By Rebekah Givens, Behavioral Health Technician, Willow House at The Meadows
Imagine that what you crave more than anything else in the world is love and acceptance.
Now, imagine that throughout your life you have continually tried to earn the love of others, yet your efforts come up empty time and again.
By Dan Griffin, MA, Senior Fellow at The Meadows
Power is a very interesting phenomenon. I remember having numerous conversations about the complex intersection of power and relationships in graduate school. There was a lot of confusion as to what exactly power even is.
By Tracy Harder, MSC, LAC, Workshop Therapist and Andrea Sauceda
Do you find yourself ending up in one painful, damaging, and disastrous relationship after another? Do you feel like a failure because you haven’t yet found true love?
Mental health professionals can improve treatment through trauma-centered and gender-responsive approaches
When men seek treatment for addiction, depression, and mental health disorders the outcomes are often quite positive. However, there is still room for improvement, since the risk for relapse after treatment is still somewhat high. Dan Griffin, an American sociologist who has studied gender and recovery and trained at Hazelden as a chemical dependency counselor, thinks that the men would be more likely to maintain recovery if treatment programs take a more trauma-centered and gender-specific approach.
Dan Griffin, MA is a Senior Fellow at The Meadows and an expert in men’s trauma and recovery. The following essay was published on his website in 2015. You can learn more about Dan’s workshop at The Meadows, A Man’s Way™ Retreat, by calling 800-244-4949. You can also find his books online.
I hated my father for a very long time.
Of course, when we are honest with ourselves most of our hate comes out of deep hurt. And that is exactly what it was for me: I felt deeply hurt that my father was never quite able to be the man that we seemed forced to celebrate every Father’s Day. He was never quite able to be the father that I needed. If he made it through the day’s “celebration” without getting drunk and/or yelling or berating one or all of us it was a good day.
I do not say this to defame or castigate my father. He was a much more complicated man than his alcoholism or his abusiveness. He was brilliant, talented, creative, funny, a good provider, and even sensitive.
Though I can probably count them on both hands, there are times when my father showed up as the father I believe he truly wanted to be. The man beneath the armor.
But it would be disingenuous to act as if there was not a much darker side to my relationship with my father.
Inextricably connected to my ability to be a father has been the healing work I have had to do around my relationship with my father who, sadly, lost his own battle with chronic alcoholism twenty years ago, at the age of 54.
His tale is one that has been told far too often, written in the Book of Men and Masculinity throughout the ages. These tales lack a Hallmark ending and no two dollar card can make it all okay.
As a man in long-term recovery from his own addiction, I am not only changing my story but I’d like to think I am even changing my father’s story.
The more I have been able to free myself from the pain and hurt of my fractured relationship with my father the more I have been able to see him as a human being who was full of suffering, trapped in the armor of masculinity in which he ultimately suffocated.
The process of forgiveness in my own relationship with my father has not been about forgetting him or even “the good, the bad, and the ugly” experiences, but simply letting go of the hurt. The more I have been able to let go, the more I have been able to emerge as my best self.
It has not been perfect. There are vestiges of the best parts of my father and the worst parts of my father still inside of me. There will always be. For that I am actually grateful; all of those experiences have helped to create the man – and father – I have become.
A lot of what I learned about how to be a father I learned from my father. I learned a lot about what not to do and how not to be. Every young man watches the men around him to figure out how to be a man. How to treat women. How to treat kids.
My father was not a horrible person. He was just a very sick person. He had a lot of childhood trauma that I had no idea about until after his death. My father didn’t talk about his daily life so there was no way he was going to open up about some of the most painful experiences of his life. So he just went into the basement and listened to his country albums. Or spewed the toxic poison of his pain all over the people who loved him the most.
Such is the sad experience for so many men with trauma. I found a worksheet from his time in treatment where he stated so simply, “I’ve never thought anyone would even care about my problems.” My heart broke when I read those words while cleaning up his office shortly after his death.
The real truth? I miss my father. Not a week goes by that I do not think of him and what we could have had. I talk to him all of the time. I have spent the past twenty years asking him to be the father he never could be while he was alive as I have navigated the inevitable trials and tribulations of life.
My relationship with my father has transformed over the years since his death as I have matured. As I have gotten glimpses into my own darkness. As I have come to realize how people experience me versus how I want to come across. All of that has brought me closer to the father I never met.
I think about the father he wanted to be versus the father he was. I think about who he was in his heart of hearts. That is the father I celebrate – and grieve – on Father’s Day. The truth is, I never hated my father. I just hated the fact that I never really got the chance to meet him.
Mother’s Day is time to celebrate and show our love and appreciation to our mothers, grandmothers, and female caretakers. However, many of us—in fact probably most of us—have complicated relationships with our mothers. Even if our mothers were well-intentioned, they may not have been able to provide us with what we needed emotionally, because they were stuck living out their own unresolved pain and childhood trauma.
Your early relationship with your mother, without a doubt, had a profound impact on who you are today, in ways both positive and negative. It’s important to always be grateful and appreciative for the gifts we did get from our mothers. But, it’s equally important to non-judgmentally take a look at some of the negative beliefs they may have unintentionally passed onto us, because these beliefs can have a profound impact on the people we are today.
