CASE STUDY VIGNETTES
Case Study #1. MAUREEN AND THE PUNISHING BOSS
Isn’t it frustrating when things don’t change much after a balance?
“Maureen was a high level and very successful computer programmer and software developer. Having been bitten by the ‘kinesiology bug’, she was wanting to turn her life upside down, start studying kinesiology and to work with children. She felt this was so much more meaningful than her current profession that she was prepared to give up her high paying job and affluent lifestyle for an uncertain future.
Her one obstacle was telling her rather dominating and fearsome boss. He had a reputation for tearing strips off anyone who threatened to leave the company and his guardianship. He would berate people threatening that they would never be able to come back to his firm and he would make sure they would never succeed in this industry against him, and would not even give them a reference!
She had seen him in action with others and to make matters worse, he had been especially supportive of her, with promotions helping her up the corporate ladder. Maureen felt guilty and unappreciative, and that she would be letting him down badly. She had already had a few kinesiology balances but the issue was not shifting. The kinesiology training that she had enrolled in was fast approaching when she finally came to me. She had been been putting off, and putting off, telling her boss.
We did a CK™ Emotional Stress Circuit using the Developmental Directory™ and Grief Gauge™ Emotional States charts to identify the blocked developmental phase and the grief phase she was locked into. She connected well with her Inner Child, confronted deep issues from the past with her Dad (an almost exact replica of her boss), and emerged feeling liberated and confident. Over the next few days however, the shine had gone off her balance and the reluctance to confront her boss had intensified.
The insights and de-stressing from the balance had not been converted into behaviour changes, and “if nothing changes, nothing changes”. This was a frustration that had led me to develop the “Three Stage Counselling Kinesiology™ System”. Very often balancing is not enough, and practical behaviour change integrative exercises are required.
We went through the CK™ Creative Role Modelling process, working out just what she wanted to say and how she could say it, focusing on the feelings she wanted the conversation to end on. This was still a rather lacklustre delivery when we role-played it together.
I asked her whom she knew who was good at standing up to people, someone she imagined her boss would listen to and accept. Her model was a cuttingly direct person who didn’t seem to care what people thought of him. What she disliked in him was his insensitivity. In addition to not caring what people thought of him, he did not care if he hurt people. Maureen was normally pretty direct herself, but this model started to give her confidence when imagining talking to her boss.
She copied her role-model’s confident stance, his direct eye contact, relaxed breathing and measured way of speaking. We tried again and while her delivery was much more confident and convincing this time, it brought up all her feelings about the IT industry. Maureen discussed the emptiness she found in the software development field, the health problems she had suffered and that she no longer wanted to be a part of the values typified by her role model.
When discussing what she did value, Maureen positively glowed as she talked excitedly about the experiences she had had with kinesiology and how much it was in alignment with her values of helping people, and the wonderful successes she had already had. We focused on the feelings that these values evoked and tried again. It was totally different. I could hear the authenticity of a real calling in her voice, with a conviction that made you really want to support her.
Maureen went home and practiced some more, including practicing responding to her boss being cutting and bullying. She even practised imagining him being hurt by what she said. She then called up her boss to make an appointment to see him. At the meeting, she delivered what she wanted to say just as we had practiced it together.
She recalled waiting nervously for what seemed like forever while her boss was deep in thought. He came out from behind the desk, shook her hand and warmly wished her all the best in this great new venture. He offered to take her back at any time if it didn’t work out, and to help her in any way he could. She had never seen this side of her boss with anyone – ever!
Needless to say, she never needed to go back to IT and went on to establish a great career working with children using Counselling Kinesiology™ and the LEAP training for working with learning difficulties.”
– from Counselling Kinesiology™ 1 Training Workbook 6
In the CK™ Training, we cover a vast number of practical exercises to help you feel confident to deal with virtually any emotional problem, and for your clients to integrate your balance and make changes that stick.
Case Study #2. LAUREN HAD A TERRIBLE SECRET
Ever had the feeling that there’s much more to the issue than’s coming up in the balance?
