Q. The last couple of years after a difficult divorce I have been reviewing my early family life. I now recognize a lot of patterns between my married life and my life as a boy living with my parents. Although there were a lot of good things that I recall, some of the dysfunctional patterns are really deep and have repeated in new relationships. I have had some difficult conversations with my parents, especially my mother about my teenage life and how I am still treated when I return home during the holidays. Their willingness or ability to acknowledge these negative dynamics and their impact on me is minimal. I have finally reached peace, after a lot of attempts and self-reflection that I am not going to get much from them in the coming years. I went through a process of grief, as you have described in previous articles—sadness, anger, loss, blame and finally acceptance. It helped to talk to a counselor for several months. I never thought I would get here as I was so stuck in wanting them to be different and trying to figure out what I did wrong when they couldn’t respond to me with care and understanding. I also feel a need to clear out things in my home from my marriage. The divorce was painful and now that I am starting to date other women, I feel a need to start new. Can you please help me navigate these changes appropriately?
A. First, it sounds like you have already gone through the most difficult aspects of these major life changes: divorce and understanding your early life and its contribution to your adult relationships. Coming to peace with our parents as you have described in an ongoing process as we keep discovering so many dimensions of that formative relationship that continue to affect us in various ways. It takes courage, skill and willingness to face our family members. Your desire to “start new” is healthy and can take you forward. Our environment carries memories and associations of our previous relationships and experiences. If you are strongly drawn to creating a different environment by moving, giving away old clothes and re-decorating or remodeling, you ought to do it. This kind of renewal brings in new people and attitudes in our lives. Some people do it through travel—going to new places to get inspiration and to clear old perspectives and habits. Although our history is important and needs to be valued, shedding dysfunctional and painful patterns is a key aspect of creating a different life.
Alzak Amlani, Ph.D., is a counseling psychologist of Indian descent in the Bay Area. 650-325-8393. Visit www.wholenesstherapy.com