Tackling Family Relationships

My partner, Dean, and I recently had my mum, dad, grandma, and aunt -- all from Germany -- with us for a visit. As part of the visit, we went on a trip on a river in a houseboat. We had already spent a couple of weeks together in close quarters, and tensions between us were rising. It was an all-too-"familiar" (in both senses of the word) concoction of patterns and restimula-tions that usually sends me into silent and resentful resignation -- until, in one form or another, I run away.

I now have four years of regular discharge under my belt -- a good deal of it on old "growing up" and "family"-type hurts. And living on opposite sides of the globe gives me and my family the chance to do something different every time we do get together. This time I was determined to use my knowledge and attention to make some headway. In two sessions before the family visit I had taken the direction: "I will run a support group with my family." It was two half-hours of laughter and sweat, facing the apparent ridiculousness of the proposal. Despite my trust in RC theory, I didn't seriously think that following the direction "for real" was within my reach. I was going to be surprised.

As things came to a head(*) on the houseboat and feelings were barely containable ("composure" is rife in my family), I subconsciously abandoned firm land and found myself riding a big wave. I somehow managed to sit them all down. I started explaining how important it was to me that we use the time we had together to be close and how I didn't want us to go on without talking about the apparent tensions within our group (by that time no one could deny them anymore). I talked briefly about the nature of feelings and asked everyone to assume that feelings are individual responses and not any other person's "fault." I then declared my genuine interest in what it was that made it hard for each person to be in the group. Everyone understood. Everyone had a turn. Everyone talked. Everyone discharged!

My dear grandma, for the first time ever, talked about how hard it was to be alone (she lost her husband in Word War II). My mum and my aunt recognised that they were in constant competition with each other and that none of it was real. My dad talked about how important everyone was to him and how important it was that we have a good time. Dean talked about how hard it was to be with a family so different from his own. It was quite amazing. I didn't even forget about myself -- I got everyone to listen to me. I talked about how much I loved them and how I tended to feel responsible for everything that happened. I said to my mum that I had given up criticising her, and she cried again. I didn't need to prompt people to appreciate each other.

Then we each had a turn talking about what we loved about the river and what our highlights had been on the trip. Miraculously (or more likely, naturally) the mood had lifted. We had our attention out and spent a most pleasant evening together.

I couldn't quite believe what had happened and only realised the implications much later in a session, after they had all gone home to Germany. I actually got a glimpse of what it's like to face my terror and look at the real possibilities in my life. My family are the people who were most involved in installing my early hurts. They are therefore the most restimulating people walking this earth. If I can make progress in those relationships, lead, and get them to work on their distresses, too, I can do anything! This thought has given me ready access to deep feelings of powerlessness and fear, and I'm taking bolder steps everywhere in my life.

I'm beginning to understand the power of "decide, act, discharge."

If you've ever consciously or unconsciously avoided tackling your present relationships with the people who raised you, I certainly recommend you reconsider. While the past cannot be changed, facing its horrors closest to home can change your future!

Matthias Wentzlaff-Eggbert
Hilton, South Australia, Australia
Reprinted from the newsletter of the Western Australia RC Community

(*) Came to a head means reached a climax.


Last modified: 2017-05-06 23:35:41-07