“Lauren was a highly successful singer but very ‘unlucky’ in love. She had fronted her band for years and had a big following for her songs, full of intense emotional sadness. Over the years she had had lots of potential suitors, yet each relationship turned out to be a disaster.
Trying to understand just what was going on, she was encouraged to try kinesiology by a close friend. At the initial consultation, she talked about her relationship woes, alternating between men trying to control her, and men who wouldn’t stand up for themselves, becoming needy and dependent.
Keen to have her friend’s experience with de-stressing, she was reluctant to go into her early history and childhood, avoiding my open-ended questions. She wanted to get on with the ‘kinesiology circuit’.
We came up with a past emotional reference relating to her first adult relationship, with a member of her band where his aggressive control agenda surfaced, and ended with him leaving the band. During the circuit there were lots of tears, insights about her pattern in relationships, and she felt a lot better after it. But I had this nagging feeling that we had missed something important. Lauren said she loved the experience and was keen to come back.
In the next session I allowed a lot more time. I felt we needed to do much more on the two basic tasks of the first stage of Counselling KinesiologyTM, the CK™ Talk Therapy. This is the delicate balance of building rapport, yet being confronting enough so that it is therapeutically useful.
The first task is to create an empathetic environment through listening, validating and understanding. If the person feels genuinely understood and validated, trust builds and the person feels more comfortable to express the deeper hurts and vulnerable wounds. The second task is daring to ask those deeper questions that gently bring the deeper issues to light. (What CK™ Talk Therapy is not about is giving advice or trying to solve the problem for the person, tempting as this might be).
The effect of Lauren was immediate. She relaxed, and seemed as though she had decided somewhere deep inside that is was time to let go of what she had been carrying for a long time. She started talking about her Dad and the confusing feelings she had about him. His battle with alcohol had marred her growing up years. When he was sober, he was a loving caring man who entranced her with his beautiful singing and lyrical guitar playing. But she also remembered his violent drunken outbursts, hitting her mum and Lauren having to bundle up her little sister and brother and hiding in her bedroom.
While it might seem that a lot of time gets spent just on talking in CK™, it has a curious effect on what comes up in the kinesiology circuit. I have also learned to test willingness statements about accessing the personality part that is maintaining the current issue, and making sure we don’t have protective personality parts blocking this access. Just like we have vulnerable parts of ourselves that we don’t feel comfortable talking about, and other parts that spring to our defence when confronted, our subconscious processing works to protect us in similar ways.
It still took some considerable de-stressing with Lauren before the muscle testing indicated that we were now able to address this vulnerable personality part, and that the protective personality parts were allowing access to it. We could then easily time-track to the reference age of the personality part maintaining the issue, and use the Developmental Directory™ and Grief Gauge™ Emotional States charts to identify the blocked developmental phase and the grief phase she was locked into.
This time during the de-stressing, Lauren dropped any vestiges of defence and poured her heart out about an incident occurring when she was 6 years old, that she had never told anyone about. She was trembling as she recalled her drunken Dad rampaging around the house smashing things. He shouted at Lauren and her Mum stood between them to protect her. He had grabbed her Mum by the throat and Lauren ran up to protect her Mum. Her Dad bundled up Lauren and threw her at the wall to her mother’s horror. He then shouted at her mother that if she did anything, he would hurt Lauren further. Her mother, frozen to the spot, looked at Lauren powerlessly as he stormed out.
The gash on Lauren’s head was dressed by her Mum but it was never talked about again. Her mother never intervened again either. Lauren became super-sensitive to her Dad’s moods, and in an instant would grab her brother and sister, and whisk them away to protect them. In later years, she used this sensitivity to tune into the pain of others, and poured it into her songs as a grown up.
She recognised at a deep level during the session, that her attraction to men alternated between the frighteningly dominating like her Dad, and the powerlessly incapable like her Mum, and Lauren’s feeling that she had to rescue both types. She felt that she had let go of something deep inside herself and now felt a previously unknown calm.
It freed Lauren in remarkable ways. She could see the old attractions for what they were, and although they still exerted a pull, she could recognise this and not be drawn into them again. She formed a new relationship with a very different type of man, someone equally committed to working through difficult past issues. She and her partner have moved forwards in wonderful ways and her songs have taken on a more joyous emotional quality, affirming her new positive and hope filled view of life.”
