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Toxic Parents - Can an elephant ever be a cat

Inner peace and relaxation
Expectations vs Reality

At some point in most of my client relationships, the client reveals the expectation of hypnosis as magic. This week was one of those weeks in which some clients expressed their disappointment that someone in their life hadn't changed as a result of our sessions.

I do take the time to explain that hypnosis isn't magic in the first session. But there it is. People have seen a lot of movies, and their subconscious maintains that expectation of instant inexplicable relief. But what seems really remarkable is that they expect other people to change in response to work they themselves do. The point of the work is not to make other people change, but to inspire the client to handle difficult people – especially loved ones, and more especially parents - in a different, and hopefully more satisfying, way.

So, I found myself repeating the following question over and over again: can an elephant ever become a cat?  Just because you feel you want or even need a sweet little kitty to climb in your lap and purr, doesn't mean you should want the elephant in the room to do that. Even if it was possible, think about what that would really mean - 2000 pounds of pachyderm, jumping up onto the sofa, wanting to be scratched behind gigantic floppy ears.

In the same vein, several clients this week told me they didn't trust anyone. I responded that the person they don’t trust is really themselves.  They do trust the others. They trust the ex-husband to be a bully. They trust their boss to be stingy. They trust their neighbor to be a snoop. What they don’t trust is their own expectations. My bully ex-husband should stop being a bully, they think. Well, he won’t! Part of him is designed to be that bully, and unless he wants to change, he probably never will. Stop asking the elephant to be a cat. Study more about elephant behavior, and treat the poor elephant appropriately.

When it comes to parents, many clients secretly wish – and thereby expect – the parent to be the mother or father they always wanted, instead of the one they were.  They tell me stories about their parent’s current outrageous behavior. If I ask when the parent started acting that way, there isn't usually a beginning. Even if a parent now has Alzheimer's, the transition to being this disconnected person who doesn't always remember her own children is vague. The client is frustrated with mom or dad because they always were frustrated with mom or dad. If they were happy, they would have more empathy and compassion for a loved one, living with the torture of slowly losing a grip on reality.

My theory is this: if you are happy with yourself, you'll be satisfied with your parents, almost no matter who they are or what they've done.  If you are happy with yourself, you automatically know how to draw healthy boundaries with them. If you're happy with yourself, you give an inward chuckle at their outrageous behavior. You know how to avoid certain topics. You know when it's safe to bring the grandchildren around. You are grateful that they brought you into the world, and you know how to handle them.

But if you aren't happy with yourself, you'll want elephants to act like kittens - or, you'll hate elephants for being elephants when when they can't help but be elephants.

The concept of anxiety as a mental state and how it affects thoughts and emotions.
A Journey of Understanding

This is not to say that some parents or other loved ones aren't truly difficult. Sometimes separation is necessary. Sometimes forever. If you were raised by people that difficult, it’s likely you are in the habit of being miserable. Your subconscious mind might be a minefield of shocking memories and disappointing moments.  You might truly believe you don't deserve anything better.

The main way that hypnosis can help heal relationships is by neutralizing the client's relationship to the past. There are a variety of protocols that do this, and all of them end happily.  In some, the client goes back to a time where something traumatic happened and interacts with the parent of the past as the younger self. They find out the parent has a unique point of view, and also emotional memories about that incident. Sometimes, they recognize a parent's weakness and limitations for the first time. They see the elephant as an elephant who can only see the world the way an elephant would. Occasionally, they discover what they thought was an elephant is actually a tiger, or a lion, and it becomes easier to protect themselves in the future. Most of the time, the client forgives the parent, and this forgiveness is very special because it means the client accepts limitations and frustrations in their relationship. The elephant is an elephant, and they respect that.

Accepting parents the way they are grows the child. By the time we're teenagers, we are more than willing to see authority figures as flawed. But if we are in the habit of feeling empty from a whole childhood of misunderstanding and misbehavior, we tend to stay frozen in childhood in some respect. By accepting what is and what was, we are more inclined to grow up and to acquire for ourselves the qualities that will give us what we need. We become stronger and more independent.

Accepting parents the way they are helps the adult child deal better with end-of-life situations. I heard recently about someone I know who was raised by a clinically narcissistic mother. My acquaintance had three siblings, but she was what people call today “the scapegoat” in the narcissistic family situation. She was blamed for everything and expected to clean up the mess – sometimes quite literally - for the entire family. When her mother died, this woman actually expected to inherit more money than the other siblings. Why? Because she had received the most abuse. Now that really is asking an elephant to act like a cat!  Why would someone who was abusive her entire life suddenly do something kind when dying? Why would the scapegoat child expect to be acknowledged at all? 

In truth, if the acquaintance had been able to recognize her issue, and even if she had done hypnosis to help, it still may have taken her years to change. Part of this change might've been a permanent separation from her mother. But in the end, she might've been able to accept the situation, and that would've freed her to be able to deal with it, rather than hold out for miraculous changes of behavior. 

By neutralizing our emotional relationship to the past through hypnotherapy, we become free to change the present, and thereby the future. Wishful thinking prolongs the past because it sets us up for the same type of hurt we received in the past. We wanted a cat, but we got an elephant. If we stop expecting the elephant to act like a cat, our relationship with the elephant can truly blossom, and our positive perception of ourselves as a superior elephant handler can only increase.

Support and Comfort represents the role of a hypnotherapist in providing guidance and support.
The Complex Dynamics of Parent-Child Relationship

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