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Making the Unspeakable Speakable

It’s not unusual, if you follow my blogs, to learn that I sometimes write about themes which emerge in my practice. One such theme is adult clients expressing the wish that their parents were dead. This is not an uncommon reaction toward parents who’ve been abusive and neglectful. Clients who acknowledge this wish shamefully believe that they are alone in feeling this desire. Far from it.

There are several reasons that we’re not (culturally) supposed to express this wish:

·One is the childhood belief that our thoughts are so powerful we can make things happen. This occurs when a child wishes harm to a parent and something bad befalls him or her—a car accident, a fall, or the like. The child’s undeveloped brain immediately thinks cause and effect, as in “my thoughts made this happen.” Science tells us that this is utter nonsense. But if you were a child who wished your parents ill and something awful happened soon after, you may not be able to shake the idea, even knowing it’s irrational, that wishing can make it so.

· Another reason is that we’re told by our culture, mainly through religion, that we must love our parents—even if they abuse and neglect us, ruin our childhoods and are still doing things to try to make us miserable in our adulthoods. We believe we’re bad people simply for being angry at our parents. Wishing them dead makes us feel as if we’re the abomination, not them. You can bet that it wasn’t children who came up with the idea of insisting no evil be said about parents, but parents themselves.

· Often our lives would be enormously happier and easier if our parents weren’t alive. When clients say they wish their parents would die, they don’t necessarily want them dead, but often mean they’re tired of taking care of them, no longer want to put up with being mistreated by them. or wish parents to hurt as they’ve been hurt by them. These clients would be equally happy if their parents moved to the opposite side of the planet and were never seen or heard from again.

Often when clients express a wish for their parents to die, they’re amazed that I’m not stunned by such a statement and relieved when I tell them that I’ve heard this sentiment more than they would imagine. Some of them only want their parents to be out of their hair, someone else’s responsibility, or not continue to hurt them. Alternately, some of them really would be happier if their parents died tomorrow.

Rather than judge these clients, my job is to help them understand their wish, where it comes from, and how they can make peace with their parents still being around. This means accepting parental imperfection, setting firmer boundaries, and surrendering the longing for a loving, caring, reliable parent. Once that happens, sometimes the wish for their demise vanishes, and reality becomes more acceptable. And, if it doesn’t, that’s okay too.

Best,

Karen

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