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Help to end my attachment/dependency on my father (M 30s)

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Help to end my attachment/dependency on my father (M 30s)

Postby alpsych » Sat Jul 03, 2021 2:37 am

Hello all,

I’m a guy in my 30s dealing with some issues around my father. I hope other folks can relate and share some experience and guidance.

About my father: he lost his own dad early in life and never had a stepfather. He was raised by his mother, grandparents and extend family. They were often poor. I’ve always felt my father to be distant and uninvolved in my life. He was usually present at home, but it was always as if I was taking up his time and he’d rather be doing something else than spending time with me. I just wasn't that important to him, unless it came to being sick or in some kind of crisis and needing immediate attention (which might actually shed some light on my current situation). When I was a kid my mother secretly complained that my father didn’t do much in the family to care for us kids. He was a bit like a shadow, always around but always just doing his own thing. He is a hard worker and is always working on some project or other, to the point of being compulsive. But he also has a temper and demands to be obeyed. He’s not physically violent but can be critical and demanding verbally. At home he is a lot like a supervisor (or like a work warden), which is what he does at work. Being around my father is like walking on eggshells, because I'm always expecting him to be unhappy or sour in some way. I think I'm afraid of him and his reactions. My mother is very obliging (esp. towards me) and pretty passive overall. She has anxieties and phobias. I know my mother issues are also important, but I’ve actually dealt with that more than the ones with my father.

When I was in my teens the family moved to North America from another continent. Growing up I often had the experience of both my parents being completely out of touch with my life and what I had to deal with. My parents just weren’t there to help me make a connection with other people or society. Really it often was the other way around, because pretty quickly I got better than my parents at interacting with others. Most of the time they didn't know what was going on with me and didn't show much interest.

Here’s the current situation. I’m in my 30s and have been struggling with a rare chronic illness and working on getting treatment. I’m living with my folks at this point as for most of my life so far. Between physical and mental health issues and probably personality issues, I’m a pretty classic case of ‘failure to launch’. I try not to beat myself up about it, but the facts are there. I have advanced education from 10+ years ago but have never used it to become independent. I’m very unhappy and on top of it I’m dealing with a chronic condition of 10 years that was just diagnosed and will need treatment. I've had a lot of health-related stress in the last 6 months and that's bringing up emotional baggage.

Here’s my problem right now. I have to deal with lots of doctors for my rare condition, some of them at a pretty high level (surgeons, clinic directors, etc). I notice that I have pretty deep personal expectations from them, most of the time without realizing it. I want some kind of personal contact or attention from these doctors, I want to impress them, and when it doesn’t come I feel very disappointed. For example, I just wrote a full page letter plus several additional pages of personal information to a well-known surgeon who will potentially treat me. I described my personal struggles, I explained my symptoms at length, I tried to make a connection with him. In response I got a 2 line email saying that he would be happy to treat me. No personal connection at all. I got the email, quickly scanned it and immediately felt upset. I sat there re-reading it on my phone, trying to find something that just wasn’t there. It was a shock. I then went for a walk and things started to click.

I think I’m expecting something personal from these doctors that they can never give me. They are busy professionals with lots of responsibilities and I’m just one of many, many patients for them. When I think about it, I wouldn’t even want a personal relationship with them, because they need to focus on the medical treatment. But on another level, I really want them to treat me like I’m special and unique. I want them to pay attention to my personal drama, and I imagine all kinds of scenarios. I actually had the fantasy of this surgeon helping me get my whole life back on track and basically treating me as if I’m his son. I wish I had a strong, capable, successful, knowledgeable father like this surgeon, who would fit into this society and be well-known, make lots of money, who would be there for me, understand me and help me plan my future and become someone in the world.

This is a pattern with me and it goes back years. Whenever there’s a male figure with some authority, I feel this urge to impress him, to really go out of my way to make him like me, to prove that I’m special and unique. I did well in school by doing just this kind of thing. But then I couldn’t move beyond this pattern, so here I am in my 30s just repeating what got me success 15 years ago. I think my whole childhood was spent like this. I was pushing myself in every way, hoping to get my dad’s attention, which basically never came. So I pushed myself harder to get even better grades, to win awards, to do sports, to be good at computers, etc. etc. But there just wasn’t ever a gentle word from him, a pat on the back or a recognition. It was always just silence and lack of involvement, as if my efforts didn’t exist. He did provide for the family, but beyond that it’s as if he was just a shadow. I often think he may have felt threatened by me on some level, and maybe felt some envy too. I had a lot of things growing up that he didn’t have, including a living father. I understand all this and I’ve been able to feel compassion for my dad at times. I imagine him growing up fatherless and all the pain and deprivation that this must have caused him. But other times I just feel a lot of anger and resentment towards him for not being more of a presence in my life, and for not being more capable and relatable. Sometimes I project this anger onto others (like a few doctors recently). I can become accusing towards them and expect perfection. When they don’t measure up and when I don’t get what I think I deserve, I start to make formal complaints, contact lawyers, regulators, etc. I want to strike back and ‘show them’ who they’re dealing with.

