Therapy Friday – family

…continued from last post

I am really reluctant to write about the second half of the session, about my family. I am so torn – they were great looking after me, they postponed their holiday plans to do so, my sister also visited me very day, and I am very grateful. They are very good at providing physical help. Of course in therapy, we look at the dark side. Which is there also.

E. So I was at my family’s after the hospital. They were great.

R. Yes?

E. They are so functional in a lot of ways – everything works really well. My father did well in his career, made lots of money, they have a nice house. They try to help people – they had a friend staying there from out of town whose son had just had an organ transplant, the same time I was there.

E. And no one is yelling, it’s peaceful for recovering. I guess…. well, my father is anxious, so he tries to control things.

R. Like what?

E. Like…the food. What we eat. There is so much fuss about the food. There’s never like one vegetable, like a bowl of broccoli for instance, it always has to be part of something else, with sauces. It’s all a lot of work. So my mother kind of runs around all the time, trying to make everything perfect.

R. Perfect how?

E. I don’t know….just perfect.

R. So they displace their anxiety onto the food do you think?

E. Yeah, that’s exactly it. They do.

R. Uh huh.

I can’t stand writing the rest of it. Hmmm….It’s hard to criticize my family when they really tried to help me, and did help me. But….they also drive me crazy. They’ve landed me with a personality with parts that are pretty well split off – that’s pretty bad. I ask Ron what he thinks about this.

R. In some ways your family has a lot going for it, they have a lot to give. But underneath all that functioning, is something different. They actually don’t have available the nurturing qualities that children need to thrive, or that people in pain need. In those cases, they really don’t know what to do.

I think about this for a while. I don’t know what to say about it, but it makes a kind of sense to me. Because it’s not obvious what’s wrong with my family, beyond that nothing is ever discussed.

E. They never discuss anything that’s not to do with the physical details of their life, schedules and such. Nothing is ever dealt with. And my mother in general doesn’t talk. For instance, one day she went out to her volunteer job, and I was home all day on the couch. When she came back, I asked her how her day was, and she said alright. She had nothing whatsoever to say about it – just went to make some tea and do her crossword.

I don’t get into this at the time, but my mother just doesn’t talk. I went through my childhood with rarely a word from her. You really have to prod her to get her to say anything much. It was difficult because I didn’t learn what you could talk to people about until I was grown-up. It’s one of her qualities which I don’t understand and hate.

At the same time, she wants to do well. She cooks without complaint, and takes care of people physically as best she can, always. She’s like your original ‘good girl’, always striving to do the ‘right’ thing.

Back to the session.

E. But do you think it was enough to cause parts?

R. Probably not. The trauma you went through did that. But the combination of the trauma and this kind of family was damaging. Probably, if it hadn’t been for the trauma, you would have been more like your family – functional on one level, and not whole underneath. Because of the trauma, you see what’s going on in a way that they are not able to. Or perhaps you were born with a different temperament.

E. Huh. Maybe.

That about wraps up the session. The kid had the fur blanket wrapped around her, so he folds it up in a ridiculous messy way, and I joke about that and Ron smiles.

I don’t feel deeply upset by this session. Just talking, no falling into deep emotions this time. I am uneasy talking about my family, of two minds – they are both good and damaging. Ron points out at one point that even in the same sentence, I’ll swing from one way of looking at them to another. It’s true. I have trouble focusing my mind when I try to think about them.


  1. I so get the dilemma that you are talking about. For me it has been: “they weren’t really bad people and they really tried to be good people, but they were terribly damaging for me. But if they hadn’t done the good things that they did, I would have been in far worse shape, so it is hard to complain.”

  2. Juliet said:

    I get that dilemma too.
    And no one else gets it because, from the outside, everything looks functional and alright. But I figure there are many subtle ways of screwing kids up. It’s really hard to complain about these “issues”…
    The thing you’re saying about your mother – this is so true about my own mother as well. She never really talked. Which leaves me like you: I have a hard time doing small talk … (and well, talking in general). It may sound stupid but when I grew up I didn’t _know_ that there are things to talk about. The same applies to thoughts and emotions… they just never seemed to exist in my family. There was just my father yelling around most of the time – or silence.

    • Ellen said:

      That is so similar, amazing. When I was a child, people would comment on how quiet I was, but no one ever commented how my mother really never talked either. How do you learn to talk if no one talks to you? A very confusing situation for us both. Thanks Juliet.

