The importance of relating to our Fathers

Family Constellation

In the final part of this interview, Svagito explains how our relationship with our fathers affects our relationship with all men.

An Interview with Svagito Liebermeister, Part 3

These are the questions in the third and final part of this interview:

girls with father

Can you talk about the relationship with our fathers?

The father is the second most important person in our lives. Let’s look at the essential meaning of a mother and a father: The mother gives us life. So the mother, in essence, is supportive and nurturing. When you look at it, mothers usually always support the child. But the father is not always supportive. He is often experienced as a little hard, because the father represents the world and the world is not always supportive.

When you are born, the mother continuously gives. Even before that, in the mother’s belly, you are always supported. But the moment you come out of mother’s belly and you enter the world, trouble starts. You are confronted with the world; first comes the bright light and then you are disconnected from the naval cord. So now you are facing challenges. The world is actually a challenge.

The father in a way represents that challenge. And that is a good thing. He is preparing the child for the world. Both are needed in order to grow; we need support and we need challenge. If you are only supported, you remain basically incapable. You remain crippled. And if you are only challenged, you collapse. So we need the right proportion of both. We need some support and we need some challenge. And, in a way, you could say that the mother and father represent that.

Of course, I am speaking in an archetypical sense. In each real case, it may be a little different, because the real father also supports and the actual mother also challenges. I am talking about a life principle when I say that the motherly energy is supportive and the fatherly energy is challenging. That means that the love of a mother and the love of a father are essentially different. Because many people misunderstand that principle there is much complaining about the father: “My father is not there for me! He is always out of the house!” What are they saying? They are complaining that their father is not like their mother. A mother is a mother and a father is a father. The father has to be out of the house, because his love is shown, for example, by making money and supporting the family financially. His love for the family means he must be out of the house.

What if the father is working all the time and he is never home?

I was speaking generally. The love of a father is that he looks after the welfare of his family by creating money and that is an expression of his love. But there are situations where men are not able to support their families. There are also situations where a mother cannot support or nurture the child. This has to be looked at individually; the situation must be viewed in individual families.

There are always some limitations on how much parents can support a child, because the mother also was born into a family and the father also was born into a family. So they also carry something, a trauma for example, for their own family, which permits them to be available to a child in only a limited way. Individual situations are never ideal. No mother is an ideal mother and no father is an ideal father.

In a way it is good that parents are not perfect, but rather are ordinary. It is good that they have their limits. If you had ideal parents, then you would get stuck and you would have no possibility for growth. One cannot leave ‘good’ parents; one gets stuck with them. But parents who are not so good, who are imperfect, well, it is easier to leave them, separate and create a life of your own.

So parents have limitations, because they are ordinary people and that is what a child has to learn. When a child grows up, he has to learn that his/her parents are ordinary people. They are not like God. In the beginning, when children are small, you can see it, they look up to their parents and the parents represent God to them. Slowly the child learns that his parents are not so perfect; they have their own ‘defects’; they have their own problems. And there is some disillusionment in going through this part of growing up; this is normal. We have to learn to see and respect our parents as they are, as ordinary people and we have to love them like that, as ordinary people with all their limitations. They could not give us everything, but what they gave us is the most important thing. They gave us life. There is always something missing and we have to search for this in our own life and learn to receive things also from other people. This is part of growth.

If I am not at peace with my father, how does that affect my love relationships with other men?

The first thing to understand is that the father is the first man you meet in your life and when you cannot love your father you cannot really love any other man. A father is always a representative of all other men, just as a mother is a representative of all women.

If you are not at peace with your father, one possibility is that you still expect or want something from him. That will keep you tied to him, in a state of hope, and will prevent you from really coming close to any other man. Hope is a dangerous state, a miserable state, and as we know, hopes never get fulfilled! So one remains stuck and cannot move forward in life.

