Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Can Buddhist Beliefs Repair My Broken Relationship with My Father?

Chaos, just like the unpredictable nature of my relationship with my father.  Photo used with permission.

My father and I have had a difficult relationship my whole life.  He's convinced that I've been manipulative for years, and I'm convinced that he has been uncaring and sometimes cruel throughout my life.  Our relationship has always been chaotic and unpredictable, but I guess I need to remember that eventually even chaos coalesces into order.  At our breaking point, I suggested that we go to therapy.  He reluctantly agreed, but neither one of us seemed to have high hopes.

Shockingly, we agreed upon a therapist, and she happens to have a spiritual focus.  I took it as a good sign that she even linked to dharma talks from her website.  Here is a great one about the attitude that perpetuates suffering.  Nevertheless, I felt like a failure for going to therapy.  After all, why couldn't I resolve our relationship problems by relying on my Buddhist beliefs?  As I have pondered this question more, I've reached the conclusion that problems do not come from only one person, nor does the solution to a joint problem come from only one person.  My father and I needed to work together to repair our relationship.  Buddhist beliefs may help me explain his behavior or mine and may help me accept the way our relationship is, but the repair of our relationship requires serious work by both of us.

I realize that a large part of the problem is probably our way of looking at our relationship.  Both of us suffer from delusional minds and need to take a step back from the situation in order to view ourselves more objectively.  I am so hurt, and maybe he is too, but it's very difficult for me to practice forgiveness.  More than 30 years of suffering has passed because two people didn't try hard enough.  I feel cheated by life.  My father is old and may die before I ever feel loved or even understand why he behaved the way he did.  I recognize these thoughts as selfish, but I can't stop thinking like this.

We went to our first therapy session, and he says that we made great progress, but I don't know if I agree.  Our delusional ways of thinking are persisting, and the same behavior is occurring.  I think he is just saying that we are making great progress because he doesn't want to spend the time or money to repair our relationship.  He's already said that he's not committing to additional therapy sessions.

We are going to start Imago Therapy some time soon, but I am hoping for the best and expecting the worst because of his constant need to argue over semantics.  Maybe he should read Giving The Love That Heals.  After I went to the hospital, was diagnosed with severe bronchitis, was given an albuterol treatment and a strong antibiotic, he had the nerve to say, "You tend toward hypochondria."  When I said I was hurt that he called me a hypochondriac, he argued that he did not call me a hypochondriac and in his best holier-than-thou tone suggested, "Lola, words mean something."  I am angry that he can't even be honest with himself.  Hmmm.  Here are some example offensive statements that I can imagine one person saying to another:

You tend toward criminality. = You are a criminal.
You tend toward corpulence/obesity/being overweight. = You are fat.
You tend toward hypochondria. = You are a hypochondriac.

I think we went wrong when it came to the fourth of the Five Mindfulness Trainings, as formulated by Thich Nhat Hanh.  Instead of starting an argument, he never should have made the statement at all.

The Fourth Mindfulness Training:

"Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful speech and the inability to listen to others, I am committed to cultivate loving speech and deep listening in order to bring joy and happiness to others and relieve others of their suffering. Knowing that words can create happiness or suffering, I am committed to learn to speak truthfully, with words that inspire self-confidence, joy, and hope. I am determined not to spread news that I do not know to be certain and not to criticise or condemn things of which I am not sure...."

Maybe throw in a dash of karma too, but I feel that the above clearly summarizes where our relationship went wrong, at least according to Buddhist beliefs.  I just wish I had more tools to fix us.  What tools do you use to avoid relationship drama or fix family problems? How do your Buddhist beliefs or other beliefs impact the way you view and or resolve such problems?  Any comments would be greatly appreciated.


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