As a child, I recall, probably similar to every young man, trying on my father’s shoes which were five to ten times larger than my feet. I then put on his jacket, which trailed on the floor and hid my hands that only reached to where his elbows would have been. In full regalia, I proceeded to shuffle into the living room and proclaim, “I’m daddy”. But I wasn’t daddy at all. I was only a poor imitation.
I’m sure that many women recall putting on their mother’s dress, stepping into her high-heeled shoes and clunking across the floor, thinking they were mother. But, once again, the costume on the outside in no way gave credence to their thoughts.
Years later, many of you, whether male or female, are still trying to walk in those oversized shoes. But they didn’t fit then and don’t fit now. In effect, you were trying to be grown up by assuming the image of your primary role models. It’s not surprising. It’s the paradigm used by parents and society to rear the next generation. The problem is that the price for that transformation is giving up the freedom to be who you potentially were then and who you could be now. As a result, most people go through the world strong in form, but weak in substance.
This behavior pattern is readily apparent when you don someone else’s clothes. It’s more difficult to recognize when you assume beliefs, self perceptions, fears, neurotic behaviors and attitudes. Yet, that’s what most human beings do. You either become carbon copies of your parents and emulate the behaviors and roles you were exposed to in childhood, or behave the opposite of them. Either way, the result is few of you ever fully cut the umbilical cord or left home, physically or emotionally. Although you may have moved thousands of miles away, recognized and criticized the way you were raised and attempted to live your life differently, more often than not it only resulted in compensatory behavior that was 180º the opposite of your parents. It still didn’t reflect who and what you were. The sadness is that, years later, when or if you come to that realization, you see that the image you developed, the relationships you created and the feelings you experienced were all emotionally similar to what you learned in childhood. It makes me think of the saying I’ve frequently seen stitched on pillows, “Mirror, mirror on the wall, I am my mother, after all”. I’ve never seen this one, but I believe it’s equally true: “Mirror, mirror on the wall, I am my father, after all”.
Some of you would say, “What’s wrong with that? He/she was a good person.” I’m not questioning that. But he/she wasn’t you. And, in order to live your life in an emotionally healthy manner, you need to be able to find yourself, accept yourself and share yourself with whomsoever you later choose to live your life with.
Louise and Jim are excellent examples of this phenomenon. They’re wonderful people. Bright, educated, articulate individuals who have a wonderful family, a beautiful home, fancy cars and a vacation residence in Colorado. On the surface, they have it all. Emotionally, they have very little. Jim makes work his priority. Doing so enabled him to amass a small fortune. When he finally reached a point where he was able to say, “I have all the money I’ll ever need in my life”, he began to realize how emotionally empty he felt. He loved his children, but he was detached from them. He valued his wife, but their physical relationship was all but absent. Warm, meaningful exchanges rarely took place between them. Finally, after an extended vacation that ended emotionally and sexually disappointing, he arrived at my office in tears. He shouted, “I’m through. I’ve had it. I want a divorce. It’s not that I don’t love her, but I can’t spend the rest of my life with her. I refuse to live like a monk. I arranged for a suite overlooking the water, had wine and hors d’oeuvres sent to the room and all she did was complain that if there was a fire, the ladders wouldn’t reach up to our floor. How romantic would you say that was?” Although he was furious, I felt his heightened emotionality was a significant improvement over the flatline personality he typically exhibited.
When I told him so, he angrily snarled, “Is that some kind of psychobabble observation?”
“No”, I answered, “but tell me, what’s the opposite of love?”
“Hate” he responded.
“That’s wrong. The correct answer is, indifference. You see, love and hate are similar. You don’t love someone unless you’re really involved. Similarly, you don’t hate someone unless you’re equally involved. Both reflect emotional involvement.”
He stopped almost dead in his tracks and I could see the wheels in his head turning. Some time later, he left my office with one resolve - to tell his wife where he was coming from: that he loved her, wanted her and would fight to get her, but he refused to do so unless she was equally committed to working on herself and their relationship.
They are still in therapy today. Their marriage now has an opportunity to succeed. But, whether it does or not, both of them will definitely make it individually. The reason is threefold.
1. They are no longer blaming each other for their problems. They recognize that they are their own problem and that they can’t fix anyone but themselves.
2. They’re learning that they have self worth and are entitled to be loved, but that their partner isn’t a mind reader. Therefore, they have to be sufficiently courageous to ask for what they desire, without anger, while accepting the fact that they might not get it.
3. Most of all, they’re no longer trying to get what they want by filling someone else’s shoes or expectations. Instead, they expect to be respected for who they are and in spite of their imperfections.
They are now learning who they are and what they want and are willing to be open and honest. They are both in a far healthier place emotionally. Consequently, their marriage has a better chance to be there, as well.