- Mental Health
ENTANGLED PATTERNS OF RELATIONSHIPS
MY MODELS FOR RELATIONSHIPS
GROWING BEYOND MY MENTAL MODELS
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.
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.
Who Is Brian Moore?
- Brian Moore
Brian is the person in the story above. He is now active in politics