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Learning to love Parents who reject their child

October 13, 2012

Even if someone I have helped
And of whom I had great hopes
Nevertheless harms me intentionally
May I see him as my holy spiritual guide

A friend of mine is facing a terrible crisis in their family. The parents of my friend have effectively disowned one of their siblings since that person came out to them as being gay. For nearly a decade this has meant family gatherings have always included a heavy silence where the life and loves of a certain person may not be named. Over time this eroded the relationship of my friend with their parents.

Communication became increasingly narrow and banal as a seemingly ever growing number of subjects became ‘off limits’ and naturally resentment and un-expressed hurt and anger built up. Finally my friend decided the only thing to do was break the silence and raise these topics and feelings directly, to try and talk them through and re-establish a proper meaningful relationship. Sadly this failed, with the parents becoming more deeply entrenched in their views, expressing them more forcefully and painfully then ever. The result has been a complete break down of communication.

A first analysis of “the problem”

One evening recently I met up with my friend and was very sad to see how angry and upset they were. They are Buddhist, so you might expect that they had found particular solace and refuge in Buddha’s special and specific advice on how to love your mother. (See here for an example: The kindness of others). This was not the case, they saw it as, “running away from reality”. Here’s a snippet from our conversation:

Friend: I can’t see my mother as kind, and I certainly don’t feel any love for her right now.

Me: Do you want to change that? Would you like to love her?

Friend: No. Not if loving her means accepting her behavior and just carrying on like everything is ok. I can’t do it, she has to stop and that includes bullying me into silence. If I go back to them it will just carry on and I can’t let them get away with this any more.

Me: I don’t think loving them has to mean falling back into those behaviors. I don’t even think it has to mean talking to them.

Friend: Yea, so it’s just me going, “everything’s alright” and carrying on like nothing’s happened. But it has happened and I do feel angry and hurt, and I don’t want to replace that truth with a nice feeling lie of, “But I love them”…

And so we began to look deeper. My poor friend, often breaking down in tears as we spoke.

It was clear that this brand of “honesty” they clung to wasn’t healing or particularly helpful, so we began to explore what it meant. But how to begin healing without being dishonest and pretending everything is ok?

The problem according to Buddha

As we talked we began to think about something Geshe Kelsang Gyatso teaches in How to Solve our human problems. In that book, Geshe-la (as he is known) explores the analogy of a broken down car. He says, Normally when our car breaks down we say, “I have a problem” – but in fact it is the car which has a problem. We, or I, on the other hand have a choice, and our choice is how we deal with the fact of our car having a problem.

If we get angry, then we have a problem too. but if we chose to practice patience only the car has a problem.

My friend and I could see a parallel.

Geshe-la goes on to explain that anger necessarily has a distorting effect on reality. Things always seem worse and our choices, the possible solutions we can see, are fewer when we are angry. Patience helps us stay calm and see clearly all the options. Recognizing this, my friend began to doubt how “honest and true” their anger was. If getting angry with something as mundane as a car distorts reality, then what on earth would it do to something as subtle and complex as the view of our own parents?

Perhaps the anger isn’t justified

Everyone knows to solve a problem you first need to know what it is. And for the first time we now recognized we had two problems:
1. The parents rejection of their gay child
2. The anger in my friends mind

Recognizing the anger problem and understanding how anger distorts reality it now became clear that part of the solution had to be abandoning anger.

For the first time that evening my friend began to feel more positive and even empowered, the anger was in their control to solve! This also meant acknowledging that despite appearances, it was not caused by the the parent’s behavior. (I hope to write a little more in the future about the fallacious relationship we normally see between what happens and our experience of it). Whats more, the anger was actually making it more difficult to find any resolution to the first problem.

A way forward

For the first time in a long time my friend felt hope return to their heart. It was true that for now there may be nothing that can be done to change the parent’s behavior, but by removing anger from their own mind it would be possible to see the situation much more clearly and therefore find solutions. The anger was serving no useful purpose, it wasn’t after all an honest acknowledgement of the truth, in fact it was no doubt distorting the truth.

What was true was that my friend was angry AND the parents had cut off their gay child – two separate things. By honestly acknowledging that and exploring the nature and effect of the angry mind it was possible to begin to apply Buddha’s teachings on how to overcome it (which I will discuss in a future post). This experience was also important because by finding that Dharma (Buddha’s teachings) were in fact relevant to this problem, they no longer felt alone in totally un-known territory, but had the map and compass of centuries of experience and teaching to guide them, and the support of many friends also trying to follow the same path (Sangha).

Being honest with ourself

At the core of Buddhist practice is the injunction to know your own mind. We discovered that it was not abandoning anger which would have been inauthentic, but pretending that anger didn’t exist. Because with that denial it would be impossible to properly understand the “two problems” and therefore to begin effectively to tackle them.

It’s still early days, but I am happy to report that since this conversation the anger is diminishing and gradually my friend’s natural love and compassion is being allowed to express itself. As we have seen throughout history, it is only love and understanding which can heal relationships. But more on that next time 🙂

From → Relationships

  1. I empathise with your friend. Parents can be difficult to deal with! Anger does cloud our mind though, making it difficult to see the truth behind the delusion. If we are honestly working with our mind, then some space can be beneficial, allowing love to grow in our heats again.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Learning to Love Abusive Parents, part 2 « Heart of Compassion

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