  3. Hugs. I took along time before I would talk about the functioning or dysfunctioning of my family. I felt guilty because I was taken care of physically. Over at Writing the Wrongs she had a post about wire mothers. They met physical needs but were unwilling or unable to meet any other need. She pointed out that like the monkeys in the experiment children need more than just physical care. I finally remembered that most of my damage was from outside my family but it was the neglect and stuff happening in my family that set me up for being hurt. They also denied that anything bad happened in or out of the family. I finally ended up talking for years about the damage. Strangely accepting that there was damage and processing how it felt freed me to be myself. As long as I maintained the illusion, I couldn’t accept myself. This was my experience and perhaps yours will be different.

    • Ellen said:

      I think my experience will be similar actually. Same here – if my family had been nurturing, they would not have been able to miss the abuse that happened to me, it would have come out. But they do not deal with things at all, so all this damage was done, because this wasn’t dealt with at the time. Sigh. I have a ways to go figuring this all out. Thanks for sharing and hugs.

  4. Harriet said:

    I also get the difficulty of talking about family that is sometimes good, and sometimes not so good. I remember a therapy session where I was talking about my mother, in a not very positive way, and later that day she called me to say she was in a store and saw something I would like and should she buy it for me in brown or in black? I thought, crap, why do you have to be nice today after I spent an hour talking about bad stuff about you? My mother is extremely talkative, but it is mostly about herself, and anything anyone says can be brought back around to something about her. I always wonder what my kids will tell their future therapists about me and how I screwed them up. Do you remember your mother telling you about getting your period, or sex? Or did you learn about those things from other sources?

    • Ellen said:

      That call from your mother – that could be me also, and I would feel horrible too. And yes, mothers who talk are not necessarily good mothers either, for sure. And I know I also wasn’t a good mom, though I desperately wanted to be. My mother told me about periods when I was about 11, prompted only by a question on a camp application form. She is terribly uncomfortable with all bodily functions. She definitely didn’t tell me about sex, and I remained ignorant for a long time actually. Ironic isn’t it. Thanks!

  5. Like the others, I can understand the difficulty. My family, my mom in particular, were never big communicators. Everyone meant well and did the best they could though, and that makes it hard to verbalize any misgivings.

    Sounds like Ron handled it delicately though. Nothing we do or say can change the past–it’s done. But I think looking at it can help is understand where we are. If it can help us heal, then yes, it bears exploring. If it won’t help us, sometimes I think it’s best to leave things be; not everything has to be understood–it took me a long time to learn that. It’s a fine line though.

    Thinking about you, C

    • Ellen said:

      Yeah, it is a fine line. In my case, I have to look at it. Ron is good in that he never pushes his views – it all comes from me. He does comment if I ask him to though. Thanks Christie (I’m not sure how to spell your name, sorry if mistaken).

  6. kp said:

    It is hard to be critical of people we love when they are actually trying to be supportive. When I get together with my family, there is good food, lots of laughter, and gifts, but I often feel invisible because no one ever asks any questions, or talks about feelings, or talks about anything that is really important in life. I used to think that this was a sign that they really did not care about me, but I am starting to believe that they just don’t know how to give emotionally. It does not stop me from being disappointed, but it stops me from expecting more from them and from feeling hurt or angry when I don’t get it. Sending hugs your way…..Kim

    • Ellen said:

      Yes, that’s like my family also. I understand also that they don’t know any other way and it’s taken a lot for me to learn that there are other ways of being. Hugs to you also.

  7. laura said:

    thanks for this post, E. I don’t hear you criticizing your family, and it’s not disloyal to observe them. It must have been very difficult for you as a small child. Ron was interesting, describing them as functional at one level – and that the trauma ironically somehow saved you from that, it put you off kilter from the mold you were raised in. I wonder, are they happy? do they think they know what life is all about? Do they feel that their lives are complete? How is it that they are stable, and functioning, and not alcoholic or suicidal? Why aren’t they in therapy? It’s a mystery.

    • Ellen said:

      He he. This is a mystery. They’re maybe not that happy, but they look like they’re doing better than I am. But that’s just appearances. It could be on some level I am doing better. I think with my mother, she is just very very good at suppressing and denying things that she doesn’t like. It makes her life anxious but serene on the surface. I just can’t do that, so I look like more of a mess, but really I’m not. Thanks Laura.

  8. Marie said:

    It is good to see you “up and around” in the blogosphere! I’m glad things went as smoothly as can be expected!!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: