Case # 23 - The alcoholic father

Mary has ‘issues with her father’.

I firstly spend some time making a connection with her. I tell her what I experience of her already - enthusiastic, open, and of my response to her, which is warmth.

I ask her experience of me. She feels relaxed, thinks I am friendly.

I enquire as to the differences and similarities, her father, and I.

The differences: He criticises how much money she spends; he drinks too much at times, and she worries about that, tells him so.

The similarities: He is supportive of her, and encouraging.

She reports that her mother confides in her, complains to her about her father, and grievances against him.

I ask her to identify feelings in her body. Stuckness in her chest, tension in her back and neck, some tightness in her stomach. We spend some time while she breathes into that. Then I project myself into being her father, imagine what he might say.

Playing her father I say:
- “I want you to step back; the choices I make in my life are my decision; you need to get on with your own life.”
- “I want you to understand that your mother and I will work things out in our own way, please don't concern yourself with our relationship.”
- “If your mother complains about me to you, I want you to pull back, and tell her you don't want to hear about it.”

After each of these statements I asked her what she felt; she reported feeling relieved. At the end, I asked her to breathe fully into that feeling of release and relief. She wanted to bring up another issue in relation to him, but I asked her to stop there, and just be with the feeling of relief for a while.

In this process I started directly with the relational ground, as I knew her issue was her father, and I wanted to explore the ways in which I was also in a position like that. By doing so, I could move easily to seeing just what her issues were, and whether I experienced them as well.

Differences and similarities help define our relationship, and separate me from him, but also provide a point of joining, and keys to establishing mutuality between us. Clearly, the family system is parentifying Mary, and this is unhealthy.

So by imagining the position of the father, I am able to deliver a message about this, that will more likely have an impact on her. This is smilier to a family constellation statement. Evidently, there are issues with alcohol, but we can’t tackle them all at once, and the clearest thing is that she has to stop rescuing her father. So hearing from him the message of existential responsibility can help her pull back, and focus on her own needs. The relief was an indication that we were in the right direction. The initial somatic checking ensured I had a base line, and could track changes.

Posted by Steve Vinay Gunther