Learner Therapist (57) … Retraumatising forever!Torrey Orton
March 24, 2015
When the family makes a late, uninvited and seemingly unavoidable return…
There are many things about trauma which are difficult to understand, both for the traumatised and their friends and colleagues. High among the list is re-traumatising within the family, or other social system(s) of origin (e.g.-schools, clubs, churches…). Poor relationship choices are almost unavoidable, at least the first times around. These choices arise from inappropriate relationship needs shaped by the original abuses.
Maybe you wouldn’t have heard the one about the parents who had to call on their children for rescue from their everyday self-management incompetence? Or the one about the parents whose most abused male child bought them a new house after they lost the family home and then they lost it again, having never acknowledged the gift before losing it? But the parents who refuse to stay away are another thing. Here’s such a story.
The two children have long before moved to a distance beyond daily or weekly visits to or from their parents…both at times to other sides of the globe. One finds himself back in the monthly visit range with Father and weekly with Mother, while himself in the early stages of child raising and attempting to integrate family and continuing work demands with a rigorously perfectionist self-assessment system in place. It’s one of the unintended consequences of his parents’ respective withholdings of affection and engagement with him 35 years ago, amplified by conflicting gender role expectations arising from their southern European origins. Now, Mother can’t resist commenting on child rearing practices and behaving in ways which replay almost verbatim to his children the treatment she dished out 35 years before to him.
Dad has kept himself to the old family town more than a day away and retired with such bad effect that he’s lost all of his retirement funds except a vaguely commercial property in said town. He’s acquiring a new wife and the prospect of a sale of the property, but with no commercial nous that would ensure he doesn’t lose it all again. He, like Mother, keeps number two child, a daughter a few years younger than son, appraised of the collapse of his financial worlds. This sharing elicits without soliciting (and so all the more powerfully demanding) a financial sympathy which slides into a felt obligation to help. This sense is then imposed on the son with blind complicity by number two’s intermediation of the messages about the parental decomposition.
This would not be too much if the children were rich and calmly located in the upper end of their parenting cycles, but they are not. And the implied burden of the assistance they should provide is unequally spread, too. Because number two lives in another country she can’t remotely be expected to house Mother as she slides towards a physical infirmity paralleling her financial one. And note that this pattern of implied obligation, openly but indirectly (through Number Two) proposed, also repeats the pattern of indirect expectations the children had been subjected to in their childhood!!
Abuse creates guilt in the abused, almost without exception (and completely beyond the understanding or appreciation of the ‘normal’). The re-traumatised, as Number One and Two are, get to revisit the experience of guilt when their incompetent parents reappear with more or less explicit pleas for family succour and without acknowledgment of the abuse which created the original guilt. The children now have the guilt of their desire not to succour the incompetent and abusing, which Number One has made a professional life around as policeman, and similar occupations!!