With Father’s Day approaching, you might be experiencing some mixed or unpleasant emotions. Both Father’s Day and Mother’s Day tend to bring up a lot of feelings for people, and with good reason.
Whatever the nature of your bond with your father, life events and circumstances can factor into how you feel about Father’s Day. Right now, you may be seeing signs that Father’s Day is stressful for you, and you wouldn’t be the only one. This day can be emotionally triggering for many reasons. You may have lost your father; this may have occurred during the pandemic, or he may have been gone for many years. You may have an estranged relationship with your father, where you had to walk away from the father-child relationship to protect yourself. This sort of relationship may have you feeling angry, and Father’s Day might make you feel as though your anger is more volatile and harmful than usual. You may have a meaningful relationship with your father. Still, maybe he lives far from you or is fighting a serious medical condition that forces him to isolate or prevents him from traveling.
Changes in our emotions don’t always show through a depressed mood, but also anxiety and irritability. You can tell that an upcoming trigger such
as Father’s Day is taking a toll on you if you are becoming more inattentive or forgetful or have less patience and/or emotional regulation skills.
Seeing a change in your attention span and concentration level can indicate that you are not as grounded as you typically are. You may not be consciously thinking about the stress of the upcoming day but are subconsciously burdened by it. When this situation occurs, you may find yourself at a breaking point and feel like it came out of nowhere, but that isn’t usually the case. It can be difficult to see these events coming, but there are ways to become more attuned to your internal emotional state. We practice these skills at our therapy practice in Woodland Hills and develop coping habits for heightened emotional states year-round.
I once heard one, and only Oprah Winfrey says, “Suffering happens when we resist the present moment.” There is a lot of modern “spiritual elevation” talk about acceptance that negates how tough it can be; that isn’t what I’m talking about. Acceptance doesn’t mean that “things happen for a reason” or that we need to find the good at any moment, no matter how difficult or painful. It simply reminds us that we can’t change what is happening by fighting, ignoring, or minimizing it. These attempts will only prolong our discomfort because we will delay getting to work on the issue for as long as it takes for us to find acceptance. I know that sometimes acceptance comes slowly or feels out of reach. We don’t have to wake up one day and decide to have full acceptance all at once; sometimes, the act of acknowledging that there is acceptance to be found is a liberating first step.
In Dialectical Behavioral therapy, there is a tool called Radical Acceptance. This skill can be developed to prevent ourselves from getting stuck in suffering; it does so by focusing on what we can control about a situation. To accept something doesn’t mean that you think it’s fair or approve of it, but rather that you are honest with yourself about the facts. In the case of Father’s Day, Radical Acceptance might look like, “I do not have a healthy relationship with my father,” instead of, “It’s unfair that I don’t have a relationship with my father; why do I have to suffer like this?”
The first step of Radical Acceptance involves coming to terms with the fact that you are questioning or resisting reality. Through the ten steps total, you come to terms with the truth of your situation, including visualizing how to accept it, practicing that behavior, being mindful of how you feel in your body as you practice acceptance, and allowing yourself to grieve. This is not a one-day process. Acceptance doesn’t happen overnight. Even if you suddenly realize something, there is still processing and unpacking to occur after your realization, and possibly lifestyle adjustments to make in response.
Ask yourself these two questions in this specific order. The first is: “What is coming up for me?” Being willing to turn inward and hold space for yourself is crucial. Analyzing these emotions means you are honest with yourself about
everything you think and feel. Are you lonely? Are you scared? Once you answer the first question and based on what you are feeling and going through, the second question to ask yourself is: “What do I need right now?”
And notice how I didn’t say, “What do I need right now to feel better?” That was intentional because we all eventually want to feel more stable and less emotionally drained or depressed, but that can not happen immediately. We simply need to give ourselves what we need in response to where we are at that moment. If you are feeling sad, do you need alone time or company? If you are feeling scared, do you need to meditate or be out in nature?
If you find yourself resisting the idea of self-soothing, you may need to talk to yourself the way you would talk to a friend or family member in the same position. It can be hard to put our needs first, to take time and space to acknowledge that we need help. We can become fixated on the problem again, focusing more on the reason we need self-care than the self-care itself. We can also become unnecessarily harsh critics. If you’ve been estranged from your father for several years, you might think, “Why do I still let this bother me?” In self-care, you skip asking why something is happening and cut to the solution. “This is difficult for me; to feel better, I need to spend some quality time with a loved one and do something relaxing.”
