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          Improving Your Relationship with Your Father

          September 01, 2004

          Research shows that fathers are very influential in their daughters’ eyes, especially when it comes to self-esteem and decision making. Whether you feel abandoned by your dad or just don’t know how to be closer to him, Dr. Phil offers advice for improving your relationship.

          Ask for what you want.
          According to Dr. Phil, “There’s a point in time where you have to say, ‘I’m going to stop complaining. I’m going to stop living in the past, and I’m going to ask for what I want.'” Find the courage to confront your father, and be honest about telling him how you want the relationship to move forward. Remember, he can’t read your mind.

          Ask only for what you are willing to give.
          One guest, Annette, was angry because she didn’t think her father respected her. “You want something you haven’t given,” Dr. Phil tells her. “You want him to respect you, but you said, ‘I don’t respect him’ … You as an adult living in the here and now have to be willing to step up and take care of your end of this relationship.” Don’t ask your father to give you something that you can’t give in return.

          Take care of unfinished emotional business.
          Oftentimes anger and resentment toward your father may indicate that you need to get emotional closure. Chaynah, a guest who was 5 when her father left, still faces abandonment issues that are affecting her marriage. “You have these raw feelings, and as long as you have that raw wound, then it hurts every day,” Dr. Phil tells her. He advises Chaynah to figure out her Minimal Effective Response — the least she could do in the relationship with her father that would allow her to get emotional closure. “Maybe it’s to forgive him. Maybe it’s to write him a letter … Maybe it’s 10 different things,” Dr. Phil points out. “You have to find that, and you have to do it, so you can say, ‘OK, I have stood up for myself. I have expressed myself. I have unburdened myself.'”

          Give yourself what you wish others could give you.

          Some relationships can't be reconciled, either because the father is deceased or the daughter is uncomfortable about approaching her dad. Dr. Phil suggests writing a letter to yourself mentioning all of your positive qualities. He tells Chaynah, "Maybe you need to say, 'Look, I am OK. I'm a loving and caring and giving person. I'm intelligent. I'm attractive. I'm a good mom.'" Sometimes we have to give ourselves what we wish we could get from others. If your father has left you feeling inadequate, you need to deal with the feelings and change how you feel.

          Change your "tapes."
          Tapes are messages or thoughts that we repeat so much until they become automatic. First, you need to recognize what your tapes are, and then you may need to change them. Dr. Phil explains to Chaynah, "You've got tapes about men based on your experience with your dad: They're no good. They can't be trusted. They will abandon you." He points out that those tapes are ruining her marriage, because she is viewing her husband, Lonny, through her father's filter. If you've had a problems with your dad, don't base your opinions of men on that relationship.

          Some women may have been so hurt by their fathers that they can't bring themselves to excuse past behavior. "Forgiveness is a choice," Dr. Phil says. "You say, 'I am going to exercise a conscious choice to forgive this man because I refuse to be locked in a bondage of hatred and resentment with him for the rest of my life.'" He tells Chaynah that she's wasting her life by holding a grudge against her dad. "You don't have the right to sit around whining and crying all the time," he says. "You need to forgive him, and you need to get your butt in the game."

          Consider his point of view.
          "Your dad has a point of view, and he looks at things through a certain filter," Dr. Phil says. Your father may think that he's done a good job of raising you, even though you may look at the same history and think that it was horrible. Your perception is only how you see things. He sees it differently.

          Rediscover each other.
          Chances are, you don't know everything about your father. Take the time to explore things that you've always wanted to ask him — such as what makes him laugh or how he was raised. Once you get to know your father better, you will have no unfinished emotional business, because you will start to view each other in a different way. One exercise that you and your father can work on together is the Partner Awareness Quiz from Relationship Rescue. Although the exercise was designed for mates, it can also apply to fathers and daughters.

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