Podcast: How I Changed My Relationship with My Difficult Dad
Podcast Title: How I Changed My Relationship With My Difficult Dad

Date

I learned that everything a person does is because of them. It's their opinion. Everything my dad did to me was really about him and wasn't really about me or to me at all.

Asha B. Wilkerson

Episode Summary

This episode explores the power to change relationship dynamics as children of difficult parents. The host shares her personal story of growing up with a strong and fascinating father but later experiencing strained conversations and hurtful exchanges. She discusses the challenges of tiptoeing around her father and the lack of voice and control she felt in her young adulthood. The host emphasizes the importance of understanding that people’s actions are a reflection of themselves and shares examples of how she learned to accept gifts as expressions of love and reconciliation. She also discusses setting boundaries and not taking on others’ issues and encourages listeners to change themselves instead of hoping for change in difficult relationships.

Takeaways

  • Difficult parental relationships can be transformed by changing our own behavior and mindset.
  • Understanding that people’s actions are a reflection of themselves can help us not take things personally.
  • Accepting gifts as expressions of love and reconciliation, even if they trigger past memories, can lead to healing.
  • Setting boundaries and focusing on meeting our own needs can create healthier relationships.

Timestamped Summary of This Episode

  • 00:00 Introduction: The Power to Change Relationship Dynamics
  • 00:31 Childhood Fascination Turns into Strained Conversations
  • 01:27 Tiptoeing Around a Difficult Father
  • 02:23 Lack of Voice and Control in Young Adulthood
  • 03:31 Understanding the Motivations Behind Actions
  • 04:00 Gifts as Expressions of Love and Reconciliation
  • 05:27 Rejection and Acceptance of a Meaningful Gift
  • 06:26 Recognizing the Effort for Reconnection
  • 07:57 Hurtful Comment and Setting Boundaries
  • 09:22 Understanding the Fear and Bid for Connection
  • 10:44 Not Taking on Others’ Issues and Meeting Own Needs
  • 11:36 Finding Peace and Being Present in Difficult Times
  • 12:32 Changing Yourself Instead of Hoping for Change
  • 13:00 Conclusion: Healing to Repair and Start New Relationships

Resources Mentioned:

Connect with Asha:

Asha Wilkerson (00:01.258)
Welcome to Because I’ve Healed. I’m really, really excited to have you here for this episode. I’m going to tell you a story about difficult parental relationships. Not because this story is a complete disaster and not because it was entirely resolved, but because this story illustrates the power that we have to change relationship dynamics as children of difficult parents.

Asha Wilkerson (00:31.01)
Growing up, I thought my dad was the strongest man in the world. I was so fascinated by his ability to wield a hammer, to saw a piece of wood, to build a fence, and to throw me high into the air. When I was really little, I wanted nothing more than to be by his side. But at some point, the dynamics started to change, and the comfort and wonder I once felt looking up at my dad morphed into strained conversations.

hurtful exchanges and avoidance on both sides. I later learned that things started to change once I found my voice at two or three years old. And even more once I got good at expressing my opinions around five or six. I spent my middle school and high school years tiptoeing around my dad. I never knew what I would say that would trigger an onslaught of criticism or punishment. I probably spent about 60% of my time in…

Adolescents grounded for talking back. I wasn’t the kid who could just be quiet in the face of perceived injustice. No, I was the kid who had to express herself at all costs. I can’t remember how many times I got mad and yelled back at him after he told me to do the dishes before I headed out to a friend’s house. I righteously pointed out that I had never seen him wash a dish in my life. Instead of keeping my mouth shut,

And getting my hands wet, though, I’d tell him just how ridiculous his double standard was, and I would end up talking my way out of going to my friend’s house just because I couldn’t be quiet. As I entered young adulthood, the relationship management didn’t stop on my end. I did everything I could to appease my dad, even when I hated him inside for the contradictions he exhibited. Even when I was grown up and out of the house, I still felt like I had no voice.

no agency and no control over the situation that I was in. I was seething inside, but too scared to really put my foot down. He was my dad after all. And like most people, all I ever really wanted was to be 100% loved and accepted by my parents. The first time I went to therapy was specifically because I didn’t want my relationship with my dad to color and influence the relationships I had with people I was dating.

