ENTANGLED PATTERNS OF RELATIONSHIPS

MY MODELS FOR RELATIONSHIPS

Transforming our relationships is NOT easy, but it is this simple!
Transforming our relationships is NOT easy, but it is this simple!

GROWING BEYOND MY MENTAL MODELS

PROLOGUE

It’s amazing how our early relationships, we’re talking day one here, can potentially shape every other significant relationship in our lives. How does that happen? Well, repetitive experiences, even in infancy, become mental models which tend then to shape our moment-to-moment and day-to-day experience of life in general. In particular, our early relationships become models for future relationships. (Check out HOW OUR BRAIN WORKS)

These models set us up, so to speak, to have certain expectations of a relationship, and "drive" us to behave in patterned ways in relationships, for example, it’s my "job" to make the other person happy. And sure enough, we keep finding folks who need someone to make them happy!

Unfortunately, these mental models are "stored" in the amygdala, a part of the brain to which we have no conscious access. So unless we take the time to stop and think about our relationships, our relationships will continue to have the same "flavor" day after day, year after year.

Getting an email recently from a college classmate got me thinking about a particular relationship with a history prof who I have hated for almost half of a century! That’s a lot of hate for one heart!

At the time I started this blog, I still hated and despised him. By the time I finished the blog, I had shifted. I found myself VERY interested in forgiveness and healing. I began looking at how many other relationships in my life have some similarity to that relationship and ultimately similarities to my relationships with both my Mom and Dad. This is not parent bashing. It’s just becoming aware and growing beyond my mental models, and ironically becoming the person that Mom and Dad tried their best to make me! Just to put this into some kind of perspective, I am 64!

When we become aware that we’ve been hurt in a relationship or we have hurt others in relationships simply because we acted out what we know best, based upon those mental models, then we can begin to take responsibility for our relationships. We can begin to make conscious choices about the way we want to be and the way we want to behave in relationships. We can also hang up our victim or perpetrator hats. We can give up being defensive and always justifying our inhumane behavior. We can even reach a point of forgiving and asking for forgiveness, and untying ourselves from relationships with people, jobs, activities, and even addictions that are not good for our hearts. Or we can begin to transform relationships so they are good for our hearts, and if it is a relationship with another person, good for their heart as well. No, it is not easy, but it is just this simple.

You may think that you do not have the time nor the fortitude to bring into consciousness your mental models for relationships. But I encourage you to take the time and take advantage of the huge benefit of forgiveness and healing that will come for you as it did for me.


THE STORY

I remember the loud disturbing knock, the door opening, and then hearing Brian Moore’s voice, constricted and laced with fear and panic. I knew immediately something awful had happened. Maybe a building had collapsed or some such thing, but I never imagined, even for a second, that he was going to tell us that JFK had been assassinated. Thursday, November 22, 1963, around eleven o’clock our time. A day and a moment that many, like myself, have never forgotten.

I was a freshman in a small college in North San Diego County. A boring and droning lecture, Western Civilization 101, had just begun. I was already desperately trying to stay awake while feigning to take notes. You know, the kind of notes which end up being totally illegible when it comes time to study. The professor was a brilliant historian in his own right, Valentine Healy, PhD. Like all the other professors, he was like a god to us freshmen. In addition, he was also the President of the college.

What happened next was as stunning as Brian’s announcement. Valentine stared at Brian with a kind of disgust and said, "Brian, would you please leave and close the door."

So here was this historian, outstanding in his field (The French Revolution), supposedly sought after by the likes of Stanford, turning his back on this profound and significant moment in history. What was up with that?

I don’t know if any of the students ever looked up to Valentine Healy. I know, most, like myself, were intimidated by his austere coldness and rigidity, which perhaps, over time, could have shifted into a kind of respect or even admiration. But after November 22, I think most of us were just baffled by the man, who seemed outstanding only in his ability to stay disconnected from anyone and anything.

At the college Christmas Party a month later, Tim McDaniels, a sophomore and a perfect fit for the Santa Claus outfit, invited each faculty member to sit on his lap to receive their respective gift from Santa. Surprisingly, Valentine Healy accepted the invitation. Santa’s gift for Valentine? A frozen fish! I was quite shocked that Tim was not dismissed from the college on the spot for insurrection, because the entire student body erupted into a howling laughter and applause.

