The Father Within

Father’s Day is coming up soon and for those of us who were fortunate enough to have good fathers, it is a great day to appreciate and acknowledge all that they have done for us in our lives. For some of us, however, we might have had mixed or negative experiences with our dads and it can bring up painful memories from our childhoods.

I think that the way we parent ourselves as adults is just as important to our psychological health as the actual parents we had. By this I mean that how we talk to ourselves in difficult times, how we support and nurture ourselves was modeled off our early experiences, but can also be altered to be more positive if we need to. I had a father who valued education and learning, and this is a strong feature of my personality. I am always striving to learn and study more and become a well-rounded, informed person. However, he was not as patient and understanding as I needed him to be, so that is something that I need to cultivate in the way I talk to myself. Psychoanalytic writers talk about introjection, which is a term that means we identify with someone else and internalize or incorporate how they treat us into how we think, feel and behave. If I am not careful, I can let my introjection of my dad’s impatience and cricitism affect how I feel about myself. I need to be mindful of what that looks like so I can recognize it and remove it when it arises. This is not an overnight process, but it is worth trying on a regular basis. I want to keep the positive aspects of my father in my personality, like curiosity and intellectual exploration, but not the judgment and impatience.

All our parents had strengths and weaknesses, and it’s ok to acknowledge both and appreciate what they could do for us, even if it was very limited. It’s also all right to acknowledge the damage that they might have done if they were limited in their parenting abilities. Obviously we cannot undo what was done in the past, we can only heal from it, learn from it, and vow that the damage stops with us. If we are parents and need help or guidance, we can take parenting classes, talk to friends, family, clergy or professionals, and work on parenting the wounded child within (if indeed there is wounding there). This way we can be the kind of mothers and fathers that raise healthy, happy children and are more likely to be celebrated and appreciated by our children.

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