Asha Wilkerson (02:52.586)
The third time I went to therapy, though, it was because my dad’s prostate cancer had returned and I knew that he didn’t have much longer to live. And I also knew that I wanted to be as okay as possible when he made his transition. I wanted to be there for him, but I still was so terrified to open myself up knowing he hadn’t changed. I was afraid of the same pattern replaying over and over. And who wants to sign up for that? I know I didn’t. So,

the most valuable thing that I learned in therapy is that every person…

Asha Wilkerson (03:31.074)
The most valuable thing that I learned in therapy is that everything a person does is because of them. Let me say that again. Everything a person does is because of them. My therapist gave me the example by saying, if I like your shoes, what does that really say? It says that I like your shoes, they’re pleasing to me, but it doesn’t mean that they’re actually nice shoes or that they’re fantastic. It just means that I like them. It’s my opinion. I also started to notice that when my dad

Asha Wilkerson (04:00.706)
would offer to buy things that would make me uncomfortable. What I had wanted growing up was to spend good quality time with my dad, but that didn’t happen. Now as an adult, he would offer to buy me small items as a token of his affection. But I realized that buying me little gifts made him feel good. But all it did was remind me of how stingy he was with his resources when I was a kid. Once I realized that although the gifts triggered a memory in me,

but they were an expression of love from him, they became easier to accept because it wasn’t about me, it was about him. The gift giving wasn’t really about me, it was all about him. Hello, Five Love Languages. I hope you’ve read that book, if you haven’t, you should definitely look it up. That helped me see, and also years worth of reading self-help books, helped me see that everything my dad did to me was really about him and wasn’t really about me or to me at all.

For example, on my dad’s birthday sometime in the 20 teens, I was a young adult. I gave him a book written by psychologist Eric Fromm called The Art of Loving. I’d read the book and it helped me understand why I was so committed to earning my dad’s love. In the middle of the cheesecake factory, my dad gave me the book back. He said he had it already, that he had already read it and he didn’t want it and that he didn’t need it. I was shocked and of course I was hurt.

My attempt to give him a gift that was not only a gift, but a gift that I was hoping would help our relationship was quite literally shoved back in my face. At that time, my reaction was to mask the hurt and pain with anger, and I got mad at him and I was exasperated. I told him he was rude, and then I took the book back and I went home as an emotional mess. I remember coming back to my mom’s house in tears, being so frustrated because of how he responded.

Now, what you won’t believe is that a few years later, maybe two, maybe three, my dad gave me the same book as a gift. Yeah, you heard that right, the exact same book. I don’t remember if it was my birthday or just a random gift, but he gave it to me, told me that he thought it would help me, and then pretended like he had no idea that I had tried to gift him the same book years earlier. But thank God, y’all, for growth, because instead of pitching a fit and working myself up into a tizzy,

Asha Wilkerson (06:26.358)
which would have only made me upset. I remembered that everything a person does is really about them. The book was his way of trying to reconcile. My dad would never apologize, but his act of reconciliation was to give me the same gift that I tried to give him. Was it ridiculous? Yeah, but did I understand what he was trying to do? Also, yeah. My dad wasn’t trying to hurt or offend me. He was trying to reconnect.

And even though he pretended that he didn’t remember that I had gifted him the book before, I actually think he did remember and was trying to use it as a connection point, even though he kind of failed. Instead of reacting, I dug deep to be the bigger person. I decided to accept the book. Now I had three copies, the one I bought myself, the one that he wouldn’t accept, and now this gifted copy. And I told him thank you, even though I was a little hurt. I understood that-

He was doing his best to meet me halfway. I think he could have.

Asha Wilkerson (07:28.958)
I think he could have finessed it a bit better, but I was able to recognize the effort for what it was and we kept it moving. Because I had learned that his actions were more of a reflection of him than a reflection of me, I had an easier time moving through and on from the situation. I was still hurt, but it didn’t linger like it had in the past. I have so many more examples of hurt and growth stemming from my relationship with my dad, but I’ll just leave you with one more.

A few weeks before my dad passed in 2020, I was at his house setting up a new computer for him. He had been watching college basketball all day and he said he saw a kid that reminded him of me. I already knew this wasn’t going to be good because I knew my dad very well. And I said, oh really? Why dad? He said, that guy has a lot of talent, but he’s lazy and doesn’t want to work hard. His coach had to yell at him to get him to perform.

