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Family therapy with abusive parents(25 Posts)
Hi, first post in this forum
I was just a wondering whether anyone has any experience of doing family therapy or similar with an abusive parent?
I've been nc with my parents for just over a year and have ignored various communications since then, but now my mum has emailed to ask if I would consider family therapy. I've been asking for that since I was 15, so I got hoovered back in and replied saying that I might, and asked if she would consider individual therapy first. She's ignored that question entirely and said that she wants me to meet with a family therapist first and explain what's gone wrong in our relationship, then she'll meet with the them and discuss what I've said. She's said that the therapist could pass on anything I don't want to tell her directly.
In the surface it seems like a huge step forward, but I'm not sure it is. It feels a bit like 'you tell the therapist your side and I'll tell mine and we'll let them decide who's right'. I wrote her a long email last year explaining how I felt so she's not clueless.
We live four hours apart and ive got a 10 month old, so it's a big commitment for me to go and do this. Is it really unreasonable to ask her to have a few sessions of individual therapy first to show me she's serious about change?
Trust your gut. If you sense that she is just looking for a judge to prove someone right (her) and someone wrong (you), then don't do it. In general, don't do anything you don't feel comfortable doing.
As an aside, her proposed set-up sounds really weird and I doubt any therapist would agree to it. Family therapy takes place with all members present: the therapist does not act as a relay. The point is to create a safe space where all parties can express their feelings to each other.
If she's really highly manipulative (and she sounds it) she will use this therapy to turn everything around to make it your fault, explain everything that is wrong with you. If she's skilled enough at it, the therapist will be taken in. If he therapist is not taken in, sadly the chances are that family therapy won't get anywhere anyway.
You're entirely reasonable to suggest that she goes to individual therapy first for 10 sessions, taking the letter you wrote her. See it as a test. If she does it (and you're sure she has actually done it) then maybe try a family therapy session, just to show willing ... and very occasionally, miracles do happen. People do change. But it's rare.
But don't bet any money on her genuinely opening up. The fact she has ignored your suggestion completely, not even saying no, is a bad sign. Adults address suggestions, especially really important ones like this, even if it's just to say no, and here's why.
Personally I think it sounds very much like a way to draw you in. A nice bait that she can wiggle over the water for you to swallow and get drawn in by. It's horrible for a selfish self centred person to be ignored by someone they think they should have control over.
Actually it sounds like she's trying to find a way that suits you.
I would try it, yes. As rc says this isn't the usual way family therapy works but sometimes it is a way in.
Let the therapist do their job.
It doesn't sound hopeful. The weird approach proposed etc. perhaps in the way that joint counselling with an abusive partner isn't recommended it could be a way for her to upset you, and it's really not a good time for you anyway since you have a small baby.
Thanks for the replies, I think you're right about the odd set up. I believe family/ couples therapy sometimes involves individual sessions but always with the aim of everyone talking to each other afterwards, not messages passed through the therapist.
springydaffs I thought similar at first, but then I realised i told her what I needed, which was for her to have individual therapy first, and she ignored me. Pretending I haven't said something is pretty normal for her so I missed it first, but it does show she isn't really interested in doing what would be best for me.
once I like the idea of suggesting 10 sessions, but you're right I have no way of knowing whether she's actually done it, or been honest.
I really don't want to go back down this rabbit hole...
As its family therapy is your dad coming as well? Would you like him to?
If you are minded to give it a try, there will probably be an introductory session. That will tell you a lot about what your mother expects from the process.
However, I second those who say 'trust your gut'. If she's doing it to show what a fantastic person she is, how hard she tries, and then uses the sessions to position you as the rotten apple...
I think it would be a good move to go back to your question about her having counselling first, just identifying that she hasn't responded.
Oh, and what you say in individual sessions is confidential so the therapist won't be passing stuff back and forth. The whole point is to facilitate the family to communicate better, eg if you want her to know something, the counsellor's job would be to help to find a way to tell your mother this yourself.
This is a trap and your mother has not at all changed.
I would not attend these sessions under any circumstances. Abusive people can and do use this type of thing to further beat their victims with.
