Part 11 – Good Fathers, Good Mothers, and the Denial of Instinct

Issue 106 –

Where Has Love Gone – Part 13

Good Fathers, Good Mothers, and the Denial of Instinct


Hal & Sidra Stone

It is often the case that the identification with the good father and good mother selves can result in a feeling of fatigue and ennui.

There are a number of reasons for this. Taking care of other people all the time and not providing time for one’s personal needs begins to get wearing after a while. Personal selfishness means that we do things for ourselves, and when we do things for ourselves we have more energy.

Identification with these patterns has another consequence. Individuals identified with good mother and good father selves are generally disconnected from their instinctual lives. They have a hard time reacting to people with the honesty of their feelings. There is a strong need to please. This denial of personal needs and the further denial of instinctual life, means that a major system of energy is lost to the individual. In addition to this, a certain amount of energy is needed to keep the disowned instinctual selves out of one’s conscious awareness.

In  our  own  relationship  (Sidra  and Hal),  we have learned  that the existence of this kind of exhausted feeling is a sure sign that we have locked into these good parent selves. It is at these times in a relationship that a major fight is likely to erupt,  seemingly from nowhere,  a fight that brings with it inexhaustible amounts of anger and energy.   It is often this very anger that breaks into the bonding pattern and lets people know that they have “fallen asleep.”

The identification with the good parent and the corresponding continual denial of instinct and selfishness can sometimes lead to physical debilitation and illness.   There are powerful forces in our upbringing that move us toward these good mother/good  father ties and the concomitant disowning of instinctual energies.

Television sitcoms portray remarkable  parents  being good,  kind,  compassionate,  and understanding.   Natural irritability and selfishness are not particularly acceptable in our society. But people in relationship are not always smooth and gentle with one another.  If this  is seen as a negative,  then every time things are not smooth this is seen as a negative interaction.  Let us look at another example of how these parental patterns operate in relationship.


It is evening and Harry  and Selma have finished dinner. Harry  is feeling rather vulnerable and needy.  He has been worried about his health, and he has been experiencing some slight  symptoms  of dizziness that  go along with a blood pressure that  is moderately  elevated.  He has been checked very carefully by a number of different specialists, and they all agree that there is nothing seriously wrong with him.

As often  happens  when  he is concerned  about  himself  physically, Henry withdraws into himself because he does not want to bother Selma with all this. This desire not to bother or worry Selma is a pattern of the good father aspect of Harry.  His tendency is to stuff many of his worries down his own throat out of this good father identification.

On this particular evening,  Selma wants to finish some desk work. Harry is very agreeable to this (good fathers are always very agreeable to things!) and he even volunteers to do the dishes.  Selma is used to being taken care of in this way, and her thankful loving daughter responds with warmth and kindness.  This  is the difficult part of catching hold of these positive bonding  patterns in relationship;  they often feel so good. Things  seem to be working so harmoniously and there is such good feeling and affection.

Harry  goes upstairs  to read.  Selma is a good manager, and once she is at her desk she begins to take care of all kinds of things. She falls into the identification with the managing mother.  In this way she takes care of Harry.  She makes sure that there is enough money and that their investments are in order.  Harry  manages things very well in his own business, but  in the realm of personal  finances,  Selma is in charge.

The  evening passes and Harry  begins to feel resentful. Since he has locked into good father already, his options are fairly limited. If he were not identified with the good father, he could simply go downstairs and tell Selma that he wants to spend some time with her.  This option is not available to him, however. Instead, his feelings are hurt and he begins to go into a withdrawal.  His “poor me” self becomes stronger.

Then,  gradually,   a change occurs.  From the poor me/ hurt child a new part begins to take over, the angry father. He now resents Selma and  her  never-ending  attention  to details.  Gone is the gratitude,  affection,  and  warmth.   A while later,  when  Selma comes into their  bedroom,  she  is greeted by a sullen  and withdrawn  father.  She immediately drops into a guilt reaction and the verbal attack is launched by the new Harry.   “You are really an insensitive tight-ass. Why do you have to spend so goddam much time at that desk of yours?  You’d think the world was coming to an end.”  Is this the same man who two hours before was kind and loving and compassionate?   No,  it is not the same  man.  Harry  #1 was identified with the good father. Harry  #2 was identified with  the “poor me” child.  Harry  #3   is identified with the negative father.

So long as we are unaware of these selves,  we are bounced around amongst them as though we were ping pong balls. Each self takes its  swing at us and away we go. If Selma is unaware of these selves,  then she automatically falls into the selves that complement  the selves with which  Harry  is currently  identified.   In this situation,  she will become the victim  daughter to Harry’s   negative  father.

Possibly she might shift into a rebellious daughter and get defensive and fight back.  Alternatively,  she might shift to the attack herself and fall into her own angry mother side. If her awareness is operating,  however,  and if she has some experience of these selves in herself and in Harry,   she might not have to fall into the bonding at all. She might say to Harry:  ” Look,  I don’t know what you’re angry about but it’s obvious that I’ve hurt your feelings.  I’m sorry that it happened and it would be very helpful if you could let me know what happened!”

One can never predict what is going to happen when one of the partners separates from the bonding.  In general,  it is quite difficult for the other partner to remain locked into the bonding for a long period of time. When  the  awareness level separates from an ongoing negative bonded interaction,  humor has a chance to enter into the situation. Negative bonding patterns,  if anything, are not funny. They are usually experienced as quite deadly. Yet, once awareness is present, the most deadly situation can become marvelously humorous.

George and Frieda are driving out one morning to have breakfast. George is in a strong, angry  and withdrawn father. He looks like a black cloud. Frieda is not hooked this time.  She says to him, with some humor:  “You know, it seems to me we can have a miserable day or a fun day. I’d like to have a fun day. How about you?” It is the tone, the energy that lets you know whether such a comment comes from an aware ego or from a pleasing mother or daughter.  In this case, it was the aware ego, and it was very difficult for George,  try as he might,  to remain locked into the withdrawn  father.

We must remember that it is never the content of the words that counts. It is the feeling or energy that accompanies them.  

Words spoken through an aware ego have an enormous, and surprisingly effortless, authority  and power. Parent/ child states are always involved with issues of power and control. The gift of awareness is that it is not concerned  with power or control. Thus,  an aware ego does not need to control anyone, nor does it wish  to or need  to be dominated  by anyone.  It is non polarizing.

Harry  controls his environment  by being identified with the good father. His real feelings lie hidden, and the people around him are essentially manipulated  by his goodness.  The more of our selves that we share through an aware ego, the less we control  people because we have no hidden agenda operating.  The  parental  and child sides of ourselves always have agendas operating.