When the parent/child relationship is strained – like perhaps your mother is domineering and controlling or your father is bitter or conflicted – we can fall into this trap of thinking we can’t change our relationship with them, or our futures, as we believe what happened to them will happen to us.
There is a prevailing thought that if a woman has a bad relationship with her father, or a man has a bad relationship with his mother they will have destructive, psychologically conflicted relationships with the opposite sex. Legendary psychologists Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung created theories, calling them Oedipal and Electra complexes to describe our conflicted relationships with our parents. And while those two terms – and Freud and Jung’s conclusions – are heavily debated, controversial even, there is a lot of research to back that our relationship with our parents affects our dating life. Especially in that we often, subconsciously, find ourselves trying to work out our parent/child relationships in our friends and lovers.
Dr. Meg Meeker, author of “Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters: 10 Secrets Every Father Should Know,” talks quite a bit about how a girl’s first experience of love is with her father, hence coloring her future views of all male/female relationships.
In an interview with Oprah Winfrey for Winfrey’s radio show on Sirius/XM, Dr. Meeker said: “If there is positive male experience in her early years, she is going to do much better. If she has a bad experience when she is young, she is going to be very put off by all male figures in her life. That’s the power of a dad.”
On the mother/son end, author Michael Gurian penned “The Invisible Presence,” a book that examines how a boy’s interactions with his mother affect his most intimate relationships. Says Gurian: “(I)t is about the son’s claiming and reclaiming of his own female side, the femaleness and that femininity which, as psychologist Herb Goldberg has put it, ‘is a part of every man’s core.’”
Men with troubled relationships with their mothers sometimes have stressful relationships with women, marked by concerns and fears about control. Some men with overbearing mothers may be both overly dependent on their partners, yet at the same time resentful if the partner is assertive or potentially domineering.
But in the case of both Gurian and Dr. Meeker, it’s clear that we don’t have to be bound to our upbringing. Believing that all your relationships will be conflicted because your first relationship with your parents was is akin to believing that if you’re born poor and uneducated you’ll die that way as well. But there are steps you can take to get out of poverty and to educate yourself.
There are steps you can take to overcome the harsh, emotional past. Our relationship with our parents isn’t absolute. We can move forward, get clarity, get closure and gain control. A bad primary experience as a child doesn’t have to trump all future experiences. With hard work you can overwrite the bad tape in your head telling you to always expect the worst. You can find objectivity and learn from your more troublesome relationships so you can avoid that pain repeating itself, while also being open to meeting someone new and trying again.
Dr. Meeker told Winfrey, “My great hope is that even if there is some terrible damage that is passed between a daughter and a dad, it’s never too late to correct it.”
We aren’t victims of our circumstance. We can find control.