Parental Pain Projection

I took my son to a public play area that morning, thinking he could use some social activities. Not long into the outing, I realized that Ethan wanted to play with the other kids, but they were playing “keep away from the little guy.” My little sweet pea was chasing the others all over the place, just wanting to play. When I got over my anger that the other parents didn’t intervene or even notice, I was overwhelmed with sadness that he was experiencing this, and fear that he would always be left out.

I went to the restroom to cry just a little. I know well the feeling of running like crazy to keep up, and still being left out. My childhood friends would suddenly vanish when I was occupied, leaving me to play alone or try to find them. I felt my boy’s pain.

But wait… he wasn’t feeling any pain. He was shrieking and laughing, unaware that the others were being somewhat cruel. The only pain I felt was my own. I was projecting on my son my own buried, still-raw pain and insecurity. I was fearful of his future only because I’d been forced to remember my past.

I have to remember that he’s not me. He may experience things I went through… he may go through totally different struggles. I cannot box him into my experience.

If I interpret his experiences through the lens of mine, I’m not leaving him space to see things for himself. I set the stage for insecurity with my unwarranted anxiety, when in reality, the things that hurt me might not hurt him. We hear about parents living vicariously through their children’s achievements, but I believe we can also relive our own hurt through them, in effect giving them cues about when they should feel hurt and when they shouldn’t.

Wouldn’t it be wiser for me to keep my emotions in check and deal with my own baggage instead of passing it on to my boy? Wouldn’t it be better for me to allow him to process life in his own way rather than assuming he’s just like me?

I wiped away my tears and distracted myself as Ethan went on chasing, and the others went on avoiding. He was happy, and I would allow him to be. Tomorrow would bring enough trouble without my borrowing more… Maybe I can just take things as they come, and keep the shadow of my pain from obscuring Ethan’s sunshine.

2 thoughts on “Parental Pain Projection

  1. We first see the world though the eyes of a little child, and that inner child remains with us throughout our
    lives, no matter how outwardly “grown-up” and powerful we become. If our vulnerable child was hurt or
    abandoned, shamed or neglected, that child’s, pain, grief, and anger live on within us.
    “I believe that this neglected, wounded inner child of the past is the major source of human misery.” Dr. John Bradshaw
    (But it doesn’t have to stay that way.)

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