Tag Archive: Therapy


 

As children we believe that we are the center of everything, that is why children who experience the trauma of problems in the family, such as marital discord and divorce, often blame themselves for it. It is just part and parcel of childhood development, It is even worse when parents appear to blame us by behavior that seems to be rejecting of us. Of course there are times when that is perception and there are times when the rejection is real. But do we know the motives behind these behaviors? Not always, because once again we think it is about us, not them.

Grief

Grief (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The problems in my family were not about marital discord, but something that shook the very foundations of the entire family, the death of my brother. This is perhaps the most traumatic thing that can happen to parents, and it often results in divorce. In my parents’ case, they supported each other, which was good, but that does not mean that the family dynamics were not dramatically affected.

It has taken me a long time to put the pieces together and realize how much of my parents’ behavior towards me was a result of this. Some of the details I only found out about as an adult. My therapist also helped me to understand this better as well. I am now in a position where I am able to finally put myself in their place, rather than letting my wounded inner child carry the whole narrative. Perhaps I should have seen this earlier, I am now 50 years old, but better late than never.

From my earliest recollections, I never felt loved. My mother was critical and rejecting of me and my father was distant. I never bonded with either of them. There are many reasons for this dynamic, but one of the big ones was the accidental death of my older brother at age six. I was only a year and a half old when this happened and my sister was four,

Looking at family pictures is very telling. My sister for instance looked very happy and care-free before this happened. Afterwards I can see the birth of the very serious sister that I knew growing up.

I don’t remember my brother, yet oddly enough I miss him. A piece of the family went missing and never came back. I am told that he adored me, and would crawl along behind me on the floor and call me “baby-doll.”

The trauma didn’t actually start with his death, although that was the climax of it. He was always a sickly child. Born prematurely, he had a defect in his stomach valve that caused him to have serious fits of vomiting, where he became dehydrated enough to require medical attention. Insurance laws on pre-existing conditions back then made it extremely difficult for him to get the surgery he needed to correct the problem. Family pictures show him as a happy child, but pale and skinny. He looked similar to pictures I have seen of children with cancer.

Eventually he did have the surgery, but it did not fix the problem. During another one of his vomiting episodes my mother took him to the doctor. His regular doctor was out of the office, but another one was covering for him. My parents at that time had no idea that he was not a pediatrician. He gave my brother a shot of compazine for the nausea and sent him home.

The following details I only got from my father after my mother passed. I never knew the exact details of my brother’s death but they are horrifying.

In the afternoon my mother got a call from the doctor. He told her that he thought she should take my brother to the hospital. But my brother had stopped vomiting so she assured him that everything was fine. She just thought the doctor was acting out of an abundance of caution.

That night my brother died in his sleep. An autopsy showed that he had fluid in his lungs. The medical examiner believed that he aspirated vomit.

My father was very suspicious about the whole thing and went to see the pediatrician. Having not treated my brother himself he looked in the medical record. He did not have much to say to my father, but he left the record with my dad before leaving and asked for him to take it to the front desk. My father believes this was intentional, that the doctor wanted him to see what was in there. My father took note of what drug he was given and the dosage. When he looked it up he discovered that the doctor had given him the ADULT dose of the drug!

And the most horrible part of the whole thing is that obviously the doctor at some point realized what he had done, which is why he made the strange call to my mother. But he was too chicken to tell the truth so he could get help!

The way compazine works to stop vomiting is to reduce the gag reflex but it also reduces the choking reflex as well. In an appropriate dose that is not a problem. But in the dose that my brother was given it completely eliminated it. My mother gave him water before putting him to bed. That water went straight into his lungs, explaining the autopsy results.

My mother blamed herself for not taking him to the hospital. She felt that she had put finances before my brother’s well-being because my father had just gotten a new job and they did not have insurance yet. Of course it was never her fault but that did not stop her from feeling guilty.

My father put the blame where it belonged and went to a lawyer but at that time the doctors were the ones who had all the powerful lawyers so it would have been almost impossible to win the case. Furthermore my father had no money to pursue this. And it was not going to bring my brother back anyway.