Forty Seven years later, Valentine’s request for Brian to leave and shut the door still haunts me. Well, the man, himself, still haunts me.

Val, as we called him, would never stop when you approached him to ask a question, and he was known for backing you into a bush as the two of you walked and talked. He, continuing to walk forward, as if he didn’t have the time of day for your question, and you, walking backwards in hopes of an answer. As you can imagine, no one ever approached him to ask a trivial question! The questions were always important, having to do with the policies and guidelines of the college and things like getting his approval to use a particular facility or equipment for an event. Yes, by now, I’m sure you’re thinking how did he get the name, Valentine, or how did he deserve that name? For sure, he was no cupid, only an archer who seemed adept at shooting poisoned arrows.

But some codependent insanity drove me to try to have a relationship with him. If you would have told me forty seven years ago that Val reminded me of my Dad, I would have said, "you’re crazy," but like Val, Dad could be intimidating, cold, austere, and rigid. And it was painful to approach Dad if I had to ask his permission or get his approval. So yea, my entangled relationship with Dad was the catalyst to my pursuit of a relationship with Val.

I can’t remember if I volunteered, but somehow I ended up on a paint crew which Val "supervised." The job evolved, at one point, into working with a local artists to duplicate the original decor on the walls of those sections of the college that dated back to the eighteenth century!

Being on the paint crew fueled both my insanity and my fantasy that maybe I could get close to this person, and maybe someday actually make him smile and laugh. Now that would be a special connection indeed, one that obviously no one else had. But my twisted agenda got me nowhere fast.

Perhaps the crowning blow came several years later when I decided to participate in Val’s seminar on the French Revolution. That was his expertise. He knew everything there was to know about the French Revolution including what kind of cake it was that Marie Antoinette invited the "people" to eat!

Since the seminar was open to the general public, the participants were a mix of both college students and folks from the surrounding community, most of whom were "older." Every Tuesday night, we sat around a rather large "corporate" table in the library and looked at just about everything there was to look at regarding the French Revolution. One of my assignments was to look at the relationship between the French Revolution and the Viet Nam War. To appreciate this assignment, you have to know that the year was 1967, and the college was spread out in the shadows of Camp Pendleton near Oceanside, California. The ground shook day and night from the war games preparing men, our own age, to fight "the war against communism."

I have to admit, I cannot remember what my brilliant findings were, but I had done my research really really well. After all, this was going to be my moment in the "sun," the moment Valentine Healy would smile upon me. Maybe even be impressed with what I had to say!

I spent several minutes sharing my discoveries and insights. Well, I was probably more expounding than sharing! I closely watched the eyes of everyone sitting at that table. I watched them nod their heads as if they were understanding what I was saying. It was particularly satisfying to see the "older" folks nodding their heads. You have to remember, I was only 22 at the time. I was pleased that I was able to connect with people who might otherwise see me as a radical antiwar mongering hippy!

But I could not get Val to nod his head. He had the most blank look a person could muster up. Dead pan. Dead dead pan! And so I was compelled to say, "Do you know what I mean?" Everyone shook their heads in the affirmative, but not Valentine Healy, who finally spoke up. Well, he didn’t really speak. He just shook his head and uttered, "uh uh!"

I was crushed. I wanted to crawl under that very huge, long, heavy table that would have required a crane to lift even an inch. I remember thinking, how is it that one person can have so much power over my own sense of self. But he did.

And so my quest changed from winning his approval to bringing him down–"assassinating" him. And I would do it passive aggressively so I could plead innocent if necessary. I probably had some consciousness that I not only had a sense of humor, but was equally possessed with the "ability" to be sarcastic, biting, and even sadistic in my humor. But certainly not to the degree that I have today. Back then, I would brush off my sadistic side as just being funny!