– from Counselling Kinesiology™ 1 Training
Working with Lauren, and many others like her, has impressed on me the importance of taking the time to create the trust and rapport through CK™ Talk Therapy. It also emphasises the importance of addressing the personality parts that maintain their current issues in the CK™ Emotional Stress Circuits.
It enables you to identify and resolve the major issues that really count.
Case Study #3. WEIGHT LOSS DRAMA
This is a case study from a woman, let’s call her Jenny, who was struggling with yo-yo dieting and weight loss
“Jenny, the director of a major teaching academy, had been struggling with her weight for many years. While very physically active and fit in her early years, the stress of her job and poor eating habits had led to a steady increase in weight. This had caused ankle and knee problems preventing exercise which compounded her weight problems.
The dissolution of her marriage many years earlier had left her with very poor self image and a view that she could not even think of looking for another relationship until she lost weight. No one would interested in her she told herself, even though at the first session she acknowledged that she would be quite happy to be with a man who was a little overweight. This irony of this double standard did not change her expectations of herself however.
Her frequent attempts at dieting were massive self denial followed by regression and vicious self-criticism about her ‘weakness’, patheticness’ and ‘lack of willpower’. It contrasted with her renowned generosity to everyone else combined with her incredible determination and effectiveness in making her academy the best it could be.
In the CK™ Talk Therapy we used the exercise ‘Standing at the Fridge’ where Jenny asked herself, ……….
‘What could come into my life at this moment that would so engage me that I would not want to eat now, and so fulfil me that I would not want to eat after it had finished’. For Jenny this was to have someone special in her life who would be caring and nurturing towards her, giving back to her what she gave to everyone else. She felt strongly that she would have turned towards this person for comfort rather than comfort eating.
We also looked at the expectation that if you give, you will attract people who give back, whereas often you just attract people who take. The importance of balancing your giving, with making your needs known so that others would be able to give back, was quite an insight for her. We discussed the ‘Putting a Potential Partner on Trial’ exercise, which deals with just this issue.
A CK™ Emotional Stress Circuit followed using the Developmental Directory™ and Grief Gauge™ Emotional States charts to identify the blocked developmental phase and the grief phase she was locked into at an early age. This related to lollies and cakes which were used as rewards for her achievements (particularly regarding sports and being a ‘good’ girl), and withheld when she was not. Jenny readily recognised her emotional addiction to sugar, and how she would punish herself by withholding it during her diets, while indulging herself during her relapses. She could see how she had taken on her parents’ roles by rewarding and punishing herself, but that even during her rewards she would be down on herself for her ‘weakness’.
Jenny started using the exercise ‘How to Utilize your “Inner Child” in Day-to-Day Life to Help Support you to Make Changes’. This exercise works through using the way you would treat your Child Self in day to day life, as a model for how you can treat yourself now. It encourages self-compassion.
All went well for quite a while. She lost most of the weight she wanted to in a more measured way this time, and was overjoyed that the pain in her knees and ankles had gone and she was able to exercise once more. She went out on some dates and enjoyed observing the giving and receiving dynamics of the ‘Putting a Potential Partner on Trial’ exercise.
Then she had an end of year celebration at the academy and ate lots of the yummy sugar laden cakes – something she had avoided for some months. She described a switch changing in her head. It was as if this was not a mere relapse but a full regression to the extremes of her sugar binges. She explained how she felt she had ‘failed’, proved she couldn’t stick at it and may as well give up and eat what she liked.
We did another CK™ Emotional Stress Circuit focusing on her highly critical self-talk and ‘whose voice’ it sounded like. She clearly remembered her mother (another yo-yo dieter), bemoaning the fact that she had no self control and felt very unattractive. More insights followed but we realised that Jenny needed something more than the ‘Inner Child’ work.
She needed a new dialogue with herself – a way to speak with herself when she ‘failed’. How she would be able to see a relapse as just that, then be kind to herself and recommit the next day to the healthy eating she far preferred, and the exercise she really enjoyed.
