“They Did the BEST They Could” (Part 1)

they did the best... 

but they were hurting too, poor things!

PREVIOUS: Results of abuse – #2

REMINDER: See ACRONYM Page for abbrev.


1. GENERALLY: This is a phrase I’ve heard over the years, & it always makes me mad.
You may at first think this post is harsh or unfair, BUT please remember that everything our parents were  – WE internalized into our Negative Introject.  As long as we deny how harmful their actions were toward us – we will continue doing the same to ourselves, mistreat others AND be mistreated as well! (see posts on ‘The Introject’ andSelf-hate’).

How is this phrase usually meant? It refers to our parents & family – that no matter how badly they may everything's OK ??have acted, to each other & us, over the years – it was the ‘best’ they could manage.
It implies that they :
• used all possible resources to cope
• could NOT have done any better
• meant well, even if they didn’t show it
• really tried, in spite of falling short
• didn’t have any other options …etc.

In most of our families NONE of these are true – OR if true in part, it was a very small part – not enough to help us!

a. THEM: This phrase is usually said by adults, about their parents – but only by people who had painful childhoods! You won’t hear a happy, well-adjusted person needing to even think this, much less say it!
The BEST they could? If our parents were verbally cold, cruel & insensitive, narcissistic, neglectful, not comforting, controlling, drunk, demanding, abusive, addicts, raging….  That was the BEST they could Do? Really?

NO. The most we could say is that they:
did what was done to them. Yes, but they never bothered to change. One mother, when confronted, kept saying – “But there weren’t any books about this stuff when you were little”! Except the daughter knew mom never bothered with anything deep, ever. She only read ‘Readers Digest” & watched soap operas! And there were some books, & people she could have asked to help. But she ‘was never wrong’!
did what any addict would  (not just alcohol, but also food, shopping, raging, gambling, exercise, TV, sports, religion…) – everything possible to not deal with their responsibilities & emotions

chose the ‘easiest way out’,  just didn’t care enough to bother, or were self-righteous about their parenting style (“Spare the rod, spoil the child”) – anything to not take to look at themselves & the effect they had on their children & others
refused to get whatever help that was available to them (for expl, AA & NO to helpAl-Anon have been around for over 50 yrs).  One mother admitted she wouldn’t be caught dead going to a therapist. Another was begged repeatedly by her daughter to go to Al-anon, but always blatantly refused
were neglectful – some of us had a parent with a genuine mental illness – but others in the family denied the problem & did little or nothing to seek out solutions, if not for the sick adult, then at least for the kids

b. US: On the surface, when an ACoAs says this phrase we mean the ‘General’ qualities listed above  (from our denial).  Underneath that, we are really saying that we :
• can’t afford, emotionally & mentally, to admit how badly we were treated
• still believe we caused or at least deserved the hurtful, neglecting things they did / didn’t  do
• “understand” why they acted that way, intellectually – so we don’t have to FEEL the hurt, sadness, frustration, rage, disappointment….

—–> And here’s the kicker:  we’re saying that – since they did the best they could – we can’t possibly be angry at them! Saying that we forgive them is actually our way of exonerate them.  OK, so what’s wrong with that?   Yes, it is the ultimate goal of mental health to let go of our anger, detach with love – or indifference, forgive, outgrow our need for them… BUT,

i. The PROBLEM: We want to do that without going thru the process of healing! (See Process’)repetition compulsion
• Most of our parents may not have been evil – although some definitely were, & some things done to us are unforgivable – but we still have to identify exactly what went on in our family system, in order to stop copying it as adults (Freud’s Repetition Compulsion)

• In some cases, talking to parents about what we remember & the after-effects, can be useful – even if they deny our experiences (in Part 2). It can help us stop pretending it was all OK. On the other hand, it can be frustrating if we’re not prepared.
EXP:  After may years of recovery, one woman sat at the kitchen table for 2 hrs, calmly telling her narcissistic mother what she has learned about her childhood.  At the end the mother’s only comment was: “So what you’re telling me is that I should never have been a mother”. “Yes” responded the daughter, unfazed & without guilt. Then they went about making dinner! WOW

• However, in most cases it’s an absolute waste of time to ‘have it out’, ‘confront them’, ‘tell them off’ or even explain things to them.  They won’t get it, & they may even hurt us more by their reactions.

➼ What’s really crucial is our motivation. WHY do we want to talk to them?  Usually it’s because the  WIC want to do the impossible – change them, get them ‘to see’, force them to admit their culpability….

NEXT: “They did the best they could” (Part 2)


5 thoughts on ““They Did the BEST They Could” (Part 1)

  1. I see a lot of my late teens – early 20’s behavior in this. Had I access to such concise, but pertinent info, such as this in my late 20’s at least, surely my healing process/progress/recovery would have been shortened by at least a half-decade.

  2. I feel incredibly validated by what you have written. I have been trying to express this exact rationale to my sister for almost forty years. Thank you.

    • Jools, Me tooo! I keep a copy of it handy for when I need it with certain people – so I don’t have to remember all the points by heart 🙂 PS. I’ve just cut this post into 2 parts, with a little added at the end of Part 2.

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