The day for assassination did arrive. It was not planned, but serendipitous. I have spent a few hours recently attempting to research the baseball almanac to pinpoint a particular end-of-the- season game which my memory tells me was between the San Francisco Giants and the Los Angeles Dodgers, but the almanac shows no such game! What I know "for sure" (yea right!) is that it was the Fall of 1967. I am now a college senior and feeling confident about myself as a twenty three year old man. It is early Sunday evening, and I find myself standing in the dinner line directly behind Val. His favorite team (whoever they were) lost that day. Outstanding! Here's the moment I had been waiting for. I am going to bring him down. So I ask him, as if I do not already know, "So who won the game today?"

When he completely ignored my question, I knew that I had him in my lair. I thought I could see some of the hairs on the back of his neck bristling. I followed him into the dining room and wouldn’t you know it, when he sat down, the seat next to him was empty! I was in that seat in a flash. And I asked my question again. "So who won the game today?" When he ignored me this time, I acted as if he just didn’t hear me and asked yet again, "So who won the game today?" I didn’t realize that I was being a little suicidal and was about to be assassinated myself!

He picked up his dinner knife, grabbed it by the handle, and began pounding it on the table. "Don’t tempt me," he said. And then again, "Don’t tempt me, don’t tempt me!"

Whoa! I looked around to see if anyone else heard what I just heard. And I saw looks of disbelief and complete puzzlement about what was happening.

Well, obviously, I decided that I did not want to end my college days with a butter knife through my heart, and I thought at the moment, he just might do it. So I stopped. But I felt triumphant in some strange way. I had gotten close alright, really really close. This was not an austere, cold, and rigid man after all. He was boiling inside and ready to snap, maybe even ready to kill, maybe "just" downright passionate when it was all said and done.

I graduated eight months later, June 1968. In the year that followed, I stayed connected to the college through a kind of internship program at a residential treatment center several hours away from campus. During visits to the college, I would see Val, now sporting a long greying beard. He was kind to me each time we spoke. I was a little stunned. It was obvious that he was going through some kind of change or transition, but I had no clue what it was all about. After those visits to the campus, I never saw Val again. I only heard bits and pieces about his life.

At the time I knew Val as a professor and president of the college, he was a Franciscan priest. At some point, he left the priesthood and married. I know nothing of that part of his life except I heard he battled with diabetes, lost both of his legs, and then died of a heart attack. I do not know if the diabetes was a life-long medical issue or something that began plaguing him in later life.

I have to admit that when I heard of his amputation and his demise from a heart attack, my first thought was that he got what he deserved. You know the old saying, you reap what you sow. But as I reach the end of this blog, I realize there is another part of me that would not wish such a fate on anyone, not even Val. No one deserves such a fate. And I am hoping that the universe will be much more forgiving of my own inability to get it right, my own inability to be something other than a frozen fish, and my own inability to connect to my heart. As much as I think I am a heart-felt person, there are too many times I am not. There are many ways I am just like Val. Yes, a well-kept secret, but a reality all the same.

So at the older and wiser age of 64, (a sophomore in the truest sense of the word), I feel absolutely awful about what happened to Valentine Healy. No one deserves such a fateful ending. I mean, after all, at some point in the game, he did follow his namesake and found love..

So regardless of how I experienced him as a young college student, ultimately, he wasn’t any different from the rest of us--trying to find our way, trying to follow our hearts. Yes, as brilliant an historian he was, he still, ironically, lost touch with history along the way. Just like we all do. And I can’t really hold him accountable for not filling the bill for me, you know, to be my Dad!

And so it seemed to make perfect sense to talk to him the other day on my morning walk. Ah, you skeptics. Just can’t let anything get passed you! No, he hasn’t talked back, and I have no way of knowing that he is even aware of my attempts to converse with him. But something continues to shift for me in my "relationship" with him. I am beginning to feel at peace with this man, and I hope that I can make it possible for others who are not at peace with me, to someday feel at peace with me. Maybe that is the legacy that each of us is called to provide for those whose lives we touch, and, for better or worse, continue to touch long after we have left this earth.

In the meantime, my son stopped by the office the other day. My car was giving me some trouble, so I asked him if he would give me a ride to the post office. He said, "as long as you don’t give me directions." We both laughed, but even with his reminder, I couldn’t stop myself from telling him the best way to get to the post office. We laughed again.

So what’s the big deal? I hated my Dad giving me directions, so much so, that I would intentionally go the opposite direction just to drive him crazy! David was remembering that AND even as we both laughed about it, I still couldn’t stop myself from doing what I had learned to do so well but also hated!

