16. Persence Unacknowledged Values - RonaldMah

Ronald Mah, M.A., Ph.D.
Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist,
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16. Persence Unacknowledged Values

Therapist Resources > Therapy Books > Out Monkey Trap- Breaking Cycles Rel

Out of the Monkey Trap, Breaking Negative Cycles for Relationships and Therapy
by Ronald Mah

A rigidly held perception that defies alternative interpretation or careful scrutiny may hold deeply powerful values unbeknownst to an individual- much less to his or her partner.  An individual's values will tend to be developed or acquired largely from the family as when a child, he or she is not powerful enough to resist the parents' values.  Parents interpret and reinforce how the world works and who and what the child should be.  The concepts or values have survival functionality in the family and in larger social contexts.  They become the foundation of how power is negotiated among family members.  They are enforced when a child differs behaviorally from these concepts.  The child would tend to internalize the parents' values, as opposed to the family deferring to the child.  "It is more likely that children in these situations grow up with a story of 'who they are' that is based on a failure to fit into the family values" (Campbell, 1999, page 79).  When an individual has an ideal self, which is contrary to what the real self can activate, he or she goes into stress or self-esteem loss.  The values within the ideal self mandates who the person should be… should act, think, and feel.  An individual often is not aware of how powerful and compelling deeply internalized but unconscious values may be.  As they are unacknowledged, they can control and dominate behavioral responses to others, even though the resultant behavior is counter-productive to relationship connectiveness.  The therapist should work to uncover the implicit values that may be hindering healthy responses.

Sarah continually tried to interject herself into Rich's interactions with his business partners.  Rich was able to keep her physically away from his business partners since there was no actual need for her to be around them.  And, he continued to function at work as he saw fit.  He was educated, trained, and experienced in his field of business and marketing.  She was a liberal arts major who decided to be a housewife.  However, she always asked what he was doing with this or that project.  "What happened?"  "Where you send it?"  "Whose idea was that?"  "Why did you do that?"  She criticized his decisions and questioned the motivations of his partners.  "That's a bad idea."  "You shouldn't do that."  Success or failure, progression or regression, Sarah always had an opinion… a strong opinion.  Rich said that she could not just let him be.  The business was doing well.  It paid for their house, cars, children, and lifestyle.  They had a bank account, investments, and security.  Yet Sarah kept probing him.  Rich called it nagging and controlling.  The therapist used a powerful therapeutic intervention- rephrasing her assertion followed by three words in a questioning tone over and over.

Therapist: Why do you need to advise Rich in his field?

Sarah: Because he might miss something.

Therapist: You can't let Rich miss things… or else what?

Sarah: If he misses stuff, he might make a mistake.

Therapist: You can't let him make a mistake… or else what?

Sarah: It might hurt his business.

Therapist: The business can't be hurt… or else what?

Sarah: The business would lose money.

Therapist: Can't lose money… or else what?

Sarah: The business might have problems.

Therapist: Can't have problems… or else what?

Sarah: It might go under.

Therapist: Can't let the business go under… or else what?

Sarah: We could lose everything.

Therapist: Can't lose everything… or else what?

Sarah: What you mean?  We'd lose the house.  The kids wouldn't be able to go to college.  All kinds of bad stuff.

Therapist: Can't let any of that happen… or else what?

The simple therapeutic intervention of inquiring "or else what?" asserts that what is presented as an absolute truth or an unquestionable value should perhaps be questioned.  As the therapist continues to prompt what the anticipated horrific consequence would be, the individual often reveals deeper and deeper held values that would otherwise remain hidden.  The art of the therapy requires sticking to the process and principle of challenge while having the flexibility to interject timely nuanced intervention.

Therapist: Can't let any of that happen… or else what?

Sarah: Just can't.  It's obvious.

Therapist: Can't let that happen again.  If it happened again, what?  When did bad stuff happen before?  What was the else that happened?  The else that you can't let happen again?   Who let it happen?  What happened to you when it happened?  When it happened… a long time ago?   When you were little…

With the therapist's prompting, Sarah shifted from the present imagined dangers to the old actually experienced stress, trauma… the bad stuff she had endured as a child.  "My father didn't take care of bills… didn't take care of mom… didn't take care of us.  Mom just let it happen.  She must have known something was wrong, but she just let him waste money on stupid shit.  Then there were the bills.  We didn't know, but they were from collection agencies.  We didn't know what was happening.  Then there was less and less of… stuff… of everything.  Then the phone calls… strangers wanting to talk to my dad.  More bill collectors.  We lost everything.  I had to leave the private school my junior year.  Had to make up some story, so my friends didn't think I was pregnant… or worse yet, know that we were broke!"  Connecting the dots, the therapist, Sarah, and Rich came to realize that Sarah had control issues, but not just run of the mill control issues.  She had gotta-keep-control-or else-everything-goes-to-hell-and-I'll-suffer-AGAIN control issues.  She was not trying to criticize or control Rich or his business per se.  Sarah was trying to prevent history from repeating… again.  Fears create values that are for self-protection.  The values are often implicit and unexpressed.  Or, if expressed are held with an illogical intensity that make sense only when the historical stress or trauma or other underlying attachment, emotional, or psychological are uncovered.

continue to Chapter 17
3056 Castro Valley Blvd., #82
Castro Valley, CA 94546
Ronald Mah, M.A., Ph.D.
Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist, MFT32136
office: (510) 582-5788
fax: (510) 889-6553
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