The other day, a woman asked whether she should allow her son to visit with his father. “His father always promises to spend time with him but never shows up. Should I continue to let my son see him?” Without question, the answer is yes. A son who is disconnected from his father is more likely to struggle in life. A son who is close to his father—even if his father is inconsistent—is more likely to shine.
When you deny your son access to his father, he is likely to find an unconscious way to bond with him.
Often, he’ll adopt traits or repeat behaviors that are judged as negative in his father. In doing so, the son unwittingly weaves a subterranean thread that ties the two of them together. A son without his father can struggle with anxiety, depression, drugs, alcohol, lack of motivation, failed relationships and much more.
For these reasons alone, it’s essential to keep the door open to your son’s father. If you are a mom reading this, answer this question: “Are you willing to put aside feelings of hurt and anger if you knew it would help your son?” Doing so might not be easy, but it’s vital. In a fundamental way, you hold the key to your son’s happiness.
If you really want your son to thrive, help him get back to his father. It doesn’t matter how abysmal the relationship between the two of you was. What matters more is your son’s relationship with him. Your son is unlikely to make the journey to his father on his own. You are, like it or not, the lynchpin between them. When your son feels your permission and encouragement, he will go there.
Helping him strengthen his relationship with his father will not diminish the closeness you have with him. It will actually deepen it. Even if he cannot verbalize it, your son will be deeply appreciative of what you’re doing.
- Start telling him positive things about his father. It doesn’t matter how old your son is. He can be 15 or 45. It’s never too late for a boy to embrace his father. It also doesn’t matter if his dad is living, deceased, in love with another woman or sitting behind bars. If you can help your son embrace his father, you are serving his best interests.
- Tell your son how the two of you met and how his father won your heart. A positive image of the closeness you once shared with his father can inspire feelings of calm and wellbeing in your son. That very closeness was the source of your son’s life.
- Tell him about the qualities you admire most in his father and how those same qualities live in him. Specifically, say words like these: “You are creative and handsome, just like your father.” Pick traits that your son shares with him. If your son is intelligent or generous or witty like his father, let him know. Tell him: “I cherished those very qualities in your dad.” When you encourage your son to embrace what he inherits from his father, you validate him.
If he feels your authenticity, your son will begin to get curious about his dad. From there, a lot can happen. Most importantly, you will have taken an important step in setting your son on the road to a happier, healthier, more successful life.
Published in ELEPHANT JOURNAL, August 8, 2014
When you think of your mother, does your heart open with compassion or tighten with resentment? Do you allow yourself to feel her tenderness and care? The way you take in her love can be similar to how you experience love from a partner.
What’s unresolved with your parents doesn’t automatically disappear. It serves as a template that forges your later relationships. Maybe you‘ve experienced this with a partner. If you felt you didn’t get enough from your mother, perhaps you also feel that you don’t get “enough” from your partner. It’s a harsh reality, but it’s true more often than not.
The same holds true with your father. Your unresolved relationship with your father will also show up in your love life.
A woman, for example, who rejects her father, can repeat the fate of her mother by attracting a partner who behaves similarly to the father she rejects. In this way, she brings what she dislikes about her father back into her life. Not only that, but by reliving her mother’s experience, she joins her mother in her discontent.
A man who rejects his father might not have the resources to commit to his partner. Let’s say he was extremely close with his mother and not so close with his father—a very common dynamic for many men. A man in this situation is likely to experience resistance when he bonds with his partner. He might find himself shutting down emotionally or physically, fearing that his partner, like his mother, will want or need too much from him. The remedy is a closer bond with his father.
Conversely, a woman who’s closer to her father than her mother is likely to feel unsatisfied with the partners she selects. The root of the problem is not them. It is the distance she feels toward her mother. A woman’s relationship with her mother can be an indicator of a how fulfilling her relationship will be with her partner.
Rejecting our parents only brings us suffering. The emotions, traits and behaviors we reject in our parents often live on in us. It’s our unconscious way of loving them, a way to bring them back into our lives. Even our bodies will feel some degree of unrest until our parents are experienced inside us in a loving way.
Thich Nhat Hanh teaches that when you’re angry with your parents, “You get angry with yourself. Suppose the plant of corn got angry at the grain of corn.” He tells us: “If we’re angry with our father or mother, we have to breathe in and out and find reconciliation. This is the only path to happiness.”
