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I made a video a couple of days ago about “purposeful communication.” ( not the one above… another one!) Some people sent me private messages to say, “I’m going home to my parents, where all of this becomes the most difficult.” That is true for the great majority of people. The relationships where we are all most likely to hold on to resentment, to withheld and bottled-up love, is with our parents.
In this post I am going to share with you five tried and tested tips that can allow you to make this holiday season a time when you can have the greatest healing, intimacy and forgiveness with your parents ever. I used these tips successfully with my own father, and I have also passed them on to hundreds of people.
This is a nuanced topic, best not reduced to sound bites. First I am going to share with you four important caveats, that will make this more meaningful. Then I will share the 5 tips.
If you have a few minutes to spare, read it all. If you are in a hurry, skip to the 5 tips here.
A ~ Why this is important for Evolutionary Entrepreneurs.
I am a coach for evolutionary entrepreneurs. I’m not a psychotherapist or a psychologist: I don’t deal primarily with childhood conditioning or even personal relationships. My latest book, Radical Brilliance, is about how you can make the greatest contribution to the future of humanity. I work particularly with millennial entrepreneurs.
If you are engaged in business primarily motivated by profit, or fame, or growing the size of a company, and that is all there is to it, you don’t have to worry very much about the rest of your life. You can have a terrible marriage, terrible relationships, estranged children, you can have a terrible relationship with your body, you could be addicted in various ways, and still make a killing in business. Look around at the state of the world to see that this is true.
If your work in the world is primarily motivated by wanting to make a difference, and to being a vehicle for evolution, then everything becomes relevant. Every part of your life matters.
The degree of completion and forgiveness with your parents will dramatically affect your capacity to be of service. The quality of your marriage, your sexuality, your health, how much your children feel loved, all of these things are acutely germane and relevant to your ability to make a difference in the world. Whole people can be of service and spread wholeness. If your personal life is not fully in order, it is going to somehow dilute and sabotage your gift.
That is why I do sometimes attend to these things with my clients: not because I am primarily aiming to fix personal wounding, but because it can be incredibly relevant to you making the greatest difference you can.
B ~ Why is our relationship with our parents often the most “triggering?”
Imagine that one winter there is a flu epidemic, and you get it. You are not going to focus a huge amount of energy to find out who in particular gave you the flu. If everyone is sick, you are probably not going to ask, “Where did I get the flu? Yes, It was YOU, Joe Smithers, in the next cubicle at work. You gave me the flu, Joe Smithers, and now I’m going to get revenge at you. I’m never going to speak to you again. You breathed in my direction and now look, I’m sick.”
You don’t do that, do you? Instead, you will probably say to yourself, “Yeah, we all got the flu this week. It’s going around, and we all got infected by it. Poor old Joe Smithers, he got the flu, he caught it from Maggie Stein in the accounting department. Joe gave it to me, I think, and I probably passed it on to some other people. It’s just in the air. We all got infected by it.”
In just the same way: you, and me, and all human beings alive on planet Earth, we all have access to an intelligence, a great love, a great universal consciousness that gives us life, that animates us and allows us to connect and to be brilliant and to create. But we are also, all of us, to some degree or other afflicted by a collective virus of separation. The symptoms are that we feel judgmental, competitive, revengeful, we feel that the other is speaking and acting from a separate source than I am. Many traditions have said that this feeling of separation is at the root cause of human suffering. We are all affected by it. A few people have got relatively free of it, but that is still rare. Most people are affected every day by this virus of separation.
When you were very little, this virus was primarily passed on to you through your parents. We get infected by it in the first few years of life, when those were the people you were relating to the most. You might have got some from priests, or school teachers, or other family members, but it is mainly Mom and Dad who had the power to infect you with the virus that they themselves were afflicted by.
For this reason, we feel more resentful to our parents than we often do to other people, even though they may not have been any more contagious with the virus of “not love” than anybody else. That is simply where we were most affected. Going home for the holidays often brings to the surface deeply held feelings of that core separation, more than a high school reunion might.
