A crack in my shell of perception

Jack brought home this basket to put Luke's toys in, but Fred had another idea for its use
Jack brought home this basket to put Luke’s toys in, but Fred had another idea for its use

When I was in my mid-twenties, I can remember sitting in a psychologist’s office complaining bitterly about my father, and every time this woman tried to offer me a different perspective about him; tried to help me see him in a new light, I intensified my accusations against him, giving her tons of incriminating evidence to support my case. I finally gave up on her. She just wasn’t willing to see him as the monster that he was, so I decided that I wasn’t going to waste my time in that therapy anymore.

Fast forward 20 years.

I was yet again in the process of trying to forgive my father (for him being a horrible parent), but found that I simply couldn’t make much headway. Every time I thought about him I felt deep resentment, judgement, and even disgust. My mind would not drop the story it had believed “forever”. And it had lots of proof. No one in my family said anything different.

But this time I was serious about forgiving him because I couldn’t live with that resentment anymore. …it was beginning to make me sick physically.

One day, and idea came into my head to ask someone (who had not grown up in my household, but knew my father) if they could tell me anything that was positive about him. I called up my cousin Nancy and posed the question to her, figuring it might take her some time, but  knowing that she would be very thoughtful about it, and try her best, since she has always been someone who tended to look at the positive, spiritual, and more expanded view of things.

Much to my surprise, she didn’t say she’d get back to me or that she’d have to think about it. She instantly said, “Your dad was always so much fun to be around.” And she said it with such love and happiness in her heart that I could feel she meant it. …and I could tell that she really liked him…loved him? Really? My mind instantly wanted to say, “Oh yeah, a lot of fun but he spent all the family’s money and drank and …..”

But I made myself consider a different point of view, and the shell of hatred toward him, that had been slowly calcifying around my heart since I was a child, got a little crack in it. Eventually it fell away. The old perceptions, that I felt were protecting me from getting hurt anymore, were actually prisons. Prisons of limited perception.

So many of the judgements that we hold against people, so many of our ugly thoughts, are not even our own. They are the remnants of our parents thoughts, grandparents, our social circle, society at large, religion…

If there is someone who you cannot seem to make peace with in your mind, consider asking a new question about them…maybe to someone who actually likes or loves them…and then allow yourself to ponder the reply; to consider that it might be as true as your story.

In the musical Guys and Dolls, my favorite moment is when Vivian Blaine says to Frank Sinatra,The doctor thinks my cold might be caused by psychology,’and Sinatra says, ‘Naah, how does he know you got psychology?’ 

Have you got psychology? Do you suffer from thinking too much? Most of my clients suffer from psychology. Their being is fine; their thinking is not. Psychiatric units are full of beautiful people suffering from ugly thinking.

The intellectual violence of the ego can be especially devastating when you feel vulnerable or low. Little self-doubts can quickly escalate into full-blown self-abuse and self-attack. Nothing has caused you more trouble than your own psychology. Nothing has hurt you as much as your own thinking.

from the book, Shift Happens! by Robert Holden Ph.D ( a leading psychotherapist who coaches leaders in business, healthcare, politics and sports)

25 thoughts on “A crack in my shell of perception”

  1. Well said, Mary. I really like that you asked a cousin for memories of your Dad and her response. We do tend to see things from our own perspective and how helpful to seek it out from others. One of the things I most enjoyed about my stepmother was talking with her about my Dad. Despite the fact that we both knew he had his faults, she never once spoke bad of him but instead, shared many happy stories of their time together. Compare that to 99% of what I hear from my mother… Wow, what a difference. One of these days I will get the courage to remind my mother that it is MY father she is talking about and ask her to stop the “I was right and he was wrong, see?” kind of bashing.
    While I don’t advocate rewriting our histories, what purpose does it serve to harbor bad feelings towards others and never remembering that there are good feelings as well.

    1. Thank you Marian…I appreciate your thoughts more than I can say. I know that when I finally told my mother that “enough was enough”, I felt a huge relief. It did change our dynamic of relating (I resigned as a member of the “everyone hates dad” club and there was, and still is, an “empty space” when we talk…it is amazing to actually see how much time we spent talking about him and when I wouldn’t participate anymore, it was quite different) but I knew it was the right thing too (and it also gave her the opportunity to see life in a different way if she chose to).

