So, how is it that I can now have a relationship with the same man — my father — who caused me so much pain that I had put a gun to my head? The answer is in my acronym for LOVE.
He listened to how much pain I had been in. He observed what I was doing with the rest of my life as an adult. He validated my position by not making excuses, and he empathized by making a change in his behavior from my perspective.
That last step took several attempts, I gotta tell ya. He had to say he was sorry several times until I actually believed him. The reason being, he’d sometimes revert back to his behaviors when I was a kid. As a child, I didn’t say anything. But as an adult, it would HIGHLY trigger me and I’d blow up and estrange myself from him… for years. I was not the most graceful about it and I’m sure I caused him pain, as well. I will own that piece. It’s not an excuse, but it is an explanation for my behavior when I say that I had developed CPTSD from my childhood so I had difficulty regulating my emotions… I still do. But I’m much better with it today.
We’ve been okay for the past three years or so, and I think it’s pretty stable now. I’ve learned; he’s learned, and we’ve moved from living in the past to trying to stay in the moment. (He is a big worrier about the future.) There was a big symbolic moment when I knew he had actually changed. My son was two at the time. He had picked up a candle. I could tell it made my dad nervous: would my son break the candle? Would he bang it on something and break that other thing? I just held my breath as I looked to my dad and what he’d do… He just looked at me, looked at my son, took a deep breath… and laughed! He got it!!! He understood the present moment and what was most important. Not the candle, not the table or whatever… his daughter and his grandson.
So that’s how it can happen. If you have a history of a strained relationship with someone due to unresolved tension in the past, go to that person. Tell them you’re sorry. List what you did so they know that you “get” it. Then say that they deserve better and you are going to do better. Admit that you need help in doing that by asking them what you can do from now on. Then listen to them. Don’t defend or excuse. Observe what they do- not only what they say. Validate their point of view. And finally, empathize and make decisions from their perspective. Ask yourself, “What would they want me to be doing right now so they know they are loved?” Then do that thing.
Granted, this is NOT easy to do. You have to put your heart on your sleeve. They may not be ready because trust has been violated in the past. But if you make the 153Promise to do things in a loving way, they’ll come around. I did… because my dad did.
If you get rejected at first, make the 153Promise to love YOURSELF every day by working on improving your own life. Do the work. After a while, they’ll notice the change and they’ll come to trust it because they’ll see that you are doing it not to get anything from the deal, but because you realize it’s just the healthy, right thing to do.
You may need outside resources. Seek out therapy. If you can’t afford it, find group meetings in your area. Research online. Join an internet forum. Get a self-help book on Amazon, or go to the local library and ask for a good book to check out. I’ll even make a list of books/resources on a page here… I’ll update it as I get suggestions, so if you know of a great resource, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
You’ll notice that I don’t mention my mother in part of this healing process. That’s because even though she was not the active abuser, she’s always maintained that she was a good mom. MY version of reality is that a good mother’s first job is to protect… and in that respect, she failed. Cleaning up the mess after the damage does not win any awards in my book. She’s failed to convince me that she’s really listened, observed, validated, or empathized. I’ve heard the word “love” come out of her mouth countless times, but I’ve never felt it the way I need to in order to believe it. It saddens me to say this, but she may not even be capable of that due to her own issues. I’ve stopped interpreting this as my shortcoming, and I’m working on making my peace with this. In that way, I’m making that 153Promise to her… to stop judging her for her inabilities.
It’s my wish for all of you reading this post that you are inspired to acknowledge the past to those you love, make positive choices in the present, and look toward the future with hope and optimism. I sincerely believe that in taking this approach, we can heal a lot of our own wounds and help in repairing others’ we may have contributed in causing.
In doing this work, it’s not too late to attain “One Million Kisses” with those whom you want to show healthy love. Who’s to say you can’t “kiss” retroactively??? Maybe taking that one step to make it right can get you half way there! Maybe doing your work on the past while making changes today can double up your “Kissing Kounter!”
When I first thought about the possibility of literally kissing my child a million times, I thought it would be impossible; NOT SO! The secret lies in taking one day at a time… it’s best way to live life, isn’t it?
Make that first step today… It’s NEVER too late!