It makes no difference whether your parents are living or deceased. If you want peace in your love life, you must be at peace with your parents. Family Constellations can make this possible. This effective, three-dimensional process can help you disentangle from old feelings and patterns that complicate your life. If you’re ready to open the door to healing with your parents, click here for more information about an upcoming workshop in your city.
Published in ELEPHANT JOURNAL, February 25, 2013
I recently wrote an article about relationships that spawned a lot of discussion on the internet. In the article, I stated that having a good relationship with our same-sexed parent is essential for having a good relationship with a partner. As I read people’s comments, I could feel the pain that this brought up in those who have experienced challenging relationships with their parents.
Some people feared that potential partners might not be interested in them because they didn’t have good relationships with their parents. Others wondered how to make peace with their parents from whom they were distant. Other people commented that their parents left when they were very young. Others mentioned that they felt mistreated by their parents and, in their pain and sadness, had cut the relationship off completely. Several people were concerned that, without a close bond with their parents, their relationship future would be grim.
We can certainly have loving relationships without being close with our parents. However, if we’re experiencing patterns of pain and suffering, we have to ask: Are we carrying unresolved pain from the past and projecting it into our current relationships? Are we projecting feelings that our partner isn’t adequately taking care of us, not sufficiently loving or supporting us, the way we felt when we were small? Did we go so far as to make the decision to cut off from our parents because the pain felt unbearable, only to discover that our projections intensified?
Even when our outer relationship with our parents is distant or non-existent, our inner relationship with them continues to evolve. That being said, cutting off is rarely a viable solution. It actually protracts the problem. In cutting off from our parents, we cut off from a part of ourselves. When we negate them inside of us, the qualities we view as negative in them often express in us unconsciously. If, for example, we experienced our parents as cold or critical or aggressive, we can experience ourselves as cold, self-critical and even inwardly aggressive—the very qualities we reject in them.
The answer is to find some way to bring our parents into our hearts, and to bring the qualities we reject in them (and in us) into awareness. There, we have the chance to transform something difficult into something that can bring us strength. By developing a relationship with the painful parts of ourselves—parts we have often inherited from our family—we have an opportunity to shift them. Qualities like cruelty can become the source of our kindness; our judgments can turn the wheels of our compassion.
Does this mean that we jump back into a destructive relationship with our parents? Absolutely not. Not while the old triggers are still igniting explosions inside us. The goal is to be able to receive something internally from our parents. This can happen even if they have passed on, sit in jail or tread in a sea of pain. Is there one memory, a good intention, a tender image, the clarity of understanding, something nurturing, something that authentically opens a place inside of us? Letting ourselves take this in, even if there is only a small opening, can shift the old images we carry and can even begin to change our outer relationship with our parents. You can’t change what was, but you can change what is, as long as you don’t expect your parents to change or be any different than who they are. It is you who must hold the relationship differently. That’s your work. Not your parent’s work. The question is: are you willing?
Sometimes, it helps to know what happened in your family that made your parents hurt so much. What sat behind the distance, criticism or aggression in the first place? Traumatic events in your family forge residues that can pass down. Our parents are often the recipients of these residues. So are we. Knowing these events can open the door to understanding their pain, as well as our own. When we know the traumatic events that contributed to our parents’ pain, our understanding and compassion can begin to overshadow the old hurts.
Reconciliation is an internal movement. Our relationship with our parents is not dependent on what they do, how they are or how they respond. It’s what we do. The change occurs in us. In our strength and integrity, we need to open the door. Sometimes just a sentence like “Mom, Dad, I’m sorry that I was distant and pulled away” can open something in us that surprises us.
Rejecting our parents only brings us unhappiness and suffering. Thich Nhat Hanh teaches that when you’re angry with your parents, “You get angry with yourself. Suppose the plant of corn got angry at the grain of corn.” He tells us: “If we’re angry with our father or mother, we have to breathe in and out and find reconciliation. This is the only path to happiness.”
Ultimately, self-awareness and taking responsibility for our projections are essential for having healthy relationships. A good bond with our parents is only one ingredient in the larger framework. Equally important is our ability to have good boundaries, to be able to decipher our body’s sensations, to know when we need to take breathing space, to know how to self-soothe, etc. These skills, however, can become compromised when we have rejected our parents. That being said, it is essential that we continue to do our personal work. If we really want peace in our lives, being at peace with our parents is an integral part of the solution.
