How can growing up in a dysfunctional family impact your way of relating to men? (part 2)

Only when we see our parents for who they really are, can our illusions of men begin to shatter, 

Only by grieving the parent(s) that we’ve never had, can our emotional rolling coaster finally come to an end,

Only by accepting men for who they really are, can we become truly free.

In the first part of this article, we saw through the case of Stephanie how the projection of the image we hold about our parents impacts the way we see men and our relationships with them. We understood that this image, which has been created at a very young age, is based on a distorted reality. And we concluded that the only way to change our patterns is to change this image. 

So, how do we change the image we project onto men? 

For me, there are three dimensions to this transformation, that I will develop in this article: 

If you want to change the image that you project, you will need to:  

      Be aware of this image, i.e. uncover the story hidden behind your patterns (part 1)

      Resolve your unfinished business with your parents (part 2)

      And reprogram your mind as well as your body (part 3)

This transformation is not linear and will be unique to each person. Maybe you’ll start to take an interest in femininity and do some research on this topic (part 3); you’ll acquire new knowledge on men and women psychology and you’ll progressively make the link with the way couples function in your family (part 1). 

And then, one day, a major event will happen in your life (part 1), which will enable you to add more pieces to the puzzle and make you realize that you have some unfinished business with one of your parents (part 2). You’ll want to learn more about family dynamics (part 3), which will lead you to understand how the way you’ve been parented impacts your relationships with men (part 1). You’ll come to realize that you’ll have some forgiveness work to do (part 2), and so on…

This transformation also comes in layers; the more you make progress, the more you’ll acquire a deeper understanding of yourself and others and the more you’ll have to face difficult challenges. 

This is a difficult journey. It requires a great amount of courage and humility. Sometimes, you’ll just feel like giving up. Know that the rewards are worth the efforts that will be asked of you. 

              1. Uncover the story behind your patterns 

Like for Stephanie, there is a story behind your patterns. This story makes the link between the image that you project onto men and the result of this projection, which is your relationship patterns. It is already here, but it is covered and the only thing that you can see is the tip of the iceberg = your symptoms.

If transformations look different for each person, they all have one thing in common: they all begin with symptoms. 

People who are satisfied with their life/situation don’t want to change. Generally, we want to change when something is not right, and in our case as well as in the case of Stephanie, when our relationships with men are not satisfying. The symptoms of our unresolved issues manifest themselves through a devastating breakup or an addiction that is no more manageable or maybe an illness. 

They can be our greatest ally if we decide to follow them. But in most cases, we choose to dissociate.


Because we try to protect ourselves from feeling our pain. The denial is an unconscious mechanism designed to protect us from the inevitable grieving process that we will have to go through if we ever decide to face the truth. But whatever is too difficult to process doesn’t fade away. If we don’t do the work, we will continue to experience the same patterns, again and again.  

       So, how to break through the denial?

By setting the intention of facing the truth and by being open to receiving the signs. Some of our signs are already here, others will come in the future. Every sign that comes to you is like a piece of a puzzle that adds to all the pieces that you already have about yourself and your family. Every time you’ll have a new sign, you will be able to connect the dots and uncover a little bit more of your story. And one day, you will find the entire puzzle assembled in front of you.

        Set your intention

This intention takes the form of a pact that you do with yourself. That no matter what the truth looks like, you are ready to face it. You know that by staying in the denial, you are setting yourself up for a suffering that is worse than the one you’ll have to go through if you ever decide to face it. In one of her videos, Lisa A Romano used a great analogy to describe this dilemma: It is as if you had to choose between suffering third-degree or second-degree burns. In both cases, you will suffer but you know that if you choose the first option, you will be condemned whereas if you choose the second one, you will survive and eventually heal your wounds.

Somehow, this pact will make you feel safe and will help you lower your psychological barriers. You know that your pain is temporary and will eventually make room for the life and relationships that you have always wanted. You know that this journey is meant to free you. To make you feel more whole inside, more open and present to yourself and others.