I discussed the ‘Self-Compassion’ exercise based on the research of Kristin Neff. Contrary to what lots of people believe, beating yourself up does not help recovery when you ‘fail’ and it does not aid resilience. Being kind to yourself does. It is self-compassion, not self-pity, and motivating. Jenny readily related to this saying that she saw it with the students at the academy. They responded so much better to encouragement than a tongue lashing about their shortcomings.
The ‘Self-Compassion’ exercise involves being kind to yourself when in reaction to others (including blame)- like a wise compassionate friend. It was saying to herself, ‘Jenny it is hard to have these angry emotions when people take you for granted, they are not nice emotions to feel. It is difficult for you, isn’t it.’
The next part is looking at self-criticism. Firstly you acknowledge that the self-critical part is trying to help by preventing you doing things that went wrong – but this is not helping. ‘I know you are trying to prevent me from binging on sugar again but your harsh words and condemnation are not helping – they are just making me feel worse.’
You follow this with self-compassion rather than the self-judgement, ‘It doesn’t feel good when you stuff up, feel less than perfect or unworthy, and don’t meet your expectations of yourself. They are difficult feelings to feel.’
Next you relate this to the common humanity rather than isolating yourself by feeling you are the only one who fails in this way, and most other people have got it together far better than you have. These upward comparisons don’t help, they are generally false or incomplete and don’t aid motivation to change in lasting ways. For Jenny it was saying, ‘All humans fail, make mistakes, don’t live up to their expectations, engage in unhealthy behaviours – you just may not see it or see inside their heads. It is what makes us human and brings us together rather than isolates us. It is all part of the flawed human condition that we all share.
The final part is to look at taking some action and used the CK™ Problem, Goal, Solution, Action approach where the goals are emotional goals – how I would like to feel, and the solution is what I could do to feel this. Marshall Rosenberg’s “Nonviolent Communication’ says this so well, “What am I feeling? What am I needing right now? Do I have a request of myself or someone else?” Jenny’s answers were immediate. She was needing to be kind to herself, to gently recommit without chastising, and to make these requests of herself.
Last I heard Jenny was still doing brilliantly. She had lost some weight, was comfortable exercising, but more importantly, she could relapse, be kind to herself, recommit and have a balance in her life that she has never before experienced. She likes herself regardless of her weight and shape and feels worthy of a relationship. She has an ongoing love interest who has helped her to learn about giving and receiving! “
– HAPPY FAMILIES, HEALTHY RELATIONSHIPS, MORE VIBRANT LIVES!
Case Study #4. REPAIRING A RELATIONSHIP
Relationships that begin so full of warmth and connection can easily fall into disrepair.
This can be a subtle growing apart, as work and parenting responsibilities crowd out time and energy for nurturing the relationship. It can also be a major upheaval in the relationship, such as betrayal of trust, or where individual differences escalate into hostile attacks or smouldering standoffs. In each of these cases, the challenge is to repair the damage and rebuild the relationship.
“Naomi and Tim had come to the point where any disagreement had become a flashpoint for hostile arguments. An uneasy truce prevailed, provided they avoided any of their issues. Naomi had sought Counselling Kinesiology couples work after some fruitless counselling sessions that seemed to be going around in endless circles.
Their first session revealed that they came together after breakdowns in earlier relationships, with care of children being shared with former partners. The primary issue was ongoing arguments about the children with counter accusations of character faults. Naomi saw Tim, a computer systems engineer, as being ‘over-controlling’ and ‘anal’, trying to run the house like a business, and dampening the spirit of her 10 year old son and 6 year old daughter.
Tim saw Naomi as ‘undisciplined’, ‘disorganised’ and ‘inconsistent’. He resented the rebellious and defiant way her children treated him when he tried to impose some basic rules, but even more so because Naomi would intervene, spring to their defence and dismiss what he was saying. His own two boys, 12 and 11 years old, stayed with them alternate weekends, and struggled with their step-siblings wild and undisciplined behaviours.
