The Choice You Make: Conflict or Harmony?

My Dear Readers,

Conflict is a reality within our lives.  In fact, we unconsciously want conflict.

Why? Because we find balance and calmness in conflict.  As a result, even though conflict among our loved ones can be painful to watch, we often feel the need to be the bystander.

Typically, when individuals seek psychotherapy, it is because the individual wants it.  Psychotherapy is like hopping on a train: it can be a rough journey, but in therapy, the individual seeks a “safe, secure space to spill their spoilage.”

There remains an old saying:

“You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink.”

Below is such a story….

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Dear Visible Man,

Simply put, I need help for my son.  I am an African-American woman who at a young age had two children.

I had my two children at a young age. At the time, my husband was an excellent provider, and we lived well. However, our lives went downhill in the late 1980’s when he fell into the grip of crack cocaine addiction, and I made the decision to end the relationship.  As a result, my ex-husband was never involved in my son’s life.

I went on to marry another person who was a great stepfather to my children.  He was always involved in their activities, and was very supportive of them.  Unfortunately, he passed away after a long illness when my son was in his early teens

This was the beginning of a very difficult time for my son.  He had problems in school, began associating with a rough group of kids and started smoking marijuana.  We managed to keep it together for a while, but when he turned 19 years old, I caught him selling drugs out of my home.

This behavior was clearly unacceptable.  I put him out of my home, and he has been living on his own for the past 10 years.  He now has a good job with benefits and has left the rough crowd and the drug scene.

So what’s the problem?  The problem is the tension and poor communication between my son and his father. I have attempted on numerous occasions to get the two of them together and have failed.

My son is angry with his father for not being involved in his life.  When speaking of him, he refers to him as “the sperm donor.”  On the other hand, my ex-husband is angry with my son because during the one time he attempted to reach out to him, my son severely cursed him out. His father now feels disrespected as a man and has ceased all communication with him.

In general, I am very concerned about how this is impacting my son’s life.  At one moment he can be calm and laughing, but the minute his father’s name is mentioned, he goes into rages, and afterwards, shuts down. I have spoken to him about counseling, but he has rejected it, saying that nothing is wrong with him and he can handle himself.  However, he is unable to see that others are being impacted by his behaviors and negative moods.

I am going to reach out to his father once again to see if he would reach past his own anger and help our son.  I would appreciate any advice that you have so I can pass this on to my son.  It hurts me to see him in so much emotional pain.

A Mother’s Love, Seattle, WA.

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My Dear Woman,

First, I want to extend my condolences regarding the passing of your beloved.  It appears that now that he has passed away, you are turning your focus towards the relationship of your son and his biological father.

Although I was born in New York City, I was raised in the segregated South.  We have a saying “You don’t call the plumber when the toilet is working.” That can also be loosely translated into” if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

Both quotes describe aspects of human nature—the inability to simply leave things alone and avoid attempting to correct, fix or improve what is either already working or sufficient.  One of the consequences of not leaving things alone is that your efforts are risky and may backfire or create problems that you did not intend.

Before you go further and perhaps create confusion, ask yourself the following:

  • Why am I unable to listen to what my son is saying?
  • Why am I determined to force a relationship between my son and his biological father?
  • What damage am I creating in the relationship between my son and I?

Your son is no longer a child. He is an adult.  He has the right to determine or decide whether he wants his biological father involved in his life.  Furthermore, he has the right to have or hold onto his anger.

Although you may have compassion and remember that his father was an excellent provider during your son’s infancy, the reality is that regardless of what reason, excuse or justification he or you may have, your son feels that he was “abandoned.”  It is essential that you do not seek to change or repair their relationship. Ultimately, it is up to them.

Follow the model Five R’s of RELIEF,

  • Step to side, take a moment, take a breath (RESPITE);
  • Own your feelings (REACTIONS);
  • Process what is occurring in front of you (REFLECTION);
  • Share your words (RESPONSE) and
  • Give yourself time to review what has occurred (RE-EVALUATE).

Your son is wounded by the abandonment.  Furthermore, he may still be grieving the death and loss of the stepfather who raised him.  Finally, due to his unresolved anger, your son may be responding to his own internal conflict associated with his feelings toward both father figures.

Be honest with yourself.  Are you, by your actions, stating, “I know what is best for you?” Are you really attempting to force them into a relationship that neither wants?

Although you say that your intent is to improve communication between father and son, it is not your wound to heal.  Both individuals are emotionally wounded and have victimized the relationship. It is their relationship to fix.

Instead of the biological father being “bad” or the son as being “disrespectful” it would be helpful for both individuals, using the Five R’s of RELIEF, to examine the following:

  • Why do I feel wounded? (Answer: drug involvement).
  • What actions or behaviors bind us together? (Answer: drug involvement)
  • What were the actions or behaviors that led to both of us being ejected from the home? (Answer: drug involvement).

There is no right or wrong here.   Both individuals at an early point were in emotional pain and turned to drugs as a means of medicating the emotional pain.  This contributed to the ongoing wounding of both people.

They must want to stop the bleeding and begin the process of healing the wound.  Both individuals must want to seek common ground, but this is not possible as long as they continue to live in fear of each other.

Individuals with long standing emotional pain may choose to live with the pain rather than take the opportunity to move forward and learn other coping methods. Individual psychotherapy rather than counseling would be a different way to allow both of them to work towards what is so desperately needed: emotional balance.  In psychotherapy, the therapist becomes the guide and companion on the journey called self-discovery.

The therapist’s role is to provide a Safe, Secure, Space for their patients to Spill their Spoilage.  It is within this environment that the therapist and the individual seeking treatment walk the journey together, uncover hidden pain and trauma, and work through it together.

Concluding Words

My Dear Woman,

In life, there are things we want and yet cannot have. Regardless of your good intentions, you will fail in achieving your objective of improving communications between father and son.  Your son is no longer a child.  As an adult, he has a right to choose his own direction, even one that you strongly disagree with.

Both men, father and son, must want to improve their relationship. Before they do this, however, they must want to stop the bleeding and begin the process of healing their individual wounds.

You cannot do this work for them. Your involvement is clearly not desired.  By continuing to force the issue, you risk damaging your relationship with your son.

They have the opportunity to stop being victims and survivors.  If they choose to do so, they can become empowered, and begin to drive, strive and thrive in their journeys.  The song remains the same: Fear is here. Forever.  You must choose to live in or live with your fear.

The Visible Man

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