Monday, June 12, 2006


So, it's horribly cliche in so many ways, but a lot of my issues around my relationship with my father have been surfacing lately.

I am someone who believes that our significant relationships form a sort of psychological template for our understanding of all subsequent relationships. We then react to others, not just on the basis of how they are acting, but our perception of how their reactions fit into this template we carry.

My relationships with women have been wide and varied. I have been able to resculpt the template that first came to me from my relationships with my mother and my sister. I can allow for a broader range of possibilities for other women's actions.

One would think that this would also translate to close relationships to men (because aren't relationships just about communicating and trust and meeting the other person where they are at, regardless of gender). But I'm finding that there seems to be some bizarre twist in my brain which, when I'm reacting to a man, flips the switch onto the template from my relationship with my father.

My father is the only significant male relationship I had while growing up. My grandfathers both lived far away. My uncle also lived far away, and I don't think he was terribly comfortable with little girls anyway. The boys in my neighborhood seemed a bit like aliens - and even though we played together, I never felt particularly close to them.

So my father...I've shared some of his past experience. He was abused as a child - his mother was chaotic and at turns intrusive and neglectful. His father was distant and uncomfortable with affection. He was the eldest and the only boy in the family.

My experience of him as a child was very confusing. He was emotionally unavailable. He wanted what he wanted, but would not tell anyone what it was that he wanted. He was passive-aggressive, and there was a sense that his anger was a scary, scary thing - oh, he never acted violently...he would leave the house so it never got to the point. But that leaving made it feel even worse. He understood and approved of sports, which I never really liked or felt comfortable about. He had secrets - like the fact that he did needlepoint to relax, or even his history of abuse which my mother, not my father, told me about. He had little tolerance for emotionality in the face of logic.

It is only as I grew older that I realized how very much we had in common. Despite the last sentence in the previous paragraph, my father has incredible empathy. He can listen and respond to me, as an adult, in crisis so much better than my mother - she just wants to fix everything. He and I both love history and random trivia. We love silly comic things. He is a romantic who likes a happy ending. I have grown to have a closer relationship with him, as is normal with our parents, I suppose.

But now, all the parts of the template that were installed in me as a child - the parts that expected that everything that I did was wrong; the parts that tell me I need to be watchful and careful and try to make this man happy (when he's not telling me how to do it); the parts that are afraid to share my feelings for fear that they will trigger anger so awful that it has to be dealt with in private - are rearing their ugly heads. And it's all happening in response to the men in my life: my therapist, SlowTalker, even CollegeFriend (although less so, since we really only have e-mail contact right now).

My therapist and I hash things out on a regular basis when this stuff comes up. I do, after all, pay him quite a bit of money to do that. But SlowTalker has also been more than willing to address this with me. I had the amazingly ironic moment of being on the phone with him yesterday and having him say to me, "I am responsible for my own emotions. " I'm a licensed therapist with a Master's degree and 6 years of experience, and I still need to be told this stuff.

I sometimes feel like a child in the face of all of this - it feels a bit like my brain and emotions get hijacked by the little me and I don't even recognize it until it's over.

Isn't there some pill I can take to just readjust the template to something that is less reactionary and anxious?!


1 comment:

Aravis said...

No pills. I wish. I have issues over the father figures in my life, too.

When you wrote of an imprint carrying over, it was my ex, Travis, that I instantly thought of. He became physically abusive over time and it left an emotional mark. Years later, when I disagreed with Randy (shortly after we started dating) I found myself tensing, waiting to be struck. Randy reacted as SlowTalker did in your case, and it was only then that I realized the impact of the past on my present. It's taken a lot of time to let go of that, and other events from the past. I'm not sure that this stuff ever goes away completely. But it does become easier with time and awareness. My best to you always!