Family Issues ©

Family problems are what they are. Exporting them prevents resolution and causes further conflict.

Gene Barry

Abuse in a family can manifest as emotional, physical and sexual and is as complex as the people involved. This includes abuse of a spouse or domestic intimate partner, child abuse and elder abuse. It is not uncommon for victims of abuse to experience more than one type of abuse. With emotional abuse, acknowledging the signs of an abusive relationship is the first step to ending it. Abuse can leave the victim with psychological wounds more difficult to heal than bodily injuries. As a survivor of abuse, victims may find it challenging to cope with the intense, frequent negative feelings that can plague them long after the abuse has ended. Their ability to find happiness and peace may be affected. Anxiety, intimacy blocks, distressing memories and trust issues are common in people who have experienced abuse.


Emotional abuse can involve deliberately trying to scare or humiliate, or isolating and/or ignoring. The objective of emotional abuse is to chip away at the person’s feelings of self-worth and independence, leaving the victim feeling that there is no way out of the relationship, or perhaps that the victim is nothing without their partner.


Childhood neglect is a form of psychological abuse that will leave a child with psychological distress and pain. The severity of the psychological repercussions for the child can depend on whether the abuse was recognised or dismissed by the rest of the family. Children who have been emotionally abused often experience emotional difficulties that can affect their academic performance and social skills. As survivors of abuse, they are at a heightened risk of developing depression and are likely to encounter anger, anxiety, dissociation, posttraumatic stress (PTSD), self-destructive behaviour, shame and trust issues. In adulthood, these children may have trouble maintaining healthy relationships and productivity at work.   


Emotional abuse is also referred to as psychological violence, or mental abuse and is a method adopted by a family member(s) to control and dominate another member of that family. It is an abuse that can frequently be overlooked, excused, or denied. Quite often it occurs because the abuser has childhood wounds and insecurities they have not dealt with, or it may stem from the abuser having been abused in their family. It involves a regular pattern of belittling, bullying, coercion, degrading, demeaning, intimidation, isolating, labelling, manipulation, neglect, repeated criticism, ridiculing, shaming, teasing, threats, verbal offense and withholding affection that may result in psychological trauma.  


Emotional abuse may involve a member, or members of a family including a parent deliberately spreading lies about a sibling or parent, to purposely offend, shame, punish and isolate that person. This may be a form of scapegoating whereby these family members adopt a hostile social, psychological discrediting routine by which they transfer blame and responsibility away from themselves and on to the targeted person.  These people will recklessly maintain this to emphasise a position of control and to maintain a position of avoidance.


A scientific paper published in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence, derived from research carried out at the University of Limerick illustrated that growing up in a home with psychological abuse has longer-term effects on the wellbeing of young people than domestic violence. With the assistance of a therapist victims can overcome, or minimise this. 


Physical abuse (domestic violence) is defined as chronic mistreatment within a marriage, dating and other intimate relationships and families and covers a wide spectrum of both physical and sexual abuse. Psychological abuse appears in almost every case of physical aggression between intimate partners and is often a precursor to physical violence. This type of abuse may have escalated from threats and verbal abuse (emotional abuse). Abusers may feel a need to control their partner because of their low self-esteem, difficulties in regulating anger, extreme jealousy and other strong emotions. It may also stem from feeling inferior to the other partner in education and socioeconomic backgrounds. Physical abuse includes assault, assault with a weapon, battering, biting, blocking, breaking bones, burning, choking, confinement, grabbing, hitting, kicking, pinching, punching, pushing, restraining, scalding, shaking, shoving, slapping, throwing and tripping.


Children who are victims, or witness violence may believe that violence is a reasonable way to resolve conflict between people. For boys who learn that women are not to be valued or respected and who see violence acts against women, they are more likely to abuse women when they grow up. Girls who witness domestic violence in their families of origin are in turn more likely to be victimised by their husbands/partners.


The abuse often happens in cycles, whereby during a period in which tensions have escalated a violent act is committed. This is then followed by a period of reconciliation and forgiveness, falsely giving the victim hope that the situation has changed. Following this period of reconciliation and forgiveness tensions will most likely escalate and a new act of violence will take place. Learning to trust others following abuse can be challenging, in particularly with regards to intimacy.


