This month we have been focusing on fatherhood and its critical role in our formation as an individual. We’ve talked about how our parents often do their best based on what they experience in their life. That sometimes their “best” is actually not very good, and so the pain that they experienced as young man (or woman) gets passed down to us and we in turn, if not careful, pass that same pain down to our kids.
Again, no one here is trying to throw dads (or moms) under the bus. This is simply reality. Many of the emotional wounds and suffering we endure during our formative years tend to resurface in our later years, typically through unhealthy and destructive methods of coping with our emotions and feelings (such as engaging in unwanted sexual behaviors).
This can become especially problematic when we meet people later in life that reflect some of the qualities of those who injured us emotionally earlier in our lives. This may include friends, pastors, spouses, or even a boss.
Such was the case with my experience.
As I share in my book When Shame Gets Real, my childhood wasn’t “horrific.” I didn’t come from a broken home, suffer sexual molestation, or have parents who ignored me. But my father grew up a sickly kid, and as a result, was the type of man who always pushed hard for what he wanted, tried to control any situation he found himself in, and was quick to highlight his accomplishments in an effort to prove to himself (and everyone else) that he wasn’t that weak, sick kid anymore.
His chronic need for self-validation spilled over into almost every aspect of his life, including his parenting style. For example, whenever I didn’t live up to his expectations, he used to convey his discontent by expressing his “disappointment” with me instead of just showing his anger or frustration.
And when I did get something right, he would often point to his accomplishments that mirrored and even eclipsed my own.
On top of that, my father was not shy or coy about his feelings when it came to other people who were deemed “losers” or failures. His standards were rigid and unforgiving.
As a result, I grew up with this extreme need to validate myself and seek his affirmation. After all, I didn’t want to be just another loser in his eyes. And when that affirmation didn’t come?
You guessed it, I felt shame and disgust with myself.
Fast-forward 30+ years when I left the family business to work for an online ministry.
Working for a company that moved fast and expected you to keep up or get swept away in the chaos was a constant challenge. I was always getting thrown into new projects and being tasked with learning new skills that I had minimal to no prior experience with.
But the real challenge wasn’t the company’s trial by fire approach to employee “training” and development. It was the culture. My new boss, from my perspective, shared many of the same qualities as my old boss (my father).
They both rarely said sorry.
They both had a hard time with offering affirmation.
They both were highly skilled at offering not so constructive “criticism.”
Except my new boss wasn’t my dad. Yet his not so gentle corrections when I “messed up something” were just as painful and damaging to my sense of self-confidence and worth as they would have been if he was my actual father.
Thankfully through counseling and a lot of emotional pain I was able to work through these issues. Both with my father and my former boss.
But it took time. It took effort. And it took a lot of grace and patience.
Again, I share this not judge, bash or damn anyone.
While I don’t consider my ex-employer or father to be fundamentally terrible individuals, I also don’t believe their social and relational approaches were deliberately directed at hurting me. In fact both men have shown me extreme kindness and generosity at various times throughout my life.
But I believe that both of them, like many of us, are struggling with their own sense of shame and insufficiency caused by the pain and betrayal inflicted upon them by individuals in their respective lives. And, like so many others out there, they are just trying to manage that pain the best way they can.
Hurt people hurt people.
There is nothing you can do about that reality. You can’t control what happened to you. But you can control how you move forward and when you decide to seek help and healing, that’s when the door to freedom will begin to open for you.
Btw, if any of what I shared resonated with you, pick up a copy of my book and learn how to overcome the influence of shame present in your life.