At the risk of slaughtering your sacred cow, let’s talk about your dad. He was, as you know, awesome at so many things and you are perfectly right to admire his gentle, fun-loving, easy-going nature. He was hard working, but he loved his family and perfectly demonstrated how to balance whimsy with responsibility. Most importantly, he encouraged your crazy dreams. I know you’ve tried, consciously or otherwise, to emulate him but there’s a piece you keep skipping over. Your dad was just as bad at modelling conflict resolution skills as your mom, in fact, he’s the one who showed you how to roll over and let people step on your voice and take away your power.
I know you want to hold him up as a hero, but he was human and humans are flawed. Your mother’s silent treatments and guilt trips were as traumatic as if she had yelled at you or slapped you, and how many times did you see your dad stand up for you and protect you? Once? Twice maybe?
Oh, he gave you some comforting words on the sly, “You know how your mother is, babe.” Yes, you knew how your mother was, she punished you and everyone else by withholding and withdrawing. I see the scars on you to this day, in your obsessive need to make other people happy, the way you become instantly anxious if the people you love go quiet. How many nights have you lain awake worrying if you did or said something wrong and that someone you care about is upset with you? (Answer: Waaaaaaaay too many)
Parents aren’t perfect. Your mom was a product of abuse and poverty and she lived at a time when the stigma around mental health might as well have been a flashing neon sign. She did the best with what she had. All the same, she hurt you. You loved your dad so much because he was the “nice” parent, right? And isn’t that what you’ve strived to be for so long? “Nice”? Nice, friendly, easy-going, quick with a smile and a laugh, “no worries”, considerate, and thoughtful?
So, honey, what happens when you get angry or upset? How do you express yourself? What happens when you have a not-nice emotion and every right to have your feelings heard and respected?
A little louder?
Oh, yes, you shove those feelings down and swallow them, or you do what your mom did and go silent to punish the people who hurt you. And how’s that working out for you?
Yeah, that’s what I thought.
Well, kiddo, there’s a new sheriff in town…a sheriff who is fair but maybe not always “nice”.
We’re going to start working on speaking up in the moment, or as soon after the moment as we can. We’re going to think about our healthy boundaries and what we’ll do when people violate them.
We’re also going to practice accepting that we have no control over other people’s reactions. You may not get the response you want but that’s not the point. The point is to use your voice—that’s your right and stop letting other people convince you otherwise.
By all means, hang onto all the good qualities your dad taught you. Laugh often, love deeply, work hard but not at the expense of your happiness or good nature. His spirit lives in you, and that is a gift. But own the flaws he gave you too. Pick up where he left off, work on fixing the bits that aren’t working for you (and never have), believe you are worthy…because you are.
I’m not going to lie, this is going to be hard for you. You will be frustrated. You will want to fall back into old habits—and you will from time to time—but you’ve overcome worse than this.
Have the kind of faith in yourself that your dad always had in you.