Mixed feelings a challenge in some relationships

Many of us have a person in our lives that we have mixed feelings about. It could be a relative, friend or a partner. You might really care for and love that person while at the same time feel disappointed and/or hurt by them.

We might hope for change in our relationship with that person yet continue to be let down. How close you are emotionally to them and how frequent your interactions are can also impact the intensity of our mixed feelings.

My father, who passed away in January, was someone I had mixed feelings about. He was a gentle, kindhearted and friendly person who always enjoyed talking with people. Everyone who met my father always liked him. Many noticed when he was no longer able to take daily walks with his dog and would ask me how he was doing.

My father was also a constant procrastinator and avoider of most things that were difficult. He let me down in various ways throughout life and made some choices that created unnecessary distress for me at times. Fortunately, I also had positive experiences with my father to offset his limitations.

Growing up, my father was his mother’s scapegoat, verbally abused and shamed to the point that he stuttered well into his adult life. My grandmother had her own difficult upbringing with dreams of attending college dashed when her own mother died while she was in high school, leaving her to raise her several younger siblings while her father worked. Her marriage to my father’s father came undone when he returned from World War II, leaving her a single parent in the 1940s. I knew most of this from my mother as my father rarely talked or complained about his childhood circumstances.

Many adults struggle with issues from childhood. The relationship you have with your parents while you grow up is the biggest rehearsal for relationships you’ll have throughout life. Parents are one of the few things we don’t get to choose. Likewise, children don’t come with instructions. I believe most parents do the best they are able or know how to do given their own history.

Maya Angelou said, “I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better.”

My father tried psychotherapy a few times as an adult, but always seemed to get pulled back by the generational belief, particularly for men, that one should simply be able to carry on. At the age of 81, he asked if I would drive him to weekly psychotherapy and went until his dementia prevented him from attending.

So, how to navigate relationships you have mixed feelings about? There isn’t necessarily a right or wrong way to go about it, though considering the pros and cons of how you decide to respond to your mixed feelings is worthwhile. We can feel victimized and hurt, engage in chronic conflict or avoid that person. Some cut ties all together.

Obviously, if the person you have mixed feelings about engaged or is engaging in a repeated pattern of abusive or severely destructive behavior, the choice may be clear in order to maintain safety. If not, we have the option to engage in the messy balance of holding incongruent feelings about a person while still maintaining care of our own emotional well-being. How you handle it is ultimately up to you.

— Alisa Messana is a licensed clinical social worker and mental health consultant who serves as clinical supervisor at The Community House Counseling Center.