The counsellor would likely be manipulated by your family of origin and that person could also be used against you as well!!.
Joint counselling is never recommended where there is abuse of any type within a relationship, that same caveat applies here.
You are no contact with them for very good reason; maintain your current stance of NC. Do not go back down that rabbit hole.
If you don't want to go back down this rabbit hole ... Don't.
It's easy to say and hard to live with the guilt etc, but you ARE entitled to do what YOU want, as long as it doesn't hurt other people.
You went NC for probably very good reasons indeed - it's not something someone usually does lightly. If you feel it's right to try a session or two, do ... Perhaps she could travel to you, if she's up to it? 4 hours each way with a 10m old is a lot!! If you don't trust her or don't want to try the therapy - don't.
If things have gone so far that you've gone NC, the most important thing is to protect your little one and yourself. If she is a risk to your mental, emotional and physical health - you need good health in all those things. They aren't worth risking.
To use mediation is to subscribe to the mistaken idea that abuse is related to "misunderstandings" or lack of communication. If discussion and compromise, the mainstay of mediation, could help in any way most domestic violence situations would be long ago resolved because victims of abuse "discuss and compromise" constantly. Mediation assumes both parties will cooperate to make agreements work; the victim has always 'cooperated' with the abuser; the abuser never cooperates.
Your mother will likely try and manipulate the therapist to make it all out to be your fault. This is also why you should not at all attend these sessions. I would put money on it that this family therapist will be manipulated and outwitted by your mother who could after all give masterclasses in manipulation.
Your mother would likely need years of therapy and even then she would not apologise nor still accept any responsibility for her actions. Ten or so sessions even if she did attend these is not going to make a hill of beans difference.
Without really knowing your mother and whether she has any capacity for self-reflection it is difficult to advise. I don't think she understands how family therapy works-a good family therapist will set the rules themselves-not do what one party asks.
As for her having individual therapy-well you wouldn't know if she was attending sessions and what she was working on, you would at least hear what was said in family work and get a sense of whether she is willing to try to change or whether she is trying to blame you for everything.
The family therapist may suggest individual therapy for anyone involved in the family therapy if they identify the need for it but with someone other than themselves so that they don't form an alliance.
If you are interested in having some relationship with your mother I would consider attending an introductory session to see what the agenda is. Much depends on the degree of abuse and whether you think your mother would be prepared to listen to your perspective.
You have a young child-I would certainly expect her to be the one travelling and meeting any financial costs. Perhaps it would also be helpful if you did some research and chose the therapist rather than her choosing.
Ask yourself what you really want-not what anyone else wants.
Before I would even contemplate attending family therapy sessions in circumstances such as you've described, I would want to know chapter and verse about the therapist and the setting in which they work and whether their approach is behavourial, solution-based, strategic, structural etc.
What your mother appears to be suggesting is a form of mediation which is unlikely to remedy the difficulties inherent in your relationship with her.
Suggesting that she engages in a few sessions of individual therapy will not provide you with any assurance that she has a desire to bring about positive change, and I most certainly would not advocate that you travel 4 hours to participate in whatever she is proposing.
Having been in a couple of family therapy sessions with abusers (my mum and dad), I would not recommend this.
Family therapy works when neither party is abusing the other and you are trying to resolve communication problems, etc. It worked really well for me and my son, as a sort of add on to his individual counselling.
Thanks everyone. I really don't trust her at all, and I don't want to get involved with her again. The only reason I even considered it is because she used the Magic Word 'therapy' and I feel like I have to. What she's suggesting is a one time 'mediation' not long term therapy. As meerkat says, she thinks it's all a misunderstanding being blown out of proportion.
The abuse was pretty serious tbh. There was sexual abuse in our family which she was aware of and denied/minimised/blamed on me depending what day it was. She couldn't understand why I didn't want to see my abuser, and secretly engineered meetings so I was tricked into spending time with him.
In recent times the main issue is that she doesn't like me to feel anything. If I tell her I'm upset, even about something small, her response is 'how dare you say that, can't you see how much it upsets me?'.
