Friday, September 28, 2012
Over the last year, I’ve been doing a great deal of work around relationships of all kind: friendships, co-worker, family. More recently, I’ve been doing some deeper healing work around my relationship with my father, and out of this process has come the even deeper work around my intimate relationships with men. I’m finding this process much like untangling wadded yarn; and interestingly, the yarn represents the “story” I’ve lived and spun for myself over many years about my relationships with men. They say the relationship we daughters have with our fathers reflects the kinds of relationships we have with men in our dating lives. I’ve come to realize how in many ways, many of my dating relationships have been influenced by the relationship I’ve historically had with my father. Yikes!
In a studious look back at past relationships, I found some disconcerting trends. Most of my intimate relationships developed out of sense of neediness. I’ve also recognized patterns of insecurity in which I’ve had a great need for validation, reassurance and attention in order to trust the situation at hand. Much of this insecurity I’m realizing stems from my relationship with my father who was not emotionally or verbally expressive whatsoever with his feelings towards me as his daughter. I didn’t experience the father-daughter affection I watched many of my girlfriends enjoy with their fathers. My father also worked a full time job and additional “jobs” in order to provide for our family and college educations for my brother and me. As a result, we didn’t see a lot of my dad because of his swing shift schedule and/or tending to his various farming projects. My father didn’t take an interest in my life or things I liked; and we never had father/daughter time in which we spent quality time together doing things I enjoyed or that we could enjoy together. Dad was supportive of my involvement in band, especially in the last two years of high school taking on the Eagle One equipment bus project in which he renovated a school bus and drove it to band contests. While this interest I appreciate, it didn’t fulfill that one-on-one quality time spent together, since I shared him with over a hundred other people during those times. Dad did what he knew how to do best: provide for his family, and in this he was a great success.
I came to realize I held an unconscious belief that because my father didn’t take time to spend time with me, freely show me affection or express his feelings for me (his responses to my “I love you” were typically grunts and I had to coerce hugs out of him), I felt unworthy of his love; and through the years in our relationship, as well as those with men I’ve dated, I have felt the need to “earn” his love and affection. As a rebellious teen, I got his attention by fighting with him, yelling matches which unfortunately were how he and I invested our time into our relationship. I learned from my dad my feelings didn’t count, and therefore, unhealthy ways to angrily express them, even then they weren’t honest. I have spent most of my life trying to win my father’s love and approval; and only within the last year have I decided I don’t need it to be the wonderful and loving person I am.
Through this reflection, I realized I carried that baggage with my dad into most of my dating relationships, and needless to say, that has yet to serve me or the relationships well. I also attracted and dated men like my father: emotionally unavailable and/or unable to communicate or express their feelings (though most of this gender isn’t the best at these things). I managed these relationships much like I managed my relationship with my father, with anger as the persecutor or by emotionally shutting down as the victim. I accepted verbal and emotional abuse was the norm within a male/female relationship. My father often criticized me throughout childhood, and even still today; however, now I no longer take it personally (though little girl inside me still feels the sting as the past flares up) or place great value on his words. Today, I express how I feel in a respectful but honest manner and I don’t back down. This last year living with my father has been no doubt purposeful to rediscovering my personal power. I’ve learned to stand up to my father in a respectful and healthier way and to speak my truth around what I want or need from him, or how I’m feeling without fear or shame. I’m learning self-validation, rather than look to him (or anyone else) for validation of worthiness in this life. And I’m recognizing and appreciating his own ways of expressing love for me; at times it feels like an archaeological dig to find them but they are there.
This time with my father prepares me for a healthier way of managing and showing up in a dating relationship. I recognize how this baggage with my father has bled over into my dating life and how to better manage the dating process, and myself within it. I’ve given over so much of myself and my personal power to these past dating connections in the hope of being accepted and loved, all in an effort to fill the void left unfulfilled by my father-daughter relationship. What a horrific burden to place on another human being! In many ways, I feel like a teenager all over again figuring out how to date, what to do and not do, what to expect and not to expect. I’ll muddle through it as I’ve muddled through so many other new enlightened experiences before. These revelations offer me an incredible opportunity to grow and develop a healthier and loving relationship with a man who unconditionally accepts and loves me for who I am. Part of this process also involves my believing that I am worthy of unconditional love and acceptance, and finding within myself the willingness to accept nothing less than that from another.