Improving Familial Communication
By Amy Hartman, MA, LPC, NCC, RPT
I met Jewel when she was fourteen years old. Her curly brown hair stuck out in every direction, mitigated by two tiny purple barrettes and a hot pink headband. She was loud, funny, awkward, and confused. Turns out when she was four years old her mother discovered Jewel’s father had been sexually abusing her. Her mother did everything right. She took Jewel to the hospital, called the police, cut off all contact with Jewel’s father, and started her daughter in counseling. No one ever found out how long Jewel had been abused; the scarring was so old and severe (she would never have biological children) it was impossible to tell. Jewel’s mother had always been honest with Jewel about what happened, in an age-appropriate way, but now Jewel was a teenager, interested in boys, and curious about her dad.
Part of my work was to improve communication between Jewel and her mother, Sara. For Sara this was one of the most traumatic experiences of her life. The situation was (rightly so) black and white. Jewel’s father was evil and should be punished severely for what he did. Jewel’s experience was more complicated. She was quite young when the abuse occurred and was curious, as she was growing into adulthood, how she was or was not like her father.
Families who’ve survived trauma often pick one extreme or the other in regards to their conversations about what happened. Some families talk extensively about the trauma, ignoring all other experiences; others talk only about the good times and never about the trauma. The goal is to find a middle ground, not romanticizing the good times and also not demonizing the bad. Over time Jewel was able to ask questions about her dad and Sara started to feel more comfortable talking about him. This opened the door for Jewel to come to Sara with thoughts about dating which led to improved social skills and decreased awkwardness.
What are you romanticizing or demonizing in your own life? Take some time to notice the extremes, bringing in some balance and moderation into your conversations. I’d love to hear how it goes, email@example.com, 303-258-7454, or find past articles on my website at www.peaktopeakcounseling.com.