So here was my grief stricken mother who was trying to hold it all together and still take care of two young children, one just a baby. No wonder I felt rejected, she simply couldn’t deal with it all. My sister was probably old enough to be sensitive to the situation and try not to be a bother. Even before my brother died though, my mother most likely was having some trouble taking care of me because my brother was sick all the time.

Things were very bad for my father as well. In fact I can’t even imagine how he had the strength to keep going. He had to take time off from his new job to take care of funeral arrangements. And his boss bullied him over it. And not just him, but my father’s co-workers as well. My father has told me that they actually made sick jokes about my brother’s death. And he also told me something that shocked me even more than that. He said that this is the kind of bullying that makes people want to kill themselves. Then he said “But suicide would not have solved anything.”

Even as I write this down I am fighting back tears. My poor, poor brave father! No one should ever have to go through that!

He actually stayed at the job because they needed the money. So day after day he had to keep going. He was fired eventually, and this same boss blacklisted him, so he could not get another job. But my father got lucky on one count. He talked to someone who knew this boss and it turns out this guy had something scandalous on him, and told my father not to worry, that he would take care of the situation. The blacklisting stopped.

After putting this all together how can I not have empathy for what both of them went through? I would not have been able to endure that.

I now know that it wasn’t about me. The rejection I felt was from two people who were struggling to keep their heads above water. And they made it. They loved my sister and I enough to keep going.

God bless them both.

 

 

 

I went into therapy so I could learn to do my own laundry.

English: Wall post with love in different lang...

English: Wall post with love in different languages. Taken in Las Vegas. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Of course it wasn’t just that, but it really was part of it. My mother did everything for us kids. In addition to doing the laundry, she washed our hair for us even into our teenage years and neither my sister nor I learned how to cook because she always chased us out of the kitchen. I was told that I might burn myself.

I guess my sister and I were both lucky that she trusted us with washing the dishes!

One day when I was sixteen I decided I wanted to do my own laundry and asked my mother to show me how to do it. Her reaction was to scream at me and call me “selfish.”

As  with so much of my mother’s behavior, I found that inexplicable and hurtful. I had stored hurt in my heart from my earliest childhood memories. The biggest problem in our family was lack of good communication skills and I was never allowed to speak up for myself and ask my mother to explain her behavior. If there is only one piece of advice I can give to parents, it is to keep the lines of communication open with your children, as it will keep misunderstandings from turning into estrangement.

And that was all this was, a stupid misunderstanding on top of other stupid misunderstandings that at least in part contributed to my first suicidal breakdown at age 16. My thought processes were of course skewed and magnified by my bipolar disorder, but the fact that I had never felt loved by my mother and that I did not feel like I was a good person was the driving force behind it.

My parents got me into therapy, which helped some. The therapist counseled us separately. It certainly helped loosen my mother’s controlling grip on me and after the first appointment with my mother she never called me “spoiled” again. That was her favorite epithet for me.

But the therapist made a big mistake. He never counseled us together. What I needed was not just for my mother to back off, I needed closure. I needed to know why she was so angry with me. Being used to not being able to speak up for myself, I never asked that crucial question from my therapist. He was the authority figure and he ran the show.

The closest he ever came to explaining my mother’s behavior was to say “Your mother loves you but all you feel is her fear.”

The problem was is that it wasn’t fear that I felt from my mother, it was rage and hatred. The statement confused the hell out of me. Again I did not speak up and ask him what he meant by that. If I had he most likely would have told me what I know now, anger is a secondary emotion. It is a cover for hurt and/or fear.

Both emotions were at play in my mother’s behavior.

She did not have a mental illness, I am quite certain of that by comparing my behavior with bipolar disorder with hers. However that does not mean that she wasn’t royally messed up, like 99% of mankind.

It is only at the age of 50 that I have finally gotten a glimpse into my mother’s world with the help of the best therapist I ever had. Unfortunately he has left the county mental health facility that I go to for another job, but I am eternally grateful for what he has given me. I hope someday he may go into private practice and then maybe I can arrange to see him again.

