Relationship trauma is often what brings people to counseling. It can take the form of affairs; emotional cutoff; discovering porn attraction or addiction; physical, emotional, or mental abuse; painful break-up; or the inability to have a relationship in the first place. Dealing with and working through the source of the trauma is the first step. It can be difficult and it takes time. Quoting Mark Smith, Director of Family Tree, “It is a gift”. Without this trauma, many clients would not have the opportunity to do the work which brings healing and walking the road to recovery.
Moving beyond the original issue, relationship work in yet another direction is enlightening and rewarding. Looking at patterns of how we choose and are chosen in friendships deepens the understanding of how we operate in all relationships. It takes the understanding that we are not victims to a whole new level as we see these choices play out over and over. With my client’s permission (disguising her name, of course) I share the most recent chapter of her journey.
L began her recovery over three years ago. While I do not remember her exact words, when asked what brought her to counseling she talked about choosing men with the same characteristics over and over. It was as if she chose the same man in a different body. She wanted to stop the cycle, which she thought might be rooted in her childhood. Being a new therapist, I was excited to hear her say this and sure she would be a quick fix and success story. This much later, L is clearly a success story…her own success story. She has moved forward, stepped back, and moved forward again. She has gone deep into herself, her history, her family, and her choices. She understands the importance of ‘setbacks’ as opportunities to learn. A recent experience helped her realize that the template for her relational choices extended beyond romance, into friendship and circled back to family.
Over the last couple years L has returned to college, recently attended her graduation ceremony and purchased a home. Walking in the ceremony was important to L and a source of excitement until she realized there might not be anyone there to share it with her. Family and friends were busy with other plans and showed little interest in changing them. In the end her mother and step father attended, but the joy of the occasion was somewhat tainted by the lack of enthusiasm shown by those she valued. Moving day was a couple of weeks later. She expected to have plenty of help as she had several friends and family members who had committed to be there. Came the day, it was L and the movers. Where were all the folks she had helped and been there for time and time again?
Our next session began with L taking on an uncharacteristic victim posture. Why was no one there for her when she was always there for others? What a great learning opportunity! She is aware of her codependence and of her recent movement toward the healthy center of the codependent/counter dependent continuum . (Please read my blog You Say Counter Dependent Like It’s A Bad Thing for a refresher on this concept.) She understood the template for her choices in men was reflected her family relationships. She did not understand this template carried over into her choices in friendships. L was needy. She saw herself as a reflection of what others thought of her. She placed undue importance her image in the eyes of others, so she attracted those who also placed undue importance on themselves and showed limited concern for her needs and feelings. L had a tendency to be emotionally dependent, so she attracted people on the oblivious side. She did the inviting, others made the choice as to whether to be in attendance. L was the giver, developing friendships with those on the taking side.
When L expected her friends to be excited to participate in those occasions where she would be the star of the show, she was painfully disappointed. She had changed and grown in her recovery. Her friends and family had not changed with her. Her growth was a game changer and they were not playing the new game. L is not prepared to close the door on these friendships, but she is prepared to examine her expectations and the choices she makes in the future. The girl knows how to work!
Therapy is such an awesome journey, but some will choose not to travel with us.