The idea of power roles came up in my counselling session today.
I was talking about the ongoing difficulty of maintaining boundaries in the relationship with my Dad. For those who have read quite a few of my blog posts (thank you!), you might be aware of the situation with my Dad; but for those who are less familiar, I cut off contact with him when I was 17 due to the codependent and abusive nature of the relationship but have quite recently “let” him back into my life (I’m now 23) in the form of the odd phone call and keeping myself in the loop with regards to his health and things like that.
It seems like with every phone call comes a new challenge to protect my energy and keep my intentions. I always intend to only be on the phone for 30 minutes to an hour – almost invariably the calls last around 2 hours. I am confronted with a wall of speech when I talk to him. He talks non-stop, and I mean non-stop. You’d think that after 5 years of virtually no contact, he’d be slightly more intrigued with what I have to say rather than his own soliloquy.
So part of me feels hurt – hurt that once again his preoccupation is with meeting his own need of having someone to reel off his never-ending thoughts to. Part of me feels annoyed – annoyed at his alarming self-absorption that still knows no bounds. Part of me feels stupid – that I can’t find a way to navigate a conversation that doesn’t revolve around him or include multiple interjections on his part (but it’s not even really interjections – it’s more like whenever I take the time to explain something, he responds as if he’s been waiting for another opportunity to talk rather than truly listening). And I also feel a bit weak – do I really still care enough to need to be listened to and heard? Or is that not just a basic need of a child that should be met regardless?
Am I the definition of submission during these interactions? I don’t think so. To display any kind of neediness, to me, would feel fatal. In other words, if I was to fight to be heard and make it obvious that I was agitated, I am afraid that my Dad would use this as ammunition to begin to pull the strings again in our relationship – I’m afraid that it would be taken as a signal that, once again, he had gotten under my skin. So instead I adopt a detached demeanour. I engage without giving too much away. When he goes on a bitter reel about politics, I laugh drily – I don’t have the energy to challenge him.
Towards the end of the last phone call, he made a proposition that I didn’t expect. He talked about the free travel he gets the privilege of now that he’s over 60 and asked if I’d consider him coming to visit me in Edinburgh some weekend. I was taken aback by his brazenness but replied calmly, saying I’d think about it. He was over the moon with the fact that I’d even consider it – but I also remember what it was like when I was in his life. When I was present and he took me for granted and manipulated me. So what does his elation at the thought of spending any time with me mean? Absolutely nothing.
I felt an intuitive pull after the phone call to restrict our contact again. So I plucked up the courage to text him about the way I was feeling. At least this way I’d have the space to really speak my truth without any pressure or interruptions. I said how one-sided the phone calls were, how draining they could be and that I was feeling the need to protect my energy again. I’m really proud of myself that I felt able to be honest. I still felt guilty about hurting his feelings but I’ve been burdened with the emotional responsibility of my parents my whole life – so that would figure.
In all fairness, he responded quite well. He apologised and said that after so many years of no contact, maybe he’d gotten carried away. I think he was half genuine and half saying what I wanted to hear. So for a couple of months, we’ll text back and fore but no phone calls. I need to process the whole thing a bit, which I can’t do with his overwhelming input.
I relayed all this to my counsellor today and he inferred from what I was saying that a power switch had happened. He said that when we were in relation to each other a few years ago, I felt as if he had all the power and that now the dynamic has flipped and I’m seeking the control for myself. Maybe it is as simple as that but I don’t know how else to navigate it. How do I keep my father in my life and simultaneously protect myself from codependency, manipulation and emotional abuse?
He then asked me if I saw this dynamic in other areas of my life. I said that I supposed I could be pretty compliant in certain situations with people. I’m not a truly submissive person. I speak my mind at work and hold my ground if I feel I’m being mistreated. I give as good as I get in the early stages with guys. I challenge them, tease them, make it clear what it is that I would like to do. Guys are taken aback by my outspokenness and intellect sometimes – I make it clear I’m not going to just sit and look pretty. In my music, I am raw and vulnerable in a way that makes me feel empowered and strong. Sometimes this intimidates people.
But on the way back from my appointment today, I thought about my sometimes compliant nature when I’m with friends (I should add that I do have a few best friends with whom I have great friendships with – but none of them live in my city). Especially with my newer friends, I tend to always be the one to propose us meeting up – maybe I don’t respect myself enough. But fuck, I’m lonely. You’re meant to make an effort when you’re lonely.
I had an emotional breakthrough today when I was thinking about this – “because nobody wants me” is the phrase that popped into my head. And I cried. Nobody ever seems to want me as much as I want them. Everyone has other people they are closer to or prefer to hang out with. Meanwhile I am floating about on my own – wanting to be close to people and have a solid group to be part of but not wanting to feel pathetic and desperate. I have felt pathetic and desperate in this way for the majority of my life.
Maybe this internal insecurity colours my external circumstances. Maybe this internal loneliness is a self-fulfilling prophecy. I have no idea what I can do about it. But starting to properly assert myself in the relationship with my Dad is a positive thing. Hopefully this will have a positive effect on the rest of my life.
Thanks for reading.
– SMUT. ❤ xxxx