Giving yourself permission also looks like setting boundaries. If you need to stay off social media to avoid seeing posts about Father’s Day, feel free to do so! If you have been invited to participate in someone else’s Father’s Day (such as a partner’s family), you have the right to think about what your needs are and decline if that is what feels best for you. You also have the right to participate in that day without feeling guilt or shame about your relationship with your dad. If there are people in your life who tend to trigger you when it comes to this subject, firmly and politely decline to communicate with them about the topic if and when it comes up. There is no reason that you should do something that hurts you for someone else’s comfort or pleasure.
If you feel as though you want to honor this day in general, you should definitely find a way to do so! There are so many ways to acknowledge and celebrate fatherhood. Maybe you will decide to make Father’s Day about your husband, who has been a wonderful parent to your child. Or your brother, who you see is being a great dad! Maybe you will decide to celebrate your neighbor, mentor, or extended family member who has been a positive male figure in your life. In being willing to reframe Father’s Day, you open yourself up to many possibilities. Perhaps you have a couple of friends who also don’t have dads in their lives who want to go for brunch.
Better yet, maybe you decide to have a brand new routine on Father’s Day, such as going for a morning hike or volunteering to redirect your attention to other values. Focusing on our values is a great way to reset our emotional barometer; there is no rule that says we can’t have our priorities in life. It is okay to make Father’s Day look however you want it to look. You can flat-out ignore Father’s Day or make it look unconventional. You can reserve this day for trying something new that you’ve been wanting to try or treating yourself to something you’ve been saving up for. If your dad passed away with some items on his bucket list, can you find a way to check one off on his behalf on Father’s Day?
It is important to share your experience, needs, and feelings during holidays like these. You will need to be prepared for the “dad” questions at work or when you are
at the grocery store. They say that it takes a village to raise a child, but really, it takes a village to feel supported at any age. The people around you are an excellent resource to give and receive love and support. These are the people with whom you can laugh, cry, or laugh and then cry, or cry and then laugh. Connecting with other people allows us to know that we are not alone and subvert any feelings of neglect or abandonment.If you are missing your father, perhaps there is something you’d like to do in his memory. Maybe he was a big fan of roller coasters; do you have access to an amusement park? Maybe he had a favorite dish that you can make or order. Did he have a beloved band whose album you can play as you think about him? Can someone share these experiences with you?
Mental health care is an amazing resource; reaching out to a therapist or counselor for guidance, validation, and support can make a huge difference when you are struggling. Regular, ongoing therapy creates a safe space in which to explore and normalize our thoughts and feelings. Mental health struggles aren’t visible from the outside, like a broken arm or a cut is. Sometimes, we can see the mental health symptoms; our friend is having difficulty sleeping, not eating as much, or has withdrawn from social events. But most of the time, mental health struggles leave us feeling burdened by an invisible weight, and the inability of others to see and guess our problems starts to make us feel invisible, too. Empowering ourselves to ask for help is how we stop feeling alone in our struggles.
Remember, just because you are trying to cope with the fact that Father’s Day is emotional for you doesn’t mean there is anything inherently wrong with the way you feel. It is completely valid that you feel emotional on this or any other day. Part of the price we pay for being sensitive creatures is that we feel hurt and pain as well as happiness.
There is no easy solution to coping with feelings of loss surrounding our parents. Whether they are far away, estranged, or have passed on, we may miss them so terribly that it feels like a physical ache in our chest. We may also feel angry at them or feel numb to our emotions. Every parent-child dynamic is unique, and it can be easy to assume that nobody can relate to what we feel when we experience conflicting emotions about our parent(s). However, you will probably find more often than not that you can make a connection with someone who understands where you are coming from. They may have a similar relationship with one or both of their parents. You can create a community to support you if you choose to, and you have every right to choose to. We cannot pick who our parents are; we cannot decide for ourselves how they treat us, where they live, or what life circumstances befall us. But we can decide how to care for ourselves, advocate for ourselves, and heal ourselves. We can decide to know without a doubt that we deserve to feel happy, healthy, and safe and pursue those feelings wholeheartedly.
Here at Embracing You Therapy, we invite you to explore with us how life would be different if you had more control over your thoughts and emotions, and we invite you to consider that it is possible to accept things just as they are, embracing imperfections to create a gentler place for calm in your life
Let’s learn what drives your unique perspective on anxiety and stress. Then, let’s find the tools-your unique tools that help you respond to life in a healthy, calm way. Contact us today for your complimentary 15-minute phone consultation with one of our Client Care Coordinators.
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