Mothers and Fathers - the tragedy of dysfunctional families and wounded parents

"What is so damaging about being raised by wounded parents is that we incorporate the messages we got from their behavior and role modeling into our relationship with ourselves.  At the core of our being is a little child who feels unworthy and unlovable because our parents were wounded."

“In this society, in a general sense, the men have been traditionally taught to be primarily aggressive, the “John Wayne” syndrome, while women have been taught to be self-sacrificing and passive.  But that is a generalization; it is entirely possible that you came from a home where your mother was John Wayne and your father was the self-sacrificing martyr.

The point that I am making is that our understanding of Codependence has evolved to realizing that this is not just about some dysfunctional families - our very role models, our prototypes, are dysfunctional. Our traditional cultural concepts of what a man is, of what a woman is, are twisted, distorted, almost comically bloated stereotypes of what masculine and feminine really are.”

"It is somehow appropriate - in a sick, twisted, kind of way - that Earth Day and Mother’s Day are so close together.  Civilized society has been raping our mother Earth for as long as it has had the technology to do so.  Women have been raped, not just physically by men, but also emotionally, mentally, and spiritually by the belief systems of “civilization” (both Western and Eastern) since the dawn of recorded history."


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The Web Site of Robert Burney and Joy to You and Me Enterprises.

Robert Burney is a codependency therapist, Spiritual teacher, and the author
of the Joyously inspirational book:

Codependence: The Dance of Wounded Souls

This page is entitled

Mothers and Fathers - the tragedy of dysfunctional families/wounded parents

There are 3 columns by Robert Burney on this page.
Quotations in maroon are from Codependence: The Dance of Wounded Souls by Robert Burney (Copyright 1995). Quotations from columns & articles (Copyright 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999) written by Mr. Burney are noted  and in blue text. Blue text material that is not in quotes is from Robert's upcoming book Wounded Souls Dancing in the Light (Copyright 1998) unless otherwise noted. There are several authors quoted in excerpts from The Dance of Wounded Souls, those are noted with copyright acknowledgment at the end of the applicable page.

 

Mother’s Day

by Robert Burney M.A.

“In this society, in a general sense, the men have been traditionally taught to be primarily aggressive, the “John Wayne” syndrome, while women have been taught to be self-sacrificing and passive.  But that is a generalization; it is entirely possible that you came from a home where your mother was John Wayne and your father was the self-sacrificing martyr.

The point that I am making is that our understanding of Codependence has evolved to realizing that this is not just about some dysfunctional families - our very role models, our prototypes, are dysfunctional. Our traditional cultural concepts of what a man is, of what a woman is, are twisted, distorted, almost comically bloated stereotypes of what masculine and feminine really are.”

“What we traditionally have called normal parenting in this society is abusive because it is emotionally dishonest.  Children learn who they are as emotional beings from the role modeling of their parents.  “Do as I say  not as I do,” does not work with children.  Emotionally dishonest parents cannot be emotionally healthy role models, and cannot provide healthy parenting.”

Codependence: The Dance of Wounded Souls  by Robert Burney


Motherhood is a gloriously honorable role - and arguably the most vitally important one that a being can assume in this human dance we are all doing.  It is very fitting and proper that we should honor mothers.  Unfortunately, in a world where women in general are degraded and devalued - and have been for thousands of years - the topic of mothers becomes a very emotionally charged and confusing issue.

How can a society cherish mothers when we don’t cherish women?  How can a woman who is not taught to cherish herself teach her children to cherish themselves?

It is somehow appropriate - in a sick, twisted, kind of way - that Earth Day and Mother’s Day are so close together.  Civilized society has been raping our mother Earth for as long as it has had the technology to do so.  Women have been raped, not just physically by men, but also emotionally, mentally, and spiritually by the belief systems of “civilization” (both Western and Eastern) since the dawn of recorded history.

Those belief systems were the effect of planetary conditions which caused the Spiritual beings in human body to have a perspective of life, and therefore a  relationship with life, that was polarized and reversed.   This reversed, black and white, perspective of life caused humans to develop beliefs about the nature and purpose of life that were irrational, insane, and just plain stupid.