When asked about what brought them together and what they most liked about each other in the beginning, Tim described Naomi’s initial engaging ‘spontaneity’, and her ‘laid back’ and ‘relaxed’ approach to life that had such a soothing effect this had on him. She had helped him start to embrace life again after his marriage breakdown, which had been a slow and painful growing apart as his wife had devoted herself more and more to the boys and he had devoted himself to providing for them.
Naomi had admired Tim’s ‘reliability’ and ‘proactive approach’, and how he was able to ‘push himself and lead those around him’ to achieve so much in life. She appreciated how Tim had caringly helped her to sort out her financial woes, and the chaos that had afflicted her life, after she split with her former husband, who had been a ‘workaholic’. He had put personal advancement and making money ahead of her and the family, finally leaving her for a ‘cut-throat career woman and social climber’ at his work.
While seemingly obvious from outside, Naomi and Tim were surprised when we looked at the similarity between what had brought them together and their current difficulties. Each of them was carrying their initial behaviours to excess when confronted with a problem, and the attractive features were now reappraised as character faults. Naomi’s ‘laid back’ and ‘relaxed’ approach to life was now being reappraised as ‘undisciplined’, ‘disorganised’ and ‘inconsistent’. Because it was not supporting Tim, he saw it as anything but ‘soothing’.
Tim’s ‘reliability’, ‘proactive approach’ and ability to ‘push himself and lead those around him’ was now reappraised by Naomi as ‘boring’, ‘over-controlling’ and ‘anal’. It was seen as very far from being ‘caring and helpful’ to her or her children. There was some truth in both of their accusations. When Tim was confronted with resistance, he did throw an excess version of his nature at it. He would become emotionally disengaged, pedantic, explain things to the nth degree and attempt to force structure on the situation. Naomi would then react by resisting any structure, pushing for undisciplined and unrestrained emotional expression for her children, and a spontaneity that bordered on chaos.
The more Tim pushed for structure, the more Naomi resisted it. The more she resisted it, the more he pushed for structure. Each of their triggering behaviours escalated their problems.
While they could see their patterns, they continued to trot out further examples of each other’s ‘problem behaviours’ with the apparent aim of justifying their own positions, proving where the other partner was in the wrong and how this was the cause of their issues. So much for insight, but where to go to from here?
Since Naomi and Tim seemed unable to communicate about their issues without angry accusations or sullen silences, we outlined a plan of increasingly challenging steps to get some useful communication happening again. I made it clear that they may well struggle with these steps and this would be the subject of subsequent sessions.
Step 1 ‘Debriefing the Day Exercise’
When coming back together in the evening after being separated by work or other responsibilities, they would adopt an ‘us against the world’ attitude. They would take turns in debriefing their day and repeating back and validating each other’s experiences. They would be careful not to bring their interpersonal issues into the conversation. For example, Naomi would not say, “No wonder you have problems with your staff, you probably try to over-control them too!” This would be bringing in her issues of feeling over-controlled by Tim and derail the exercise of connection building. Similarly, Tim would not suggest that more organisation and imposing consequences on her children’s behaviour would help Naomi when she expressed feeling overwhelmed.
Step 2 ‘Addressing a Concerning Issue that Has Not been the Subject of a Fight’.
This is typically an unmet need that the partner has not aired and wants to discuss. It also utilises supportive responding (repeating back and validating) and taking it in turns to focus on only one partner’s issue at a time. A little questioning revealed that Naomi and Tim had some things they each wanted to discuss that fell into this category. They were worried that they would just become further fights, however.
Step 3 ‘Recovery Conversation’.
This would be using the same processes to discuss an issue as step 2, but where there had been conflict, especially a recent fight. A process of separately describing their own contributions to the issue could help them from rekindling the argument. Describing what they would like to happen would provide a positive view (rather than what they didn’t like) with the aim of finding a workable compromises they could both live with.
Step 4 ‘Time Out Plus Coming Back’.
We discussed stopping unproductive arguments with time out, self-calming and then coming back to talk from a different frame of mind. This could be them recognising ‘we are doing our thing again’ (the reactive pattern we had discussed), and recognising the enduring vulnerabilities where these had come from. This could also be recognising that what brought them together, when now carried to excess, was now driving them apart. I was a little concerned that this Four Step plan might be inflammatory for Naomi as it could be seen as imposing a structure, and be yet another male triggering this sensitivity. Fortunately, she embraced the idea enthusiastically being keen to be able to talk and be listened to, without being lectured or criticised.
