Criticism isn’t always about you, even if it’s directed at you. Sometimes a deeply wounded person lashes out at us as if we are the person who hurt them in the past. This is especially true of people who struggle with the way they were parented as children. If you’ve ever had criticisms lobbed at you like, “You’re just like my father!” or, “You’re just like my mother!” don’t respond. It’s not about you—it’s about one or more of the following issues.
Unhealed wounds from unresolved trauma. It’s fairly common for people to have one parent or caregiver who did not provide enough, or consistent, emotional or physical care. The absence of healthy intimacy in childhood can cause trust issues to blossom in adults. So can any experience of loss related to a traumatic event, particularly in childhood, like the loss of a parent through death or divorce. But that’s not an excuse. It’s an obligation to pursue intensive self-healing through psychotherapy and other proven methods.
Avoid time travelers. A person who accuses you of being like one of their parents is disconnected from the present moment. He or she is living in the past. In other words, that individual is no longer, say, a 40-year-old woman, but has shrunk to the emotional age of her brokenness without realizing it. Don’t play the role she is auditioning you to play.
Own your authority. It follows that someone who is stuck emotionally as a child or a teenager will interact with you as if you are an adult trying to control behavior or attitudes. If you’re being blamed or shamed by this person, don’t respond. Remember, he or she is showing you who they are behind the mask most people see. Stay silent. Be compassionate. This individual has failed to own his or her own authority and is suffering the result. Embody your own authority. Take care of yourself by withdrawing from the chaos as soon as possible.
In truth we trust. You might be tempted to minimize the very real interpersonal drama sparked by the accusation of: “You’re like my mom (or dad).” You might be swayed to justify this individual’s trust issues: His mother cheated on his father and that messed with his head. Or: Her last four boyfriends cheated on her, so of course she doesn’t trust me. Look at the problem another way. Trauma and loss is awful. And yes, it can cause a person to hesitate before trusting others. But honesty is the vitamin that builds the trust muscle. Until this person is honest enough to admit you are you and not his parent, no change is possible. And only when they stop recreating trauma and loss will they heal.
When someone levels a crazy accusation at you, don’t give it weight. Notice their suffering. Say a prayer for that person. Acknowledge to yourself the damage created when someone has not processed pain, and projects that mess on to others. Then reflect on your own behavior. Tidy your emotional life. Process your personal history so you don’t project it on to others.