      1. Mary and Marion, I’ve been on both sides of the fence, having lost my first husband in an accident; remarried and found myself in the midst of, as their family doctor said, of inheriting a can of worms. So, I’ve been both a mother and a step-mother. I can tell you the pain of feeling betrayed in my second marriage to someone who was highly critical of others behind their backs and not taking responsibility for their own actions eventually led to my leaving the marriage. So I understand to some degree, Mary and Marion, your mother’s hurts. And I understand the difficult position children of divorce find themselves in. A divorce can destroy a family but I’ve found in my experience with others who have gone through this, it is often the women in the marriage, both mothers and daughters, who suffer the most when a divorce happens. In my experience, the men seem to move on, not getting into the feeling aspect of what has happened. I can only hope that in moving on and forgiving those who have contributed more to the breakdown of a marriage, that support and understanding and encouragement to seek therapy for the mothers in these situations can be given by their grown daughters. It does no good to badmouth a former spouse although the temptation to do so is borne, I feel, not only out of grief for what has happened but hurt in feeling misunderstood having children, who naturally may love both parents and don’t want to make choices, not give their undivided support to the one who is often hurt the most…the wife and mother. I can only say that encouraging mothers of divorce to seek support through therapy where their feelings may be validated and put to rest, may be something to consider no matter their age now. Sorry for the length of this post and not wanting to interfere in the interaction between you both, but I have seen both sides of the coin myself. Therapy, with a good psychologist, is helpful. And having some form of spiritual faith.

  2. Mary, alcoholism has a ripple effect in families affected by it. No matter what the issue; alcoholism, relationships turned sour, people doing things that hurt and harm us, carrying around our hurt and our anger is never good and yet, over this past year, I have dealt with a very difficult situation with my former step-daughter, whom I’ve remained a mother to despite leaving her father thirty years ago. She has done me grievous harm with my own daughter who, from the age of six, grew up hearing me slandered by her step-sister whose own mother had left her at the age of five. The ripple effect this mother’s decision had on her and thus on my family when I became involved in raising the two children she left behind, remains to this day. There is more to forgiving others, there is the matter of learning to love ourselves to the degree of forgiving ourselves for allowing this hurt and anger to remain in our lives. I’ll look up Robert Holden’s book. It sounds as though it’s a book for me.
    Sandy P in frosty Ontario, Canada

  3. A very wise person once said to me…”it isn’t what you do, it’s what you don’t do” …….I try to focus on the good that others do, and leave what they didn’t do up to my HP to take care of. I think that’s forgiveness , and I get a peaceful heart ,as a gift.

  4. Our bookclub was talking about forgiveness last week (it was relevant to the book) and if there was someone each of us had a hard time forgiving. One woman — very kind and sweet-tempered — said she wants to work on forgiving her father. I said that she will because she wants to. It doesn’t mean it will be easy, but she is already imaging the outcome of not being angry with him anymore. It hink you are so right: if we can visualize ourselves not being angry at that person, we have already allowed for a crack in the shell. I love the photo of Fred: as far as he’s concerned, the basket is his.

  5. Dear Mary, this is wonderful! Thank you for your fresh and loving approach to healing and renewal. I recently experienced a shift similar to what you describe with someone important in my life. After realizing that my struggles with this person were entirely my own doing, I began to see her in a more positive light. Sure enough, all the positive qualities I’d been thinking she didn’t posses sprang to life. It wasn’t that they suddenly appeared in her, but that I had been burying them with my negative and limited thinking. Ugly thoughts are powerful….so are loving ones…even more so.

  6. I keep a quote on my fridge by Norman Vincent Peale:
    “The secret of life isn’t what happens to you, but what you do with what happens to you.”

  7. I just finished reading today’s devotional in Jesus Calling (Sarah Young) and then opened up Mary’s message for us today – what companion material. If I may quote the devotional: (the messages are composed in the first person of Jesus speaking to you) “If you encounter a problem with no immediate solution, your response to that situation with either take you UP or DOWN. You can lash out at the difficulty, resenting it and feeling sorry for yourself. This will take you down into a pit of self-pity. Alternatively, the problem can be a ladder, enabling you to climb up and see your life from My perspective. Viewed from above, the obstacle that has frustrated you is only a light and momentary trouble. Once your perspective has been heightened, you can look away from the problem altogether, turning toward Me, and seeing the Light of My Presence shining upon you.” – – – I really like this idea of seeing ourselves on a ladder. We either go up or down. Who wants to stagnate on the same rung? Guess the choice is ours.

    1. Susan, it’s all about reminding ourselves in the heat of the moment that we do have choices and you’re right about self-pity, it’s party of one.

  8. Our women’s bible study just finished a book/video study “Unglued Making Wise Choices in the Midst of Raw Emotions” by Lisa TerKeurst. I think it is a great book to change your perspective on things by looking at how the bible tells us to act. It is how you react to the situation in Christ or without him. I think I want him on my side.