What he told me makes perfect sense. The only way she felt competent as a mother was to do things for us, and when I asked her to show me how to do my laundry what she heard was this: “Mom, I don’t think you are doing a good job, so I want to do it myself. I don’t appreciate anything you do for me.”

Of course that wasn’t what I meant. I was just trying to assert my independence which is normal and healthy. While other kids were doing that by getting into sex and drugs, I just wanted some extra responsibility.

This helps explain many other things she said and did, such as saying to me that she wished she were “like other mothers, who don’t take care of their kids.” Perhaps I was being a bit of a brat, I complained that she was pulling my hair while combing it. After she said that she went to take a bath, and I was so devastated because I thought she meant that she didn’t love me or want me around. That statement seemed to confirm my worst fears. I wanted to walk out of the house and never come back, but I had nowhere to go. I was only 14. Inexplicably, after her bath she was smiling and relaxed, while I was still hurting from the worst thing she had ever said to me.

She passed on in 1997, and I never got to resolve things with her. But I think I finally understand. My therapist referred to the book, The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman. I have not read it yet but he did give me a good run down on it. Literally people have different languages or rather ways of doing things to demonstrate their love for others. It seems that we all have a preferred style. Her language was to take care of us. What I needed was a completely foreign language for her, to praise me and tell me that I was a good daughter. I could not speak her language and she could not speak mine.

I think this is a great lesson for any kind of relationship. We always assume that others know what it is that we need from them and they think the same thing about us. Then we think the other is deliberately withholding what we need from them and vise-versa.

My therapist also explained that she likely had a limited repertoire to draw from. He feels that she felt incompetent as a mother and so this was all she knew how to do.

The fact is of course that if my mother had not loved me she would not have gotten me therapy when I needed it. But to me our relationship was a confused mess of contradictions. She would say the most horrible things to me and then in the next breath say, “I love you.” I couldn’t process it.

I wish she were around so I could ask her about these things, but I am certain that this is the truth. She wasn’t a bad mother, she was a confused mother.

I hope I have given people some food for thought. There are other things about my mother’s behavior that my insightful therapist has helped me with and I will share those in future posts,

Are We Too Sensitive?

Being sensitive is a double-edged sword, for sure. But without that sensitivity we would not have empathy for others and also would not have the capacity for introspection. Both are necessary qualities for a spiritual path.

Pressure Sensitive

Pressure Sensitive (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The key is not taking on that as a harsh judgment against ourselves. It can be difficult. For me it started in childhood with a verbally abusive mother. Every time I am rejected or perceive rejection it takes me right back to that vulnerable place. I have to remind myself that the situation is not the same and that I am not powerless like I was before. And that my mother was screwed up and her judgments of me were not correct.

Therapy is very helpful in this process. At the same time of course I have made mistakes and hurt people so I have to face that and see what changes I need to make. Frankly at this point the best way I can differentiate between situations that are my fault and those that are not is to talk to my therapist. He is very good at helping me to understand other people’s points of view. That in no way means that other people are always right, but they are not always wrong either.

Ironically, sensitive people can come across as uncaring, even when we care a great deal. That is because of defensiveness. We are afraid that what we have done is an indictment against the core of our being.

In order to face the things I have done wrong and not be defensive I have to remind myself that I am a Child of God and that despite what I have been taught I am not evil, I only make mistakes. There is that part of me that is Divine and wholly good and that will never change. I simply need to align myself with that part of me.

Upset

Upset (Photo credit: Jeremy Bronson)

My nephew had his 14th birthday last month. My Dad also turned 85.

I was looking forward to a nice get-together with them both. I had thought that my sister and I had a truce and that things would go ok. Last year we didn’t get together because we had had a misunderstanding that had developed into a huge “lets-bash-Mary-fest.” While neither my sister or her husband apologized, they both indicated that they were willing to put our differences aside.