As just one small but significant example of this stupid, insane belief system, and the effect it had on determining the course of human development - including the scapegoating of women, consider the myth of Adam and Eve.  ‘Poor’ Adam, who was just being a man (that is, he just wants to get in Eve’s pants) does what Eve wants him to and eats the apple.  So Eve gets the blame. Now is that stupid or what?  And you wondered where Codependence started.

The stupid, insane perspectives that form the foundation of civilized society on this planet dictated the course of human evolution and caused the human condition as we have inherited it.  The human condition was not caused by men, it was caused by planetary conditions! (If you want to know more about those planetary conditions you’ll have to read my book.)  Men have been wounded by those planetary conditions just as much as women (albeit in quite different ways.)

So the reason that the topic of mothers and Mother’s day is so emotionally charged and confusing is because women have been wounded so grotesquely for so long.  Because they were wounded, our mothers wounded us.

It is important to honor mothers but it is also vitally important not to deny our feelings about them.  Our mothers betrayed and abandoned us (for most of us this was not a physical abandonment but rather an abandonment in terms of: not protecting us from our wounded fathers; not being able to educate us in the realities of life; etc.), they violated our boundaries emotionally by not having boundaries themselves, they abused us in a variety of ways (whether overtly by taking out their anger and hurt on us either directly or indirectly/passive-aggressively, or by allowing us to see them being abused), and they were our female role models who passed on the stupid beliefs about women and about how women relate to men.

We have not only the right but the duty to ourselves to own our rage at our mothers. If we don’t we are not owning and being true to ourselves. That does not mean we have to express that rage to our mothers.  The healing that needs to be done is an internal healing.  We need to heal our relationship with the feminine energy within us, which will lead to a healing in our relationship to the feminine energy outside of us.

Our mothers were wounded - that is why they behaved in ways that caused us to be wounded.  We need to forgive them and have compassion for them.  But it does no good to intellectually forgive them unless we deal with the feelings - unless we release the emotional energy that we are still carrying around.  It is because we are still carrying around that emotional energy that they can still “push our buttons.”  It is because we have not healed the emotional wounds that Mother’s Day brings up so much stuff.

So look on this Mother’s Day as an opportunity to get in touch with emotional wounds that need your attention.  Look at the feelings that come up as a gift to help you on your path to a healthier and more loving relationship with yourself.

If you are a mother, look on it as a chance to celebrate the Joy of motherhood and to grieve the pain of not having been given the tools and knowledge that you needed.  You were doing the absolute best you could with the tools you had.  You were being the best mother you knew how to be given your history and circumstances.  Forgive yourself and work on letting go of some of the guilt you are carrying (owning your rage at your own mother is a very important part of letting go of that guilt.)

All any human being in the history of the planet has done is the best they knew how to, with the tools they had.  It is not anyone’s fault - it was caused by planetary  conditions that have now changed.  We are living in a glorious new age in which we have been given the tools and knowledge that we need to heal our relationships with ourselves, with our mothers (and fathers), with Mother Earth, and with the Holy Mother Source Energy.  We are now breaking the cycles of destructive behavior that have dictated human existence.  We can now access healing energy and Spiritual guidance that has never before been available in recorded human history - if we are willing to feel and release the rage and the grief, to heal the emotional wounds.

So have a happy (sad, angry, joyful, hurt, whatever it takes,) Mother’s Day.

Fathers

By Robert Burney MA

“What we traditionally have called normal parenting in this society is abusive because it is emotionally dishonest.  Children learn who they are as emotional beings from the role modeling of their parents.”

“As a child, I learned from the role modeling of my father that the only emotion that a man felt was anger.....”

“In this society, in a general sense, the men have been traditionally taught to be primarily aggressive, the “John Wayne” syndrome, while women have been taught to be self-sacrificing and passive.  But that is a generalization; it is entirely possible that you came from a home where your mother was John Wayne and your father was the self-sacrificing martyr.”

Codependence: The Dance of Wounded Souls  by Robert Burney
An incident happened when I was about 11 that I didn’t understand until several years into recovery.  At my grandmothers funeral I started crying hysterically and had to be taken out of the funeral home.  I wasn’t crying because my grandmother had died - I was crying because I had seen my uncle cry.  It was the first time in my life I had seen a man cry and it opened the floodgates of all the repressed pain I was carrying.   Of course, I went right back to repressing after that because I still hadn’t seen my father cry and he was my role model.

