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How can I learn to trust and heal my fear of intimacy with my husband? I think I need to forgive my parents for my difficult upbringing.


heart to heart
Question
I ask for guidance. Growing up I saw my parents always at war. Dad's work took him away every other week. He was happy around folks he could impress with his time and money. We weren't one of them. He never held back money from us but I don't know about love. At home he'd just brood with no family involvement. Mom hated it. She'd put on a smile for others, but when it was just us she'd let it all out, going on until he snapped, shouted back, hit her, walked out. I hated them both. I just wanted to get away.

I'd dream, once school was over, I'd take my little brother and we'd start a new life somewhere. I could've done well at school but didn't. I'd talk back a lot. I angered mom like crazy and she'd scream and hit me. When I left for college, I had regrets about my hate for them - I felt I must love them no matter what. So I'm kind and caring to them. But they never acknowledged their actions hurt us and even now it bothers me.

In college I dated a guy who I let stifle and own me. Five years later I found the insight and courage to end it. I'm now in a marriage with space, respect, care, understanding and patience. But he doesn't know about my pain with my parents. He respects them and they're happy. But I feel I've not truly forgiven them and that keeps me from being free. I'm very sensitive to negative comments - I shut people out. I don't think I've felt love truly deeply. My spouse and I have never made love. He thinks it's a health problem. I think I don't know how to love and trust.

I followed cultural and religious practices blindly, then I started reading spiritual books and began to do only what felt right. But at times it is easier to give in to the norm. I enjoy books, movies and music that make me feel closer to God, but for the past year or so I feel lost and don't know what to do. I wonder if it's important to deal with every issue I've had or should I just focus on God?

But I can't separate God and life. How can I see God and love in all? How can I trust and love life in spite of its uncertainties?

Wallace's reply
Wallace
We cannot separate God and life. God can be found through the cultivation of loving relationships and family relationships are the most important relationships in our lives. Our relationship with our children is our connection to the future. Our relationship with our spouse is our connection to the present. And our relationship with our parents is our connection to the past. Therefore we can heal our relationship with our past by healing our relationship with our parents.

Whatever shortcomings you feel your parents had and I recognize that there were many, it is important to remember that they gave you life itself. Your mother went through the pain and agony of birth to bring you into the world and your parents cared for you and nurtured you with a great deal of love and affection when you were young, otherwise you would not have lived to write to me today. It is often only when people have children of their own that they appreciate what their parents did for them.

So the first and most important resolve we need to make is to always feel grateful towards our parents. But let us not ignore the pain and difficulty in that relationship for it is by healing that pain and resolving that difficulty that we heal our past. Feeling grateful to our parents by remembering all the good things they have done for us is the first step in healing that relationship.

Remember your parents did the best they knew with the knowledge and understanding they had. When you have children of your own, you too will make mistakes. Raising children takes a great deal of awareness and nearly everybody struggles with this task.

Therefore the first exercise I am going to give you is to find a quiet space and spend about 2 to 3 hours writing out all the good memories you have from your childhood. Write down the places your parents took you, the presents they bought you, special treats they organized on your birthday, what they did for you at Christmas, how they helped when you were at school, etc. etc. If you have any siblings you might ask them to help you with your list.

When you do this you will be surprised at all your parents did for you. However long your list it will only ever include a fraction of how your parents cared for you. For example it will not include the nights your parents did without sleep when you were a baby in order to feed and comfort you, nor will it include the nights they lay awake when you were an adolescent discussing your problems and difficulties. What other person in your life has ever done so much to support you?

The second exercise I am going to give you is to share your list with your parents and at the same time use this as an opportunity to say all the things left unsaid when you were a child.

When you share your list with your parents start by telling them how grateful you are for everything they did for you and to apologize for hating them. Your parents made mistakes in raising you and when you were a child you could not rationalize their behavior - you simply reacted because that is what children do. However you are now an adult and you need to put your relationship with your parents on a more adult footing. So as well as telling them of all your good memories share with them how this was overshadowed by the misery you felt with their continual rowing, the pain you felt when your mother screamed and hit you and your regret that your father was so emotionally distant. Be honest with them. Give them time to share their side of the story. Take time to listen to them. When you are finished see them for the good people they are and forgive them for the mistakes they made. If you feel emotional after this coming together find a private space and let the emotions flow.

Before you approach your parents I suggest you share what you feel is behind your difficulties with intimacy with your husband, tell him how you intend to address these difficulties and ask for his support.

If you are able to forgive your parents in the way I suggest, you will feel purged of the worst effects of your past and you will find it easier to be trusting and intimate. You will be more able to run with the uncertainty of life, appreciating change as natural and not something to be feared.

Further Help and Resources
If you would like help in releasing your pent up emotions I recommend my book Unfold Your Wings and Watch Life Take Off - in particular see 'Your Calling is Elevated Through the Release of Pain' on p.66 and 'Your Healing From Fear, Anger and Grief' on p.223.

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