For over two decades, I have worked with men and women from around the world to help them improve their relationships. I have noticed a common thread of unhappiness and disappointment throughout, a mélange of musical partners and dead end relationships—patterns which can be avoided once we understand the hidden dynamics operating behind the scenes. Let me start by telling you about Trent.
Trent was ready to foreclose on love. All of his relationships had been short-lived. None had lasted more than a year and he no longer trusted in his ability to make good choices. The women he chose fell into one of two categories: the “chronically dissatisfied” or the “Damsels in Distress”— the ones he felt he needed to save.
In the first category, the women seemed to come equipped with old anger brought forward from the past. No matter how giving or loving Trent would be, their anger often seemed to explode in his direction. “You never give me enough.” “You never see me.” “You never reassure me. “You never….” The accusations were relentless and often seemed to be unrelated to Trent’s behavior.
Reject Your Parent, Reject Your Partner
These particular women, Trent later learned, felt that they had never received enough from their mothers. Believing they had been short-changed by the one person who was responsible for caring for them when they were small, these women projected a feeling of deprivation onto their partner, the next person in line to care for them. Their complaints about each “love gone wrong” all shared a similar quality: “He didn’t give me what I needed. He never gave me the love I deserved.” The more they clung to this early feeling, the less likely they could see their partner for who he really was and for what he was truly able to give.
The women in the second category felt very familiar to Trent. He could rescue them from their deepest pain. He could understand their hidden needs. He could read between the blurred lines of their desires and their dislikes. In the initial months of the relationship, Trent would feel inflated like a hero. A champion of love. That is, until his feelings disappeared and his heart felt like a block of cement.
As a boy, Trent would try to ease his mother’s unhappiness. For as long as he could remember, his mother was sad and lonely. Unhappy with the love she received from her own mother, she was equally unhappy with the love she received from her husband. Trent’s father could do no right in her eyes and, eventually, with all of his attempts to please her thwarted, he began spending more time away from home. From a young boy’s perspective, Mom was alone and Dad was absent. That’s when Trent, sensing a hole that needed to be filled, dove in. He was a good boy, sensitive and caring, the perfect rescuer—skills he would employ in later relationships. He would give his mother what his father could not, and imagined that his love made her happy. Trent became the gleam in his mother’s eyes. He became her raison d’être.
Overwhelmed Children Can Become Overwhelmed Partners
While it felt good to try to make his mom happy when he was young, it became burdensome as he grew older. He realized that he could never give her what she needed. He could never fully take her pain away. It had been a fruitless undertaking. A parent’s role is to give to a child; a child’s role is to receive from a parent. When this order is reversed, a child can struggle in later relationships. This was the case with Trent.
Feeling responsible for making his mother happy drained Trent emotionally. Her love felt inundating. Her needs overwhelmed him. That same feeling pervaded his later relationships. Confusing the needs of his partners with the needs of his mother, Trent found himself shutting down without understanding why. The natural wants and desires of his partners felt like a cascading torrent of demands. His body would tighten to the degree that he would say yes when he meant no and no when he meant yes. When Trent’s relationships reached this point, they rarely lasted very long.
Trent’s early dynamic with his mother caused great suffering in his relationships. His baffling shutdowns and rapid departures were destructive forces that both embittered him and enraged his partners. Intimacy and longevity with Trent didn’t stand a chance.
Choosing unhappy women he felt he could save, Trent would initially be the hero, only to become the villain by leaving the women who loved him. Having hurt several partners, and numbing himself one too many times, Trent finally took time off from his relationship pain and put time into understanding his relationship patterns.
Breathing Can Clarify Your Feelings
In taking time for himself, he learned to set an inner boundary with his mother. In his mind’s eye, he visualized standing far enough away from her where he could relax enough to feel his breath filling his body. With his breath flowing, he could feel the emotions and physical sensations that gave him cues to know what he wanted and what he didn’t want. In time, he was able to differentiate between his desires for closeness and sensations that alerted him that he needed to step back and integrate what he was experiencing.
At the same time he distanced from his mother internally, he maintained a warm connection with her externally. Instead of continuing the pattern of giving to her, he was now able to receive from her. He could take in her love without having to give anything back.
Bonding with the Same-Sexed Parent Can Strengthen Your Relationship
Trent also developed a deeper bond with his father. As a boy, he often witnessed his mother ridicule his father. Not only was it painful to watch, Trent felt he didn’t have his mother’s permission to love him. He couldn’t love them both. Were he to openly love his father, Trent felt he would secretly betray his mother.
