How to relate with immature parents without overreacting emotionally?

One my of client commented once, “I doubt the saying that all parents love their children and they will always be available for me emotionally.”  This client has a mother with narcissistic personality traits and a father with borderline personality traits.  Throughout her childhood, she did not receive adequate care both physically and emotionally by her parents.  She was taken care by her grandparents and her own parents were absent most of the time.  She rarely felt the love and care by her parents.  In her case, it is definitely that both of her parents were inadequate in loving her and meeting her emotional needs.  As a result, she felt resentful to them and had difficulty in relating with them in her adulthood.  However, she felt guilty for not being able to relate with them well as they were getting old.  Her ambivalence towards them was a torture for her contributing her to have constant self-criticism of not being a good daughter.  How can this client relate with her immature parents without overreacting when they irritated her through their limitations?

It is beyond dispute that most people think all parents love their children and are emotionally available for them no matter what.  As a result, my client still held unrealistic expectation towards her parents in her adulthood.  Whenever she had dinner with them, she felt angry at them for being unable to be empathetic and understanding on her hardship and difficulties in life.  She even felt very upset about their tendency to dominate the conversation in order to fulfill their own needs.  She felt being used by them most of the time and did not feel being loved by them.  She stated that, “Every dinner with them is a torture for me.” 

The underlying reason for my client to feel tortured in having dinner with them is that she still held fantasies about her parents would change one day and they could give the love and emotionally support she needed.  In fact, every encounter with them was a disappointment that there was such a discrepancy between her expectation and the reality.  Therefore, she needs to realise that in order to relate with her immature parents, she needed to let go of her unrealistic expectation.  By letting go of any expectation for love and emotionally support, my client may start a new way of relating with her parents through detaching herself and taking an observer stand in gatherings. 

It is important for my client to take an observational role with mindfulness and groundedness whenever she met her parents.  She needed to observe their behaviors and reactions without being hooked emotionally by them.  As a result, she could avoid overreacting to them emotionally when they had said something irritating or hurting.  For instance, in the dinner, my client could observe the facial expression of her parents, their body language when communication and the message behind their expression.  With this observer stand, my client could be more detached and avoid overreacting to their hurtful comments or manipulative expression.  In this way, my client could also assess the maturity level of her parents and understand that they might be unable to provide what she needed in reality.

It is common for these immature parents to irritate and hurt their children in many encounters.  Thus, my client needed calm down herself and to be grounded again when being irritated or hurt by her parents.  She could learn how to observe her own internal reactions, such as bodily sensations or feeling tone, when relating with her parents.  Whenever she felt she was irritated or hurt, she could ground herself by embracing these internal reactions and suspending any overreaction towards her parents.

Being detached and observational is important for someone who wanted to relate neutrally with their immature parents.  Without clinging into the unrealistic expectation of being loved and emotionally supported by them, ones can be freed from being a helpless child who constantly feeling angry and hurt.

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