NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Saturday, April 20, 2013

Fathers and Sons: Improving Your Relationship with Your Dad

In an earlier blog article, I wrote about relationships between mothers and daughters.  In this blog article and in a series of upcoming articles, I'll be focusing on fathers, including many psychotherapy clients' desire to improve their relationship with their father. 

More Men Are Coming to Therapy Now Than in Years Past
There was a time when most clients in my psychotherapy private practice in NYC were women.  Things have changed, and men represent about half of the clients in my practice.  

Improving Your Relationship With Your Father
Of course, men come in for many different reasons, including problems in their relationship or career.  Many men come in because they want to improve their relationship with their dad.  For other men, this issue might not have started as the presenting problem, but it will emerge as an underlying problem, often with men who are having problems with self esteem.

Fathers and Sons: Improving Your Relationship With Your Dad

My experience has been that, generally, people tend to come to therapy after a problem has been brewing for a while and their attempts to try to deal with it themselves haven't worked.  This also applies to men who have problems in their relationship with their father under a variety of circumstances.

Wanting to Improve Your Relationship With Your Father, But Not Knowing How
Even in circumstances where the father-son relationship is strained, generally, clients usually say that they would like to improve the relationship, but they don't know how.  Often, their prior efforts to improve the relationship haven't worked out.

A Vignette About a Father-Son Relationship
It isn't possible to address every permutation of problems between fathers and sons, but I'll address one particular problem that I often encounter with psychotherapy clients in the following fictionalized vignette, which represents a composite of many different psychotherapy cases with all identifying information changed to protect confidentiality.

Joe, who was in his mid-30s, came to therapy because he was having problems with self esteem.  He also had a history of having problems with male bosses, which created problems for him in his career.

When he began therapy, his problems with self esteem created problems for him in his two year relationship with his girlfriend, Alice.  Although he knew there was no objective reason for feeling the way he did, he still struggled with his feelings that Alice would eventually leave him for another man.  

Despite Alice's reassurance that she loved him and she didn't want to be with anyone else, Joe couldn't shake this feeling.  He knew his feelings of insecurity were creating tension in his relationship and that they might bring about what he most feared--the demise of his relationship.

With regard to his career as a sales representative, Joe was successful and he was well liked by his colleagues and his clients.  His boss often praised him for his work, but Joe had a particular problem with his boss:  He had problems accepting constructive criticism.  His initial reaction was to tense up and become defensive. 

Later on, Joe often realized that his boss had a point, and his comments were meant to help Joe, not to hurt him.  But, try as he might, Joe couldn't overcome his feelings  of insecurity and his initial reaction to become defensive.  He knew that, in the long run, this would be a problem if he wanted to move ahead in his career.

Joe's family history was that he was the older of two sons.  His mom stayed at home to raise Joe and his brother and, later on, when Joe was in his teens, she worked as a real estate agent.  Joe's father had his own construction business.

Joe's mother was the more nurturing parent.  Joe described his father as being a man of few words.  He wasn't outwardly demonstrative with his affection.  He was more likely to show his affection by spending time with his sons shooting hoops in the backyard or showing them how to fix things around the house.

Joe remembered that, as a child, even though he always wanted to please his father, he felt like he continually disappointed his father.  His father loved all kinds of sports, but Joe had little interest in sports.  He played hoops in the backyard with his father and brother and joined the Little League to please his father.  

Joe remembered many afternoons where the family drove home in stony silence after a Little League game where Joe missed every pitch in the game.  Joe could feel his father's disappointment, and he felt deeply ashamed.  

It was even more embarrassing for Joe because his younger brother was such a good athlete and loved playing all kinds of sports.  Joe's father and brother bonded over sports, and it was painful to Joe because he felt like such a disappointment to his father.  He wanted desperately to bond with his father the way his brother did, but he didn't know how.

The situation got worse when Joe was in his teens.  At the time, Joe and his brother would often help their father in his construction business.  Whereas his brother really enjoyed learning about the business, Joe wanted to be helpful, but he was bored.  His father assumed that both sons would join him in the business after they graduated college.   Joe didn't know how to tell his father that he had no desire to become part of the family business.

After Joe graduated college, he spoke to his mother about wanting to strike out on his own rather than  becoming part of his father's business.  His mother was understanding and she encouraged Joe to talk to his father about it.  But Joe couldn't face seeing his father's disappointment, so he asked his mother to talk to his father about it.  

After his mother talked to the father, Joe's relationship with his father became even more strained.  He could see that his father was deeply hurt.  The business was passed on from Joe's paternal grandfather and Joe's father was disappointed that Joe, as his older son, wouldn't be a part of it.  Joe and his father never talked about it directly.  

By the time Joe came to therapy, his relationship with his father was strained and awkward.  Joe dreaded going home to visit his parents.  He attended the obligatory family holidays, but he would leave soon after dinner. He and his father barely spoke or even made eye contact, which was painful for Joe and he was sure it was painful for his father too.  He wanted to be able to talk to his father, but  he just didn't know how.

It was clear to both Joe and I that his problems with his girlfriend and the problems he had at work accepting constructive criticism were linked to his history with his father.  Using a combination of clinical hypnosis and Somatic Experiencing, Joe was able to remember a time in his life when he and his father had a better relationship when Joe was about four or five.  

Memories of that time were very poignant for Joe, and being able to access the positive feelings he felt for his father allowed him to write his father a heartfelt letter about how much he loved him and wanted them to have a better father-son relationship.  

To his Joe's amazement, his father was very moved by Joe's letter and told him so.  This began a long process of Joe and his father opening up to each and getting closer.  It wasn't easy to overcome years of tension.  And Joe's father was especially awkward talking about his feelings, but they began the process of repairing their relationship.

As Joe's relationship with his father improved and he began to realize how much his father loved him,  his self esteem improved.  He felt less insecure in his relationships with his girlfriend and his boss.  His only regret was that he wasn't able to improve his relationship with his father sooner.

Getting Help in Therapy
If you're struggling with your relationship with your father, you could benefit from working with a licensed mental health professional who has experience working with these issues.  Many people don't realize that problems they're struggling with now originate in their early relationships.  Rather than continuing to struggle with these feelings, your life could be so much more fulfilling if you got help.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist.  I work with individual adults and couples.

To find out more about me, visit my website:  Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.

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