One may actually look for a man in order get from him what one could not get or still misses from one’s father. This is bound to be a very frustrating experience. Because, for our unconscious mind, no man can be a match for our own father; every man will fall short and never will live up to comparisons with one’s own father. So, on one side, we search for a man, for the ‘right’ man, of course! And who is the ‘right’ man? The one who can be the ‘better’ father! And, on the other side, we will believe, unconsciously, that this man is not as good as our father. Then we will, at some point, do everything to get rid of him. Then the search continues without ever coming to a completion, because no man can really ever replace one’s own father.

What about women who fall in love with married men?

If a woman always falls in love with married men, she is obviously choosing someone who is not really available to her. That may mean that she does not really want too much intimacy either; she herself does not want to come too close. But often women do not understand it this way. They start thinking that they want to be close, but that the other is not available to them.

But why should a woman choose a married man in the first place? The psychological reason often is complicated: Unconsciously, the woman may really want to be close to her father, but at the same time feels inadequate to be too close to him, because she is his child. So it is a push and pull situation, she wants and at the same time does not want.

The other side is this: The man, just like her father, is not available to her, because he is already married to someone else. So his wife represents the mother, with whom she is in deep competition. So just as she wants the ‘rival’ woman out of the way, she really wants her mother out of the way. But the soul does not tolerate such disrespect towards the mother, which is the deeper reason why such relationships mostly fail. The woman who falls in love with a married man usually does not get the man in the end or loses him quickly. On the soul level, disloyalty towards one’s mother or violating the sisterhood between women is not tolerated. And this has consequences; one may end up remaining alone.

When I tell my friends what you say, they tell me that they know women who fell in love with married men and are happy. Is that possible?

It is, of course, the illusion of happiness. You are happy with a distance in your relationship. You do not really want to let a man come too close, so you choose a situation where this cannot happen. Then you say you are satisfied. You are not even aware of what you are missing and you may not even want to know about that, because it will be too painful. To realize the distance between where you are and where you could be is painful. Growing up is not easy and it often means being ready to become aware of some painful reality and then to start a process of learning, rather than being satisfied too quickly.

One should always keep a balance between content and discontent. Too much contentment and one remains childish, you do not grow up; too much discontent and one collapses.

Can you be happy if you separate from a partner? Is that not always painful?

Of course, there will be pain if something beautiful comes to an end. That is natural and is part of life. The more you love someone the more moments of pain you may experience. We should not try to avoid that, but be ready for it. All our relationships end, some sooner, some later. But every relationship ends. It may end when one of you has to die; it may end when one of you falls in love with someone else. One never knows. Life is always uncertain. And relationship and love are very delicate phenomena, which is why they are so beautiful and thrilling.

In relationship we learn something about love. Relationship is a school for learning; it is not the ultimate meaning of life. It is temporary. Through the other we learn about love and about ourselves; the other becomes a mirror. There may come a point where there is nothing more to learn with a certain person and then one should let the relationship end. Or the life paths of two people may simply continue in different directions.

But one can end a relationship in a loving way. The relationship may end, but the feeling of love can remain. And this is how it should be. We should be able to feel love towards everybody we have been together with. When we flow with life without holding on too long or trying to get out of a relationship too soon, then there will be some pain, but much less. We will be able to maintain a feeling of gratitude and love towards the person we have been with and we were able to learn from. In this way our life grows in richness and we can move forward without piling up hangovers from the past.

So one should feel a certain completion with each person, otherwise the incomplete experience keeps pulling on you and does not allow you to move forward or come close to another person.

What do you mean by ‘feeling a completion’?

It is an acknowledgment of the other and what the other contributed to your life and life experience. This includes an acknowledgment of what went wrong or caused pain and a readiness to take responsibility for it. In a relationship both people are always responsible; it is never only one person who bears all the responsibility. One should not take too much or too little responsibility. It may take some looking and awareness to discover what this means in each situation. However, once this is achieved, then usually the two ex-partners are left with a feeling of thankfulness and they are then more able to depart or let the other depart in peace. If one of two former partners bears resentment, then something is still missing and this will reduce the possibility of a future relationship being successful.

What is the situation if a man is always interested in much younger women?

