I put the June Horizons Magazine online today and re-read my June article about Father’s Day. I didn’t always get along with my dad. He was bi-polar and very strict. He could be fun and charming. He could also be mean and hateful. Daddy didn’t know how to sort out his feelings, much less discuss them. We never knew how to talk to each other. None of us did back then. Now anyone watching tv can learn the process through shows like Couples Therapy, Marriage Boot Camp and Iyanla Vanzant Fix My Life. It took several encounter (sensitive training) groups in my 20s to give me a vocabulary for what I felt emotionally, and to gain the tools to express it. These groups met with the aim of shedding our social masks and expressing our real feelings. They emphasized verbal interaction and activities that encouraged open displays of approval, criticism, affection, dislike, anger and tears. The result was that we learn to interact with others honestly, by openly expressing what we feel. This is important not just for self discovery, but for resolution when there was conflict. When an ex recently offered an exit interview, I asked him 4 questions:
(1) Why, after talking daily about always being conscious and honest with each other, would he not tell me when his intentions changed?
(2) Why did he tell other people one thing and me another about the status of our relationship?
(3) When I wrote him, a year in, asking for clarification so there was no misunderstanding, why did he get angry and cut me off rather than answer the question?
(4) Why afterwards did he lie about A and B, knowing it was untrue? After all the conversation about being honest and open and morphing consciously, why did that not happen?
Frankly, I didn’t expect to hear back from him. A week later he announced publicly he wanted to heal our situation. But privately it was another story. He offered an exit interview, so I asked the 4 simple questions above. I told him there were no wrong answers, I just wanted him to tell me honestly.
Instead of simply answering (Example: Hey, I was confused, I was stupid) he changed the topic and got angry. In a short series of email exchanges, he came up with more new things to blame me for, more things he’d never mentioned after we’d promised to be up front, honest and transparent with each other. My commitment issues? I had all the power? WTF? So I asked, why did you never mention ANY of these things to me before? It all goes back to, here was someone who I knew had the skills and emotional vocabulary for the discussion, yet he just could not do it.
If it was this difficult for my ex, who I knew had the skills of insight and vocabulary to express himself, how much more difficult for my father, or any of our fathers, to express themselves? Never having been given the tools, never having been brought up to work their stuff out without being triggered to anger. There are entire generations, in all our families, that don’t know to express themselves without a fight. This is why many family conflicts stay unresolved for generations.
We can’t make anyone own anything they are not ready to own, nor discuss anything they are not ready to discuss. If a simple question triggers them into anger, until someone can be real with you, grant them the honor of privacy and bless them upon their path. Yes, even if it’s your partner, your child or your parent.
Anytime something triggers us, it tells you you are encountering a samskara, a lesson from the past, and that is where we have emotional work to do.
RELATED: As frustrating as it can be, it IS possible to forgive and find closure with friends and loved ones. That goes for whether the person is right in front of you, across the continent, unwilling, absent or dead. Here’s the process –> How to forgive and find closure if the other is unwilling, absent or dead.