When Family Personalities Clash   2 comments

As I unpack the baggage from my travels through life, I see that some of it came pre-packed, some I added by choice or accident, and some was dropped into my suitcases by other hands. I’m regularly surprised by what I find–why is this here and where did it come from?  I look for the answers by reflecting back on the interplay of family values, personalities, coping strategies, roles, relational dynamics, and assorted other influences in my growing-up years.  This is a large part of my blog posts since I started, but I’m narrowing down the focus just now to the greatest influence, my dad.

Dad and I are similar in some aspects and dissimilar in others, and that discrepancy and how we have each responded to it is a huge part of our story.  Perhaps most fundamental to our differences is our personalities–I am a typical melancholic and he is a typical choleric.  Generally speaking, life is straightforward for him and complex for me; he is an actor and I am a ruminator; he is confident, clear, decisive and I am uncertain, questioning, hesitant.  In his conscious thinking and acting in the world, his emotions are peripheral, and life seems to work best for him when he keeps them in their place.  He is largely unaware of his subconscience and the role it plays in his life and has little ability or interest in investigating that realm.  In contrast, my emotions speak to me loudly and constantly, alerting me to many aspects of my subconscious world and how it affects me, my perspective, my work, and my relationships.  He enjoys life most when he is doing something worthwhile and succeeding at it; I enjoy life most when I am gaining personal insight and growing.  In an open conversation, he likes to discuss plans, projects, accomplishments, what is happening in the world, and I like to talk about our internal worlds, what is happening in my heart and yours.

We can only see the world from where we stand, it only makes sense to us from our own perspective, which is heavily colored by our experiences, values, and, yes, personalities.  We can expand our viewpoint by trying to hear deeply and appreciatively another’s perspective, but it still remains our own particular perspective.  I experience certain things as comforting, stimulating, painful, supportive, frightening, encouraging, and I assume others experience them as I do.  It is hard to see all of this as particular to me because they feel like universal norms.  When the reactions of others differ from mine, I ascribe their fears to cowardice, their pleasures to immaturity, their anger to an irascible nature.  In short, if they see the world differently, they are wrong.  This myopia is especially hard to escape when it dovetails with our culture and significant others whose views are constantly reinforcing our own.

In a father-son relationship, the father is in the driver’s seat, so it is his personality which becomes key to the relationship, and to the extent his boy’s personality differs, the dad struggles to comprehend the world from that perspective. The more the father sees his own view as the correct universal one, the less he can understand, appreciate, and validate his children in the ways they differ from him.  It is always difficult to appreciate a point of view that clashes with our own, but it’s  especially hard for parents, who carry the heavy responsibility of guiding their kids, especially for those of my father’s generation, especially for those with less reflective personalities.

All in all my dad did the best he could, which is all we can ask of any father, all that even God himself asks.  But don’t suppose that all goes well when everyone does their best.  This broken world is filled with jagged edges, including our own shards.  If we are to relate at all, we must relate as fractured people, cutting and bruising each other unintentionally and even against our best efforts to be careful and kind.  Good, healthy relationships are profoundly healing, but even between best friends muck gets kicked loose.  In the end it will all work out for the best if we can stumble through the slough to a better place, a place of greater maturity and deeper, truer connection.  It is often in digging through the muck that we strike the truth that was buried beneath.

“There is a crack in everything.  That is how the light gets in.” Leonard Cohen

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2 responses to “When Family Personalities Clash

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  1. Thanks Janathan… Always enjoy reading your thoughts..
    Wish they could get more exposure!
    Judy H-W

    Judy Harms-Wiebe
    • Thanks for reading and commenting and appreciating! What I wish is for more interaction. I wish I could figure out how to get a discussion going about the ideas I present. There is greater wisdom in community than an individual.

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