Transgenerational Issues: Tony called 6 months later to report another crisis: Kathy had moved out with the boys. They had had a fight, but— he emphasized— he hadn’t hit her. When I saw Tony and Kathy together, I learned that her mother had died, her father had moved in, and in his wake the brothers and sisters followed through the open door. “I’ve lost control of my house,” she said. Tony said, “This is how it started. I thought that when her mother died, we should take care of her dad. Kathy blew up. She said, ‘If you like my family so much, you can have them.’ I was hurt. But when she said she was leaving I saw red.” The death of Kathy’s mother brought all of the transgenerational themes underlying their conflicts into focus. Kathy had been ambivalent about her mother all along. Her covert function as surrogate mother became overt when “Mom” died, as did her lifelong resentment about being put in that role. For Tony, having Kathy’s father around was a little like having his own deceased father around again. Creating boundaries around the nuclear family with Kathy’s father living there was next to impossible. Finally, pursuing the issue of how Kathy and Tony could be available to each other in the midst of all this conflict generated the idea of a vacation. “Pops” could either go with them to Florida or go stay with one of her older sisters. With great difficulty, Kathy allowed her father to live elsewhere. A year later he was still living with her older brother, and Kathy and Tony were together and doing well. Conclusion: Physically violent families tend to be closed systems. They are organized around secrets and a fearful view of the world. Obtaining the trust of such families is a trick in itself. Engaging the abusive members, along with others in the family, means going from being seen as a nosy intruder to a valued resource who can help the family to change what hurts. Engaging any closed or rigid family system is a challenge, but with violent families the challenge goes deeper. The therapist takes a clear moral position on the unacceptability of violence in the family, a position that typically challenges the family’s subcultural values. By supporting the vulnerable members— both those being hit and victimized and those who feel emotionally one-down and disempowered— the therapy begins to help the individuals and the family
reorganize around their needs for physical and emotional safety. Although they hardly matched the stereotype of the ideal therapy consumers, Kathy and Tony went much further in exploring the roots of the violence in their relationship than most couples I have treated. In each installment of their treatment, we were able to focus more on the larger familial context maintaining their problem. Recently, I spoke with Kathy to sound out how things were going for her and Tony. “Good and bad,” she told me. “Things between Tony and me are fine. He hasn’t been violent in years. When things get ‘tight’ we talk it out— like you taught us. I’m not afraid anymore that he’s going to hurt me. That’s the good news. The bad news is that my dad’s back with us, and he’s driving me nuts!” Download File
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- Summer '19
- Kathy, Tony, SOC 386