By Matt Sutera
June can be a wonderful month. The days are long, summer is in full swing and sweaters are traded for swimsuits. It is also a time where we celebrate Father’s Day, this year on June 19, by spending quality time with them, cherishing memories and buying them another tie for their growing collection. For some, however, Father’s Day can be a bitter reminder of the how our fathers came up short. The day can serve as a reminder of the resentment, anger, disappointment, abuse and/or neglect that has wedged the distance between you. It doesn’t have to be that way. How do we let go of these resentments this Father’s Day without excusing the pain our fathers may have caused?
I have several suggestions, but the most important thing to remember is to address and move on from these resentments — not necessarily because your father deserves to be pardoned, but because you deserve to be freed from the burden.
“Give yourself permission to move on
from this resentment with your father,
irrespective of his involvement in the process”
First, it is important to understand the role resentment plays in our lives. Initially it seems to serve a protective function for us. Resentments can create both physical and emotional distance between us and the source of our negative emotions (anger, pain, suffering, fear, anxiety, etc.). Initially, this appears to protect us as we create space to process the situation and begin to cope. However, resentments can quickly turn into obsessions that overtake our ability to heal ourselves and move past our hurt. Our harbored resentments become our obstacles. We begin to cling to the impractical belief that justice or vengeance are the only ways we will overcome our struggle. But it is just the opposite. Letting go of these thoughts and learning to accept that certain factors were out of our control can truly set us free.
Letting go of resentments is challenging in any circumstance, but when it comes to our own fathers, coming to terms with the hurt and moving on can seem impossible. Our fathers were supposed to love us unconditionally, protect us from harm and support us. When they failed to meet these needs or act in ways that are incongruent with what we feel a father should be, we can harbor animosity toward them. This Father’s Day I thought it would be helpful to outline how to explore the broken relationships with our dads head on. Below I have listed 10 steps to help cultivate understanding and begin working through the resentment you may be experiencing with your father:
1) Recognize the negative impact fostering resentments toward your father has on your life and consider to work toward letting these go eventually.
2) Acknowledge that resentments force you to re-experience and re-imagine very painful or traumatic memories and recognize the fact that you are unable to change what happened.
3) Accept that you ultimately cannot completely control your father or the actions he has chosen.
4) Understand that you are only perceiving comfort and power from harboring this resentment(s) and instead affirm to harness your real power.
5) Take a mental inventory of the ‘triggers’ that initiate the negative feelings you have toward your father.
6) Actively stop obsessive thoughts about your resentment toward your father by doing a ‘stop-thought’ technique and attempt to prevent ruminating on your resentments.
7) Recognize your part, if any, in the conflict with your father, forgive yourself for anything you did or did not do, and make conscious efforts to not let the same things happen again.
8) Give yourself permission to move on from this resentment with your father, irrespective of his involvement in the process.
9) Accept that forgiveness is not a “one and done” event, forgive when you are able, distract and actively forget when you are unable, and remember that your attempts to move past this resentment are in no way excusing the pain your father has caused you, rather that you have opted to not hold onto and let this pain control you any longer.
10) Understand that none of the above steps have to come alone. Therapy is a safe place to explore these resentments and work toward resolving them.
Regardless of the of your experience, the short-comings of your father’s parenting doesn’t have to be an assessment of your value or worth. There are resources available to you at any age to become the person you needed in him. This Father’s Day honor the person who stood in the gap for you father, thank the person who was able to show up and invest in the person you are today.
Matt Sutera, MHP, provides counseling services at Thrive Therapy in Burnsville, MN. His experience includes providing therapy and skills services to families with a variety of presenting concerns, such as abuse and neglect, reunification, men’s mental health issues, substance use/abuse, grief and loss, and sexual concerns.