        Be ready for the signs that will come to you

Once you set the intention for facing the truth, be open to receiving it. 

Make room for the signs that are going to come to you. They won’t come the way you’ll expect it but they will come for sure. 

In order to recognize and make sense of them, it is very important to practice reflection: 

      To be able to take a step back in your mind,

      To be simultaneously the observer and the observed. 

Understand that every single information that you process distracts and costs you energy.  Be very intentional about what goes in your brain. Decluttering your physical space as well as your relational circle will help you center your mind. 

The more you practice introspection, the more quickly you’ll be able to connect the dots. 

       Connect the dots 

Pay close attention to :

The common theme linking all your relationships with men :

The romantic partners but also your professional relationships, friendships and family. 

The story that the women of your family have been telling you from a very young age :

There is a story about men. A story that have probably been traveling from generation to generation in your family, and which, by repetition, has been transmitted to you and has become yours.

         What is this story? 

  • How do women of your family perceive men?
  • What was their definition of femininity?
  • Are they dissatisfied with their husbands?  
  • Are men blamed for everything that goes wrong?
  • Are men trusted?

Your true family history :

There is the official history of the family, and the unofficial one, which happens to hold the truth. This one contains all the secrets, the addictions, the double lives, the true reasons behind divorces/marriages. Family hot topics are rarely talked about at the dinner table. Your parents will probably not reveal you their history, especially if they are themselves not aware of it. You don’t need to know all the details. If you have set your intention and created the space, the information you need will eventually come to you, in one way or another. 

Listen to the comments that people outside of your close family make about your family because they are very precious. They could be made by someone from your distant family, an ex-partner of your grand-parent/aunt/uncle, a family friend etc … Generally, these comments have a special flavour, the flavour of the truth. They describe a relationship, situation, someone’s personality in a very different way than what you’re used to hear. These comments will catch you off guard and stay in the back of your mind, like the piece of a puzzle waiting to find its place.

Putting words on the image you are projecting onto men is a profoundly liberating process. It is as if you have been living your entire life with a blurred vision until one day, someone comes and gives you a corrective pair of glasses. Once you uncover the story behind your patterns, you’ll finally make sense of all the experiences you’ve had so far with men.

Your story will enable you to grieve. It will allow you to channel your rage and feel your pain. 

You were not crazy and your body knew everything, all this time.

All the strong emotions you have repressed so far had a definite purpose and were actually meant to direct you toward the truth.

You’ll find that the adjectives you used to describe your experiences with men actually apply to your parent(s). 

Everything was here, unconscious, until you were ready to make it conscious. 

    2. Resolve your unfinished business with your parents 

As counterintuitive as it may seem, we cannot have fulfilling relationships with men if we still feel resentful toward one or both of our parents. We will continue our relationship patterns, as long as we’ll consider ourselves as a victim of our parents. It doesn’t mean that we have to be in contact with them if they are too toxic for us. Our parents may even be deceased. It doesn’t mean either that we have to forget what happened or give them excuses for any inappropriate behaviour. For me, being at peace with our parents is to see and accept the past as it is and to give up the hope to receive from them what they have never gave us. It is being able to, simultaneously, hold them accountable and open up to what they had to give us, while making sur we don’t take sides.

Holding them accountable for their behaviour

No matter what happened to our parent during their childhood, we arrived in this world, as every human, with a right to be loved and taken care of physically as well as emotionally. As painful as it can be, it is very important to face the reality and to acknowledge our parents’ duty and their responsibility in not honouring it:

In Stephanie’s case, both her parents emotionally abandoned her. Her father, with his addiction to other women and her mother, by being emotionally absent and including her in her fights with her husband. 

This part cannot be skipped. Many people feel guilty to make their parents accountable. They prefer to think that “their parents did the best they could”. But the refusal to acknowledge what really happened will resurface in other relationships in which they will give the same excuses to an abusive person.

