Our relationship with our fathers

Your relationship with your father and then fathering your own child is a very special, and developmentally significant experience that enables you to learn a lot about human interaction – not just within your family system, but with people on the outside of thatcircle, with the world, and all inanimate objects and processes that surround us in this world.

Having had a kind, considerate, patient, attentive, consistently available father would automatically reflect these behaviors in the child’s psyche. A baseline of these behaviors gets etched in the inner core of human psyche, a baseline that shapes our view of the world that now appears to us as kind, attentive, patient, attentive and consistently available for our explorations and experimentations. The world is seen as a safe place, a friendly place, a place where trust and goodness are attainable virtues. One navigates such a world with peace, and contentment which then becomes a self fulfilling prophecy when the adult has his own children. Emotional bank balance…

Contrast this with a father who is unkind, inconsiderate, impatient, inattentive, unavailable. These traits of the father are etched into the psyche, and the projected onto the world. The world becomes unknind, inconsiderate, imaptient, inattentive, unavailable for our explorations and experimentations, and being so, appears to be a place where trust and goodness are unattainable. The world  seems like a battlefield and one is constantly engaged in a war. And how would one navigate such a world?  With cunning and  guile, outsmarting these unkind, unhelpful forces. This too becomes a self fulfilling prophecy, and is propagated intergenerationally thru children.

Children can thus either become the angelic messengers of peace, fulfilment and motivational strivings furthering the cause and nature of humanity, or they become the silent, helpless carriers of the psychic DNA of our collective malaise. Children do not have the choice, nor the insight, nor the ability to comprehend and resist. That resistance comes later in adolescent years. The adolescent youth of any race is a perfect mirror of the failures of the parental generation. They also provide a compensatory, reflective mirror. However, like all unmediated compensatory influences, there is always a tendency to exceed the compensatory factor – to compensate for the one sided forces, the pendulum always swings to the other extreme, always destined to miss the centre, where the centre of gravity lies – both literally and metaphorically.

Father’s relationship thus can be seen to etch a baseline of human values, beliefs and behaviors. When one is provided by the kind, caring, consistent father,  it becomes firmly etched in the psyche.  Over time, the healthy psyche will reinforce it with protective layers that will further strengthen the baseline, assimilate it in the self identity and create resiliance in values, beliefs and behaviors. When one is not provided such a basline because of an unkind, uncaring, unavailable or inconsistent father, or when the baseline is incongruent with the requirement of the developing psyche, the psyche may craft its own baseline as a developmental necessity. Hence the much cherished Western concept of a “self-made man.” However, such an achievement is born of trauma, and is essentially fragile at its core. It is prone either to distortion or to disintegration. This fragile core is contained within layers of developmental achievements that are much more powerful and strong for a “self made man” than they are for a person who has been cocooned and protected by the strength of fatherly love.

When the life is blissful, this part of layered psyche operates well, and builds on itself.  The baselines, whether strong, or fragile, are well hidden under the layers of psychic resistance. The self made man operates at greater efficiency than the man who has been cocooned by his father. However, during times of stress, or in periods of crisis, the “self made” baseline is tenuous to hold, as the psyche attempts to regress and needs something more concrete to fall back on.   If the environmental stress or trauma happens to be strong enough to rip apart the layers of psychic resistance,  the man falls back on the inner core, the baseline.

If this baseline can hold,  man is able to overcome his trauma and in time repair the damaged layers of resiliance. Minimum damage is done to the self and the environment, including relationships. If the baseline is not strong enough to hold, the regression cuts thru the psyche and taps into the primitive, instinctual drives that Freud defines as the id impulses. These id impulses are instinctual drives that liken us to the animal world, imulses that thousands of years of civilization and socialisation have eabled suppression of.  It is in cases like these that we see breaches of morality, of ethics, of all lofty ideals that are symbolised by the father, and are incorporated by us thru our relationship with our fathers.

From above we can perhaps begin to understand the  diverse range of values, beliefs and behaviors of a “self made man” and why hey may exist in mutual contradiction. On one end of the pole he is driven to self-imposed idealism that he may defend with the zeal of a fanatic, on the other he is ruthlessly exposed to his personal shadow that lurks within, unassimilated.  This also helps us understand why a man cocooned by father would show a narrow range of values, beliefs and behaviors, for he has incorporated his father’s values, beliefs and behaviors and not having “worked” as hard, has never learned nor has had an opportunity to develop his own values, beliefs and behaviors. The patience and flexibility of their values, beliefs and behaviors may come from a sense of innate curiosity that wishes to further explore its own domain.

Needless to say, either pole is undesirable. Whereas a self made man has no choice, the concooned man has an ethical obligation to  evolve. He simply has to find a reason, a motivation.

This has major clinical implications. In addition to providing corrective emotional experiences, psychodynamic therapy also becomes a place that helps create such baselines thru identification with and introjection of therapist. This impacts the use of the therapists self – which self is the patient going to use?

Multicultural clients provide the most challenges in such cases. Whereas a cocooned therapist of Eastern origin can provide the strong inner core, the fathering baseline to a Western patient,  the  treatment of a Eastern client by a Western therapist provides obvious problems. Will a Western “self made” therapist with  fragile core be able to help the traumatised Eastern patient shore up a fragile self? How will  the “self made” therapists own fragile core affect the cocooned patient’s self. What values, beliefs and behaviors of the therapist will be incorporated by the patient? Will they make him more successful or will they create further fragmentation?  Will the incoorporation of the therapist create a personality that culturally belongs neither here nor there ? And will that adversely affect the client?

These are some core questions that we need to ask of ourselves as we consult with a client. It is not sufficient to simply understand their problems, and attempt to resolve them to the best of our ability. We must attempt to understand the deep implications that our relationship with the client has on them, not just interpsychically, but intrapsychically as well. As professionals, it is our ethical responsibility to connect with only those clients who would benefit from us. The rest of them need to be referred.

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