More recently I’m also learning to play the victim card. I present my sufferings to others and try to get special attention based on that. It’s tempting to start building a whole persona around my sufferings so that I can get compassion and benefits from others. I do have real problems and need real help, but I notice that this pattern is actually distracting me from the getting the help I need. It all becomes some kind of striving to get attention rather than an effort to solve my real problems and improve my life.

I know there’s a lot going on in my post. The thing I’m really focused on right now is the father issue. I think I’m stuck in a rut because I haven’t really dealt with the disappointment I feel about my father. I have lots of personal expectations and I put them on others who happen to come my way, like the doctors who are currently treating me. When they don’t meet my expectations and don’t treat me like I’m special and unique, I get really frustrated and resentful and look for ways to ‘make them’ care for me. All this is very unhelpful. It’s turning doctors against me and making me seem desperate and unreasonable. They are looking at me with suspicion. It’s preventing me from making good judgments about important issues (like my health).

I’m looking for some path to get me beyond this unhelpful pattern. Can anyone offer any suggestions? Maybe some self-help books that I can read to help me deal with my disappointments and losses around my father. Also any suggestions about what I can do differently in my life to practice detaching from my father. Support groups on Facebook, Meetup or anywhere else would be great as well if they exist. Is there a 'failure to launch' support group anywhere? Maybe I need to learn different ways of relating to males, instead of just projecting the same immature pattern over and over. Any books or movies that deal with this kind of problem and show some role models would be helpful too. I’ve tried multiple therapists and would again (if money was less of an issue). Usually the above patterns play themselves out regularly with my therapists. Eventually I basically end the relationship and I end up more or less where I started. I know it doesn’t help that I’m living with my parents and that I’m not working, but in the short/medium term this will be difficult to change. So I want to make a start on the emotional/psychological level. I think I have an unhealthy attachment and dependency on my father and want to start changing that. Any input would be much appreciated. Thanks.
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Re: Help to end my attachment/dependency on my father (M 30s)

Postby desperateen » Tue Feb 22, 2022 3:07 pm

I'm really sorry that my reply is going to be so short but it's 7AM and I haven't slept yet... but here are a few things I learned in therapy that might be applicable to your situation.

"Rejection Sensitivity Dysphoria" - when my sense of rejection is totally overblown compared to the actual situation at hand (so in your example, the level of upset felt when doctors can not give you the same amount of attention you give them.) Understanding this phenomenon may help overcome it. Accepting that certain situations will make us very upset, but trying to find coping mechanisms to move on from the upset, instead of getting back at the person who upset us. (For example, when someone upsets me, I want the other person to feel how upset I am, and I tend to try to drag them down into my unhappy place as well. That sounds like what you might be doing to your doctors, pushing them away because you're feeling so hurt.)

My mom was similar to your dad (authoritarian, never proud of me, nothing is ever good enough.) This was really sad to hear but opened up my eyes - "You WON'T ever be able to make her happy. She's not able to feel that way." That's when I realized that I need to start living for myself, and to try to make myself happy. I've never lived for myself before so I don't even really understand how to do that. I think this might also be making it hard to launch... because you don't really know where you want to end up. You want to reach your father's expectations, but that will never happen, so you will have to make up expectations that are realistic for you, that you actually feel passionate about. It will probably take awhile.

What helped me in your passage - that we can't compare ourselves to the pace others are at. So true. We have to take our time to heal first. Then we can thrive.

-- Tue Feb 22, 2022 7:11 am --

Also I'm not sure if codependency is exactly the same as your dependency on your father, but Codependents Anonymous might be a good place to at least start. Recovery Dharma is a recovery program (sort of like AA but based in buddhism/meditation, and applicable to addictions/dependence on anything, not just drugs and alcohol) and may help if you consider your attachment an addiction.
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