A survivor of abuse may avoid speaking openly about their injuries due to feelings of shame and/or because they feel at greater risk of being abused again if they speak openly about the assault. In a situation where a person is being abused, the victim can develop feelings of hopelessness and may also develop a negative outlook in which they feel like damaged goods and unworthy of a better life.



Sexual abuse in the family includes sexual harassment and sexual exploitation which is forcing someone to look at pornography, or to participate in pornographic film-making. It is any situation where a person is forced to participate in unwanted, unsafe, or degrading sexual activity by a spouse or intimate partner, or parent, sibling or relative and is an act of aggression and violence. Sexual abuse includes any kind of forceful sexual activity, fondling of sexual parts, kissing, masturbation, oral anal or vaginal sex, propositioning, suggestive flirtatiousness and undesired or inappropriate holding. Victims of sexual abused may also experience concurrent emotional abuse and may be afraid of people and/or situations that remind them of their abuse. Panic attacks, compulsive behaviours, disrupted sleep and other indications of anxiety are common in abuse survivors. This includes being fearful of sexual intimacy, fear of being alone and fear of strangers.


Marital/partner rape may result in more damage than rape by a stranger because the victim is pressured into staying with their abusive partner. These victims may have difficulty identifying the rape as a crime and there is a higher likelihood of a repeat rape.


Child sexual abuse, paedophilia/incest in a family includes touching sexual offences, non-touching sexual offences, and sexual exploitation. This can be very confusing for children who have been taught to be wary of strangers, but to trust their family. Because children are in the beginning stages of their developing, their value systems and trust models, the betrayal of incest can be profoundly confusing and permanently damaging to a child’s delicate psyche.

These abuses include fondling a child, forcing a child to touch an adult’s sex organs, penetrating a child’s vagina or anus with a penis or any other object that does not have a medical purpose, exposing one’s body in a sexual manner to the child, exposing a child to pornographic material, exposing a child to the act of sexual intercourse, masturbating in front of a child, using a child to film, photograph, or model for pornography.


For the victim of incest, it is hard to know who to trust and survivors tend to keep their experiences to themselves. They may have a deep fear of informing on that family member, whom they may still care about and love. They may be concerned about what will happen to that family member and worry about their larger family dynamic after the perpetrator has been accused. Incomprehension, fear of retaliation, loyalty conflicts, shame and the misperception that the child is to blame for what took place also make revelation difficult for the child. 


The post-traumatic stress the child suffers following incest can result in a variety of coping mechanisms including eating disorders, issues with disassociation, self-harming and substance abuse. Incest is cloaked in shame and stigma, and this type of sexual abuse in particular affects young victims by implicating and damaging their primary support system.



Therapy

As survivors of abuse one may feel intense anger at their abusers, and at those who knew about the abuse and indeed failed to intervene. They may be angry at themselves for being abused, particularly when they believe they could or should have stopped it. Anger is of course a natural and normal response to one’s abuse and survivors can learn to manage their anger in a constructive manner that will bring about healing. For clients who may fear vulnerability and exposure, working one-on-one with a therapist is a safe trusting environment for them to work on resolving their anguish.

 

Addiction

Addiction is a complex and progressive disease that slowly robs an addict of their physical, emotional and psychological well-being. Prolonged abuse of alcohol and/or drugs will deteriorate a person’s physical health, impair their mental functioning and damage their spirit.

The impact of addiction is overwhelmingly negative, with few exceptions. Each addict’s situation is unique and therefore each family’s situation is unique. Because of this, it is impossible to assign a universal causal relationship between substance abuse and family functioning. Several studies have found that a sizeable percentage of child abuse and domestic abuse cases involve the use of drugs and/or alcohol.


The actions and behaviours of a family member addicted to drugs and/or alcohol has a significant impact on their family that cause dysfunctions in the ways they cope with the addict and how family members interact with one another. These actions and inactions of the addict affect all members of their family, and perhaps at times their extended family. Addiction affects the family’s physical health and psychological wellbeing, and may seriously impact on the family’s finances. Resentments among family members may be prominent when attention is focused on the addict, especially by younger siblings who may feel jealous that the addicted person is getting the spotlight.

