and begin to explore themselves as subjects: breaking down the false self that obscured the light within.