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When You Can’t Turn to Your Parents For Emotional Support Without Reopening Old Trauma

Oftentimes, we are told, as children, that our parents are the first people who loved us and will always love us and be there for us no matter what. While this can be true for many, sometimes, this is just simply not the case. When we cannot turn to our parents as the pillars of support for our lives as we grow into adulthood, we look elsewhere to fill the void. Yet what happens when you have nowhere to turn to fill a void in your life, as an adult navigating this world alone?

The void that I am referring to in this post is emotional support. I grew up learning that emotions are not valid, that we cannot express our emotions (except anger, which was always present growing up, but that’s for another post). Emotions were branded as bad and every time I cried or got emotional, I was punished. This lack of emotional connection with my parents led me to resent them as I got older, feeling like I was alone in the world with no one to turn to: not a friend, sibling, or extended family member.

With almost a decade of therapy under my belt — residential treatment, partial hospitalization programs, intensive outpatient programs, and countless hours of individual therapy — I recognize that my parents didn’t have the emotional capacity to support me the way I needed due to their own experiences and upbringings. I don’t hold this against them but there is a part of me, as a young adult trying to navigate this world with mental illness, that resents them and feels abandoned and hurt by them. There is a lot that goes on in my brain, often fueled by depression and anxiety, and having somebody to talk to and confide in more than my every-other-week therapy appointments is helpful. When I try to rebuild the broken relationship with my parents, I call to try to talk to them about my life, my thoughts and my feelings. Yet when I call, I am usually pushed aside because they are busy, because they have too much on their plate and cannot deal with me right at that moment. There is no follow-up phone call; there is no rescheduling. It is a simple, “I’m busy and I can’t talk to you,” and then that’s it.

I understand that we all have busy schedules, but the way that these conversations go, it can be dismissive and hurtful. Finding a time to schedule a phone call, to make time for the emotional support a child needs, is critical in ensuring that child — whether a child or adult — has their needs met. I don’t know where to turn to meet my needs — I don’t have a support network that can come to my side when I am struggling or seeking support. I feel like a burden to my friends so I keep to myself when I am struggling. I try to seek that support from my parents but more often than not, I am silenced and shut down, left feeling more abandoned than ever.

Parental relationships are difficult to navigate, especially when there is trauma involved in the relationship with your parents. As an adult who has never learned to safely express my emotions, I struggle with sharing my emotions and feelings, and I often try to turn to the people who should be there. I hold out hope they will come around. Sometimes, though, it may be time to step away and recognize that my parents will never be emotionally there for me in the way I need, and that it’s best to cut ties with them in this manner. I can hold relationships with my parents through other means but as for meeting my emotional needs, I should consider cutting my parents off from this aspect of my life. Getting shut down by my parents feels like being abandoned by them all over again, reigniting the trauma that I experienced, opening that old wound. It may be time to reevaluate my relationship with my parents, and when I can go to them to meet my needs and when I can’t, for the sake of my own mental health.

Photo by Raychan on Unsplash