Children of the alcoholic/addict grow up in a highly unstable home and can be highly confused and hurt when on a moment to moment basis they are unable to determine which parent they will get, the intoxicated or sober one. As a result, they often must fend for themselves at these times when adult supervision is vital. The economic loss to the family resulting from addiction can lead to a child being malnourished and under-educated. Essentials, such as attending school and having three meals a day is not as important as an alcoholic/addict’s next drink/score. A child growing up in a home with an alcoholic/addict is frequently robbed of important aspects of their childhood.  Because domestic and sexual abuse are linked to substance abuse, children who grow up in a home with substance abusing parents are more likely to experience some sort of domestic or sexual abuse leading to trauma. This will make these children more likely to abuse drugs or alcohol themselves and if they have children, the cycle has a strong chance of continuing.


Families coping with a loved one who is struggling with addiction will experience a strong internal tug-of-war that can strain the strongest bonds. While the family understands their loved one is not intentionally trying to hurt them and they want to provide the addict with love, encouragement and support, the addict’s manipulation, abuse and lies causes them enormous pain. This pain is then directed towards the addict, and each other. While the family wrestles with these opposing emotions, the suffering they experience causes emotional damage that most likely will not heal without the help of a counsellor or therapist.


There are six roles describing how the family functions around the addict. These roles are, the enabler, the mascot, the hero, the scapegoat, the lost child and the addict.


The Enabler

The enabler is usually the closest to the addicted person and their aim is to help the addict. Although this person means well, they protect the alcoholic/addict from the consequences of their behaviour by taking care of the things that the addict has left undone. This includes taking care of their finances, work around their house, getting their car serviced, ensuring their children get to school and making justifications for their addiction in social and business situations. The enabler does all of this because it is painful for them to confront the reality of their predicament and they are desperate to protect themselves and their family. The message the addict receives is that they don’t have to confront their addiction because someone will always be there to save them.

The Hero

This role is generally assumed by an older child in the family who overachieves and appears confident and serious. The hero is a family member who attempts to draw attention away from the alcoholic/addict by excelling, performing well and generally being too good to be true. This child may take on the responsibilities of the alcoholic/addict father and become the family breadwinner at an early age and may become the surrogate husband, giving his mother the emotional support she should be getting from her spouse.  The hero has a hope that somehow his or her behaviour will help the alcoholic/addict to stop using. The hero is obsessed with perfection, which makes the role increasingly difficult to maintain as addiction progresses and responsibilities continue to mount. 

The Scapegoat

The Scapegoat is a family member who creates other problems and concerns to deflect attention away from the real issue; the troublesome child. This can be through misbehaviour, bad grades or their own substance use. The scapegoat brings the family together in a perverse way, and can make them feel good about themselves by comparison. They are very successful at distracting the family and others away from the alcoholic/addict. In a breaking point situation of stress caused by the alcoholic/addict’s behaviour, the scapegoat becomes a means of releasing anger and frustration. The scapegoats often get into trouble in school, and at home and as they move toward adulthood many of them get into trouble with the police. Their behaviours are reflective of the poisonous and chaotic atmosphere in the house. 

The Mascot

By the time this child comes along, the family dynamic has deteriorated to a serious state of dysfunction. In an uncomfortable home environment, they assume the role of the mascot, using humour as their coping mechanism. While the mascot can certainly help lighten up a desperate situation, their true intent is to keep the peace, ease tension and serve as a distraction. They are a source of amusement for the rest of the family. The older siblings are well practised in their variety of compensatory survival roles, and their tendency is to protect the youngest member. The mascot understands their humour may be bringing a momentary sense of relief to their family and they will continue to maintain this role to achieve balance and comfort in the home. Yet despite all the efforts to protect this child from the truth, he cannot help but discover over time that something is drastically wrong with his family dynamic.

