Painful memories are, not surprisingly, difficult to deal with sometimes for decades after the event. What is sometimes surprising even to us is that good memories are also difficult to deal with. Why? Because they force us to face the ambivalence we feel toward those who hurt us.
My parents, as my abusers, hurt me terribly. However, not everything they did was bad. They made sure I got the music lessons that I loved. They were there at every performance. I lived in a beautiful, comfortable home and wore fashionable clothes. They provided a college education for me at a good school and made sure I could focus on studying without having to work. I remember some fun times with them in which we laughed and just, generally, had a good time. Then there are the times with my father that I look back on now and wonder if they were more sexually charged for him than I suspected at the time.
How do I deal with it all? With difficulty. The mix of memories forces me to think of my parents as people who, I think, loved me, but were terribly flawed. Their sickness and awful choices cannot be excused. Before I remembered the abuse, I had them on a pedestal; I, wrongly, thought they were the best parents anyone could ever have. I must accept that they were neither black nor white, but gray, which is a much more difficult way of seeing them.
Remembering the good times won’t allow me to hate them, especially when I consider how very flawed I am. No, I have never abused my children, but I have hurt them in others ways that they’ve struggled with. If you put the mistakes I’ve made on a weighing scale against the mistakes my parents have made, from our human point of view, the scale is extremely unbalanced. But if I put the good things they did for me against the bad things they did, the scale balances just a tiny bit evenly. It’s not completely one-sided.
Sometimes we don’t want to remember the good times, because we think it means we have to say that what they did was OK. That’s not true! Recognizing the good simply means we’re being realistic. It’s confusing. It’s tough to wrap our minds around. Some people even refuse to admit that there was any good. However, no human being is 100% evil or 100% good. Accepting that our parents were terribly flawed human beings who also did some good things is a sign of maturity. It takes someone who has experienced considerable personal growth to understand and accept the ambivalence we feel for our parents. It takes none of the evil away from what they did; it simply puts it into its uncomfortable, but realistic, place.