When families go through trauma, every person is affected in different ways. Some people, they need to extricate themselves from their families and keep their distance. For others, they may choose family counseling as a way to relate to their family members and work through the pain of what happened. Every person has a different perspective, but in order to release pain and connect on an emotional level with their family, they must meet together with a neutral party (usually a counselor).
There are plenty of opportunities and solutions to teach us how to be authentic with our family, and how to understand their emotional world without questioning its background. However, many times it may not be “safe” to let down your guard around a family member.
My personal experience taught me to not be afraid of telling the truth even if someone’s life becomes difficult because of it. For many, it is difficult to have a healthy relationship with family members, especially if traumatic events have happened within the family. If such fractures occur, family counseling may be in order–but only after safety and boundaries are established.
Trigger Warning: The interviewee who approved this publication is open about the abuse she suffered at the hands of her stepfather. While she does not go into details about what the abuse was, this interview may be triggering for some readers.
Q: So how would you describe your first family counseling session with your mother?
A: I would say it was the same as I expected. She couldn’t even believe me, she just pushed all the facts about the abuse I introduced to her to the wall. When she met my abuser, she was already desperate to have a shoulder to cry on, because my bio father had left us. She’s been addicted to always having a relationship, and she has given up on honest communication in favor of the feeling it gets her.
Q: Do you mean that your mother is craving and actually in a state of mind when she cannot control her emotions?
A: I’m saying she is addicted to relationships which, in my opinion, is worse than alcoholism. She literally chokes her partners in the name of love. She seeks euphoria in man, not in drugs. Therefore it is as serious as any other addiction.
Q: Was she ever treated for these issues?
A: Yes, but I would say she was not properly treated due to her issues with communication. Years passed, and I moved far away from her and she continued to talk with him (stepfather), even after I told her everything that happened to me (the abuse from him).
Q: So the therapist couldn’t help her properly?
A: She was responsible for her actions, but at the same time not at all. I sat in on a session of her individual counseling: She tried to dominate the conversations with her therapist. If the therapist pointed out an insight about my mother’s behavior, she would interrupt her mid-sentence with her “huge ego.”
Q: So what about family counseling?
A: She behaved the same way in family counseling with me that she did in her own individual counseling, unfortunately.
Q: So in extreme cases, family counseling cannot help?
A: Of course it helps, but it can also cause a lot of emotional upset. My relationship with my mother was damaged, not because of the family therapy, but because my mother assumed I was lying (about the abusive stepfather) and my only purpose was to make her break up with him.
Q:: But you did a very brave thing: you told openly what happened.
A: Yes, but it was incredibly difficult. I’ll tell you: I was only eleven years old, literally a child, nobody, not even my godmother or my grandma believed me. They thought I made this up to make my mother and him embarrassed because I was mad that she chose him instead of trying to solve their problems with my bio father.
Q: Did you tell the family therapist that you might be in danger because of him (the stepfather)?
A: Yes, I told her and she tried to help me, but the court decided to not take me from my mother, even though I wanted to move to my bio father. Funny and sad, he is an alcoholic. Neither of them was the best “candidate” to have a child. None of them had responsibility, even for themselves. So they sent to us some child abuse investigator, but the fact is, I had a private room which was furnished, and they didn’t do anything. I had to take matters into my own hands and leave before I was further abused.
Q: How did you escape from the past?
A: Honestly I never did. I still have many obstacles with men, even emotionally. I dare to say that I am afraid to love. However, thanks to the recent family counseling sessions, my mother started to see my point. For me it was unforgettable, and I was never ready to feel forgiveness, even when I had to feign forgiveness when I had to live with them so many years ago.
Q: Now what has become of your step-father?
A: He is ill, blind, barely capable of moving and functioning. However, he always kept telling me that he never did anything which could make me uncomfortable when he was around. He locked his memories away because his guiltiness was clearly getting to him. They never change. Nonetheless, I did change. I changed a lot in a positive way. I decided to work in child protection and study psychology.
Q: I am very proud of you!
A: Thank you, so am I. My own individual therapy helped me to forgive my mother for the past–though I never did forgive my stepfather. I became more mature year by year. And the second time we went to family therapy, my mother began to see my perspective and was able to begin to validate my feelings–not like the first time when the courts were involved. The way to get here was full of distractions, painful realizations, but with time I will feel more capable of growing through all my fears. So even though the family counseling did not at first have the result I wanted– I have to admit that reality is always different from the expectations and imaginations. So in general, family counseling really helped me, the second time my mother and I attended. And my own personal counseling from my therapist changed me and helped me become who I am today.
Q: Thank you for sharing this and as I promised you will remain anonymous.
A: It was my pleasure. I just hope that people understand that they can change and that individual counseling helps. If you can get your family member into family counseling, please try it. As I said, the first time didn’t work, but the second time with my mother, we were able to get somewhere.
If you are in need of family therapy, there are multiple therapists at Health for Life Counseling Grand Rapids that can help you and your family. Call 616-200-4433 or go to our contact form and send us a message.
If you have been abused by a family member, please call the police first. (911).
After that, you may call the domestic violence hotline: 800.799.SAFE (7233)