How to De-stress from Distress—No Easy Answers

For most of my life, I have had a highly complex and not entirely nurturing relationship with my father. I say this recognizing that we all have emotional blind spots so huge you could drive a truck through them, but all the therapy and common sense in the world doesn’t make it any easier when someone you love says unkind things to or about you. No relationship is entirely smooth sailing and we all have to commit to riding out the rough patches, but there comes a time when one has to wonder whether maintaining that emotional connection is worth it and, simultaneously, being prepared to accept the messy consequences that inevitably follow from choosing to cut ties.


Last night, I overheard my dad chattering away on the phone, as is his wont to do. In response to some question that had to do with me, he groaned and recited an entire soliloquy as to how perplexing and inept my job search efforts have been, concluding with his theory that I may never work again—another example of females who sit around, doing nothing. Now, while I know that he loves to be dramatic in his delivery, I am confident that he was speaking his truth. I also know my dad loves me dearly. Growing up under such schizophrenic circumstances was confusing and difficult and took me years to realize was not normal.


Hearing him say these things about me hurt my feelings a lot. But, in addition to that, his words only prompted me to berate myself. It’s true, I have been less than stellar these past several months in my job search—I struggle against profound discouragement and a visceral revulsion to returning to work in an office. Maybe one feeling feeds the other. But my first reaction after hearing him was to pile on more hurt on myself. And I know a lot about therapeutic coping mechanisms!


What comes up for you when you reflect back on a time when someone close to you said something unfair and unkind?


It would be useless and counterproductive for me to say anything to him. He can’t hear it, won’t hear it, lacks the tools to process it, and absolutely, positively will not change. That’s my truth. One friend coached me along the lines of cutting emotional ties—for sanity’s sake—and also to move out. Both acts hold a lot of appeal for me, but waaaay easier said than done. Especially when I factor in my very real concerns about a variety of factors related to finances, judgment, and aging. Also, I ask myself, how important is it that he says unkind things? How much power will I give him?


On top of all this, I have spent the past three years working hard at trying to rebuild my relationship with my dad. I want to do right by him, but when he does things like this, it makes it that much harder. I can tough out a lot of situations—including this—but I was taken aback by how much his words hurt. I give them too much credence, I suppose, but what he said hit at the heart of my own doubts about myself.


Have you ever experienced anything similar?


This little episode seems to me to strike at the heart of re-booting. Moving beyond people, relationships, or situations that we held dear but, for whatever reason, are no longer functioning is a key component of mature adulthood. I don’t want to be one of those people who just cuts others off forever (although it has happened) but what is a relationship worth if you are simply there in body and not in spirit? What if the halfway measure won’t resolve matters, subjecting you to additional hurt?


At this point, I’m not willing to walk away. I’m already pre-dispositioned to beat myself up for all the things I haven’t managed (just like he said). In most respects, I’ve already forgiven him for being this way—he mostly can’t help it. I wrestle with how many excuses am I making for myself versus wanting to preserve what little I have left of pride at this disappointing moment in my life. I wish I knew a way out that was better, that could apply a salve to my wounded confidence, and that could make for a more satisfying relationship between us.


Sorry for the heavy post.


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2 Responses to “How to De-stress from Distress—No Easy Answers”

  1. abpenland Says:

    This really struck home for me. I recently had a friend lash out at me this way, using all my insecurities against me. It hurts. It sucks. I’m still dealing with it.

    But I’ve also noticed that people’s criticism’s of others reveal a lot more about the criticizer than the victim. Someone who’s terrified of laziness tends to criticize others as slovenly, and someone who’s petrified of being judged poorly tends to judge others harshly.

    Make of that what you will.

  2. dignitarysretreat Says:

    Thanks for your comment; I’m sorry you are suffering from your friend’s outburst. These things are not easily overcome!
    I agree that a person’s criticism often reflects more about them than us; I guess what I find particularly hurtful is (in my case, at least) the violation of the sacred trust between two people who care about one another by expressing such, well, contempt. It’s bad enough when you’re arguing or fighting but when someone does it as part of mere prattle, such as what my dad does on a regular basis, well that adds another layer of “discounting” to it…The whole thing stinks.

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