'A STORY OF SARA'
Healing with the opposite gender parent: a story of Sara
In the last columns we highlighted a case example of a man who began to recognize that some of the difficulties he was having in his marriage stemmed back to unexplored and unresolved feelings he had experienced with his mother. This time we'll touch on some of what happened to his wife, Sara.
When presented with the idea of healing with her father, as a way of improving her marriage, Sara's mind brought up the usual resistance. She was middle aged now and her early family experiences were too long past to worry about. Her father was old now and unlikely to change --she just had to accept what was. It was clearer in her mind that her husband needed to do some kind of work with his mother but she told herself she was more emotionally advanced than he was and thus beyond the need for that type of work. And after all those thoughts (and more) she was left with the reality that her marriage was not anywhere close to what she would like it to be. She was left with the realization that her father was the most powerful and formative masculine influence she will ever get exposure to, and some of the difficulties she had with her husband had to be connected to the deep, mostly unconscious, 'decisions' she had made, very early on, about how to relate to the masculine. She decided she would make a better effort at examining her relationship with her father.
As she began to reflect back on her early experiences with him, she remembered that her father had been rather distant emotionally. He had been good at 'doing' and he was great at delivering his philosophies and trying to tell her what to do, but the truth was he had not been present enough as a man, and a father who had emotions. From that recollection alone, she began to see how she had come to see the masculine as elusive, not present in the ways that are important to her.
Over the years she had learned that mothering her father was the best way to get through his reserve and make contact with him. Since, in Sara's perception, her mother didn't look after him all that well, there were many times when she felt as if she was the one who met his needs. From this insight she realized that early on she learned to perform for and 'do' for the masculine in order to get whatever recognition she could get. She recalled that attempting to make him happy helped her to come closer to him in some ways but she realized now that the act of mothering him left her feeling empty. As she went a little deeper, feelings she began to discover she had left over feelings of anger about giving a lot without getting enough of what was truly meaningful to her in return.
Tracking her feelings a little further she realized that his emotional absence had left her feeling fearful in a strange kind of way (fearful of him and the masculine in general). She recognized that even now as an adult women she had to work at overcoming this fear and speaking up for herself.
Our limited space does not allow us to talk about her discoveries in detail but as Sara studied her relationship with father, she began to make the connection. Many of the left over feelings she had experienced with her father were being recycled in her relationship with her husband. The void she was hoping her husband could fill, and the disappointment she felt at not having her needs met by a man, went back much further than her marriage.
Real healing occurs when one is able to take therapeutic insights and apply them in the world at large. Of course Sara needed to work inside herself with these awarenesses but if she had a desire to go all the way, our recommendation was that she make the effort to heal with her father, where all of this began. She needed to experience getting some of the emotional attention she didn't feel she ever had. She needed him to see her in ways that were more real, and she needed to address some of the left over feelings that still existed deep down with her father. The first step was to spend more time with him, which she did.
After she made it clear that her intent was not to blame him and that she did not want anything to be 'fixed', just expressed, she gradually started to share more about her personal self. She talked about her experiences as a young girl growing up in the family. She allowed more personal vulnerability than usual with her father and opened up more about her internal life with him. Gradually she shared feelings that had been long pushed away. With every communication she reminded herself that her expressions had nothing to do with changing him (which would likely only engage defensiveness from him). Her objective was more about being seen and being received by him. On one level she was asking for his help to clear up left over feelings. In a bigger sense she was seeking a type of initiation she had never received from her father. Over the course of many visits she allowed herself to be the daughter she had never really been.
From what Naomi and I have seen people who do this, who go back to their parents and express themselves truthfully, from vulnerability, can make very powerful shifts in their own being. The added bonus is that by working with the source of their feelings about the opposite gender, partners in present day relationships can be freed of many of the binding experiences that couples typically experience.
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