At the next session they were much more animated, saying that most of the time Step 1 had gone well. Step 2 had been jumped over and the Step 3 Recovery Conversation had just ended up in a big argument. I repeated that this was normal and we discussed the contents of the argument – yet another case of them both taking on their excess positions when Naomi’s son had been acting out. Tim had reprimanded him and started on a lecture. Naomi had rushed to her son’s aid and turned on Tim. Her son had walked off with a smug look on his face, bringing Tim to boiling point.
Since Tim was the most in reaction, we did a kinesiology Emotional Stress Circuit with him while Naomi watched. We saw how his emotional reference was struggling to get any attention from his Dad as a 10 year old. He had pushed himself to achieve in the hope of being noticed but never felt he got any loving connection with his Dad. He recognised how he had overcompensated with his own boys, lavishing attention on them but in a micromanaging controlling way. It was a huge trigger for him seeing Naomi’s son getting positive attention for doing the things that Tim would have been punished for by his own Dad.
In many ways Tim’s efforts to improve the running of the house and to do things ‘right’ was continuing the pattern of trying to get his Dad’s attention for doing things ‘right’. It did not help with his Dad, who only gave negative attention when he did things wrong. Similarly, he did not get any support for this from Naomi and felt he was once again not being appreciated for his good intentions. But rather than trying something different, he just tried harder doing the same thing that wasn’t working. Experiencing a connection to the pain of his Child Self at a feeling level in the Emotional Stress Circuit allowed him to release it and move forwards. He recognised that his pattern, while a strength in achieving in the workplace, was a liability to his relationship and he was at a point of choice to change this.
Between the second and third session, some traction was gained in both Step 2 and 4, with Tim feeling fundamentally different when he saw Naomi’s children acting out. He responded by expressing how he felt about it to Naomi, rather than reprimanding his step children. Not being triggered, Naomi took the kid’s aside and had a quiet talk to them about how she also felt about their behaviour. Suddenly some boundaries were being established in the house, ironically by Tim relinquishing his! Discussing this had still proved challenging but they really felt they were making progress finally. The feelings of warmth and connection were returning to their relationship.
At the 3rd session Naomi’s Emotional Stress Circuit was also related to negative attention as a child. She had a vindictive mother who was always on her case, criticising and punishing her and her father. Naomi had given up trying; it did not seem to make any difference. As soon as could, she left home and determined never to let anyone control her like she had felt controlled by her mother. Her first husband, while not controlling, was minimally interested in her so her attraction to Tim was feeling she was with someone who cared. She became attracted to someone who cared but with the controlling aspects of her mum again, throwing her into renewed rebellion and over-defending her children.
These wounds that surfaced during the Emotional Stress Circuits were the enduring vulnerabilities from Naomi and Tim’s childhoods. They were retriggering these old hurts in their arguments – no wonder they felt so hostile and defensive. At the 4th session, there were marked changes in both of them. They described how they were still having arguments, but the stinging pain was either not there or short lived. They had even managed to stop an argument, have time out and then come back and have a reasonable conversation after it. It was a great breakthrough. Ironically this conversation was not problem solving but discussing how they reacted, which was the real cause of the conflict they were experiencing.
In follow-up sessions they described the closeness, warmth and a feeling of security having come back into their relationship. They would still have arguments and still go back into their excessive positions at times, but they could quickly repair the damage and continue to build the connection in their relationship.”
– HAPPIER FAMILIES, HEALTHIER RELATIONSHIPS, MORE VIBRANT LIVES!
Case Study #5. REBUILDING TRUST IN A RELATIONSHIP
Trust can erode in a couple’s relationship in any number of ways
This can vary from such as a partner spending increasing time outside of the relationship, siding with someone else, betraying confidences or hiding spending, and escalate up to bald-faced lying and infidelity. The most widely required characteristic of a partner in survey after survey and many research studies, is that the partner be trustworthy. Disclosure or discovery of infidelity and extramarital affairs can be fatally detrimental to primary relationships and marriages. This does not mean that couples cannot recover from them and rebuild trust.
