Bring your life into balance

Empathy works. It always does.

Painful behavior is a tragic expression of unmet needs

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We celebrated Father’s Day at our Sangha last Sunday. We received a heart upon entrance. A red one if our father had passed away. A white one if he was still alive. I got a white one. When we started our mindful walking, we were asked to pause at the altar, wait for the mindfulness bell to ring, and put our heart on the altar, while saying the name of our father aloud.

Papa Four Days Marches, 2011

I felt so touched, that my tears needed almost a minute, before I felt calm enough to pronounce my dad’s name loud and clear.

It was a sudden awakening to the deep appreciation, gratitude, and love I feel for my father.

I am well aware how lucky I am with my dad. He is 81, in vibrant health, he has a keen interest in people, he easily walks long distances, sometimes 25 miles a day, he loves to learn new things and skills, he offers compassion and support to those in less fortunate circumstances, he laughs, listens, and shares his insights.

Not all of us are that lucky. Some of us had dads who drank too much. Some of us had dads who lost interest in connection and life. Some of us had dads who needed more support than they could give.

If your dad was like that, it might be hard to celebrate Father’s Day. You might have sadness, grief, sorrow, anger that your dad didn’t show up in a way that worked for you.

It might help you if you see all behavior as an attempt to meet beautiful, universal, human needs and painful behavior as a tragic expression of unmet needs. To see the little boy in the adult. A child who needed as much acceptance, love, belonging, understanding, and support as you do and who might have received as little as you did. Your dad probably just tried to support his needs, and maybe even yours, in circumstances that were not his choosing. That doesn’t make him a shitty person, it makes him a human being with painful behavior.

When you see behavior as a tragic expression of unmet needs, you might be able to hold your own unmet needs with care, and his behavior with more compassion. And if you receive enough empathy and compassion for your pain, you might even open up to some appreciation for something he did for you, however small.


You want help to practice seeing painful behavior as a tragic expression of unmet needs? CONTACT ME 512-589-0482 for a free discovery session to see if I can help you.

Author: Elly van Laar

I am a coach. I specialize in helping mission-driven professionals bring their lives into balance. I have a Master's degree in Political Science, Leiden University, the Netherlands. I'm currently in an ICF-coaching certification program. I love meditation, walking, gardening, biking, and hanging out with family and friends.

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