His feelings for his father were also obscured by the fact that his mother preferred his company to his father’s. Trent stood in his father’s place as his mother’s emotional partner. Feeling responsible for her emotional needs, Trent had little option to stand anywhere else. It was as though his father had been shoved behind a curtain where Trent had no access to him without his mother pointing the way.
In getting close with his father, Trent discovered what a great guy he was. It was shocking to learn that his father had always been there waiting for Trent to come to him. Trent just couldn’t get to him, and his father had no way to pierce the dynamic that separated them.
The experience of reconnecting with his father was extraordinary. With his father at his back, Trent felt as though he was tapping into an endless source of strength and masculinity. Eventually, it changed the way Trent felt about himself. He now felt ready to resume looking for a partner. But he had questions.
After understanding the dynamics of his own childhood confusion, Trent wondered what sat on the other side for women. If a close relationship with his father was crucial for his ability to bond with a woman, what kind of relationship would a woman need to have with her parents so that she could have the best chance of succeeding with a partner?
What type of woman would make a good partner?
Here’s the bottom line: Look for a woman who can receive her mother’s love. If she has remained trusting and vulnerable to her mother’s love, if she delights in receiving her mother’s tenderness and care, she will receive similarly from you. Your relationship will also be strengthened if her mother and father—whether they stayed together or not—demonstrated care and respect for one another. Now let’s turn the tables.
What type of man would make a good partner?
Here’s the bottom line: Look for a man who reveres his father. If he credits his father for being his role model, guiding him through life’s challenges, you’re in good hands. A man who admires his father often wants to emulate what he admires most in him. Choose a man who feels loved and supported by both parents, yet sees himself as being a bit more aligned with his father. If he was his mother’s emotional partner, and was distant with his father, don’t expect an easy road ahead.
If he attempted to satisfy his mother’s unmet needs and supply her with what she felt she couldn’t get from her husband, proceed cautiously. This man is likely to have difficulty appreciating your needs. Fearing that you will want too much from him, the way his mother did, he is likely to put his guard up by shutting down physically or emotionally when he feels he’s getting too close to you.
Our partner’s relationship with his or her parents can be a trusted indicator of how frustrating or fulfilling our relationship can be. If there’s one takeaway, it would be this: A solid bond with the same-sexed parent can be insurance that your relationship will endure. With this principle as your guiding light, you now hold an essential piece of the relationship puzzle and can be more prepared when it’s time to pick your life partner.
Published in ELEPHANT JOURNAL, August 3, 2013
Do symptoms restrict your life? Or are they guiding you to expand it? Through symptoms, an illness can communicate to us what’s missing or what needs to be integrated into our lives. Symptoms can mimic or recreate some facet of a trauma or guilt that has never fully resolved, or a step we missed or never fully completed. Through symptoms, we are often forced to face a feeling or a situation we had been reluctant to confront. When we listen to the language of illness in this way, we can take an action and undertake what is being asked of us.
Do you feel that you got what you needed from your mother? Do you feel that you get what you need from life? The two can be interrelated. When we feel nurtured and supported by our mothers, we often feel nurtured and supported in life. Conversely, when we feel that our mothers couldn’t give us what we needed, we often feel shortchanged by life. If we didn’t feel safe or supported early on, as adults, we can experience life—the food we eat, the environment we live in, the relationships we have—as being unsupportive and unsafe.
Focusing on what we didn’t get can bring us even more suffering and unhappiness. We can’t change what was, but we can change what is. A new relationship with our mother is possible, even if she has passed away. If she is alive, however, there is one cardinal rule: Don’t expect her to change or be any different than who she is. It is you who must hold the relationship differently. You can receive something good from her, even if there is only a small opening. Honor her by giving yourself the things she couldn’t give. To see you expand in life is a great gift to her.
Here is something you can do tonight. Place a photo of your mother on your nightstand or tape it on the wall above your pillow. Ask her to hold you while you sleep. As you lie in bed, feel her there behind you. Visualize her love like a current of energy supporting you, giving you strength. Ask her, “Mom, please teach me how to trust your love. Please teach me how to receive.” Then, open your heart and take it in. Fully take it in. This would be the greatest gift you can give her. When you fully take what your mother gives, she becomes full. She feels complete, and you feel complete.