A while back in a post entitled, “I Think I’m Me,” I discussed ways in which we are hurt by our family’s inability to see us and give us what we feel we need. If we can get past the unskillful delivery of what they did provide, however, we can receive some of the benefit they were intending to offer us. Even if it never seemed like they were attempting to offer anything positive at all.
An excellent example of this came up in a recent session with my client Raul. He mentioned a conversation he had just tried to have with his father.
“With my dad, when I tried to tell him things I grew up with that hurt me – he wouldn’t hear it. ” His father responded, “You think anyone around here had it any better?” Raul characterized his father’s attitude in general as “you gotta be tough, you don’t acknowledge hurt.”
After we processed this encounter, Raul was able to see that his father was giving him the best answer he had. In fact, he was most likely trying to protect his son. Though he probably didn’t think of it this way, what his father was trying to say was something like:
This kind of vulnerability won’t serve you. I’m not doing you any favors by validating or encouraging it. This is going to feel unloving, but what I’m trying to do is inure you to the inevitable pain of being a man. I’m trying to teach you – don’t be weak, there’s no reward for that in this world.
Sure, you may not agree with his advice, but at least we can see that he was, most likely, trying to help. Still it seemed like the message was “I don’t get you, you don’t make sense as a man and so I reject you.”
It turns out he saw him more clearly than he wanted to…
Raul went on to tell me that although he didn’t admit it at the time, his father had been hurt by their conversation. He later told some of his other sons that it had given him suicidal feelings. This got Raul “in trouble” with his brothers, and they insisted he go back and apologize.
Once we get past the seeming absurdity of telling your father you are sorry for being hurt by him when you were a kid, I think it starts to become clear that Raul may serve as a painful reminder of his father’s own struggle with sensitivity. We often attack people who mirror back to us things we don’t like.
He recognized himself in his son more than either of them realized. What he probably wasn’t able to recognize is that Raul is far better equipped to live with and manage his sensitivity than his father ever will be.
Take a look at some hurt, caused by your family, that you still carry. Is it possible that their intention wasn’t to cause harm? Does it change anything? Share your example or question below.