When a man wants to have a relationship with a much younger woman, this is usually an indication that he is missing something from his mother. This is so, whether a man searches for a much younger or a much older woman. In either case he looks for his mother in the woman. He wants to get from her what he missed and is still missing from his mother. Usually he will find a match in a woman who is looking for a father in the man. So often a particular type of mother’s son and a particular type of father’s daughter find each other and get together. Of course, their ability to become intimate with each other is very limited.

What the man has incomplete with his mother and what the woman has incomplete with her father creates limits on how much closeness will be possible in their relationship. Whatever we carry from our original family defines the intimacy possible in the current relationship. We have to see and respect that, if we want to stay in the relationship. If we cannot agree to this, we have to separate. We have to see and agree to the other’s potential for intimacy and also be aware of our own potential for closeness. Out of such clarity, relaxation arises and there is no need for endless struggles and fights.

Fights often are the result of wanting more than is possible. But the more demanding one becomes, the more ‘no’ one will get. It is as if one is not respecting the partner’s ties to his own original family. If one truly loves a partner, one has to love his parents too.

What is the solution in the case of a woman’s relationship with her father?

The solution is simple in principle, but difficult in reality. A woman has to come to a completion with her father. She has to see her father as he is and respect him just like that, with all his limitations. He needs to drop the illusion that he could have been different or should have treated her in any other way. It means giving up the dream and coming to terms with reality.

But this can be done only with great understanding. Love happens as a result of deep understanding, not because of a ‘should’. So I am not saying you ‘should’ love your father; no, not at all. This would just become a conditioning, just as we all have been conditioned that we ‘should’ love our parents. Love has to happen to us spontaneously. Only then is it true and does it have a liberating effect. So the question is how can we create that understanding?

This is something we do in the Family Constellation work. We look at the bigger picture, which means we look at the whole family system and at all the events that happened in the family, even in a past generation. In this way, we start gaining awareness about the life situation of those who came before us and why certain things were not humanly possible for them. We learn to put ourselves in the situation of others and start understanding why others, for example our own parents, behaved in the ways they did. Out of such understanding love grows and our heart opens naturally and only that can have any liberating effect.

For example, when you understand that your father carries the longing and pains of his own parents, who may have been refugees who had to escape their homeland to survive, you may start realizing that this is the reason why he always appeared so absent to you. Then the whole picture you have about your father may change and you may no longer feel so upset and complaining about him, but rather feel love for him as he is or was. Along with this, gratitude grows in you for what you have received from him in spite of what he and his family had to endure. This letting go of any idea that he should have been different or life should have been different becomes the completion of your relationship with him. It leaves one with a feeling of gratefulness. Then leaving one’s parent becomes easier. You are no longer close to them, but the feeling of love remains in your heart. True separation is only possible with love; any other separation is not real.

If a woman is able to separate from her father in this way, she becomes able to look at other men, not with a feeling that they should replace her father, but instead she will see that each man is different and she will be able to love a man because of that. The real compliment to a man is to say to him how different he is from one’s own father. Out of such understanding a successful relationship with a man becomes possible.

But I want to repeat: This is an inner process of growing in awareness. It cannot be hurried and it cannot come out of any idea of how things ‘should’ be. Before we are able to love our parents truly, we first have to go through an inner transformation. Love comes as a by-product of great understanding. It has to come spontaneously. If that does not happen, it simply means some understanding is missing. So our work is trying to be more alert and aware. Usually people do the opposite. They think that if they cannot love a particular person, something must be wrong with that person. A meditative person will do the opposite; he or she will ask, “What is missing in me that I cannot feel any love? What is it that I have not been able to understand, or in what way have I not been able to fully see the other and his life context?”

That is the difference between an ordinary person and a meditative person.

Read Part 1: Family Constellation: An Introduction
Read Part 2: The Importance of Relating to our Mothers

Let Go - oil on canvas, 2010, 48x48"Svagito has studied a wide range of therapeutic approaches. In 1995, he began to include Family Constellation in his work, studying with its founder, Bert Hellinger, and since 2000 he leads his own training programs which he takes to Europe, Asia, Central America and other parts of the world. He is the author of Roots of Love which describes this fascinating approach to therapy.

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