“Govern a family as you would cook a small fish—very gently.” ~Chinese Proverb
Many people who give advice do so based on their own personal experience. Life coaches are no exception—sharing their own experience establishes both credential and compassion. Renowned priest, author and professor Henri Nouwen once said, “What is most personal is most universal…by giving words to these intimate experiences I can make my life available to others.” None of us are separate, even though the world makes us feel that way. In our stories we discover and share truths.
My Personal Journey
Most of my life I was angry with my father. He was a good man but not a good father to me. I was angry that he never told me he loved me; that I never felt that he was proud of me; that he didn’t spend time with me and didn’t make me feel appreciated; he didn’t offer support when I most needed it.
I learned to be considerate, to have a sense of honor and to treat others with respect, but as a child and a young adult I didn’t feel that from my father. He told me that I had to work hard and rely only on myself.
As a result of my upbringing, I became independent and very conscious of my financial responsibilities and personal freedoms. Yet unconsciously, I was constantly seeking approval from my parents and an expression of love that went beyond providing for my basic material needs. I don’t recall being hugged or hearing “I love you” in my family; it was to be assumed.
When I became a mature woman, I wanted to talk to my father and tell him how I felt, but was hesitant and anxious. Unfortunately, he passed away before I realized the enormity and depth of my emotional wound. I spent almost two decades dealing with deep and debilitating anger by attending self-empowerment seminars, healing and meditation retreats.
I really wanted to forgive, to heal and to move on. I didn’t want to remain hostage to the poison emotion of anger that surely was affecting my health, relationships and self-image. I never felt good enough for me, and any achievement in life always fell short from making me feel good enough.
Healing my childhood wounds became a long personal journey of spiritual awakening. I learned to HONOR my raw feelings and to FORGIVE even when I could not forget. I was able to recognize that my parents did the best they knew how to parent.
I also realized that although they were reserved or even cold, they did love and care about me. I wrote a letter to my father expressing how much I missed having his presence in my life and how hurt I was by not being able to feel his love or rely on his support. I burned the letter and finally felt at peace.
Many years later I realized that my younger sister and I started to grow apart, especially after several occasions in which I experienced her as bullying, being unfair, and inconsiderate. I was trying to hide my disturbing feelings for a while and maintain the expected all is fine image that was comfortable and convenient for other family members.
Then one day I realized that my present superficial relationship with my sister was draining my energy and, just like with my father, made me feel that I was not good enough. Suddenly, these repeated family dynamics opened up old wounds for me and inspired me to stop and ask myself some important questions:
• What unsupportive beliefs do I have that allow my family to hold power over me?
• What is my frame of reference, a belief pattern that prevents me from standing up for myself with pride, dignity and assertiveness?
• How can I free myself from my family’s authority over my individual power of choice?
Family dynamics and relationships are essential in an individual’s psychology, especially at a young age. Every family has a unique story and usually it’s not the way it appears on the surface. Through your family interactions, you learn traditional familial beliefs, moral and ethical codes that support the formation of identity and sense of belonging. You learn the importance of family bonding, support and loyalty that give you a sense of safety, dignity and belonging. Healthy relationships assume that there is mutual love, respect and honorable communication between parents and other family members.
Each familial belief that you inherit, right or wrong, and each action aligned with that belief has a direct consequence. It is very challenging to stand up for your individual belief if it varies from that of your family. You are taught and programmed to make choices that meet approval from the family and conform to familial norms.
It is very encouraging to feel loved, valued and included; to feel in alignment with your family spiritually, emotionally and physically. When you experience this, you feel empowered and confident.
But what happens when you don’t feel in alignment with your family members and make choices that are different from those of your family? How do you handle situations that reflect that you changed inwardly and outgrew certain belief patterns that your family still holds dear?
Here are a few examples of such beliefs:
• You have to be loyal to your family members even if they hurt you, because you don’t choose your parents or siblings
• You must honor your family traditions and spend holidays, birthdays and other significant occasions together
• You must respect your family’s moral code, which may mean having to support your family member whether it fits your personal beliefs or not
To be continued next week…
To Your Health, Wealth and Happiness,