It is not about blaming or judging our parents. We don’t even need to confront them. It is about validating our own experience and understanding that we deserved to be taken care of, even if our parents were not available for us. 

Our role wasn’t and still isn’t to take care of the emotional needs of our parents. We couldn’t and were not supposed to give to our parents what they were expected to give us. When we accept to recognize our parents’ responsibility, we also give up the hope to receive from them what they didn’t give us. This make us realize that we will have to live with this void our whole life and that it’s useless to expect men to satisfy our childhood unmet needs. Only when we grieve what we didn’t receive during our childhood, can we enter our adult relationships as a woman and no longer as a little girl. 

Receiving what has been given to you

I discovered this concept in Mark Wollyn’s excellent book “It didn’t start with you”, in which he explains that our capacity to receive from life is directly linked to our capacity to receive what our parents had to give us. 

Indeed, our parents only gave us what they had to give us. They couldn’t give us something they hadn’t themselves. They have parented us just like the way they had themselves been parented …but better. Generally, parents always want to give more to their children than what they have received themselves. Our parents probably wanted to give us what they haven’t received but they didn’t realize the work they would have to do to be able to have a healthy way of parenting. 

Stephanie’s father need for other women was an addiction. With the new understanding of her father’s addiction, Stephanie can’t change her relationship with her father, but she can change her perspective. When someone has an addiction, the addiction becomes his priority. He is in a relationship with it and cannot put his attention out of it.  The emotional distance of Stephanie’s father was not directed toward her personally.  He didn’t attend to her needs in a way that he was expected to, but he still gave her what he had to give.

Not taking sides

Often, like Stephanie, we tend to idealize one of our parents while we blame or judge the other. In his book, Mark Wollyn writes that “when we pit one parent against the other, we go against the source of our own existence, and unconsciously create a rift inside ourselves. We forget that half of ourselves comes from our mother and half from our father.” In this case, we feel guilty to betray one of our parents and we unconsciously try to be loyal to him/her by marrying someone like him/her or by repeating his/her suffering.

On the surface, Stephanie appeared to be loyal to her father, but actually, she married an emotionally unavailable man, just like her mother.

When it comes to our feelings toward our parents, it is important to keep in mind that it takes two people to be in a relationship and to not victimize one of them. If they stayed together, both parents are responsible for the relationship dynamics. 

Being at peace with your parents is a gift that you give to yourself. It will allow you to put in place boundaries that feel right for you, with them but also with men you are in a relationship with. When we have unfinished business with our parents, we have a certain sense of guilt and loyalty that we unconsciously project onto men through our behaviour and the choices that we make. We attract experiences that trigger a particular wound that is still waiting to be healed. As soon as we attend to this wound and we dedicate ourselves to healing it, we become more peaceful and we magically start to attract totally different experiences with men. 

3. Give yourself what has not been given to you

Being aware of your programming  is not everything. Let’s say you want to be an entrepreneur but you come from a family of employees. You have likely been programmed to be an employee. Being aware of what has been transmitted to you is only the first step. You’ll have to learn by yourself how to feel, think and behave like an entrepreneur. Same goes for your relationships with men : 

 At some point, you‘ll have to ask and answer this question  :

 If a man cannot be a substitute for the parent I’ve never had, then what can he be? 

To create a new image to project into men, you’ll have to educate yourself on femininity & women and men psychology and to make this new knowledge into practice. 

This part is as important as the two previous ones but I won’t develop it in detail because I do it in other articles that are more into tactics, like these ones :  

Meet the grounded, masculine man

Why does he say one thing and do another ?

There are also many great books that can provide you with useful information.

I highly recommend “Getting to I do” by Pat Allen, where she explains very well what it means to be a feminine woman. “The wild woman’s way”, by Michaela Boehm is a great one too. 

Knowledge empowers our intuition.

In healthy families, littles girls are taught what it means for a woman to love herself first and how it manifests itself in a relationship with a man. If it has not been taught to you, you can still learn it by yourself.

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