Why is it that a child can be adopted by two loving people, grow up well nurtured and happy, only to then freak out when he is told that the two people he calls Mom and Dad aren’t biologically related to him?
Why is it so core shattering when humans learn that their biological parents left them or abandoned them on a doorstep when they were just infants? Why does that pain remain even when the abandoned babies are loved and cared for by adults who really want them?
Why is it that no other adult woman on the planet can crush you the way that your biological mother can? Why is the approval of your biological father worth so much more than the approval of your adopted father, boss, stepfather, grandfather, or any other male on the planet?
Why do the actions of biological parents have such a lifelong impact on children?
Why is it so hard to make peace with the fact that your biological parents will never be the people you wish they would be?
In the world of trauma counseling, biological parents come up over and over again as primary sources of angst and distress for suffering clients. Over the years I’ve had many clients who endured horrific forms of abuse from their biological parents. Yet despite decades of evidence that their parents either couldn’t or wouldn’t stop trashing them, my clients always found it extremely difficult to process the loss of those relationships and draw healthy boundaries. What is it about biological parents that makes them such powerful figures in our minds and causes us to be so deeply impacted by the way they treat us? After all, parents are just people, and all people are self-focused. The way parents manage their children has far more to do with their own internal state of being than it does with the children themselves. In real life, many people simply don’t have the resources to parent well. When parents beat the tar out of their kids,or sexually assault their kids, or emotionally suffocate their kids, or set impossible standards for their kids, they do so in response to their own internal problems.
Maybe your dad ran off the moment you were born. While that feels like an extremely personal rejection of you, in the mind of your father, it wasn’t personal at all. Newborn children are unknowns, but they symbolize the start of an immense amount of work and emotional engagement that many traumatized humans simply can’t deal with.
Maybe your mom sexually abused you. While that feels like rock solid evidence that you are some worthless piece of trash, in the mind of your mom, her actions really weren’t about you at all–they were driven by intense needs and fears that existed within her.
When you are the parent who is being abusive, or withholding affection, or trying to stay out of the home as much as possible, you feel that your actions are justified. You might feel moments of guilt, but the guilt will be trumped by needs and fears that you feel you must address for the sake of your own survival. So why is it that we can do every rotten thing to our own kids that our parents ever did to us and come up with all kinds of reasons why our actions are justified, yet at the same time still feel crippled by our parent’s treatment of us? What is it about biological parents that makes them so different than all other humans?
The Creator Pull
If you don’t currently believe in God, that’s fine, but you are still being immensely impacted by the concept of a Creator. It’s simply wired into you to feel intensely drawn towards any figure that seems responsible for your existence. As long as you view Zeus as some fictitious Roman character, you really won’t care much about him at all. But if you were to come to a point where you sincerely believed that Zeus personally created you, then suddenly your interest in him would drastically change. You would find yourself filled with strong expectations about what your Creator should and shouldn’t do, and you’d have very strong reactions to the ways Zeus seems to be interacting with you.
I counsel people on a wide variety of issues. When people come to me for help with spiritual concerns, they usually have a specific God who they are focused on, and it is the actions (or inaction) of that Deity that are really stressing them out. Before you meet the nonhuman Entity who created you, you don’t expect God to talk to you, and you don’t interpret your life experiences as evidence that your Creator is or isn’t pleased with you. But after you personally meet your Creator and after you learn that He is intimately involved in every aspect of your life, suddenly you are very upset by the concepts of God ignoring you or not liking you.
All humans have core needs that they can’t escape. We have physical needs, psychological needs, and spiritual needs. There is nothing you can do to escape your physical need to eat and sleep. There is nothing you can do to escape your psychological need to feel safe, and there is nothing you can do to escape your spiritual need for your existence to be significant. Humans simply aren’t designed to feel satisfied when they honestly believe that they are nothing more than forgettable blips in human history, or a random collision of cells that formed for no reason at all. We have a deep need for our lives to have a greater purpose–to mean something to someone other than us. When humans talk about wanting to be remembered, they are voicing this need. Interestingly, it’s not good enough to simply please ourselves in life–we also have a strong core need to feel that we’ve become significant to someone else as well. The more significant that someone else is in their own right, the more satisfied we feel by that someone else caring about us. Since God is so superior to humans, securing His interest in us brings us the most satisfaction of all.