C ~ I speak from My own Experience
I am not speaking to you today theoretically, or in a vacuum. I had a Mom and a Dad, who are both dead now. I had every possible reason you can imagine to feel resentful, and to feel like it was appropriate to defend myself and cut off from them. It was a very, very rocky environment. Neither of them were well prepared to be parents. It was a few years after the World War, they were both highly traumatized people, and I got all of that.
My mother died of cancer when I was 26. I was living in America already, and I went home to England for the funeral. I saw her dead body, it was an open casket. I remember standing there, and feeling such deep sorrow and regret. It was only after her death, when the body was inert and silent that I could fully feel that she had meant no harm. She was herself closed, and in that closure, this was all she could do. Only in her death did I I feel forgiveness, sorrow. So many things had not been said, but it was too late. Here was a dead body, and my options to complete things were now limited. It was a terrible feeling. It took me 10 years of many different kinds of therapy to come to a feeling of peace with her.
Luckily, I learned a lesson from that. My father died when I was fifty: twenty four years later, I had learned to prepare for his death. Before he died, I was able to say the things that needed to be said. I was able to bring things to completion, sometimes in a way that was difficult and felt counter intuitive, and sometimes I was concerned that it was not fully “authentic” or “honest.” But those were the things that I knew needed to be communicated before it was too late.
That is the invitation I want to offer you today, if your parents are alive, and if you are going home for the holidays to be with them. I am going to give you five tips in a moment that could save you a tremendous amount of regret later.
D ~ Sometimes Honesty is Overrated
Some of the suggestions I am going to offer you today may cause you to think, “Well, that’s not honest. That’s not authentic to how I feel. I’ve got all this resentment and it’s not authentic to express other than this resentment, because this is what is true for me.”
I am not advocating that you should be dishonest or lie to anybody. There is a way that you can be truthful with yourself about what you are feeling. That is what really matters the most: that you don’t hide things from yourself. Then you can choose to be purposeful and conscious about what you put into the space with other people, so that you can create the future you want with them. You can watch a video about “purposeful communication” here.
You don’t necessarily have to vent and voice every wounded feeling to other people in order to be free. It is important to feel those feelings in yourself. But the most direct way to create the best life for yourself is to make your communication purposeful and leading to the outcome that you most want.
I have tried both. I have experimented with deep raw honesty, with being vulnerable, and what that does. I have also experimented with feeling those things in myself, sometimes with the help of a therapist or a close friend, and then being deliberate and awake and sober in what I create with other people. This is not to let any perpetrator off the hook, or to be fake. It is simply an invitation to reflect on the future you want to inherit for yourself later on.
The Five Tips to Create Healing and the Best Holidays Ever with Your Parents.
1. Ask for Advice
My first suggestion is to find some way to ask Mom and Dad, each in their own way, for some form of advice and guidance. That may be difficult. Maybe you feel, “They messed up on this, they messed up on that, and I don’t think they are qualified to give anyone advice.” I don’t know what your story is. Look for some area where you feel Mom or Dad knows more about things than you do. It could be car repair, or a recipe, it could be ballroom dancing…. but look for something that you want to know more about, one of them knows more than you do, and ask for advice and guidance.
This can be incredibly healing, especially if there were transgressions of integrity and caring in the relationship when you were growing up. If you ask each of them for advice and guidance, it gives them an opportunity to give you something in a fresh way. This is what most parents are secretly longing for: a way to make it okay, if it was not completely okay earlier on. It starts a process where they can forgive themselves and start over.
2. Ask for Blessings on a Project
This may also seem surprising and counterintuitive. See if you can find a way with mother, or father, or both, to ask for their blessing on something. I went to visit my father in 2004, three years before he died. I had with me the unpublished galleys of my book “The Translucent Revolution.”