The belief that it is unmanly to cry or express fear is part of the prototype for what a man is supposed to be in our society.  Most men are programmed to keep their emotions (except for anger) bottled up in a concrete bunker inside of themselves because that is what they learned from society and from their role models.  Some men, of course, go to the other extreme and because they don’t want to be like their fathers are out of balance in not being able to own their anger - these men usually marry women who are like their fathers.

Growing up with fathers who were emotionally crippled by their role models and society’s beliefs has damaged us all.  Men can’t be emotionally honest with others because they don’t know how to be emotionally honest with themselves. Subconsciously they don’t have permission to own the whole spectrum of their emotional palette.  It takes a lot of work and willingness in recovery to change the emotional programming we received in our childhoods.

And it is vital to do that work because being denied access to emotions denies access to our hearts and souls - denies access to the feminine energy within.  A man who has his emotions dammed up in a concrete bunker within has a dysfunctional relationship with his own intuitive nurturing feminine energy and, of course, with feminine energy of those around him.

That is, of course, one of the curses of codependence that women experience men who don't have a clue what feelings are.  If Dad was emotionally unavailable then a woman is attracted to men who are the same - in an ongoing attempt to prove they are lovable by changing an emotionally unavailable male into one who is available.  And if Dad was emotionally available it was often in an emotionally incestuous way (surrogate spouse) so in that case the last thing a woman wants (on a subconscious level) is a male who is available emotionally - because the burden of feeling responsible for Dad’s feelings was too heart breaking.

There is an additional way in which women are wounded by their fathers that I have never heard, or read, anyone talk about.  It is a devastating blow that many daughters suffer on a subconscious level.  It comes at a very vulnerable time and contributes more evidence to the message that there is something wrong/less than about being a woman that most girls have already received in ample supply from society and the role modeling of their mothers.

This happens when girls start developing a female body.  Their fathers, being males of the species, are naturally attracted to the awakening feminine sexuality of their daughters.  Some fathers of course act this out in incestuous ways.  The majority of fathers however react to this attraction (which in shame-based western civilization is not acknowledged as normal but rather is so shameful that it is seldom even brought to a conscious level of awareness) by withdrawing from their daughters, emotionally and physically.   The unspoken, subconscious message that the girl/woman gets is “when I turned into a woman Dad stopped loving me.”  Daddy’s little princess is suddenly given the cold shoulder, and often is the recipient of angry (sometimes jealous) behavior from her father - who up until that time, often, has been much more emotionally available for his daughter than for his wife or sons.

In a healthy environment an emotionally honest father could recognize that his reaction was human - not something to be ashamed of - and also, not something to act out.  He could then communicate with, and have healthy boundaries with, his daughter so that she would know she wasn’t being abandoned by her Dad.

Whether your father was John Wayne or a milquetoast, whether you are male or female, your father was wounded by his role models - both parental and societal.   Even if he was relatively the most healthy man on the planet, he was still wounded because civilized society is emotionally dysfunctional.

What is so damaging about being raised by wounded parents is that we incorporate the messages we got from their behavior and role modeling into our relationship with ourselves.  At the core of our being is a little child who feels unworthy and unlovable because our parents were wounded.  In order to heal our relationship with ourselves and achieve emotional honesty it is vital to take a realistic view of how our fathers, and mothers, wounded us.  That is necessary in order to heal the relationship with the masculine and feminine energy within us so that we can be our own Loving parent.

Father’s Day

 by Robert Burney M.A.

“As a child, I learned from the role modeling of my father that the only emotion that a man felt was anger.....”

Codependence: The Dance of Wounded Souls  by Robert Burney
My earliest memory of my father involves a trivial incident that happened when I was 3 or 4 and playing with some cousins.  The incident was trivial but what I am feeling in the memory is not trivial at all.  In that first memory of my father, when I was just a little boy, what I feel is absolute terror.  As I sit here writing this, tears come to my eyes because it is very sad that little boy was so terrified of his father.

My father never beat me, or physically abused me (with an exception that I will note in a few moments) but he did rage.  He was/is a perfectionist and he raged when things did not go the way he wanted.  I was just a little boy who couldn’t very often do things perfectly.