It was a humbling and healing moment for me. And I was so grateful that my son could hold up a humorous mirror for me to see that I am just like Grandpa in so many ways and it’s okay! I’m aware now, and with a little practice, I can stop giving intelligent people directions to places that they already know how to get to. With a little awareness of the "stuff" in my amygdala, I can begin substituting some new and more lifegiving ways to relate to the people I love and sometimes hate.

Comments 8 comments

teresa Huerta 6 years ago

Dear Vern, I loved this story. Funny how i could relate to my own chapters in my life and see so clearly what pieces and parts i have tried to glue back together, just to find that when my heart changes with love, everything else falls into place. Even though i have not known you as long as many other people in your life, you came as a true gift to me at the most perfect time. I have seen behind your humor and feel that I know you by heart.... I am in a place in my life where you have helped me to see through your own sharing that we all have those times where we look for meaning and the fullness of what love really is.My life is forever changed because I have a place in my heart now that will continue to grow, forgive, challenge and in the quite place that has changed i have found a joy...Hmm i think i will call it vern. With love and gratitude Terri


kimh039 profile image

kimh039 6 years ago

Vern, another heart-felt, thought provoking hub. I was drawn in from the beginning, and remained til the end. A good mix of heart and mind. Thanks.


palmerlarryray profile image

palmerlarryray 6 years ago from Macon, Missouri

Awesome hub. I'm glad to see that you are finally making peace with Valentine. Sometimes, those little talks can be very valuable. I know Bill and I have a lot of them.


vrbmft profile image

vrbmft 6 years ago from Yucaipa, California Author

Terri, Kim, and Larry

Thank you so much for taking the time to read this interesting piece which brought me more peace than I ever anticipated. Larry, I talked to Val again this morning and it is interesting the responses which pop into my head from out of nowhere! One of the responses was, "I'm sorry." And I told him that as a sixty four year old man, I too am sorry. So I'm looking forward to more conversations. Maybe you and I will get beds next to each other in the luney bin!!

Thanks again gals and guy!


palmerlarryray profile image

palmerlarryray 6 years ago from Macon, Missouri

Yes those talks can be very cathartic. The night Bill died, I went outside to smoke and this bird kept bothering me. Bill always hated smoking and never knew I smoked. I told the bird "Hi Bill, now leave me alone and let me smoke this."

I spent a lot of nights yelling at the night sky because he had put me in the position of making the choice to turn off the machines because it wasn't fair... I still don't always think it was fair but I understand it now. I'm glad it was me and not some stranger.


vrbmft profile image

vrbmft 4 years ago from Yucaipa, California Author

Nineteen months later, this hub made the top of my hub list for a few hours. So I showed up here to reread for myself. Interesting how a relatively unread hub draws a little renewed attention in a the last couple of days and week.

I can't believe how much has changed for myself in relationship to relationships since I wrote about Val. Anywho, thanks to all who stop by here to read even if you do not comment, but keep this hub on the charts, so to speak. I am continuing to learn what it is to disentangle in my relationships. Hope you are too.

Vern


Tams R profile image

Tams R 4 years ago from Missouri

This story reminds me of a doctor I once visited. Cold and errant in his ways, he gave me bad advice that he too followed and died later that week from practicing the same advice. I hated him for a solid week and the discontent has carried on long after his death. He made me feel stupid for my health concerns which later turned out to be very real and life-threatening.

I think when people we hold in high regard do things seemingly mean and uncalled for, we immediately see them in a different light.

Karma is something else isn't it.

I've always thought there must be something else within me to cause me to hold such negativity for a single event I believe most people would have let go of by now.

Great story!


vrbmft profile image

vrbmft 4 years ago from Yucaipa, California Author

Hey, Tams R, join the crowd. The "stuff" in our relationships that is the most "gooey," not in a good sense like juicy, but more like "boogers" (sorry), we ALL tend to hold onto and just will not let ourselves shake off. THANKS for giving new life to an "old" hub. I still think about Val at least once a week and glad I have come to a place of healing. It stirs me to heal in my other relationships as well.

Vern

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