Make Peace With Your Parents

Every five to ten years it seems most people go through a life examination. Typically during those times we work on a deeper understanding of ourselves and examine our childhood and where we want to go in the future.

In counseling, it is common practice to have someone share their childhood memories to help them understand their challenges of today. When you review your own upbringing you may also see areas where your parents may have influenced root pain where you struggle in adulthood. However, you are responsible for healing from that pain rather than causing a chain reaction to the next generation.

As you look back on your childhood, recall moments that instilled your currently held beliefs. Some good and some not so good.

Write down what those moments are for you. When you write them, are there open wounds that you have not repaired? Are there areas that still require healing? If so, what has prevented you from facing that pain in order to heal and live a healthier life?

If you have dealt with abuse or trauma, then please seek professional counseling. If your experience was not severe, a good practice for working on healing is to write a letter to the person you feel caused that pain. However, do not send it. Just write. Express your raw emotions on paper.

Now write down all the positive things you can remember. Are there more than you typically recall?

While I was very fortunate to have a good childhood and upbringing, there were times in my life where I longed to have my Dad be something he was not. I had wanted him to be interested in me by asking about my life. It would have been nice to hear him say “I love you” back. However, after looking harder at trying to understand him, there were many things to appreciate about him. It brought healing to me to let him know how he was valued.

The letter explained to him how it was understood he wasn’t raised in a time where men were involved in deep conversations with their kids. He also had ten of us!  The letter let him know how he taught me to work hard and it was noticed when he had to eat alone at night after a long day of working in the fields. He taught me values at a young age to be respectful, to be mindful of cussing, not quitting, and doing what was right.  Memories of him teaching me to fish and telling stories even for the 5th time are still cherished.  He is still telling those stories.

Many people live in anger and resentment and don’t realize until it is too late how hard it is to be a parent. They don’t view their parents as people who were raised in a different time and could be fighting their own battles. They don’t get time to share what they do appreciate about their parents and then live in regret for unspoken words.

Why choose to live as a victim when you can be the person who initiates the healing yourself? For me writing that appreciation letter brought healing for me and my Dad too. Ironically receiving that letter inspired him to say he loved me back when it had originally been so hard for him to do. Maybe the same peace could happen for you!

“Forgiveness does not change the past, but it does enlarge the future.” – Paul Boese

Photograph taken at the Peace Center in Greenville, South Carolina

How to Improve Your Relationships

In “Winning with People,” John Maxwell says the best way to be interesting is to be interested.

When is the last time you had someone really listen to you? Who is it that makes you feel heard and interesting? Who gives you their full attention and makes you feel understood?

The person who takes an interest in you makes you feel incredible, don’t they?  You feel heard and seen, finally understood and important! Yet people who have a genuine interest in hearing your life story, digging into the layers of who you are, and work to understand you beyond the surface are hard to find. When you do find them, don’t they make you want to be around them all the time based on how they make you feel?

In counseling, active listening is the key element in what makes people feel better. Just being able to talk with someone who will really listen, not judge and help them feel understood can be a huge step toward healing them. It is very rewarding to see the effects an interested person has on them.

When you first met your spouse, remember how it felt when they wanted to get to know you and you looked directly into each other’s eyes when talking rather than dealing with all the distractions such as a TV, kids interrupting and work demands taking your full attention away from them?  Remember how interested you were in their stories for the first time and how you made the other feel?

As a parent, when you give your kids their full attention and don’t start immediate lecturing and stop to listen fully to them, it is amazing the difference you see in your child.

At work, when a manager listens to an employee’s problems and finds out if they need support or direction many times the employee has solutions to their own problems or may just have needed a sounding board.

When salespeople get a client talking about their business they can go on and on about their passions. Salespeople who show a genuine interest in their client’s business and their life story make the prospect want to see that salesperson again.

On the contrary, lack of listening is one of the key reason’s for marital disputes, children not feeling important to their parents, leadership mistakes and why some salespeople fail. Don’t you hate it when someone does not look into your eyes when you are trying to talk with them? Also, the natural tendency is for people to wait for their turn to talk. We have all been guilty of bad listening and yet hate when someone else doesn’t listen to us.

Active listening is when you are truly engaged in someone else’s story and you seek to understand them. Rather than replying with your own story, instead respond with “it sounds like you (then share what you hear them feeling) are really passionate about x.” You may hear that person say, yes!  That’s right!  I do feel…  If you got their feeling wrong, then you can then have them clarify rather than make the wrong assumption.  The next time someone tells you something, look at what they are telling you like a flower where there is more to discover underneath the petals. When you show you are hearing how that person is feeling watch how it ignites them as they realize you get them. That, in turn, solidifies a connection. Who doesn’t love feeling connected to other people?

You may be asking, but how do I teach other people to listen to me?  Wisdom from many books and therapists say the best way to influence others is when we lead by example. I know it can be frustrating.  Yet isn’t it worth it to improve our relationships?

While active listening can be very hard, it can be learned. It requires being intentional and also takes practice. When we make the concentrated effort to practice this way of listening genuinely and not for manipulation purposes, we will find more fulfilling conversations. We will also see a response in people that will help us enjoy other people’s stories and develop deeper more connected relationships.

Would you like to learn and practice your active listening skills? Join me in becoming a better active listener and please share if you would be interested in participating in a workshop.  Please note in the comments the best times and hours that would work for you.