Image by Orin Optiglot
This is a story about an encounter that a friend of mine had with her father’s appointed carer. I’ll call my friend Jane (not her real name).
Jane’s father is getting elderly – well into his 70’s and is probably suffering some degree of dementia. Jane herself is in her 50’s. My friend wanted the nurse who visits her father regularly (there are other people who deliver care but the nurse is the only person who is consistently involved) to know that what her father says may not always be factual. As his treatment is at least partly based on what he says, Jane thought it was very important that the nurse should know that it may not always be accurate.
As they talked about her father it emerged that Jane had a history of abuse from her family and that her father was involved in this to some extent. At this stage the nurse’switched ‘ to advising Jane. She told her that she needed to find peace for herself and to let go of doing things for her father. The nurse also disclosed that she had been a victim of domestic violence in her family of origin. If you have been around psychotherapy and counseling much you will know the kind of things that the nurse said. Things about boundaries and self-care.
It is important for me to say that I can agree with the advice given. I have said almost identical things to people myself. I am not saying that this advice is necessarily wrong or bad. However, after talking about this conversation with me, Jane realised she was feeling abused. The problem wasn’t the advice but that it was not asked for and that she wasn’t really listening to Jane.
Jane didn’t feel that she was expressing care for her father from a sense of duty or inappropriate attachment, as seemed to be suggested by the nurse’s response.. She was well aware of all her strong negative feelings about her father. She felt that she still had genuine love for this man and was speaking out of concern for him. She felt that her genuine feelings had been dismissed and categorised as in some sense pathological.
These are awfully difficult things to disentangle and I have no doubt that the nurse did her best in a situation where she no doubt had an excessive case load and insufficient time. But one of the reasons that these things are so difficult is that genuine love can remain even towards abusers. Friends of abused people are often surprised when those who’ve been abused are not delighted to hear of the death of the person who abused them. Life is much more complicated and difficult than this.
I tell this story
- To warn us against simple categorising of people, their motivations and emotions. When we do this we are diss’ing (disrespecting) the other person (perhaps not in a huge way, but, in a small way, that is what we are doing).
- To alert us to how mixed our feelings can be. It takes time and a good deal of sifting to sort out our feelings about something or someone, and to sort out what are genuine for feelings us as opposed to we ‘should feel’.
How to do this? A few suggestions.
- Spend time by yourself to become awre of feelings (although this may not work – you may just find youself going round in the same old circles).
- Talk to someone else (for this to work they need to be a good listener).
- You may have a way of ‘getting things out’. I use journalling, there are as many other possibilities as their are media – movement, painting, drawing . . .
- Pay attention to physical sensations. See if they form into an emotion. If you feel scared, there may be danger near. If you feel disgust this signals something you ‘don’t want to stomach’. It may be that these are reactions learned in the past and are not relevant to the current situation. But it will only be by paying attention to them that we can learn whether they are telling us about our current situation or not. One clue will be if you find yourself remembering a past situation (this doesn’t mean that you are not dealing with the same issue in the present).
This all takes time and perhaps trying out new behaviour in safe situations, and then practising – perhaps many times. It will take time and practise but will pay dividends in knowing ourselves.
(This post is published with ‘Jane’s’ consent.)
How do you sort through your past experiences? I’d love to hear how you do it.