Dear Dr. Ash,
Recently I was struggling with some time constraints in my life and after some encouragement by friends, I decided to reach out to my father for some help. I figured he could always say no, but I need to get past not asking for help and trying to do it all all the time.
He listened and after asking questions, said he didn’t know how much help he could be. I could feel myself getting upset and angry. After I told him how frustrated I am with everything, we got off the phone.
I realized that yes, getting actionable advice from my father would have been nice….but what I really NEEDED from my emotionally unavailable father was some acknowledgment. Saying something like “yes, I know this is hard. I’m sorry you’re going through this.”
But I will never get that. I don’t think I’ve ever heard my dad say “I love you, you’re so strong, etc.”
I know this part of my trauma and toxicity background and patterning, but how do you reconcile this? How do you accept this and not keep getting squashed by it even as a grown woman? How do I let go of the hope/expectation that he might surprise me one of these days?
Signed – Disappointed Daughter
I’m really proud of you for calling up your father and asking for what you need. For asking for help even though you didn’t necessarily expect a positive response. And for writing in and asking for help!!! I know that probably wasn’t easy…..and part of you probably figured “I should just let it go”. But support is so epically important, especially when you feel that you can’t rely on your family for it…
This is Who He Is
Here’s the thing, this is who your dad is. You’ve known this. However, you have expectations that he respond differently to you. And THIS is what’s leaving you hurt. Not his actual behavior.
Expectations are a way that we end up punishing ourselves with disappointment and sadness when others don’t act as we want to. This is part of the codependent coping mechanism where you expect other people to act in certain ways in order to show their love of you.
Here’s an example: When I was young I used to get super upset every time I’d go out to lunch with my dad and he’d want to have a drink (Dad’s an alcoholic). Every time I’d feel “can’t he just not drink for a freaking lunch to respect our time together!” And get butthurt about it. But now I just go “well that’s Dad and he’s going to do what he wants to do”.
I’ve dropped my expectations of him being different. Instead, accepting him just how he is.
Not, this acceptance is not approval of his choices. It’s just the choice that I’m not going to suffer because he is choosing things I’d rather he not do. Or choosing things which disappoint me.
By having expectations that are about him being someone else I was actually acting co-dependently and hoping that he would become someone else to show me that he loves me… instead of accepting him, and what he could give, and how he could give it, exactly as it is….
And this is what’s going on with your situation. And why it hurts so bad.
Expectations are different than boundaries. Expectations are tied up in the toxic cycle that has you feeling that “if only they were different, they’d finally show you that loved you”.
*for more information on this make sure to download my free ebook The No Bullsh!t Guide to Life. In it, I give you exclusive access to a free 1-hour training on boundaries and how they’re different from expectations.
You Need To Grieve
The hard part is that when you finally realize this about someone, particularly family, you end up needing to grieve the loss of the person you wish you had in your life. To grieve the loss of the idealized father (or brother, mother, or friend) that you had built up in your head.
It can be incredibly difficult and confronting to realize that they’ll never be who and what you want them to be.
The kindest most compassionate thing you can do is learn to love and accept others for who they are. To not place those expectations on them that they be different in order to earn your love.
Once you accept that you’re never going to get the other person to do what you want them to do, to feel like you’ll never have them at your back cheering you on, then you’re free to drop the suffering.
Drop The Suffering
Think about it… when we know our coworker is a jerk we don’t get upset every time he acts assy…. we let it flow through us and we’re just like rolling our eyes like “oh that’s Bert. That’s what Bert does” and it doesn’t even affect us…
We don’t suffer over it.
We don’t fear that we’re unlovable due to their poor behavior.
We let it move through us and we move on.
When you grieve who you wish your father would be, you finally free yourself…
To let go of your need to keep them happy.
To be who they want you to be.
To keep HOPING for them to be different.
But with our families part of us always wants them to be different. To act differently. To be the caring, supporting, nurturing parents and siblings and uncles and kids we’ve always wanted…. and as long as we hold onto that expectation we keep hurting ourselves.
The only solution is radical acceptance. Radical acceptance of exactly who and what they are and exactly what they’re going to do…
The Dynamics Will Change
When you go through the process of grieving an idealized parent, sibling, spouse, or friend the dynamics between you will often change.
Don’t pressure yourself to have to “know” what this new dynamic will be and look like.
To redefine the whole thing all at once.
You don’t have to know all the answers.
Just choose in the moment what you want to do and what feels right for you. When I stopped talking to a significant family member because of their toxicity, I thought “I’m not going to talk to her for a while” then “I’m not going to talk to her for 6 months” then “I’m going to wait until I’m compelled to talk to her again” and that’s how it went. I did not make the decision to “stop talking to her forever”. I just chose one day at a time and continue to do so.
And that’s what I want to encourage you to do.
Choose one day at a time depending on what’s right for you here, now.
“The kindest most compassionate thing you can do is learn to love and accept others for who they are. To not place those expectations on them that they be different in order to earn your love.” – Click to Tweet
Anxiety. Fear. Playing Small. Stuckness.
You’re living in a prison of your own making.
It’s time to change that forever.