A Part of the Past Shows up in the Present
We pick up where we left the family in part I of the blog. DL is frozen at the moment afterhearing a voice from the woods saying, “If you build it he will come.” DL discovers the voice from the woods is Unc, who is playing a practical joke. Unc is whispering what he calls “learning the Gottman (2016).” What Unc actually says, “if you use a gentle start-up as the antidote for criticism and take responsibility as the antidote for defensiveness The Four Horsemen of The Apocalypse will not come.” Seemingly all good advice, and while humor can be an essential intervention, in this case, it is lost in translation.
As a result, DL is terrified as this is a reminder of a similar moment when DL was five. After watching the movie The Field of Dreams with his family, DL has a nightmare while sleeping and wakes up crying. Unknowingly the family has made that worse joking about the moment ever since, and it coincides with the family motto of “We do not discuss emotions.” Hearing his uncle floods him with similar emotions and added shame. Despite his new approach, DL is left feeling
unsafe and turns to his familiar survival strategy of withdrawing to protect himself (Fishbane, 2016). On this day the DL reverts to unresponsive and irritable as he is stuck in the cycle of reactivity and from the past (Fishbane, 2016). This rest of the family’s Easter script is stuck too.
Family Roles are Defined
For many, it feels like a “NO’REASTER” swirling through the living room. As the crisis hits, the first responders are ready for their roles. For the 10th consecutive year, Mom’s role will win her the Virginia Satir (1972) award for Easter’s most valuable blamer or critic. DL takes the prize for his role as the scapegoat as any uncomfortable feelings such as anxiety are redirected onto him as he is more vulnerable (Burton, 2018). The family will say he is “too sensitive.” Brother
#2 wins the award of the family placator while playing his role. While not at this year’s event, this role allows him to please at all costs usually pulls in the award for the “perfect son.” Although controversy surrounds the timeout’s authenticity, Unc’s role wins the award as Satir’s “congruent” family member (Satir, 1972). While a stretch, when in a super reasonable role he sues the timeout and then shifts to a distractor role while in the woods. The rest of the family will
do their part as the supporting cast despite themselves wondering, “Are we really at this place again?”
[Easter] Hope, Intervention, and State of Mind
When beginning the use of transformative tools, falling back into the comfortable occurs and is a rite of passage. For DL, his memory of the family watching the movie, while outdated, is still strong enough displace the new view of his mom and brother away from curiosity and compassion. As a result, he falls back to his comfortable “field of dreams” role of unresponsive and irritable to mask the pain. While there is plenty of work left undone, there is hope of a renewal of the mind
underway (Fishbane, 2016). Highlighting DL’s Easter weekend progress will help facilitate this change in state of mind.
The past LXXXV Reactivity Weekends still overtake the present. While the matter is left unsettled, it is a good reminder for all that the journey will be long, turbulent and require practice and patience. There is also much hope and beauty for the family. This year’s rendition of Reactivity Weekend provides DL growth opportunities with further use of his relaxation technique, understanding, and empathy. Additionally, with some help from a therapist named Gottman, and Unc’s application of a timeout and humor (ill-advised or not) some strengths can be of use.
Perhaps with the use of some therapeutic facilitation that includes care, respect and collaboration a pathway to healing not only this moment but all LXXXV is possible. As an example, a more in-depth look into the Easter debate using Gottman’s (2016) conflict blueprint may assist. Using the plan will create a respectful process along providing conflict management skills and methods allowing the family to deepen their bond. Further, considering the intergenerational family
absence of growth and overall lack of congruence the use of Satir’s experimental techniques may be of importance (Wetchler & Hecker, 2015).
As the Gottman blueprint facilitates the positive change in communication skills, a Satir reframe, metaphor or reconstruction can reinforce them adding humor and touch. An example may be the use of a Satir reconstruction adding color to the conversation around the rivalry of Larry and Magic. In the process, first highlighting how the mutual respect each had while playing against the other translated to the deep, lasting friendship today (Bird, Johnson, & MacMullan, 2009).
Then emphasizing that despite being on opposite teams in their playing days the goodness of people, warmth, compassion, and genuineness won out (Wetchler & Hecker, 2015). This family can have this too.
Bird, L., Johnson, E., & MacMullan, J. (2009). When the game was ours. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Burton, N. (2018). The psychology of scapegoating: Is the time ripe for a new wave of scapegoating? Psychology Today.
Retrieved from: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/hide-andseek/201312/thepsychology-scapegoating
Fishbane, M. D. (2013). Loving with the brain in mind: Neurobiology and couple therapy. New
York, NY: WW Norton & Company.
Gottman, J. & Gottman, J. (2016). Level 1 Clinical training manual: Gottman method couple therapy. Seattle, WA: The Gottman Institute Inc.
Satir, V. Peoplemking. Palo Alto: Science and Behavior, 1972
Wetchler, J. L. & Hecker, L. L. (2015). An introduction to marriage and family therapy. (2nd Edition). New York: Routlege.