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Untangling Complicated Family Relationships

Family Relationships

Uriel had lived with his father, stepmother, sister and step-siblings for ten years. He also had two brothers who lived with his mother, but he didn’t see them often.

The youngest of Uriel’s step-sisters, Chen, had a developmental disability and associated health problems. As a reult, she was frequently in hospital. In addition, when she was home, she would be shuttled between different appointments every day. Everybody in the household adored Chen. But, the complicated logistics and emotional toll of caring for a special needs child dominated family life. Uriel was convinced that Chen could do much more than the experts said she could. He felt that if he encouraged her enough she would surprise everyone. Thus, he spent a lot of time trying to teach her things that she wasn’t getting in her special education frameworks.

Overwhelmed with the responsibility of supporting the family

Uriel’s father was overwhelmed by the responsibility of supporting all his family. Subsequently, he retreated into himself. He pulled his weight,  working long hours and still helped out at home however he could. But he didn’t seem to have the strength or capacity for any more. As a result, he didn’t show much interest in Uriel or the other children. For example, he wasn’t able to empathize when they were having trouble, or even to show much love.  

Anxiety and tension in the family relationships

Uriel was very sensitive to his father and step-mother’s moods. Whenever they were tense or anxious- which was most of the time- he found himself absorbing those feelings and becoming tense and anxious himself. The more anxious he became, the more he tried to take refuge in things he could take care of himself.

Tidy and organized but still not in control

He was obsessively tidy and organized, labelling all his possessions and keeping track of them in a spreadsheet.   He liked to fold his clothes with razor sharp precision. At school he loved subjects like math and enjoyed taking tests with multiple choice options where he could get every answer right. However, subjects like history or literature made him panic with their open ended questions and conflicting interpretations. Uriel calculated the nutritional content of everything he ate.  This way  he could be sure he was eating exactly what was recommended for his age and weight. But none of it made him feel any more in control.

Conflicting Family Relationships leads to anger, disconnection, and unmet needs

One of the reasons why Uriel was barely in touch with his mother was that she had the exact opposite personality and he found that incredibly stressful. His mother was very loving but was a ‘free spirit’ type.  She didn’t seem to notice mess, loved spontaneity and hated to be pinned down. She even refused even to wear a watch. When they met up, she would invariably be late.  She would forget to call even when it was scheduled in advance. Uriel had all but given up on her.

Even though Uriel’s step-mother was focused on her youngest daughter, she could still see that something seemed increasingly wrong with Uriel. She noticed that he barely slept, and that he seemed unusually overwrought most of the time. She persuaded her husband to make Uriel an appointment at Kav L’Noar.

Counseling at Kav L’Noar to resolve family relationship issues

Uriel was assigned a therapist who worked with him on untangling the complicated relationships  he had with the different members of his family.   His therapist helped him to develop new ways of relating to each of them.

Uriel was able to gain a new understanding of his father and why he might be behaving in the way that he did. Furthermore, he came to understand what the effect was on their connection when his father acted so distantly.

Subsequently, he had to confront painful truths about his step sister’s condition. He learned to accept her cognitive limitations. Accordingly, he was able to grieve for the independent future that she would never have. And it meant letting go of the sadness, frustration and worry he saw in his step-mother’s eyes. Likewise, he learned to internalize  that as much as he sympathised, those feelings belonged to her and they weren’t his own.

Lastly, it meant being empowered to expect more from his mother. Uriel was able  to tell her how much he wanted her to try and meet him halfway despite their very different approaches to life.  In addition he was able to be more assertive about his own needs.

Accepting the mess

Uriel had been worried when he began therapy that he might lose his sense of self and somehow be pressured to change or to squash his natural personality. That fear did not come true. He remained the same sensitive, neat and highly self-disciplined boy that he had always been. But he started sleeping better. His anxiety levels dropped drastically. He started to stay with his mother during some of the school vacations. And while he was always cautious and remained the type to plan ahead, he became more open and confident about trying new things and embracing more of what life had to offer.

*All names and identifying details have been changed to protect client confidentiality. Picture is for illustrative purposes only.

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