In contrast im expected to rearrange my entire life around her feelings...for example the last arguement we had was because she wanted to stay with us when dd was due (not happening). I politely said we'd agreed no overnight visitors at that time and she shouted and cried and called me names. When I stood firm but stayed calm she said I was cold and unfeeling had no compassion for her, despite her obvious distress.
imbroglio my dad hasn't been mentioned in relation to therapy at all. He's pretty awful too tbh. After the above incident he emailed me to say he'd happily never see me again (not the first time he's said that) so I've taken him up on it!
Cross posted goddess! Thanks so much for sharing your experiences, it confirms my instincts.
If your mum hasn't met with the therapist before then you could give it a go. This means she only meets the therapist for a full session after you've met with them. If she has been seeing the therapist and is asking you to go separately then yes I might be weary too, as you don't know what track they've been on and why they want to bring you in. For family therapy I'd assume you all go in and meet the therapist first, then have separate sessions maybe? If she was going to a therapist for 10 sessions it's not unreasonable to ask to see someone else (neutral) unless they are a very good therapist and can assure you they are neutral in the process.
Why waste your time and effort, she has no interest in changing has she?
There is some ulterior motive - access to your child probably...
Having read your latest posts, it seems more and more clear that following this plan is pointless, and moreover, you yourself already know that you don't want to go along with it.
So don't. You really don't have to, whatever magic words are bandied about.
I totally understand how your upbringing makes guilt a really easy trigger for you, so here's confirmation from me that you are absolutely, 100% entitled to follow your gut and do what you feel is best for you. It's the best thing you can do!
I'm sorry you experienced childhood abuse, and you are clearly doing very well now by questioning things that make you uncomfortable and keeping your boundaries in place.
Fear, obligation and guilt are but three of many damaging legacies left by such dysfunctional families to their now adult children. You have FOG in spades.
What you have written since is even more compelling reason not to go anywhere near such a one off mediation session.
Dysfunctional and emotionally unhealthy people like your mother will use people in authority like this mediator bod (these are the only people they really respect/fear) to get back at you and make it all out to be your fault. Your mother has not fundamentally altered and is just as dysfunctional as she ever was. She has never apologised nor has accepted any responsibility for her actions.
Do not waste your time and effort on attending this. Its a retrograde step that will put your ongoing recovery back years if you do. You are no contact with them for bloody good reason, keep it that way. Keep on protecting your child from them as well.
Having read your update I agree - steer well clear!
Whatever has triggered her need for this meeting it almost certainly isn't for your benefit.
By hearing what you have to say through the medium of the therapist she is protecting herself from hearing it with your voice, hearing your words, seeing your face. She didn't want to know when you needed her to hear you about the sexual abuse, so I doubt that has changed.
What's in it for you? Nothing. Nothing good can come out of going to this.
If she wants to go to therapy, good luck to her.
If you want to go to therapy, good luck to you.
Going to therapy together? Nope. Nope. Nope.
Besides, you have a child, you have to stay NC. Your mum thinks there's nothing wrong with forcing a child to spend time with her sexual abuser. You can't ever let her near your child can you? So stay away, just like your gut tells you.
Based on my own experience, I wouldn't recommend it. I know that my mum only hears what she wants to hear, twists everything to fit her view of the world and maintain the status quo and says one thing then carries on as before, denies having said things...I've said no to family therapy recently because it wasn't much use in the past given all of the above and also because my mum demonised the therapist when she didn't agree with her.
Do you want contact with your parents? As they are, not as the parents you wish they could be? I've come to the conclusion that I don't. If it was my sibling suggesting therapy, I'd do it but I don't see the point or really want to when it comes to my parents. My life is so much nicer without them in it, I can breathe again and be myself. It depends how you feel about the relationship really and whether you think you'd regret not trying again. I personally have tried too many times and think I would regret giving it another chance, rather than regretting letting the opportunity go when it is unlikely to change anything anyway.
Oh goodness. No, no way would I do this. She and your father are too manipulative for this to be with you in mind.
I think she wants access to your child. Because of what happened to you as a child there is no way you should trust them with yours.
Good luck OP.
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