Through my work with other trauma survivors, I have been surprised to learn how many similarities our stories share. The external circumstances are often different. But the beliefs we gain, the emotions we carry and the abusive strategies used against us are similar. It is eerie how similar they are. This week, there has been one particular theme with my clients which illustrates those similarities. Many of us are struggling to get out from under the affects of a phrase used repeated in childhood.
“You should be grateful for all I have done for you.”
There seems to be a ridiculous notion in the belief systems of most abusive parents that their child should be grateful for their raising. The idea that a child has any understanding of their parent’s obligations in raising them is ridiculous. The child didn’t choose to be born (least of all to abusive parents). The child didn’t sit down at the table with the parents and say, “Let’s discuss how much this is going to cost and how exhausted you are going to feel.” The child has no idea they are a burden because they are not supposed to be one. The child is a child. They are here and they want to live life. They didn’t know they would start life in emotional and financial debt at the hands of their parents.
So why do abusive parents do this? I have some ideas.
It was done to them. A generation of parents doesn’t wake up one day and decide to do and say ridiculous things. We have been spewing nonsense about gratitude from children since humans created the spoken language. But that doesn’t mean we should accept this antiquated and abusive perspective. We have brains so we can ask questions.
If they exaggerate what they do for the child, they can fool themselves about how great they are. More than likely, our abusive parents were never appreciated for much of anything. This is one of the patterns that led to their addiction to power in the first place. They had to look for little scraps of love wherever they could find them. In many cases, they to get those scraps by making a big deal out of the things they do, looking for positive feedback in any way they could get it. This became an addiction and was projected on to their children. It becomes the child’s responsibility to feed their ego.
If the child believes they owe the parents, they are more easily manipulated. Let’s face it. A parent is going to have an easier time convincing a child to do whatever they want if that child feels obligated to the parent. This “contract” can last an entire lifetime with adult children feeling like they owe aging parents who were abusive.
If a child believes that everything comes at a cost, they won’t ask for help. This belief doesn’t solely apply to the parent/child relationship. Abusive parents will make it clear that all relationships come with contracts. Children learn that it isn’t safe to ask for anything. And that includes asking for help to escape their abusive environment. They already feel like they are in debt and they don’t want any more obligation.
How does this affect the adult child?
We hold energetic contracts with abusers. One of the most challenging aspects of recovery is the separation from our abusive families. The act of saying goodbye is not really the problem. The problem is the internal contract we hold in our system. Whether it is the karma kid or the love seeker, we have inner parts who consider themselves indebted to their abusive families. This debt may represent the simple acts of keeping them alive or for little scraps of love they felt here and there. But this is a difficult contract to break internally.
We inevitably hold the same beliefs with our children. While it is powerful to break the abuse cycle with our families, it is also necessary to break the belief cycle. Even if we don’t abuse our children, these beliefs can be passed down from generation to generation creating difficulties in navigating the world. We need to make sure our children know they are not obligated to us for raising them. We need to ensure they know they aren’t owned by anyone. They are their own person and they get to live life with freedom.
We can’t ask for help or assistance without feeling we owe others. As I mentioned before, this belief gets applied to others. We won’t ask others for help because we don’t want to owe more than we already do. So we run ourselves into the ground trying to handle everything. This becomes worse when we have children. We go to bed exhausted every night from trying to manage life on our own, but we feel relief we don’t owe anyone.
We extrapolate it to the universe. When we hold this belief, we believe it applies to everyone. And everyone includes the universe. This can be tied to hopelessness on a deep level. Even if we could escape the contracts of our parents and others, how could we ever escape the contract with the universe? We are stuck. What we owe the universe will vary depending on our childhood beliefs. But it leaves us feeling like we can’t be free.
Is that gratitude coming from a place of freedom? Is it given freely? Or do you feel obligated to another person because they may have helped you out? Take a look at the contracts you have created in your life. And free yourself from them. Obligatory gratitude is not real. It is only real when it is given freely.
Written By Elisabeth Corey, MSW