I literally sat there in stunned silence. My dad looked at me for a reaction and I refused to look up from the computer screen, his computer that I was setting up for him. I could feel the tears threatening to fall and even now as I’m recounting the story, they’re a little close to the surface. I was in this man’s house setting up his computer and he had the nerve to call me lazy. What?

But thank God for therapy and all the healing work that I’d put in because I knew immediately that one, what he said wasn’t actually true. And two, he said it to get a reaction. Before I had done my healing work and learned to own up to my stuff and to allow others to take credit for theirs, I would have been devastated. I would have been reactive and I would have been in tears. But this time, however, I was hurt. But I saw the game clearly. My dad was scared.

He didn’t know how to relate to me, and he didn’t know how to ask for more time or love. He was trying to connect. With my therapist, I learned how to set some boundaries, and one of them was not taking the bait. So I didn’t. I don’t remember exactly what I said to him in the moment, but I know I didn’t give him the reaction that he was looking for. I finished setting up the computer and went back to my mom’s house.

Asha Wilkerson (09:46.826)
I processed the situation, acknowledged my hurt feelings, and pinpointed where the comment came from so I could give ownership back to him. But let me be honest, it wasn’t just that easy. I really had to run down a list of the things that I had done to remind myself that I wasn’t lazy. Giving ownership of my dad’s comment back to him meant that I did not internalize it. I didn’t take it on as truth, and I chose not to carry the weight of it because it wasn’t my weight

to carry. His comment, just like everything else, was about him. It was his bid for connection or engagement, and I could leave it at that. I didn’t have to take it personally, and because of that, I didn’t let it affect my sense of self-worth or confidence. Because I’ve healed, I don’t take on stuff that’s not mine to carry. Well, that’s not entirely true, because I’m still a work in progress, so it’s more accurate to say that because I’m healing,

I’m better at not taking on stuff that’s not mine. When I remember that what we do, you and me included, is more of a reflection of us and not of the people we’re around, I own my feelings and actions and let others own theirs as well. I’ve cut way back on people-pleasing and I’ve learned how to meet my needs first. The healing journey I embarked on and the work I’ve done that allowed me to be in a relationship,

with my difficult dad until the very end was priceless. Was it perfect? No. Have I healed completely? Not yet. But I’m definitely proud of the work that I’ve put in to change how I related to him. 100% yes. If I hadn’t put the work in, it’s not only possible, but highly likely that I would have continued to take some of the f- So.

If I hadn’t put the work in, it’s not only possible, but highly likely that I would have continued to take some of his hurtful actions personally. I would have continued walking forward with that little kid hurt instead of an adult understanding. I worked on healing my relationship so I could have peace, and that peace allowed me to be by his side when he took his last breath. He wanted me there, but I couldn’t be there for him.

Asha Wilkerson (12:03.094)
He wasn’t a safe space for me and I didn’t have that kind of intimacy with him, but I was able to be there for me so that I could show up as the daughter that I wanted to be in difficult times. If I hadn’t worked on healing, I’d still be taking ownership of other people’s ish that wasn’t mine to take on. Now I can more clearly see what the issues are and which ones are for me to work on and to handle.

and which issues I need to leave for others to take care of. Once I realized and accepted that my dad wouldn’t change, I got to work on myself and the effects have been great. If you have a difficult relationship with your parents or family members, I totally empathize. But instead of hoping that they’ll change so that things get easier, I encourage you to change yourself. Learn how to own what is yours and to let go of what is not yours.

Change the way you engage and change the way you relate. As a life coach, I help my clients do just that and I can help you too. If you’re interested in working with me to find your freedom, head to asherwilkerson.com to learn more. And remember, it’s because I’ve healed that I’ve been able to repair old relationships and start new ones from a different perspective. It’s because I’ve healed that I’ve been able to learn expectations.

Asha Wilkerson (13:30.194)
And remember, it’s because I’ve healed that I’ve been able to repair old relationships and start new ones from a different perspective. It’s because I’ve healed that I’ve been able to leave expectations behind that no longer serve me. It’s because I’ve healed that I’m currently living my dream life out loud with no regret.

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