The Lost Child

To survive in the home of an addict, alcoholic, the lost child decides that for them to survive, it is best to isolate themselves within this family. They keep a low profile appearing to ignore the problem completely and as a result have problems developing relationships with other family members. This child is often the one who has not received as much love and care as his/her siblings and can go unnoticed for hours. This results in difficulties in social situations and can result in the lost child engaging in fantasy play to distract themselves both emotionally and physically from their negative environment. Believing that if they are out of sight, they are also out of mind, this child will learn not to ask questions that might upset other members of the family. In doing so, they keep a low profile and usually feel unimportant.

The Addict/Alcoholic

The alcoholic/addict can feel great shame, remorse and guilt about the distress and pain they have/are causing to their families. However, there are also many addicts who do not want to cease their substance abuse, causing great anger and resentment throughout their family. The alcoholic/addict has clear patterns of denial and ineffective coping and successful recovery invariably begins with a crisis that forces a change in their mindset. If the alcoholic/addict believes that recovery is not possible, it is highly unlikely they will put forth any effort to quit.


Therapy

The roll of the therapist is to help the alcoholic/addict to reduce their drinking, or stop drinking completely. This depends on the client’s objective in therapy. In this safe confidential one-to-one setting, the client can discuss their relationship with their addiction problem, their behaviour and the impact it is having on their own life and the lives of others.

 

Divorce - Separation ©

For both children and parents, the stages of bereavement following a divorce/separation differs not from the grief experienced after the death of a loved one. The death of the marriage has a significant impact on everyone’s life and the 5 stages of grief, Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression (Preparatory Grieving) and Acceptance are no different here.


Parents can be both angry and upset with each other following a divorce or separation, however they are almost always well-intentioned towards their children. In certain situations, parents may use the children as weapons, or pawns in their pre, and post-separation games. Parental Alienation Syndrome occurs when one parent deliberately or unconsciously attempts to alienate a child from the other parent. When this is most severe, it is a heinous form of child abuse and neglect.


Divorce and separation introduce massive changes into the life of a son or daughter no matter what age they are and in the short-term can cause the children to struggle emotionally. Sadness and anger are normal, irrespective of the child/young adult’s age. In fact, some children may believe that they are responsible for their parent’s separation. 


Children witnessing the breaking of their parents’ marriage commitment, adjusting to the new daily absence of one parent while living with the other and adjusting to going back and forth between two different households, create many significant challenges for them. Divorce and separation have direct impacts on children’s development and tends to intensify the child's dependence, while accelerating the adolescent's independence. It frequently elicits a more regressive response in the child and indeed a more aggressive response in the adolescent. These children and adolescents who are experiencing their parents’ divorce suffer emotional distress and have lower self-esteem and higher rates of depressed mood.


The effects of divorce and separation on children include greater disruptive behaviours and academic difficulties that include lower school grades and prematurely dropping out of school. Children and adolescents who experience the divorce of their parents also have higher rates of depressed mood, lower self-esteem, and emotional distress.


Managing your mental health and emotions

The initial step for the parents is to sit with their children and to give their children an honest, age-appropriate, true account of why they are separating and how they came to this decision. It is best not to leave the children wondering about any aspects of this and to reassure them that as their parents ye still love them equally, and that the separation will not affect their love for them. It is healthy for both the parents to regularly reassure their children that they are cooperating and working together in the interest of everyone.


Never communicate with the other parent through your children and speak positively about them in their role as their parent. It is best for everyone for both parents to dialogue directly. If you are suffering as a result actions, or inactions of the other parent let your children know that you have negative feelings without polarising them.


Speak positively about your ex-partner in front of the children, or, if you feel this is not honest, make it clear that your negative feelings are your own and allow your children to feel differently. Don’t communicate through your kids or use them as a go-between. If you need to discuss something with their other parent, do so directly.

The second step is to properly manage their stress and hurt, this will in turn help them to cope personally. If possible, it is best to take care of yourself prior to your separation. In situations where the unexpected separation arrives as an ambush, it is best to seek counselling as this will introduce shock. With emotions like shame, guilt and rage present, be sure to confide in those who you trust and love, such as a family member(s) or a close friend. Put the spotlight on your emotions and mental health. During this most vulnerable time, parents can put the spotlight on their children while ignoring their own needs.  When a parent is coping well, they are capable of coping well with their children’s emotions and mental health. Ask yourself, ‘what’s best for me’?  What do I need to maintain my emotional and mental wellbeing?


