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We all know that the child’s first impressions come from its first environment, in which the parents or their substitutes predominate, including anyone who plays an important role in the child’s life. Since the child’s capacity to evaluate is limited, its emotional experience gleaned from the parents is very distorted. In the crassest case, the child may emotionally experience the parents as either good or bad, strong or weak, admirable or despicable. But even if the experience is not so extreme, the child focuses only on certain aspects or tendencies of the parents, while the rest of their personality is not even noticed. These limited impressions falsify the picture. The image you carry of them, often unconsciously, may be quite contrary to your intellectual view or opinion, but it nevertheless influences your actions and governs your reactions to life, to others, and to yourself. It also clogs up the channel that enables you to love and experience others in their reality, while you are centered in your own real self, which is your reality.

The child’s fragmented impression of reality causes distortions which influence the way you relate later to others and to yourself. You can be sure that there is a connection between the most problematic area of your life and your perception of either one or both parents, or someone else in your early surroundings. A certain impression of another person or persons is imprinted upon your soul, and you continue reacting to others from this fragmentary and falsified imprint.

The remedy is first to become aware of what you really feel about all members of your family, or others who were important to you. Analyze this feeling impression and compare it with your intellectual view. Then begin to consider whether your impression of them is perhaps just a fragmented, limited aspect of a whole person.

When you feel hurt or angry about one or both parents, do you, in your anger, perceive them as groping, vulnerable, blind, and troubled humans? Or do they take on an awesome, strange, fixed, and therefore almost inhuman form in your emotional life? Do they seem artificial, robot-like, lacking the complexity of the human personality? Think about the term human being and what it really means. Does it not mean a variety of often contradictory aspects? Can a person be — if you must choose these terms — good in one way and bad in another? Can he or she be reliable in one way and unreliable in another, both selfish and also unselfish?

Yet the child in you does not perceive that. For the child, it is either one or the other but never both. Therefore you still do not perceive the reality of your parent the human being. You may know perfectly well with your intellect that people can be both good and bad, but emotionally you cannot experience this truth, particularly not with regard to your parents. Your emotional experience is always an either/or, and therefore you are not in touch with the living, dynamic complexity of the human being who was closest to you. It is most important for your own sake that your impression and experience of this person be as realistic as possible.

As long as you are still living with a falsification, you cannot cut the tie that keeps you from experiencing freedom and independence. You are also kept from loving, from finding your true strength. Oh, you may have managed very well in many ways, but where this tie is not dissolved by seeing the reality of your parents, you will continue to have problems that could be resolved only by unraveling this knot.

The first step is to become aware of your distortions. Ask yourself: “How do I experience my parents? Do I experience them as human beings in their contradictions, their blindness, their often conflicting, mixed motivations?” Does the person you may have feared and hated most when you were a child, perhaps still exist in you as one who is invulnerable and cannot be hurt, just because he or she hurt your vulnerability? This phantom creates havoc in your life, my friends.

After making the revisions which constitute the second step, you can become a free human being. But how do these revisions take place? Begin by asking yourself: “What were they really like?” Try to understand them in the fullness of their being. Understand their lives, their inner and outer struggles, their own childhood — from whatever you know about them. What made them what they were, what were their own hurts, fears, and frustrations? Understand them as one mature human being tries to understand another, with as much detachment and objectivity, and consider as many facets of their being as possible, not just those aspects that have, unfortunately, singularly affected you. Your seeing only certain traits and leaving out others because you were not affected by them always dehumanizes the other person.

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To my teacher Marieke Mars who taught me self-honesty. To my courageous and loving pathwork helper Dottie Titus.

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