Issue 105 –
Where Has Love Gone Part 10
Identification with the Good Parent
and Its Consequences
Hal & Sidra Stone
The identification of a man with the good father is a natural entree into a vast array of possible bonding situations. Let us examine a few of them to see how this works.
Dan and Ginny have been dating for about four or five months. They take a holiday trip to another city, and Dan tells Ginny that he wants to buy her a dress as a gift. Ginny is thrilled and they go to a dress shop that she has heard about.
Dan is a good father type. He is very giving and is always doing things for people. So long as he is identified with the good father, he cannot say no. He cannot set limits, even when Ginny picks out a dress for five hundred dollars. Because she is very excited about it, Dan buys it for her.
Since the good father is his primary self and he is fully identified with this role, he is unable to set any kind of limits as to how much she can spend. It never even occurs to him that he might do so.
Later, after their weekend is over, he is furious with her.
She, however, never learns anything about how he feels, because he breaks the relationship and never expresses any of these angry, exploited feelings to her. He feels that she is selfish and uncaring and that she has no concern for his welfare. If she cared at all about his feelings, he mutters to himself, she would have asked him whether the amount spent was reasonable for him.
Good fathers must have corresponding daughters in their relationships with women. It may be a good daughter or an “I want” daughter. Whatever the case, the father will have his daughter. Because he was so identified with the role of good father, Dan was unable to embrace the other side of himself, which remained a disowned self.
The other side would contain the selves that have to do with setting limits, being personally selfish, and being related to his own needs rather than to the needs of other people. If Dan had been in touch with the other selves, he might have established a very different kind of communication with Ginny.
He might have said to her: “Ginny, I’d like to buy you a gift of an outfit you really like. You can spend up to three hundred dollars for it.” In this way, Ginny would have had some guidelines. Without them she was indeed thrown into her hungry little girl, and the “I want” daughter part of herself took over in the shopping situation. Because she was identified with the daughter who was being taken care of, it could not occur to her to ask him how much he felt comfortable spending.
Dan’s feelings were constantly being hurt by other people in this way. He would promise too much or give too much and then, at some point, the negative side of the father would come in and he would feel resentful and judgmental at the way the other person was taking advantage of him. What happens with good fathers and good mothers is that the world outside gets cared for, but the personal needs of the individual are neglected. The inner child is neglected.
At his core, Dan’s feelings were hurt by the fact that Ginny spent so much money without regard to what he could afford. He could not set limits in the first place, and he could not communicate the hurt feelings in the second place. The result was heavy judgment and anger and the eventual end of the relationship. At no point was he able to see his part in the interaction. He remained righteously angry, and terminating the relationship was the natural thing to do so far as he was concerned.
If there is one thing that negative fathers know how to do, it is to be righteous!
The identification with the good father and good mother is one of the most basic patterns that we find in relationship, and one of the strongest contributors to bonding patterns.
Let us look at some other examples of how these patterns affect relationships. In our book, Embracing Our Selves, we cite the dream of a woman who is very much identified with this good mother/responsible mother self, almost to the exclusion of any other part of her being. Because of the power and clarity of this dream, we are repeating it here.
Marilyn, a woman in her thirties when she had this dream, had spent her life identified with the role of mother. The dream occurred at that point in her process when her awareness level was beginning to disengage from this maternal pattern.
“Sounds have become acute. There is so much noise and confusion that I cannot rest. I finally become fully awake, and I look about me. It is as if I were in a strange house, and yet I know that it is my house and that I have lived in it for a long time. There is a mirror across from my bed, and I glance at it. I am horrified to see that I have grown old while I slept. The noise is deafening, and I go out to try to find where it is coming from. As I reach the kitchen door, I realize it comes from there. Around the kitchen table are many people, some young, some older by far than I am. They are all dressed in children’s clothes and are waiting to be fed. They see me and begin to pound their, bowls on the table and call “mother” to me.
I see my priest across the room with his back to me, and I think that surely he can explain this to me, but as I approach him he turns around and I see that he is wearing a bib and is holding a bowl too! I run back to the door to leave. As I pass the table, I see my parents there, wearing bibs like all the rest. I reach the door as a man comes in. I know him to be my husband, although he is not the husband I had when I went to sleep. He makes a pass at me and I feel relieved, thinking at least he doesn’t think I’m his mother. When I look at him, however, he is wearing knickers and his face is the face of a child. I think that this is a nightmare, and I run and shut myself in my room in order to wake up more fully, but I know I am not asleep. I ask myself over and over again: “What have I done while I slept?” Ray comes into the room (Ray is a therapist in the city where she lived). I think that surely he can help me to understand this, but he is crying because he has hurt his knee and wants me to bandage it.”
We said before that to be identified with a particular self, and to have no awareness of this reality, is to live in a prison. In this dream the unconscious provides a different metaphor. It says that Marilyn has been asleep and she only now is beginning to awaken. Being identified with our primary selves is like being asleep.
We think we are awake (conscious), but in fact we are asleep, because there is no aware ego that is separate from the primary selves. Awakening comes when we separate from our primary selves and can begin to hold the tension of the opposition that exists between the primary self and whatever is on the other side.
In Marilyn’s situation, she begins now to become aware of her own personal, more selfish needs. These must be balanced against the part of her that continues to respond as the mother.