Irrespective of the lack of harmony and conflict that may be present, what is best for everyone in the family is for the parents to work constructively on both their parenting issues and parenting responsibilities. It is imperative that both parents do their utmost and work hard to develop a constructive relationship with their children’s other parent. This will be more beneficial to your children than anything else and will teach them the benefits of dialogue and agreement.  


The business of ensuring that your children are both happy and secure is what this is and should be treated as such. A business-like relationship will not include the upsetting histories or accusations, be they false or true and will enable both parents to work constructively. In tandem with this, the children will learn the gifts of cooperation, resolution, harmony and safety. The ongoing conflicts between parents witnessed by their children damages them, and that means they will suffer.


If one of the parents adopts a non-cooperative and perhaps a punishing roll, it is best that the children are made aware of this in a calm, fair, non-finger-pointing, balanced, reasonable way that is appropriate to their ages. Let the children know that it is your wish that the other parent will hopefully cooperate. It is quite common for the children to experience a divided loyalty between their parents and polarising them in such situations worsens this.


There are parents who walk out of counselling and mediating accusing both the counsellor and mediator of bias and who, most likely will never wake up. These parents quite often blame the other parent and can try and turn their children against the cooperative parent by blaming them. To be supported in such situations, it is best for the cooperative parent to make their family and friends aware of this in a balance, reasonable way as it can be a hurting time of helplessness. It is also an appropriate time to seek counselling as that parent may will feel angry, victimised and hurt.


All children are different with individual personalities and have different feelings. They also thing differently and therefore interpret things differently. It is best not to assume that your children will understand, accept and cooperate identically. It is important to sit and spend time with each child and to learn what their individual needs are. Tune in to your children individually and get an understanding of their specific needs and learn how you can support and them provide them with their needs. Frequently, the child who appears to be coping best is in fact not coping. Remember, as your children get older they will think differently and may have different questions about their parents’ separation and the aftermath.


Some parents feel they need a new, or fresh start following their divorce and this can often mean moving to a new house. It is best not to make this decision in a knee-jerk way as this can create major problems for the children with the loss of friends, relatives, school friends, grandparents and clubmates. There is a lot of research suggesting that your children do in fact need the opposite. During this time, they need stability, routine and emotional safety.


If for financial, or other reasons the family home must be sold, it is essential that contact with relatives, grandparents and friends are maintained. If at all possible keep the children in the same school(s) which will most likely ensure that they have the same friends and clubmates.

 

The Scapegoat ©


The Scapegoat image arrived centuries ago as a part of the sacrificial dynamic with a god or gods, where villagers wrote down their sins on a ribbon tied around a goat's neck.  The goat was then sacrificed or sent away into the wilderness, carrying the sins of the village with him.


Scapegoating today is a hostile social, psychological discrediting routine by which members of a family transfer blame and responsibility away from themselves and on to a target person. It is also a practice by which angry hostile feelings may be projected, via inappropriate accusation, towards another sibling. It is done more by habitual and consensual shunning that becomes an unspoken code of behaviour. It is an unmerited negative treatment or blame that is likened to bullying. One member of the family is chosen to bear the brunt of any psychological discomfort experienced by the rest of the family.


In a family, the scapegoat is the person who tells the truth, the elephant in the room that no one is talking about.  It is this act of truth telling that makes them the target for family rebuke and therefore they are quite often the first person the therapist asks to talk with. In scapegoating, one of the authority figures has decided that somebody in the family must be the bad guy. Scapegoated children are the family shock absorbers who feel insecure and thereby develop a victim mentality. The purpose of scapegoating is to allow families to carry on their unhealthy behaviour patterns, and to maintain the myth of normalcy without having to look inward or take responsibility for their toxic environment. 