  9. I rarely venture down this memory lane anymore but this post felt like I was looking in a mirror.
    I spent almost all of my first thirty years despising my mother for allowing alcohol reign over her life; how could one possibly put the demon rum above the three children she struggled to give birth to? Why didn’t she love us more?
    Then, other people would pour acid into a deep wound by saying “Oh, you’re SO much like your mother!” [in reference to our penchant for words and word games and puzzles.] You might just as well told me I was ‘just like Lizzie Borden or Attila the Hun!’

    I tried psychotherapy and adult children of alcoholics groups but it seemed like just regurgitating all the pain over and over again with no discernible understanding or redemption.
    Then, while attending a contemporary women’s history class at our local community college, my ‘shell of perception’ was unceremoniously broken wide open when I perceived her as a PERSON, not a parent: hugely unhappy, with extremely limited resources, defined by the social mores of the times, and few opportunities for change within the context being a ‘woman in her place’.

    She died ‘Jane Doe’ on the streets of a state we never lived in; I was the last person she called before she disappeared, wanting to be bailed out of jail for being drunk and disorderly—again; my anger and hurt for all the years said “No, not this time.” I grieve for that tough love.

    It’s been decades since that last phone call. I’d like to believe I’ve made my peace with her. That somehow she knows I forgive her for the human frailties that led her to her final resting place. May the knowing help me be a better person to my own family; lend compassion to those in my own community; open my heart to those in need of understanding the ‘other side of the coin’.

    1. Cherly B, I wish I could be sitting right beside you right now. You have given us all so many wonderful poems in the past, so many uplifting comments to Mary’s posts, but like many I am sure who post here, there are sad and darker stories in each of our lives, – once in awhile, a post of Mary’s encourages us all to open up just that wee bit more. Tonight, your sharing has pierced my heart – our parents’ troubled lives affect us more than we can know as children – and yet they too, form us, mold us, into being able to learn and move on, and maybe now, in our own middle aged time of life, we lift the banner high, knowing what we have learned and how we can encourage one another. Cheryl B, thank you so much for sharing so much of yourself this day. Love to you and all who gather here! Susan in Arizona

    2. Cheryl B. – I am so touched by what you have shared here. Your last sentence seems like a prayer to me. Thank you. Sending warm thoughts your way. Pam

  10. Mary ~ I wish I could share this lovely writing with my stepdaughter. She seems to hate her father and I am his wife (his ex-wife left him for another guy) but his daughter is so very negative and judgmental and hurtful, I cannot even begin to describe it. I pray for her to soften her heart daily. You have described it so beautifully – WOW. Thank You. Perhaps in 20 years she will figure it out.

  11. I love Holden’s quote…..’nothing has hurt you as much as your own thinking’. This is spot on. Imagine all those “beautiful people” suffering from ugly thinking. Wow….a powerful message.
    thanks Mary.

  12. This is a wonderful post Mary, with very good advice! I know there are people in my life I need to see differently and this is a good reminder!

  13. Mary…I cannot tell you how often I read your thoughtful posts and think, “Thank you. I needed to hear that.” I often re-read them, save them and share them. I believe you are a gift to me…unearned, but so valued.

  14. Hi Mary, I want to order your skin balm, but the website appears to be unavailable. Please let me know how I can order more of your wonderful skin balm. I just love it!!!

  15. Mary – thank you for this post. I am a stepmother of a young woman (age 31) and she is hurting and angry and that anger is coming out mostly directed towards me and her father. (Her mother left her father – had an affair – married that man – has a 15 year old with him then left him for another man that she is currently married to.) Stepdaughter has been to counseling in an attempt to heal the relationship with her father – she quit when things got messy and she now has given birth to a baby boy. The psychologist has told us that she is a full blown narcissistic personality and that her reality (perception) and ours will never really mesh. I find that I don’t want any “drama” and I don’t want to be right or argue or be sarcastic with this young woman. She has so much life to enjoy but she only seems to find the negative side of things. Her words often are very hurtful. I have cried and felt so frustrated with no idea of how to be around her. But, your post helped me – just by reading it. I pray that one day she will be free from her anger and hurt and enjoy life and all the people who love her. Might happen. Might not.

  16. The comments for this post (and for many others) make me realize how much pain has been experienced in our respective families and how fortunate we are to have this safe haven in which to express and share and know we are not alone (more than one way to understand “not alone”). We are here as spiritual guides for each other and we offer hope and awareness that we can change and survive. The support and love is palpable.

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