I’ve had clients who are very depressed say to me, “If I died tomorrow, no one would even notice. Well, my boss might after a few days, but then she’d replace me and move on.” Why does it make our lives feel shriveled up and devoid of meaning if we can’t name anyone else who finds our existence personally significant? This fascinating need that we all have to be important in the eyes of someone else is built into us by a Creator who then uses that very need to draw us to Himself. But before He does, this God pull that exists within us all causes us to instinctively exalt the closest thing to a creator that we can find in this world: our biological parents.
You can’t get a human without an egg and sperm getting chummy with each other. You can’t grow a baby in your garden; you need a human womb. The mechanics of human reproduction make our biological parents seem like they literally create us, and it is their creator status that gives them such great significance in our minds. Our early life experience of being utterly dependent on our parents to feed, clothe and nurture us only intensifies the sense that they are playing a God-like role in our lives. But when we discover that the parents who seemed so godlike to us when we were young weren’t actually the ones who created us, an intense need to know our actual creators often wells up within us. The fact that so many adopted children become obsessed with knowing their biological parents, even when they learn that those parents left or rejected them, demonstrates how powerful this creator pull is. Your stepfather can be the nicest man in the world, but he’ll never have the creator pull of the man whose sperm actually triggered the biological formation of your body. Even if your biological father is a jerk and you greatly prefer the company of your stepfather, your biological father will always have that creator pull associated with him, and the existence of that pull will cause your biological father’s interactions with you to feel extra significant.
Why do you have certain mannerisms and preferences? Why do you have certain talents or certain health problems? Humans instinctively look to their biological parents for these answers. When a man becomes an alcoholic and his father was an alcoholic, people say, “Well, there you have it: like father, like son.” When an adopted woman finally tracks down her biological father and discovers that he also loves extra spicy foods, she thinks, “Now I understand why I am the way I am!” These kinds of conclusions demonstrate our innate understanding that who we are is intimately linked to whoever created us. At first, we credit our biological parents for that role, and so we exaggerate the importance of any commonalities we find between them and us. But should we then meet our actual Creator later on, our understanding of why we are the way we are changes quite a bit.
A Grand Misunderstanding
In real life human parents don’t have any control over who their children will be. It’s not like your biological father has a database of sperm attributes that he studied before deciding which one to send down the shoot the day he wanted to procreate. It’s not like your biological mother personally assembled the packages of chromosomes that exist in each of her eggs. Sure, sometimes we try to get some minute sense of control by medically screening for what we think are indications of certain diseases or undesirable qualities. But if we’re honest, we don’t really know what we’re doing because the whole affair is far too complicated for our limited minds to grasp.
Human conception is always a surprise when it happens: a happy one when we were trying for it, and an alarming one when we weren’t. Yet for every trait we share with our kids, there are many others that we don’t, so this theory that you got your personality from mom or dad is simply not true. For every child who seems a lot like one or both of his parents, there is another kid who feels like a total misfit in his family because he seems to be so different from everyone else. Yet despite so much evidence to the contrary, we stubbornly cling to the idea that our biological parents had a significant role in determining who we are, even when the truth is that our parents didn’t have any say at all. It is only your actual Creator–that nonhuman Entity who is commonly referred to as God–who personally and precisely assembled the complex combination of traits that is you. So it turns out that our gut instinct is right: someone did indeed create us, and whoever that was played a very significant role in determining who we would be. We just wrongly assume that it was our biological parents who played that role when it actually wasn’t a human at all.
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