Scapegoating is a serious family dysfunction, with one member of the family being blamed for trivial things, picked on and constantly put down. The scapegoat is the one who refuses to look content or stay silent in the unbearable atmosphere created in their home. For example, the mother makes one child bad and then looks for things, sometimes real, but most often imagined that are wrong.  The ruler of the family typically initiates the charges and thereafter assigns both label and blame. This dynamic of making one child bad and the other children good in the family is a vicious generational theme learned and passed down from parents to children. 


The scapegoat is the person made to bear the blame for others or to suffer in their place. They are the member of a rigidly triangulated family who bonds the rest of the family tightly together by being assigned the role as the deviant, bad and problematic one who causes all the family’s problems. As a result, scapegoats learn to live in fear and are afraid to demand fair treatment, to defend themselves and express their opinions. This attitude of fear, worthlessness and shame they carry into their adult life and it is easy for other people to sense that they are a pushover and a soft target for bullying, abuse and rejection. They can become lifetime targets for abuse.


Psychologists report that many scapegoats state that they were singled out for blame or humiliation at an early age, with no reason for the decision given to them. The process of scapegoating provides a psychological boost to the perpetrators who use that method to channel their anger and frustration through the victim. Dysfunctional families allow the scapegoat to remain in the family until they dare to speak up or complain. They are then ostracised and distortions of the truth remain prevalent. The victim continues in the role as the root of all the family’s difficulties, even in absentia. Scapegoating is a “projection defence” that allows the scapegoaters to keep up their appearances by making the scapegoat look bad and taking the attention off the real problems in the family.


Every child craves parental love and approval and within the dysfunctional family that is an impossible illusion for the scapegoat. There are simply two choices for scapegoats; no family contact - walk away, or maintain abusive family relations - be silent and live with the hypocrisy.


The victim needs to cease trying to win the favour of a parent/sibling who did not like them when they were growing up. A parent who rejects their child has some severe personality disturbance and is not likely to change. The best the scapegoat can do is to understand and accept the underlying dynamic of their parent/sibling and try to come to peace with this on their own. It would be futile to anticipate that the parent/sibling will own up to their mistreatment.

 

Poor Communication ©

It is not a lack of love, but a lack of friendship that makes unhappy marriages.

Friedrich Nietzsche 


When we unnecessarily verbally fight in a relationship, we risk the dilution of our friendship. Because respect and intimacy are crucial ingredients in a relationship, we need to respect our partner by listening to them. In doing so, we will most likely be listened to. Hearing is not the same as listening and is crucial in a relationship. In relationships, we need to listen carefully and to digest what our partner has expressed. Listen to the emotion that has delivered your partner’s words and use your compassion and empathy to digest both their emotion and their words. Effective communication will make your relationship great, poor communication may sever it. In a relationship, it is best to bring up your concerns and to discuss them as they arise rather than assuming that if we leave them aside, they will clear themselves up.


If a person is incapable of expressing themselves and listening to their partner, they cannot achieve intimacy. Without communication skills, a person is handicapped in an intimate relationship.  By developing their communication skills, a person will be able to establish and preserve a loving, respectful relationship with the person they love. Communication involves the collaboration of two people as they share and examine all their feelings, ideas, perceptions and thoughts to arrive at an accurate understanding of what is actually happening.


The foundation stone of every good relationship is the ability to talk safely to your partner about anything and everything. The more we talk to each other openly without fear, the more we learn to trust each other. This setting in a relationship enables a couple to confide in each other about anything and everything while knowing that their partner is listening constructively and will not criticise them. To assume that you already know what your partner is thinking is disastrous for a relationship. When you are willing to listen to your partner first, then you are more likely to be heard when you speak.


One of the purposes of communication is to deliver and determine reality. How often has it been said in a relationship, ‘you’re not really listening to me’, and ‘you don’t really get it’. A lack of communication in a relationship will cause misunderstandings, anger, resentments and an emotional distant between both partners. This emotional distance can bring the couple to a point of not caring about each other, and themselves.