I had often felt resentful to my father about many things. I gave him the galleys and I said, “Daddy, I would love for your blessing on this book. I’d love your feedback as it is not yet published.” He looked deeply confused. I had never asked him for this before. He knew full well that he had not been there in so many ways as a father. “What do you mean by blessing?” he asked. “I don’t understand.” But I could see that it ignited some possibility in him of restoring dignity to our relationship.
I was there for a few days, and he read the whole book, almost 500 pages. He had a list of ideas of how it could be better, some of which were very useful. Then I asked him again, “So, would you please give your blessing? Please put your hand on the book, and give it your blessing.”
He did it. A little shy and awkward, he put his hand on my unpublished galley, and he said the words, “I give you my blessing.” This was an incredibly important moment for us. Despite all the neglect and broken promises and hurt, I was coming back to him and submitting myself to him as the father who could bless the fruits of the son. It was a symbolic thing. It helped immensely to restore the relationship to health, however much ill health had been there before.
3. Give Thanks
See if you can seek out those things that they did well. With my dad, before he died, I said to him,
“Thank you for giving me a really good education, and paying for it.
Thank you for surrounding me with books and your brilliant friends, so that I could develop my mind.
Thank you for taking me to Italy on holiday.”
When I stopped to thank him for the things that he had done well, we both knew there were also so many ways he had not shown up. By focussing on the gratitude and the things he had done well, I could remember where he had gifted me, and he could start to forgive himself for his weaknesses.
4. Apologize for your side
When you go home this holidays, you could ask your parents for their forgiveness. You could even do it with a laugh, and find the humor in it. It might sound something like this. “I remember when I was growing up and I used to stay out really late, and I imagine that might have worried you. I am sorry for having been a source of worry to you. I know I almost got expelled from school for smoking weed. I’m really sorry for the trouble that caused you.”
If you can find things to apologize for, it might put your parents in the position of saying, “It’s okay, it was not such a big deal.” It might then invite a mutual atmosphere of putting things on the table, and a mutual atmospehere of forgiveness. Try it out. If they accept the invitation, one or both of your parents might even reciprocate by saying “That’s okay, dear, and I also want to apologize for ….” We cant be sure, but you might find you both shed a tear together, take a deep breath, and have a laugh about it all.
5 Give Appreciation
Because of both DNA and conditioning, you may have many qualities in common with both your Mom and your Dad. There are probably things that you don’t like in yourself. When you get home to Mom or Dad, those qualities get amplified. You see one or both of them being angry, opinionated, controlling, narcissistic, it reminds you of those qualities in yourself and then you can become irritated and have judgements.
The trick here is to consciously seek out other qualities in Mom and in Dad that you actually appreciate. You can say to yourself, “Wow, lucky me. Those are really good qualities, and I have inherited some of them myself.”
The ratio may seem like nine unpleasant qualities to one that you like. But it does not matter. Seek out that one quality, and then appreciate your mother or your father for what you like and admire. I could have said to my father:
“I appreciate that you were so prolific. You wrote 23 books in your lifetime, and that has rubbed off on me.
I really appreciate how witty you are, and how sharp your wit is. (It was sometimes cruel wit, but let’s not focus on that part.)
I really appreciate how you make people laugh. That has also rubbed off on me.”
If you can single out the qualities that you really do appreciate about your parents and that you are grateful to have inherited, this will also restore health to the relationship.
I hope that all this may help someone who reads it. If one person has a better, closer, more intimate and loving holidays, then the time was well spent.
I offer these five suggestions so you can invest energy now in a feeling of completion and wholeness and love later. Both of your parents will inevitably die one day, if it has not already come. When the time comes, when you are standing over an inert body or a coffin, having taken these steps may make all the difference. Either you will feel whole, grateful and complete, or you may feel an incompletion that it is too late to repair.
If you think this might help a friend who is nervous about going home for the holidays, please feel free to pass it on. If you did make it all the way through this long post, thank you so much for spending your time with me.
I wish you a really happy holidays and a wonderful opportunity to contribute to the evolution of all of us in the next year to come.