“Gene and Rebecca came to seek help after Rebecca had discovered unaccounted for restaurant expenses on their credit card bill, then found ‘over friendly’ messages on Gene’s mobile phone from a female work colleague. Gene claimed it was harmless, just business meals and a little flirting, but nothing more serious had happened. Having worked a bit with this type of issue, I have learned not to take anything at face value!
While affairs involve sex, this is usually not the driving force or the major satisfaction derived from an affair. It is much more about seeking the friendship, understanding, support and validation that is lacking in the primary relationship. I suggested lack of needs being met in a relationship, even if unreasonable needs, was often the cause of relationship breakdown, and enquired about this in their relationship.
Both Gene and Rebecca seized on this idea and described the loneliness that had crept in. Rebecca had suffered some post-natal depression after the birth of their daughter Zoe, now two years old, and Gene had had no idea how to help Rebecca. He had not spoken to anyone about it, helped out with Zoe as much as he could, but seen it as a pretty dark time in their lives together. Eventually things got better. Rebecca wanted another child and Gene acknowledged that he was concerned that the whole thing could start again. Rebecca described how cut off she felt from Gene. All her efforts to get closer and deeper were resisted. He just would not talk about things.
Gene reassured Rebecca that the contact with the woman at work was over, that he had moved onto another project at work and that there would be no more contact. We talked about communication skills, how disclosure can rebuild trust and then I helped them go through the communication exercises. Rebecca and Gene both expressed hope and optimism after talking about their issues in this new way. They were keen to look deeper into their emotional histories to see what was driving their behaviours. Rebecca appeared surprisingly forgiving and positive that this was a path where she could finally get the communication and closeness she yearned for.
A desperate phone call from Rebecca some days later revealed that all was not good. She had received a text from the woman at work showing the ‘sexting’ that had been sent from Gene and how there had been a lot more going on than that. Gene had continued to try to deny it but finally with the texts, he admitted what had been going on. Rebecca was full of rage towards the other woman, deep hurt and fierce resentment towards her husband, and a desperation about Zoe and her future. Much as she wanted to leave Gene and punish him for what he had done, she felt caught in a situation where she could not easily let go.
At the next session Gene recounted how he had tried to break things off with this other woman, to make things ‘right’ and she had threatened to tell his wife – which she had done. I reiterated the importance of disclosure, and that the only way to rebuild trust is honesty and forthrightness even when it is painful. Rebecca confirmed that however painful, the truth could not be worse than dishonesty. He would need to tell her things that he did not want to tell her, especially where it put him in a bad light, or hurt her. In this way, she said he would be putting her needs ahead of his and this was what it would take for him to have any chance of repairing the damage he had done.
Gene described the history of what happened – an all too familiar story. He was allotted to work with Madeline in a project at work and discovered a shared interest – photography in their case. Initially this was discussing work by people they liked, and techniques for lighting and computer enhancing. Knowing Rebecca was not interested in photography, and had often complained about it taking him away from her and Zoe, Gene went with Madeline to a photography exhibition. He knew he should have talked to Rebecca about this but feared her disapproval on two fronts, and went anyway telling himself it was perfectly innocent as it was just going with a friend to an exhibition, and Rebecca would not be interested anyway.
Following this, Madeline had started to open up a bit more about her personal life, telling him about a past relationship that had ended badly and that she had gone through a bout of depression. In response, Gene had opened up a bit about Rebecca’s post-natal depression and how hard he knew it was to go through something like this. Even though he knew Rebecca would have been horrified about him talking about her, he felt better getting it off his chest to someone who understood. He rationalised that they were just work friends and it was perfectly innocent.
With a little prompting, he agreed that he had started to make comparisons between Rebecca and Madeline and wondering what his life would have been like if he had met her instead. He could not talk about this to anyone and began fantasising about Madeline. He found that he and Madeline could talk in ways that Rebecca and he had not been able to. Rebecca has finding this all very difficult to hear but urged him to continue.