Not being understood infuses enormous hurt and frustration for both partners and can lead to a loss of investment in the relationship. A lack of closeness can eventually see the couple at a point where they stop sharing, and possibly one or both wanting to leave the relationship. This includes not having sex and thereby diluting their intimacy. It is most unfortunate that sex can frequently be used as a weapon in an unfriendly relationship.


When you make your question personable in a relationship, it is a sign that you are not communicating correctly. How you feel should be represented in your question/statement for your partner to fully understand what you are asking/saying. When we are incapable of understanding what our partner is saying, it is common for us to project our hurts and fears on to our partner, instead of supporting them. We then become afraid to trust ourselves to address and understand certain topics with our partner because we fear that they will most likely lead to verbal fights. When distrust arrives, we can resort to using unfair fighting tactics and dilute our communication patterns. The most likely result is that more conflictual issues will arise.


By ignoring problems/issues we end up stuffing the latest problem/issue, along with the feelings attached into our unfinished business bag, right on top of the rest of our unfinished business that has been both consciously and unconsciously stacking up since childhood. When adulthood then arrives, and we begin to form a relationship, we tag on to that relationship our mostly unconscious anxieties, avoidances, beliefs, certainties, demands, expectancies, fears, inabilities, judgments, misunderstandings, pleasantries, values and wishes we had previously used to evaluate and survive our wellbeing and safety in our childhood. Most likely, our new boyfriend/girlfriend has done precisely the same and this baggage can eventually direct the couple to develop love and commitment, or perhaps distrust and fear.


One of the greatest misinterpretations in a relationship is that of relief, as happiness. Many couples can be relieved that things are going well and misinterpret this as, happy that things are going well, both emotions coming from opposite ends of the spectrum. This misinterpretation can frequently come from our childhood, having experienced the relief that mother and father are talking again and are happy with each other.


Our needs, strategies, and vulnerabilities in a relationship form our attachment and are fundamental issues of safety, trust and survival. They are formed through the history of our attachment relationships. Our attachment patterns are critical to the development of our core beliefs and values and are formed through the intersection between our temperament and the temperament, personalities and attachment patterns of those who care for us. They are about what and who is safe, who can be trusted, whether we are at risk and what information we will use to make judgments.


When long-standing negative feelings that have not been addressed in a relationship, distrust and poor communication patterns will settle in and unfair fighting tactics can become the norm. Criticism is indeed part of any relationship, however at this point in a relationship it can be used to attack a partner. When there are entrenched problems, the tendency is to attack the person rather than to deal with the issue. This can be followed by contempt which includes expressions of disgust, hostile humour, mocking, sarcasm; the objective being to demean to the other person.


The natural reaction of defence will then kick in, having major negative consequences. Being defensive will block our possibility to work with our partner in a more reasonably way in order to understand each other’s feelings. It can divert the person away from apologies, repair, resolution and reconciliation and deeper into the blaming cycle. Stonewalling, a more frequent pattern with men involves may then arrive and involves a partner checking out emotionally and often physically. It is a reaction to frequent, long-term conflict in a partnership and sees a person avoiding their partner and responding mildly and unemotionally within their intense conflict.


Why is it that America, a country that has more information on websites, in books, in literature, on TV shows etc. advising couples how to achieve the perfect relationship/marriage has one of the highest rates of divorce and separations in the world? Information aimed at everyone has not been individualised and therefore is not suitable for every person/couple. The combination of issues experienced in childhood are unique to that family and that person and therefore a unique approach for each person is best. What you are aware of, you are in control of and what you are unaware of controls you and this is most important with emotional awareness.


Counselling - Coaching

By the time most couples come to see any counsellor, their relationship is usually a lot closer to ending. Sometimes the goal will not be to stay together, but rather how to separate in the most respectful and civil manner. The combination of issues experienced in childhood, and in previous relationships are unique to that person, therefore a unique approach for that person is best.


What you are aware of, you are in control of and what you are unaware of controls you and this is most important with regards to our emotional awareness. To understand ourselves in a relationship, we must first of all be capable of understanding ourselves. Emotional awareness is the crucial ingredient for a happy, healthy life and a happy, healthy relationship.

 

Gene Barry Psychotherapist

© Gene Barry