Apparently not. Within an hour of us getting together I was kicked out of their house. Why? For the grievous “sin” of not have enough money to pay for my nephew’s birthday meal, something I had never agreed to pay for in the first place. I gave my nephew cash, which is what he wanted. But apparently I was, in my sister’s convoluted logic, expected to pay for his meal also.  She claimed I had done so in the distant past (which I can’t even recall) so that means that I should have done it this time as well.

Now I would never put a petty argument about money above my nephew’s happiness. But I am on disability and have had a lot of extra expenses this year. While It would have been better for me to have brought this up before the big day, she knew that I was having financial problems in general. Before I even gave my gift to my nephew I told her that I had $70 to last for the rest of the month and I had only peanut butter and vegetables in my house to eat.

Her response was to scream at me “It’s not fair! It’s not fair!” like a two-year old.  For once, I did keep my calm and tried to reason with her, but that only ended up in me getting kicked out. I had no clue as to why she reacted in such a violent manner.

As I was leaving my brother-in-law showed up with my dad. I was absolutely in a state of shock and I was crying. I went to my dad to try to explain why I was leaving since we were celebrating his birthday as well. My sister started shrieking at me to not say anything to my dad because that was “tattling.”

Later on, she sent me a e-mail which she tried to make it sound conciliatory but in fact it was simply another attempt to put the blame all on me.

She said that I should have arranged to postpone our get together until next month when I had more money. Huh? Really? Yes I would have had more money but that was not the main issue at all. The money issue was a trigger for her rage, not the cause. She claimed that she would have “understood” if I had put it off. Yeah, like she really has shown a good track record of being “understanding” towards me.  The fact is that I did consider that as an option, but I was afraid that she would get upset. I was in-between a rock and a hard place.

She said that she had to kick me out because she didn’t want to “upset” our dad and her son with our quarrelling. Too late! My nephew was so upset that he tried to give the cash I gave him back to me because he thought the argument was his fault. Our dad considered going back home because of this. But of course, none of that was her fault. It was her crazy, bipolar, abusive sister’s fault!!!

But here is the craziest part of her “logic”. Everything was my fault because if I didn’t pay for my nephew’s meal then that means that I was expecting our dad to pay and that I was putting her in a bad position with Dad.

Um, no. I never said that it was our dad’s responsibility to pay. In fact, all I was saying was that I not only could not afford to pay but that we never had an agreement for me to pay in the first place. It was up to her to decide how to work it out. In fact she was the one saying that our dad had to pay, not me.

Now all of this happened before we even went to the restaurant so there was plenty of time to work things out. There was no reason that it had to be decided right that moment. Thus there was no reason to kick me out. The most obvious solution was exactly what ended up happening. My brother-in-law paid, which apparently he was planning to do all along, but failed to communicate that to my sister.

After that, you would think that she would realize that she owed me an apology. But no, instead I was bombarded with other accusations:

1. She was angry that she had to pick me up from my house even though I had made it clear that the dial-a-ride service (for the disabled) that I use has become unreliable and that there was no guarantee that I could get a ride from them in the first place.

2. We all had agreed to meet at their place and decide from there about when and where to go for lunch. I suggested to my sister that before the guys got caught up in deep discussion regarding “computer stuff” (usually we have difficulty prying them away once they have gotten into something) that maybe we could discuss with them about going a bit earlier than usual, since I had very little food to eat in my house and hadn’t eaten breakfast. According to my sister I was being demanding and selfish and wanted to ruin everyone’s “plans.”  What plans???  We hadn’t made any yet and it was open to discussion!  Plus it was almost 2:00 anyway and no one had eaten since breakfast as far as I knew.

In spite of everything that indicated that I was not the one at fault I trotted off to my therapist and asked him honestly to show me where I went wrong. Maybe I should have known these things would upset her. Maybe I had been insensitive to her feelings. It was the same sick feeling of shame that I had when I was growing up and my mother accused me of intentionally trying to hurt her when, for instance, I talked at the wrong time.  I am not saying that she was wrong to punish me. But she would cry and tell me that she couldn’t understand why I wanted to hurt her. In reality it was a case of my being thoughtless rather than intentionally trying to upset her. I actually grew up believing that I must have had some bad intention when I did not.  One day it dawned on me that in fact I had no evil motive and sobbing, I told my mother that I did not mean to hurt her. She told me that I was just feeling sorry for myself and that was the first and last time I ever expressed a genuine feeling to my mother. Or even felt a genuine feeling. Until I had a nervous breakdown at sixteen.

