The great RD Laing wrote: 'When it comes to families we are playing parts in a play we have never read and never seen, whose plot we don't know, whose existence we can glimpse, but whose beginning and end are beyond our present imagination and conception.'
Does that feel familiar? Does to me! Though families ideally would be filled with blessings, joy, pleasure, wonder, and of course that special all important ingredient, LOVE, for many of us they're a minefield where we wander about wondering where we dare step, what we dare say, how much truth we dare tell so as not to set off the next explosion.
But the good news is, it can be different. How? A lot of it is about being willing to really see the other person, know and understand them and listen to their point of view...
My father was difficult and his relationships with all of us were strained to say the least. Only well into adulthood did I think that, if he were one of my patients, I could listen to him attentively, take his history and understand exactly why he did what he did and felt as he felt. Every aspect of him would make sense – and I'd have endless compassion into the bargain. So I decided to imagine him – this man who, for the moment, I would see only as a man and not my father - sitting in a vacant chair in my consulting room and listen to his story. Suddenly I could see how it had been for him as a child, the trauma he'd suffered, the disappointments he'd endured. How his hopes had been dashed as a young man. I listened keenly to his joys and his pain. I saw how he'd felt when my sister and I were born at a time when he was absent due to the war and how the bride he'd left had become a harassed stressed out mother. I could see how he'd tried to love us though his heart was damaged; how he'd tried to work for us though physically it was difficult; how he'd tried to spare us the details of his pain – and suddenly I had such a flow of love for him that healed all the distance between us and brought us to a new way of relating that lasted us for the rest of his life.
So, how can we do this?
1. We take courage to put aside our anger, frustration and preconceptions about the other
2. We go to a safe place and get comfortable on one chair while imagining the family member with whom we have a conflict sitting on the other
3. We listen, trying to place all we know of them in chronological order and listen as attentively and respectfully as we would to our best friend
4. We allow ourselves our own emotion as the process continues
5. We have courage to up-date our truth and let go of old judgements.
6 If we're ready and able we allow forgiveness for both ourselves and the other.
7. We resume our relationship with newfound knowledge and newfound joy
Dr Brenda Davies
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