Zehava was surrounded by tension and negativity during her childhood in Montreal. Her father would refer to his sons as Boring Senior and Boring Junior and Zehava as Little Miss Stupid. He constantly told them all that they would never amount to anything. Her parents fought endlessly. Finally, when Zehava turned 18, they divorced.
Her father moved into his own apartment. There he became even more bitter and morose. When Zehava came to see him, he would list all the ways she had let him down. In additon, he would criticize her appearance and her prospects mercilessly. Just before Zehava reached the limits of her patience, he would tell her how lonely he was. If that were not enough he would also tell her what a hard time he was having to manage his Diabetes. Subsequently, this type of negative parenting made her feel guilty as well as hurt.
Married with children and the negative parenting continued…
Zehava found a wonderful boyfriend in college. On graduation, they married and moved to Toronto and went on to have three girls and two boys. Zehava worked in clinical research and excelled. They would return to Montreal for regular visits, and to her relief, her father was never anything but an entirely loving grandfather to the children. Yet when they were out of earshot, he would make snide remarks to Zehava which would leave her feeling crushed and worthless, even though she would always defend herself as robustly as she could.
When her youngest child was two, Zehava and her husband decided it was time to make aliyah. Her father told her that she would never make it in Israel and he would expect to see them all back in Canada within a year. Zehava asked if it would be so hard for him, just for once, to wish them well?
“It’s all your fault…
Zehava and her family had a smooth transition and settled into life in Israel happily. A year later, Zehava received a phone call from her father, announcing that due to complications from his Diabetes, he would have to have a leg removed. “I hope you’re satisfied,” he told her, and when Zehava asked what he meant, he said, “It’s all your fault. If you hadn’t moved to Israel, I wouldn’t be in this position. You made this happen.” Zehava asked what he was talking about. “I lived over 300 miles away from you for years. What difference does me now being in Israel make?” “Can you not understand basic facts?” her father replied? “When you were in Toronto, my Diabetes was perfectly under control. When you leave the country, suddenly, I’m losing a leg. You work it out, you’re the one who does ‘clinical research’ supposedly- or was I right all along that you’re just in charge of making the coffee?”
Zehava’s husband told her how ridiculous this conversation was. “He’s just lashing out because he’s frightened and upset. Obviously he’s talking nonsense.” Zehava knew that, but it didn’t help. “Can you imagine how it makes me feel to know my own father blames me for his misfortunes like this, despises me, will take any possible opportunity to undermine me and make me feel bad about myself? It makes me want to cut off all contact, but I can’t do that to him or the kids. I’m trapped.”
Therapy at Kav L’Noar
It was at that point that Zehava called Kav L’Noar in search of a therapist. She was upfront with the therapist about her expectations. “I have a really busy life and I can’t commit to a long course of therapy. For now I’m just desperate for a quick burst of practical help working out how to deal with my father. I thought that moving countries might help, but I’m crying more about it here than I ever did before. How do I resolve this?”
The therapist said that the first step sounded simple but wasn’t. “I would like to help you try and accept that there aren’t going to be any miracles. Your father is not going to get a personality transplant. I believe that it will help you find a way to deal with him if you first find a way to accept him for who he is.” Zehava realized that she had spent her whole life fighting her father and his negative attitude. Accepting him would require a massive change. Zehava worked with the therapist towards making this shift. Furthermore, they worked towards finding ways to take his comments as revealing more about her father than herself. “It’s directed at you but it’s not about you,” said the therapist. If you can internalize that, it should help take a lot of the sting out.”
Calling off the fight
After six weeks, Zehava announced that her mission had been accomplished. She figured out how to break the chain of negative parenting. Now that she understood how best to handle her father, she was ready to stop the sessions. “I’ve been emailing and calling my dad regularly and I’ve noticed that since I’ve stopped challenging him, he has been a lot more restrained. Either way, I feel much more equipped to handle whatever comes and to appreciate all his good parts as well. Thank you so much for helping me find my way with him after all these years!”
*All names and identifying details have been changed to protect client confidentiality. Picture is for illustrative purposes only.