The feelings we hold about our parents are a doorway into ourselves. They are also a doorway into the four unconscious themes introduced in article, helping us to pinpoint which ones are operating in our lives. In this article, you will be asked to describe your biological mother and father. In doing so, let yourself be free with your responses. As you move through the following exercises, you are likely to discover more about yourself than about your parents. If you’ve never met your biological parents, proceed to the next article. Describe Your Mother Take a moment to describe your mother when you were growing up. What was she like? What adjectives or phrases instantly come to mind? Was she warm? Loving? Cold? Distant? Happy? Sad? Did she hug you a lot or rarely hug you? Grab your notebook and write down your first thoughts, the first words that come to mind. Written Exercise #3: Describing Your Mother My mother was . . . Also, write down what you blame her for. I blame my mother for . . . Write everything down. Don’t do this in your head. It’s essential that you write down the words as they come to you. Describe Your Father Now do the same thing for your father. How would you describe him? Was he kind? Easygoing? Harsh? Critical? Was he involved or not involved? Write everything down. Resist the impulse to edit. Written Exercise #4: Describing Your Father My father was . . . Also write down what you blame him for. I blame my father for . . . Written Exercise #5: Describing Your Partner, Close Friend, or Boss My partner, close friend, or boss is . . . I blame him/her for . . . While you’re in the flow, you might even want to describe your romantic partner if you have one, or a close friend, or even your boss. Now let’s take a look at what has just been revealed in your writing. I call these spontaneous, “off the cuff” adjectives and phrases core descriptors. These descriptors are a doorway into our unconscious feelings. They can reveal feelings about our parents that we might not even be aware we hold. Writing down an impromptu list of adjectives and phrases gives us the opportunity to bypass the adult-rationalized, refined version of our childhood story. In this writing, our true attitudes can emerge devoid of the usual filters and censors. This list can put us in touch with unconscious loyalties and alliances we share with our parents. What’s more, it can reveal how we have rejected one or both of our parents, or how we have adopted the very behaviors we judge as negative in them. These descriptors don’t lie, because they come from an inner image we carry, an image we formed long ago, perhaps to protect ourselves from feeling hurt. When we were small, our bodies functioned as recorders chronicling the information we took in and storing it as feeling states. The adjectives take us back into these feeling states and the images that accompany them. The adjectives are significant, because they highlight old images that prevent us from moving forward. Many of us hold images that are painful, images of our parents not giving us enough, images of not getting what we needed. Unchecked, these inner images can direct the course of our lives, forming a blueprint for how our lives will continue. These images are also incomplete. An essential truth is missing. What traumatic events lurk behind these images that were powerful enough to derail the flow of love in our family? Now look at the words you’ve written. Are there resentments you still hold toward your parents? Are there accusations? If so, you may already have experienced that the very complaints you hold against your parents are the same complaints that you experience with your partner or with a close friend. Often, our discontent toward our parents gets projected onto our partner or shows up in our close friendships. What is unresolved with our parents does not automatically disappear. It serves as a template that forges our later relationships. If we had a difficult relationship with our parents, our core descriptors will expose the resentments we’re still harboring. When we’re resentful, it erodes our inner peace. Those of us who feel that we didn’t receive enough from our parents, especially from our mothers, often feel that we don’t receive enough from life. When we’ve had a close relationship with our parents, our core descriptors reveal the warmth and compassion we feel toward them. When we feel positive toward our parents, we tend to feel positive about life, and trust that good things will continue to come our way. Sometimes our core descriptors reveal mixed feelings. In most cases, people hold disparate feelings toward their parents, yet one theme or essential thread of core language often stands out as unresolved. And this is what we’re looking for. For some of us, the actions of our parents are still felt as personal attacks or rejections. Look at the way these two sisters, each with different childhood experiences, describe their mother: FIRST SISTER: “Lonely, sad, frustrated, strict, violent; she had a bad temper.” SECOND SISTER: “Cruel, vindictive, and emotionally abusive.” In the words of the first sister, the description of the mother is merely stated as a truth. In the second sister’s description, her pain has not been resolved, and is still carried in the form of blame and judgments toward her mother. To this sister, the actions of the mother are felt as intentionally directed toward her. She feels singled out, whereas the first sister is stating facts. A mother can be violent and have a bad temper, and we can still be at peace with her. The second sister, who sees her mother as intentionally cruel, is clearly not at peace with her mother. One can only imagine how differently the two sisters experienced life. Although they shared the same mother, each sister carried a personal version of that mother inside her. The second sister experienced her life as cruel and abusive. She felt emotionally drained and unsupported and was alone much of the time. Sometimes we’re able to feel love for one parent and not the other. Kim, who preferred her father to her mother, complained that her mother was “infantile, like a little girl. I could never count on her for anything.” In contrast, her core descriptors about her father were glowing: “Dad was wonderful. We did everything together. I could always go to him for comfort and care. He should’ve left my mother a long time ago. He never got the love he needed from her.” Beneath the surface of Kim’s resentment toward her mother surged a sea of hurt. Add to that the feeling of betrayal in wishing that her mother would be left by her father. Kim’s emptiness and disconnectedness permeated her core language. When we pit one parent against the other, we go against the source of our own existence, and unconsciously create a rift inside ourselves. We forget that half of us comes from our mother and half from our father. Kim’s resentment served only to fuel her self-loathing and inner unrest. It was a prison from which her only escape was self-awareness. Many of us have become fixated on something we believe our parents have done to us that has spoiled our lives. We have allowed these memories, whether accurate or distorted, to override the good things that our parents gave to us. Parents, in the course of being parents, inadvertently cause their children pain. It’s inevitable. The problem is not what our parents have done to us; the problem is how we’re still holding on to it. Generally, when our parents caused us harm, it was unintentional. All of us feel that there are things we didn’t get from our parents. But being at peace with our parents means that we are at peace with what we did receive as well as what we did not receive. When we hold what was given in this light, we can gain strength from our parents, who, even if they couldn’t always show it, wanted only the best for us.