"They Did the Best They Could"By Nancy Swisher
January 01, 2007
Are you excusing your parents' behavior by telling yourself that they did the best they could? While they probably did do the best they could, telling yourself this might get in the way of your inner child's healing.
Recently, I asked a new client about her childhood experience. She said, "Oh, Mom yelled at me all the time, but she did the best she could." I have heard this phrase over and over throughout my years of working with clients who want to heal. Though it is usually true that our parents did the best they could - i.e. they didn't decide when we were born they wanted to hurt us - saying they did the best they could does not further the healing process in terms of connecting to our inner child's experience of 'being yelled at all the time.' And it is our child's experience that is the basis of the false beliefs that we still carry around, that still cause us pain.
When we say, "They did the best they could" we block our own experience as a child. We close the door to the child's feelings, and it is only by connecting with those feelings and giving them words, that we can heal. Step Three of Inner Bonding - the dialoguing process - is where we deepen our understanding of the child's reality. How did it feel when Mom yelled? What happened inside the child's psyche when Mom yelled? What did the child decide about herself? What were the range of feelings that got triggered by the yelling day after day? None of these questioned can be answered when we stop our inquiry by using the phrase "She did the best she could."
Alice Miller, the noted Swiss psychologist, author of many books on healing from childhood, and whose work fits wonderfully with Inner Bonding says: "If the child thinks that the parents who behaved so strangely and humiliated him were well-meaning, he cannot feel his pain and he sympathizes instead with his parents." She goes on: "Pain is the way to the truth. By denying that you were unloved as a child, you spare yourself some pain, but you are not with your own truth." If we avoid our pain, we also avoid our truth.
I spent much of my life empathizing with my father; I had learned to care more about his inner child than my own. There were many reasons for this. His wife (my mother) died early; he worked hard to put me through school. But from a very early age, because of my own abuse (the reality of which I erased from my memory) - because of not having the love I needed as a child - my attention locked into caring about him as a way to numb my pain, which as a child I could not handle. As children, we have to block the pain in order to survive; we need to believe 'they are doing the best they can."
Later in my life - during my twenties and thirties - before I began my childhood healing process, telling myself Dad did the best he could continued to block out the reality of my inner child. By remembering only the 'good parts' (and there were some) of my childhood, my wounded self stayed in control - doing her job to protect from pain.
This phrase "He did the best he could" as a thought-form kept me from my power as well. I understand why I had to think it. But our personal power lies in our truth and we must be willing to go in to our pain - no matter how intense we think it might be - in order to access the full truth of who we are. Inner Bonding provides the best roadmap for doing this that I have found. Its emphasis on learning to be a loving Adult for our child - both the wounded child and the core child - creates the safety we need to go into the pain from a place of awareness rather than from a victim. With Inner Bonding, we connect with our child from a spiritually-connected place, embracing the pain rather than becoming the pain.
It's been over a decade since the phrase "he did the best he could" was part of my vocabulary. Paradoxically, however, now that I have accessed the truth of my child, which had been blocked by siding with my father, I can truly say "He did the best he could" not from a place of forgetting what my child's reality was, but from compassion. But if we try to do this prematurely, before feeling the pain and giving it words, the child stays hidden, unacknowledged, in the darkness of fear, and not connected with.
After my client said her mom did the best she could, we explored the statement by using two stuffed animals. One was her core child (the one who got yelled at all the time) the other her wounded child (the one who decided her mother was doing the best she could in order to avoid feeling the pain.) She imagined herself as a little girl and played out the parts of the wounded child telling the frightened, traumatized child that her mother was doing the best she could. By making her inner kids real in this way, she was able to begin to feel the pain of living with her mother. From there, the false beliefs that still played out in her life became conscious as well.
Our pain is in the same box as our joy. If we deny the pain, we also deny all our divine gifts - our purpose, our power, and the manifestation of our unique truth and beauty. I invite you to examine where this phrase - "They did the best they could" - is coming from next time it pops into your head.
Nancy Swisher is a Certified Inner Bonding Facilitator. Her offices are in western Massachusetts. She is also available for phone sessions and frequently leads Inner Bonding workshops and support groups. She can be reached at 413-655-0102 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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Today, slow down. Breathe. Walk more slowly. Be mindful - present to yourself, to others, to your environment, to Spirit. Each moment you are truly present is a moment of enlightenment.
By Dr. Margaret Paul