He admitted to feeling he had crossed a line when the conversations had started on personal matters. He said he felt he was plunging out of control as the conversations became more intimate, then touching, then sexting started and finally sex. Gene said he had recognised that he was in way over his head and Rebecca’s discovery of the ‘over-friendly’ texts and restaurant bills pulled him up sharply. He tried to break off the relationship with Madeline. Having heard him criticise his relationship with Rebecca, and experienced a closeness she had been yearning for, Madeline took this very badly. She felt it was yet another man who was using her and then dumping her, much like the past relationship she had originally talked to Gene about.
It felt a huge mess for Gene and Rebecca. Gene felt pretty bad about himself, dreadfully ashamed of what he had done, and full of remorse realising he was on the verge of losing something he really valued. Amidst her extreme hurt, Rebecca somehow felt sorry for him, seeing his as a weak and somewhat pathetic figure. She felt angry about herself for feeling this, and then angry about how it had somehow become about his suffering and not about what was going on for her. After using some self-calming techniques, we went back to the communication exercises. In turn they paraphrased what each other had been feeling in response to the triggers, and validated these feelings. This was no easy task for either of them but did give more empathy and a starting point from which to work.
In subsequent sessions, we looked at each of their past emotional histories with the Emotional Stress Circuits. Gene’s went back to being an 8 year old in a very closed family. Nothing was discussed and he recognised that his mother probably had undiagnosed depression, and his father was emotionally unavailable to anyone. Gene had been left to his own devices to work out any problem he had. His solution was to shut down and block out things he could not resolve. This was the same way he coped with his feelings around Rebecca’s post-natal depression. It was also the denial he used regarding what had been developing between him and Madeline. In many ways he had taken on his father’s role, although he had been much more hands-on and caring with Zoe.
Rebecca’s mother had been overwhelmed with the health problems of her youngest child and had an unavailable husband who worked away a lot. As a middle child, Rebecca had been the caretaker in the family between a rebellious older brother and her severely asthmatic younger sister. On connecting with her Child Self, Rebecca recognised controlling feelings that directed her whole life. She felt that she had to be there for everyone and no-one would ever be there for her. What had happened with Gene just typified this.
With these insights, they recognised how they were re-enacting their past childhood roles in their current relationship, but more importantly, that they were not locked into these roles and could both change if they could work together.
It was not an easy path back for Rebecca and Gene. He had to really work against his pattern of withholding how he was feeling or what he was thinking, but bit by bit learned to self-disclose. At times this meant saying things he knew would be hurtful to Rebecca and would trigger her feelings of being not good enough, and not worthy of affection. But for Rebecca, the fact that he was saying these things was demonstration of exactly the opposite. He was valuing her as the person he could now take into is deepest confidences, something she had felt shut out from in the past.
Rebecca really struggled with rebuilding trust. She found herself checking up on him incessantly, looking through his phone and keeping tabs on just what he was doing. Through discussing this, Gene realised that it was a very necessary part of the process. For Rebecca, we talked about the idea that if she was controlling what Gene was doing all the time, she would not know if she could trust him or not. She needed to let him have the space and opportunity to let her down, but not to. This was an exercise they embarked on. Gene would volunteer, unprompted, what had happened when in vulnerable situations, and just how he was feeling.
They related a hallmark in their relationship when they were out together and saw an attractive woman walk past. Gene did not immediately avert his eyes or pretend he had not noticed this woman. Instead, he remarked to Rebecca that the woman was attractive. He felt any guilt dissipate as he disclosed what he was feeling, and closer to Rebecca for disclosing it. Rebecca had agreed, this was an attractive woman but felt unthreatened by this. She felt closer to Gene for disclosing, and the warmth with which he did this gave her a wonderful feeling of just how important she was in his life.
Painful as it had been, they both felt that they had grown a lot individually and as a couple as a consequence of the whole experience. They now had a depth of relationship unlike they had ever experienced before.”
– HAPPIER FAMILIES, HEALTHIER RELATIONSHIPS, MORE VIBRANT LIVES!
© 2017 Gordon Dickson, Counselling Kinesiology™