Oftentimes, at the center of our feelings of disempowerment and emptiness—feelings that themselves are often at the core of addiction, depression, anxiety and other behavioral disorders—is the mother wound. The mother wound is the emotional trauma that your mother was unable to heal within herself and passed down to you.
The mother wound begins to develop at a very young age. It consists of that untrue and harmful beliefs that you were responsible for your mother’s pain and that it was your job to make your mother happy by being “good.”
The mother wound often is the source of emotional pain you may feel from comparison (not feeling good enough); shame (the constant feeling that there is something wrong with you); attenuation (the belief that you have to keep yourself small or hidden in order to be loved); and guilt (feeling bad about what you have, or feeling bad for wanting more than you have.) If you carry this wound with you, you may find yourself struggling day-to-day in the following ways:
Most mothers do want to see their children find happiness and succeed. But, if your mother did not come to terms with her own pain and emotional trauma, nor come to terms with the emotional sacrifices she had to make in becoming a mother, her interactions with you may have included subtle messages that caused you to feel guilt, shame, or obligation.
Before a mother can prevent passing down her wounds to her children, she has to fully grieve and mourn her own losses. She also has to make sure she does not rely on her children as her or only or primary source of emotional support or fulfillment.
Many people feel especially uncomfortable addressing the pain they inherited from their mothers. Oftentimes, it is because of the very sense of obligation we feel from our mother wound to be the person who always builds her up, and never tears her down. It is, however, entirely possible to heal your own pain without blaming or hating your mother. In fact, once you have faced and released your own pain, you may find it easier than ever to forgive your mother’s shortcomings and fully appreciate the totality of your relationship with her, both good and bad.
The past is never past. It lives on, every day, in the relational and emotional challenges you face in the ultimate pursuit of inner peace and fulfillment. If you avoid dealing with the pain leftover from what is perhaps the most foundational relationship of your life, you miss the chance to discover your true self and live up to your real, and enormous, potential.
If you’re ready to address and move beyond your childhood trauma, we recommend our renowned Survivors I workshop. In a safe, supportive environment, Survivors I explores the origins that fuel self-defeating behaviors such as addictions, trauma, mood disorders, and troubling relationships. Childhood wounding up to age 18 is approached with compassion and skills are taught in order to re-parent yourself. The primary focus of this workshop is processing and releasing the negative messages and emotions that were rooted in painful experiences from the past allowing the freedom to embody your authentic self.
For more information, call us at 1-800-244-4949 or contact us online.
By Pia Mellody
“What is this thing called love?” The title of an old song is still a persistent question. We would like to believe that love is the essential ingredient in relationships and that love will get us through all difficulties.
Unfortunately, while love is important and makes it all seem worthwhile, the nuts and bolts of relationship longevity are more about value systems, boundaries, honesty and accountability.
If I am honest and accountable, I will keep my word and commitments, accepting responsibility for my behavior without trying to justify it based on another’s behavior. It is, of course, appropriate to confront the other’s behavior and to own our feelings about that behavior. It is very different to say, “When I witnessed this behavior, I had this feeling,” than to say, “Your behavior caused me to feel this or caused me to behave in this manner.” Inappropriate behavior is inappropriate. If my boundary system and self-discipline are so poor that I rage, demean, call names, etc., it is my responsibility to protect you from me. My emotional reaction to you or to a situation does not lessen my responsibility to be appropriate. Blaming and whining are close relatives. It is manipulation if I try to affect the outcome by blaming others or by trying to evoke pity so that I am not held accountable and consequences disappear.
Making apologies and amends, essential in a personal recovery program, does not mitigate the normal consequences of our actions. If the offended person chooses to lessen the consequences after we apologize, that is part of his program. Accepting responsibility and being accountable can set the stage for better times in the future. Establishing a record of being moderate and appropriate is certainly a major ingredient in allowing trust to develop.
To believe that the power balance in a relationship is even is naïve. Value is constant; power fluctuates. One person always will have more power than the other. The balance is not the same in all situations, so one may have more influence around money and the other around social issues. It is important to recognize this and to know that, while one has more power in an area, that the other does not lose value in the exchange. If you know more about a subject, mutual respect will allow that knowledge to come to prominence. If one demeans the other about the difference, that is a boundary violation; it is abusive and serves as a major contaminant to intimacy.
Honesty and accountability are particularly important in the battles we have with partners. It is illogical to think that we enter into a fight with any intention other than to win. If we are not in a battle to win, we are not in a battle. Arguments are not fights; they may turn into fights, but they do not evoke the emotional energy that a fight does. When we fight, we tend to throw caution to the wind, saying and doing things that are neither in our personal long-term best interest, nor in the best interest of the relationship. Arguing and discussing become fighting when one or both parties discover that territory is being threatened, a feeling of abandonment takes over, or one feels insulted or belittled by the other.
This is about verbal fighting. If there is physical violence in the relationship, it is an entirely different matter. In such cases, the priority is to establish a condition whereby physical harm will not happen. This entails taking whatever action is necessary to assure personal safety.
