Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Relationships 2

I know we’d all like to consider ourselves as independent of our parents,
but whether we want to admit it or not, relationships are modeled by parents.

We grow up learning how to conduct relationships by watching how our parents conduct them. Children grow up to imitate, and perpetuate those behaviors. If we grow up in a healthy family, where honesty trumps deceit, where openness overrides secrecy, where courage conquers pretension, we are much better equipped to enter into adult relationships than if the opposite would have prevailed in the family.

If parents are open and honest with each other, as well as with their children, those children have a good start on having similar kinds of relationships as adults.

If, however, a child grows up in a family where one, or both, of the parents are evasive, dishonest, or indirect, that child will learn to protect himself with a host of somewhat other-than-forthright relationships. He, or she, may not necessarily become stunted to the same degree as the parents, but will, more likely than not, conduct their developing relationships in a manner innately designed to provide the greatest level of self-protection. The child learns to deflect, avoid, or ignore anything (or anybody) that challenges (intentionally or not) the comfort of their status quo. They will not take risks in relation to their comfort zone. The fear is carried with them long into their adult lives. They remain afraid of being transparent, of being judged, of being thought of as lesser than how they would hope to be perceived.

Children of alcoholic, or drug-indulging parents face the same set of challenges. Those self-destructive behaviors create a compromised foundation that the parent models throughout their daily lives. The same can be said about divorce or abuse. The child learns very quickly not to trust the parent, withholds their true self from the parent, and continues that manner of relating on into their other adult relationships. Self-protection is always at the forefront. It takes a lot of hard work and a lifetime of continuing self-assessment to break down the need for self-protection.
Some of you have done the hard work, and know what I’m talking about.
Others won’t even begin to engage the work until their lives are demanding it of them.

Obviously, children of dysfunctional relationships often gravitate towards their own addictions, effectively diminishing their ability for healthy and honest relationships. They might even end up embracing some sort of religious fundamentalism. When that dynamic takes hold in their lives, honesty of exchange gets filtered through the prism of one’s own buried pain or unworthiness, often culminating in a stunted ability to be honest and transparent. With the religious person’s honorable, but misguided, attempt to be a ‘shining light’, an example of righteousness, that person is far-too-often just practicing a ‘spiritual’ form of self-protection. It is not courageous, and it becomes almost impossible for that person to see themselves from the perspective of another, less indoctrinated point of view. It is a cloak of invisibility, and it becomes their way of life. It is very difficult, if not unachievable, for someone operating on a more pragmatic level to sustain any kind of honest, continuing, relationship with them.
Sure, some who grow up in healthy families also find the exercise of their faith in religious fundamentalism, but they have the experience of strong bonds, honest communication, and family support to supplement them.

As adults, it is in our own best interest to recognize the relationships from which we have emerged, from which we have been molded, and, if negative, to summon the courage to deny them their continuing influence in our lives. It is not only in our best interest, but it is imperative that we break the chain of self-protection so that our children and grandchildren can be free to function fully, and without inhibition, in this very difficult and demanding world.

I know that nobody likes to be told to 'tell the truth'. But, Tell the Truth, friends. Say what you mean, and mean what you say. Make it your own meditation. Do not be afraid. I dare you. It is the most important step towards the enabling of health in your relationships, and for the generations downstream of your own lives.

Of course you might be asking, “What makes you such an expert on matters of relationships?”
And I say, “I’m not an expert. I never have been, and I probably never will be, but I do pay attention. In fact, I’ve paid attention almost every day of my life. I know what I know, from personal experience, as well as from my observance of human nature and human behavior. I see what I see. I choose to relate to life as it is, rather than how I might prefer for it to be. I will never wear the proverbial rose-colored glasses.
I think you know that.

And that is exactly why you continue to read me.”