PV Mirror, Sept 4-10, issue # 99, pg 21
In a therapy session, an individual who seeks help and begins to change, to grow, to heal, to get better, is going to respond to his world differently throughout this process. His partner, children, friends, work colleagues will notice the differences which, may be subtle or dramatic. This is of course the desired outcome. In many cases it’s what other significant people in his life have been waiting for. They are so grateful that he finally agreed to get help, to admit he had a problem, and they anxiously wait for results; for him to change his attitudes and behaviors. (NOTE: the identified person with the problem will be referred to as a male and the therapist will be a female)
They/He refuses to get help
What happens when the person you desperately want to get help refuses? Have you ever been in a relationship where your partner refuses couple’s therapy or where your partner thinks you are the only one with a problem? What about entire families that suffer because of one member, whether it is the rebellious teenager, the alcoholic spouse/parent, the depressed or suicidal parent or child? You exhaust all of your energy trying to convince them that they need help or to accept help and often times to no avail.
You can impact changes in your relationship or in your family by working on you and other family members even if the person with the identified problem does not agree to participate.
This is possible because we are all part of a family system (2 or more people). Each member is interconnected to the other and affected by the other both positively and negatively. Think of a mobile, when one piece moves, all the pieces move.
…Now let’s consider what happens when you do get help and they don’t.
How does the family system respond when the “problem” person gets help?
After finally convincing him to get help, they are not always as thrilled once he really does start to change. This is a common response which causes a great deal of confusion, resentment, anger, and fear in the partner and/or family members. The system has been disrupted. The equilibrium has been knocked off balance. No one knows how to respond to this new person. They may not know what to do without the chaos and drama, without the one creating distraction from the rest of the family dysfunction. All of a sudden he wants to talk, he’s interested in how his child’s day at school went and no one knows how to communicate with him. They haven’t seen him smile and genuinely care in a long time.
How does the “problem” person respond when the spouse or family members get help?
All of a sudden he isn’t getting the reactions he is accustomed to, his wife isn’t tolerating his attitude or behavior the way she used to, and his manipulative ways are not as successful as before. Basically, his way is no longer working. They are learning how to set limits and boundaries. They are learning how to disengage from the drama and chaos, how to interrupt the vicious cycles through their reactions, and how to create change in themselves and in the family system as a whole.
In therapy the missing member should still be represented, whether it is a family session or an individual session where the partner/spouse isn’t present. The therapist can ask different members what they think he would say or how he would feel. She can also state how she imagines that person would think or feel from his perspective, no matter how twisted/distorted it may be. She might say something like “if I was treated like that or if you spoke to me that way, I would feel…” or “I wonder if she may feel…” or from her perspective she can hypothesize what may be going on with that person, how are they suffering, what kind of pain are they in, do they feel trapped, hopeless, judged, or misunderstood.
This is very important in order to a) present perspectives the partner or family members haven’t considered thereby forcing different viewpoints, b) create empathy and understanding regarding the missing member, thereby diminishing some of the anger and criticism, c) prevent the non-attending person from feeling threatened, analyzed, talked about, without the chance to defend themselves.
In conclusion, you can heal even if someone else doesn’t want to or doesn’t feel ready. Your changes will affect others around you and involved with you, and will impact change in others. Do not wait for them. Move through and allow your process because you are ready. Remember, only you can heal you!
Written by: Giselle Belanger, RN, LCSW, CADC