In the general course of a fight, one person takes offense at the words or actions of the other, and then engages. If the other engages, too, the battle is on. The issue is hotly debated, then disappears as each party drags up data from the past and tries to inflict as much emotional pain as possible. At this point, one or the other decides to disengage and walks out or goes silent in an emotional walkout. In either case, the issue remains unsettled and joins the pile of other unresolved issues festering within the relationship.
If couples agree to a basic set of rules of engagement for their battles, positive—rather than negative—effects may be attained.
Don’t walk out on a fight! If we stay in there and don’t walk out, we find that we can maintain a high level of negative intensity for a relatively short time. (There are times when the intensity is out of control, and it is necessary to take a five- or 10-minute break to let it subside. This is not walking out; it is just recognizing that you need to cool off a little.) After the intensity dies down, the issue reappears and several things can happen. We can agree to a course of action, we can try to get more data to clarify the situation, we can offer each other positive regard and carefully listen to each other’s view of the problem, or we can agree to disagree and accept that the other has a right to believe as he or she chooses. That is acceptable even if it is not comfortable.
Don’t keep score! We cannot justify our present behavior by citing the past behavior of another. We must learn to accept that the consequences we experience are the results of our own behavior—and not because of someone else’s behavior. This is true even when it is the same behavior. You being late for an appointment with me last week doesn’t justify me being late today. If I had feelings about your lateness last week, I should have dealt with it last week. Keeping score prevents us from learning to be accountable for our own behavior and sets up a fertile area on which we tend to grow resentments.
Establish boundaries! Arguments often start in places that don’t have enough physical space for us to feel safe. Bathrooms and cars are examples of places that are too small to contain the energy developed in the conflict. In such cases, if the couple agrees to move into a bigger room or to stop the car and get out, they can respectfully ask for more personal space without walking out.
Emotional and intellectual boundaries are essential to effective fighting. Each person must perceive that his or her personal worth and integrity are being challenged by the other. Without effective boundaries, each person starts to doubt his or her own worth, and self-esteem drops precipitously. Perceptions of worth—of oneself and of the other—are usually what the conflict is really about. If we allow what the other says to challenge our beliefs in our own worth, we are losing the internal battle. Most of our important battles are fought between our ears; if we can learn to consistently win those, and not drop into self-doubt, we are better prepared for the less important fights with our mates.
Don’t argue facts! Once each person has related his/her version of the facts, there is nothing else to say on the subject. We can argue about the meaning of the facts and how we interpret the probable outcome of a situation. Repeating facts does not change anything but does heat up the discussion. If two people agree to meet at a restaurant and each remembers it—and shows up—at a different restaurant, the pain is about the feelings of rejection and abandonment. Yelling the name that each remembers does nothing. Recognizing the error and not having to establish blame solves the problem and allows for mutual tolerance to develop.
Agree to disagree! Sometimes we come to the realization that we have had the same fight over and over and that we are not reaching a solution. Usually this happens over a difference in value systems. Often it is over matters such as how to spend discretionary money, rear children, deal with in-laws, etc. When the conversation is so repetitive that either of us can recite both sides without the other being there, it is time to look at it as a subject on which progress will not be made. The choices available are to agree to disagree or to ask a third party (preferably a therapist) to mediate, and then to either accept the recommendations or decide to let go. This really becomes problematic when the value in dispute is of a very serious nature or held very highly by one or both parties. If, for instance, there is a difference in spiritual paths—one parent wants the children to be born-again Christians while the other holds fast to the ancient rites of Zororaster—a non-negotiable situation will end in divorce, a decision to not have children or continued conflict.
No fight zones. Some places are not safe for fighting. Cars, small airplanes, small boats, etc. —any place in which the energy of arguing increases the danger of the activity. Agree not to fight in these kinds of places. When a fight starts, put it on hold until you arrive at a safe place. This is not as hard as it sounds, and it gets easier with practice.
Delay a fight. Sometimes a fight is just inconvenient. We can’t expect our mates to miss a plane or important appointment to finish a fight. At this point, a delay is in order, and an agreement to finish later is made. If this is done with respect and a sense of personal worth, it works. Often the subject seems less important later, but the two people have made a decision as a couple that the delay was necessary, and no disrespect was intended.
If we are honest and accountable in relationships, we will find that trust is implicit and that, in the final analysis, we are both on the same side. The mutual goal is to support each other without losing individuality. We accept the other for whom they are, and we use boundaries to protect ourselves and for containment to protect the other.
As a pioneer in the field of recovery, Pia Mellody’s theories on the effects of childhood trauma have become the foundation for The Meadows’ programs, and are a major reason for their success. Pia is widely known as one of the preeminent authorities in the fields of addiction and relationships. Her work on codependency, boundaries and the effects of childhood trauma on emotional development has profoundly influenced the treatment of addictions and the issues of forming and maintaining relationships. She is the author of several influential books, including Facing Codependence, Facing Love Addiction, Breaking Free, and The Intimacy Factor. At The Meadows, Pia trains our staff, counsels patients and families and speaks at workshops on campus and lectures around the world.