The reason my father raged is that he was raised to believe that the only emotion it was acceptable for a man to feel was anger.  He had/has absolutely no permission to feel scared or hurt or sad.  If he feels any of those emotions he turns them into anger.

In general, in this society, we are taught to approach life from a position of fear, lack, and scarcity.  Coming from a place of fear and scarcity causes people to try to be in control to protect themselves.  My father got a multiplied sense of this outlook on life because he grew up in the Great Depression.  It doesn’t matter that he has made lots of money over the years and has a lot of security now - he still reacts from fear and scarcity because that was his childhood training and he has never done anything to change it.

My father always wants to be in control because of his fear.  One of the results of that is that he also doesn’t have permission to feel too happy because being too happy feels out of control.  Who knows what disaster might lurk around the next corner?  Don’t let your guard down for a minute!

What a very sad way to live life.

My father is an emotional cripple.  And he was my role model for ‘what a man is’.  I don’t remember being told ‘big boys don’t cry’ or any such thing - but I sure remember that my father never cried.  There was an incident that happened when I was about eleven that I understood only after I got into recovery.  At my grandmother’s funeral, my father’s mother, I started crying uncontrollably and had to be taken outside.  Everyone thought I was crying about my grandmother but that wasn’t what I was crying about.  I started crying because I saw my uncle cry.  It was the first time in my life I had seen a man cry and it opened the floodgates on all of the pain I was carrying.

How sad it is that that little boy was hurting so much.

My father has never said “I love you” to me.  In recovery I have said it to him directly and the best that he could do was to say “same here.”

How sad that my father is not capable of saying “I love you.”

At a point in the very beginning of my Codependence Recovery, I wrote a letter to my father - not to send to him - to get in touch with my feelings toward him.  I wrote a sentence that I intended to say “Why was nothing I did ever good enough for you?”  When I looked at the paper what it said was “Why was nothing I did ever good enough for me?”  That was a real turning point for me.  It caused me to realize that, though my father traumatized me as a child, I was the one who was perpetuating what he taught me and perpetrating on myself.  That was when I really started to understand that healing is an inside job.  Because, though my father is probably never going to say “I love you” to me, I can say it to myself.

How sad that I couldn’t learn that I was lovable from my father.

About the physical abuse thing.  Although my father did spank me on the bottom when I was a kid, I do not consider that to be physical abuse.   I did not feel any lasting trauma from those spankings so I personally do not feel that they were abusive or excessive.  What my father did do that was traumatic and excessive is take me down and tickle me.  I hated that.  I hated it so much that by the time I was about 9 or 10 I heard someplace, in some context, about “mind over matter” and I willed myself not to be ticklish anymore.  I realized in Recovery that tickling me was probably the only way it was okay for my father to be physically intimate with me.  He certainly would never hug me - so his way of being physically close to me was to tickle me.

How sad that my father’s only way of being physically intimate with me was abusive.

So, you might have guessed by now that I am feeling a lot of sadness about my father as I write this column on Father’s Day.  I am also feeling very grateful and blessed.  I do not have to be like my father.  Because of the wonderful miracle of the Twelve Steps, the knowledge of Codependence and the tools of Recovery that are available to me, I can change my childhood training - I do not have to be like  my father.  My father has never had the opportunity to honor and own his fear; never had the blessing of grieving - with heaving sobs and streaming tears - the pain and sadness of life.  Because my father never got to do these things, he has never really owned himself.  He has never truly been able to be fully alive - he has endured, he has survived - but he has never honored the pain of life or felt the overwhelming Joy of being alive.  He has never truly lived.

How sad that my father has never been able to own the sadness of life so that he could feel the Joy of it.  How wonderful that I can cry tears of sadness for my father and for that little boy who was so terrified of his hero.

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Copyright 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999 by Robert Burney    PO Box 977 Cambria, CA 93428

 (The Column "Mother's Day" and "Father's Day" by Robert Burney originally appeared in the Information Press of San Luis Obispo California)
(The articles "Fathers" by Robert Burney originally appeared in Recovery Today a monthly newsletter of the LCDC training School which are distributed throughout the state of Texas.)