I heard a great joke the other day: How many psychologists does it take to change a lightbulb? One, but the lightbulb has to want to change. I mention this only because I expect a bit of a backlash from this article. We are talking about healing here and getting over issues that have stunted our growth and happiness in this lifetime. Naturally, if you have gone through something very traumatic, such as in sexual abuse by a parent, it is important that you acknowledge that yes, your abuser DID fail you as a parent. You need to process this and I realize it takes time. But you must also want to heal, and the biggest challenge to you will be letting go of your familiar pain. This article addresses the perspective that can help you with this letting go stage in your healing.
Last week I promised to give you some personal examples of how turning inward and asking questions can produce visible improvements in your life. This post will focus on one of the first experiences I had which liberated me from a mental nightmare I was perpetuating. I don´t think when it happened that I realized it was a product of meditation, but I did appreciate that having asked transcendental questions and thinking differently about my interactions with people produced my A-ha! moment. I remember it so clearly because I was sorting through some old papers in my room when I had this brainwave of an idea that clicked. I looked up from what I was doing and just thought, “Wow, that´s it.”
I was twenty four and in the throes of anger and frustration over the very strained relationship I had with my father. Dad and I still don´t see eye to eye on hardly anything but I can truly say that I love my dad and have processed any anger or resentment that I used to have towards him for not accepting me for who I am. This major issue in my life was almost completely resolved by a mental realization that came to me while my conscious mind was busy doing a mundane task and I was in a state better suited to receiving messages from my subconscious mind.
For months I had been trying to look at the situation with my dad in a different way, asking all sorts of funny questions- so it´s obvious that my subconscious was working on it, too, on its own time. You now may be saying, Croaker, you´re talking psychology, not spirituality, but my argument is that my focused thinking on the dynamic between me and my dad, asking myself WHY my dad didn´t accept me was what gave me an answer. I wasn´t thinking in psychological terms. It was an existential or mystical question. What was the bigger picture, or the spiritual reason for our strained relationship?
I was 24 when I realized that my dad was his own person. This seems a bit late to me, but it was a pivotal turning point for me in my development and not some fleeting thought. Dad has his own value system, a different working paradigm than me, even his brain is different! I thought. What sense does it make to project my own values and ideals onto him? It is illogical to project your own values onto someone with a different set of values and be disappointed when he doesn´t share or respect them. He is his own person. And his rejecting me and my values are nothing personal because he just can´t work with them. They don´t fit into his paradigm.
It´s important that you understand what I mean by not taking it personally. If my dad didn´t accept my values about money or my career aspirations or even how I interacted with men, it just meant that he couldn´t understand me. We didn´t jive. But it doesn´t have to be personal. The problem is that I am his daughter and in this role I was offended. My social expectations told me that a father is supposed to accept his daughter and that was called love. My father came from a different generation which believed a daughter´s role was to honor the father regardless of his behavior and that was called love. It was these limiting roles that made things personal. Once I was able to transcend that kind of thinking, (and allowing myself to be temporarily angry and hurt), I had an elevated perspective.
So why is this spiritual? It transcends regular psychology because I show compassion towards my father in acknowledging his personality and the context in which he developed as a person; not only criticising his ability to conform to a socially constructed role.
Personality is an amalgamation of genetic traits, experience, tastes, tendencies, mannerisms and moral values. It is not the same thing as the mind and it needs to be acknowledged with more compassion. We already know that personality doesn´t reside in the mind. Do handicapped children with reduced mental functioning have personalities? Of course they do! What about alzheimer´s patients, do they lose their personality along with their memories? And what of toddlers, whose brains have not formed enough synaptic connections for them to function independently?
No-one has been able to map personality onto the brain and paranormal studies show that deceased people who communicate beyond the veil resonate their personality. The great Carl Jung was the first psychologist to address morality in a psychological context and ended up admitting that he believed in the soul. As children our morals develop from social context but as we self-actualize, or become our own people with our own personalities, we develop our own morals, based on a belief in certain ideals that transcend logic.
So the importance of personality, of looking at behaviors through that compassionate lens, helps us to transcend our day to day interactions with people, which to me fits the definition of spiritual. The fact that for one bright moment I contemplated my father not as a father in his role but as an individual with his own personality and past experiences intact is what then allowed me to heal that relationship. Suddenly I had perspective.
I thought, okay, you can´t take experiences away from a person- experience affects us deeply. It’s actually proof that we don´t exist in a vacuum; our environments DO shape who we are; this has been proven time and again in psychological studies. How have his experiences shaped his behavior towards me? What does he have to learn in this lifetime? How do I fit into that gestalt? This is compassion. And so I let him be who he was, naked of the father role for a moment as I looked at our relationship in a spiritual context.
Dad and I are tied by biology, but that doesn´t mean we should be oppressed by those roles. (In fact, family ties offer some of the most important clues to helping us sort out our life issues.) Once I relaxed the father-daughter role I could relax myself. I am who I am. I am not a bad person. I am not a bad daughter, that´s just a psychological shoe-box. He´s not a bad father, he is just him. Suddenly the pressure is off. It´s as if I had a friend who is a doctor and I only acknowledged him in his doctor role. Do I disregard his personality? That´s rather unfair, he is more dimensional than that! And so we need to liberate our closest friends and families from their roles in our lives and interact with them from the fulcrum of our mature personalities, which take into account transcendental ideas about the nature of our relationships.
Who has had the experience of having a boyfriend (or girlfriend) who was a terrible boyfriend, who couldn´t fulfill your expectations of him in that role, but actually was a great person? You stop sleeping together, you stop acting boyfriend-girlfriend and suddenly the fog lifts and you see that person for who he really is. Wonderful! You have a new best friend and you get on famously. Perspective back in place, you enjoy each other´s company without the limiting paramaters or expectations of the girlfriend-boyfriend role.
Again, this is not just a psychological trick but a spiritual perspective. You compassionately allow the other person to transcend a psychological category and accept them for the entire “soul”, together with their psychological flaws and idiosynracies.
From here you can really begin to deepen your relationships and “forgive others” (although most transgressions come from our expectations of what is socially acceptable. Most people have nothing to be “forgiven” for.) Once you transcend the borders of what´s socially or collectively acceptable and learn to interact on what is personally acceptable to your adult emotions and your values, then you enter the realm of humane relationships, from which a lot of healing and learning can begin to take place.