Codes of Love: Healthy Father-Child Relationships with Mark Bryan

WebMD Live Events Transcript

Mark Bryan, a Harvard-trained educator who specializes in human development and psychology, will discuss the 'coded' language families often use to communicate, and how understanding this language can strengthen relationships.

The opinions expressed herein are the guests' alone and have not been reviewed by a WebMD physician. If you have questions about your health, you should consult your personal physician. This event is meant for informational purposes only.

Moderator: Welcome to WebMD Live. Today we will be discussing Codes of Love: Healthy Father-Child Relationships, with Mark Bryan.

Mark Bryan is a Harvard-trained educator and former member of The Dialogue Project at MIT who specializes in human development and psychology. Mark Bryan is also the co-founder of the Artist's Way Workshops and was a member of Oprah Winfrey's Change Your Life Team. He is a weekly columnist for www.simplyfamily.com and has written several other books, including The Prodigal Father: Reuniting Fathers and Their Children, and Money Drunk, Money Sober.

Mark, welcome back to WebMD Live.

Bryan: Great to be here.

Moderator: Can you tell us about the codes?

Bryan: Basically, I found that families often speak love in code. Words and gestures meant to convey love get misinterpreted as control or criticism. You go home for the holidays, and your mom tells you you've gained weight, and our initial reaction is to feel offended, when she may just be concerned about our health. Sometimes these codes can be very simple, and we can interpret them properly by taking an attitude of curiosity and asking what they mean by that. And not just reacting.

Moderator: How have you figured these codes within families?

Bryan: I've had an ongoing workshop for the last several years, and my experience with building back families where they've had estranged members, divorced parents who haven't seen their children, I realized that not even just the disengaged families had issues about feeling love, but also families that were still together and living in the house. Houses with grown children, and both sides of that equation in the family feel unloved - the sixty-five year old dad who did the best he could with his children, and can't understand why he doesn't feel that they love him.... and these children, who are thirty-five, don't feel the love that's offered to them.

Bryan: So I ask a question in the book, "What if you were loved more than you know?", because I think that's the truth.

Moderator: That's an attitude I've never heard before

Bryan: I think we have a culture of suspicion around the family, because sometimes the basic Freudian model of psychology causes us to search a simple cause and effect solution. That advocates our responsibility for our own behavior. If we're having trouble, then it must be something that happened in my childhood, when in fact that's not the case. Issues of temperament, genetic predisposition, nature, nurture... all combine to make a complex mix of inputs and outputs. I call it "a spirit of family noir"... everybody's looking back looking for dark shadows, when we've got a lot more positives... the family love and loyalty, struggle, becomes the narrative that we use to make meaning in our world. If my narrative about my life is that I was born from these poor, disadvantaged, hillbillies... then what I'll expect of myself is lessened, and what I respect about them is lessened... and so what I've done in Codes is decipher how to work back our personal narrative; who we think we are isn't the truth, and that's probably the most profound part of my work. "I'm not who I thought I was," and that's important because when I go back to the four R's... Remember, Reflect, Refrain, Reconnect... and when I go back and do that, and I'm reconnected from that new perspective, I uncover a lot of loving families that I didn't realize that were there.

I've been doing these workshops for a while, and it drastically changes people's perceptions of who they are. Now I'm not just a poor hillbilly kid; I'm a child of very hard-working, handsome, smart people who were traditionally community oriented; Scotch-Irish-English in their heritage, and they worked real hard... and they overcame many hardships that I'll never understand. Once I've experienced, or walked in their shoes, that changes my past -- that's very important. It actually changes my past; people don't really believe you can do that, but you can change the way you react, understand, and are in the present because of the past. We're looking for the positive narrative of our lives.

Moderator: So you rewrite the narrative so it's just as true, but with more empathy and with a positive slant?