What has complicated the problem of who is to blame when I have had problems with my family is that yes, I have behaved inappropriately many times with my bipolar illness. So there are times when I feel like I need to get someone else’s input.

My therapist told me point-blank that he did not see that I did anything wrong and that my sister had acted inappropriately. Something was going on with her and I just got caught in the cross-fire. He also asked me when was the last time she ever apologized for anything. I couldn’t remember.  Ten or more years, at least.

In order to solve a problem, you have to label it correctly. Since I did everything in my power to avoid a conflict with her then that means that I was not the one who was being abusive, she was.  And I am under no illusion that she will ever apologize.

I have a pretty good idea of what is really going on with her. My dad finally gave them the ultimatum that my brother-in-law needs to get a job rather than mooching off of him.  I didn’t create this situation and frankly I really have very little sympathy for either one of them. My dad has supported them for over two years after my brother-in-law got fired from his last job. This is just one of a long string of jobs that he has been fired from and expected my dad to pick up the pieces. Dad has been supporting them for much longer than two years when you count in his support he has given over the years. Quite often even when my brother-in-law was working he made no effort to keep his hours up and expected my dad to make up the difference in his wages.

My brother-in-law decided this time to not look for a job because he had started his own business and so that should have been enough for dad.  Except this is not what dad agreed to. Dad never agreed to invest in his business or support his family while my brother-in-law tried to make it work. My dad is 85 years old and he worked hard to save money for his retirement. At one time he had a very nice amount put away but he was never rich. Now he has to worry about whether he will have enough to last him for the rest of his life. The only reason why he has let this go on as long as it has is because he didn’t want to hurt my sister and his grandson.

My sister is not completely blameless in this matter, though. She has supported her husband’s bad behavior. Not only that, but she is physically disabled and has qualified to get disability benefits for many years and yet has refused to apply like my dad has repeatedly told her to do.

Basically the only way to get either one of them to act has been to give an ultimatum to just completely cut off the money to them. He has given them two months to work things out. Now they are facing possibly going on welfare. My dad has been more than fair to them and he would not have to take such drastic action if they had acted responsibly in the first place.

My brother-in-law’s excuse? “I didn’t mean this to happen!”  In other words, he is saying, “I knowingly put my father-in-law in a position where he would have to pay my families’ bills if my business was unsuccessful, but that can’t possibly be my fault!!!”

Puhleeze!  The guy is in his fifties and he has never learned to take responsibility for his own actions.  In fact he is extremely critical of me for being on disability for both mental and physical problems even though I do not expect my dad to support me.

So all their accusations against me have to do with their inability to take financial responsibility for themselves.

There really is no reason for me to feel guilty because my actions only revealed the cracks that were in our relationship in the first place. And I didn’t create those cracks, they did.

I feel badly that others have to suffer for this, such as my nephew and my dad. But my therapist said that he felt it would be a bad idea for me to give in simply because it would just give them permission to continue their bad behavior.

Right now, I do not believe that our relationship can be salvaged. It really is up to them if they want to continue this. If this results in a permanent rift, that is not my problem. I cannot give up my integrity to please them. They are the ones who are not playing fair.

I have been laboring under the impression that as I took responsibility for my bad behavior when I have been sick and learned to control it, that my relationship with my family would get better. Actually it has gotten far, far worse because they see it as an opportunity to blame me every time we have a disagreement. They are taking advantage of my genuine remorse for my behavior in the past.

This whole thing has opened my eyes to the fact that I am powerless to fix the problems in our relationship simply because not all of it is my fault.  Real relationships involve give and take, and they are not willing to do that. And I shouldn’t feel guilty about that at all.