Introduction: Puppy, Poppi, Pauly - Copy - RonaldMah

Ronald Mah, M.A., Ph.D.
Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist,
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Introduction: Puppy, Poppi, Pauly - Copy

Therapist Resources > Therapy Books > Ghost Guest Family Past

Ghosts and Guests of Family Past in Relationships and Therapy
by Ronald Mah

**Author's Note: Other than public figures or people identified in the media, all other persons in this book are either composites of individuals the author has worked with and/or have been given different names and had their personal identifying information altered to protect and respect their confidentiality.  

"Here puppy puppy."  Pheromones emit.  "Hi puppy… hi Hester," Pauly slowly reached his hand to pet the dog.  The dog Hester cringed reflexively then snapped at his hand.  All intentions and cues given indicated Pauly was not dangerous.  But the dog's first master had reached down and smacked its head… many times over and over.  The dog misinterpreted the Pauly's gentle cues as "Here we go again," another smack on the head.  Instincts and intuition, based on prior experiences alter perception when interpreting cues and predicting current or future situations.  Salome, the dog's new owner was embarrassed- scooping up Hester, "I'm so sorry!"  She quickly explained to Pauly that Hester was a rescue dog- a dog that had been rescued from some bad or terminal situation at a shelter or the Humane Society.  They did not know what exactly had happened with Hester when he was a puppy or how he had been treated.  She suspected that his prior owner had been a man and been abusive to Hester.  

Pauly's heart went out to the scared dog.  "It's ok Hester.  I'm not a bad guy.  We'll hang out and you'll get used to me."  Pauly sat on the floor and let the dog come to him.  Soon they were totally best buddies. Salome was relieved that Pauly was so understanding.  After all, they had only started dating a couple of months ago.  She liked him a lot and Pauly seemed into her too.  Their relationship was evolving nicely.  It did not take nearly as long before Hester and Pauly were playing together so much that sometimes, it Salome was not sure who Pauly was visiting- her or the dog.  Pauly may have been an alpha to the dog, but he was a kind and fun alpha.  Salome liked Pauly even more because he connected with Hester.  Pauly was a good guy to her, to her friends and family, to others, and to her dog!  Pretty soon, Salome thought that Hester liked and obeyed Pauly more than he obeyed her.  It was nice.  Kind of like a family- as a couple and their dog, rather than just her dog.  

One night, Pauly did not come over as they had planned.  He called and told Salome that something had come up with work and he had to stay late.  He said he would come over late- probably about 9 pm when he was done.  When Pauly showed up at Salome's place at about 9:25pm, Hester greeted him with his usual doggy enthusiasm, but Salome was quiet and somewhat cold.  She looked at him and said with a chill, "You're late.  You said you'd get here at 9."  "What?" he responded, surprised at quite the opposite reaction than he had anticipated.  They got into a nonsensical argument about whether he had said he would be there at 9 pm or "around 9 pm."  Pauly picked up on Salome's negative energy.  Being pretty tired himself from working fifteen plus hours and then, going out of his way to still come over, Pauly was not having her "attitude."  By 10 pm, Pauly was sick of being accused of doing something horrible that he had no idea what it might be, and he left in a huff.

By chance and luck, Salome had her therapy session the next morning.  Her therapist listened to Salome first list her grievances against Pauly: "He came late," "He didn't understand," "He said 9 pm!" "Pauly knows I hate to wait," and so forth.  Rather than join in or otherwise encourage Salome's self-righteous denigration of Pauly, the therapist focused her on her feelings.  Based on their prior work, Salome was able to identify how being uncertain was tied to anxiety, how being alone was related to feeling she did not matter, and hurt that Pauly did not understand was about being rejected… again.  Having examined extensively on Salome's childhood experiences in the family, the therapist prompted Salome about her cognitive connections.  "So what did that mean to you?"  "Coming late means what?"  "How did 25 minutes between 9 pm and 9:25 pm become more important than Pauly coming to see you?"  Salome recognized one of the big themes of her life- the emotionally unavailable intimate male figure.  

"Damn it," snapped Salome, "It's about Poppi again!"  Poppi was her father- her rigid workaholic father, who was obsessed with being the big shot.  Always busy, but not too busy to go to another meeting, stay a bit later, or go on another trip.  Just too busy to be the Poppi she needed.  Poppi was the first one that did not show up as promised… had not followed through… dismissed her complaints and grievances… minimized her feelings.  He was the first and that made what Pauly did as "it happening again."  Salome had cringed reflexively then snapped at Pauly even as his arms reached to hug her.  All intentions and cues given indicated Pauly was not dangerous.  But Salome's first male attachment figure had reached down and smacked her feelings away… many times over and over.  Salome misinterpreted the Pauly's gentle cues as "Here we go again," another betrayal, abandonment, and rejection.  Instincts and intuition, based on prior experiences altered her perception as much as Hester's dismal doggy past had when interpreting cues and predicting current or future situations.  

In new relationships of any type, but particularly in the intimate romantic relationship there are early periods of feeling each other out.  Learning who the other person is: what he or she really likes or dislikes, how similar or dissimilar he or she may be, values, idiosyncrasies, energies, and so forth builds the foundation of the relationship.  Who this person is and who he or she might be to oneself comes from these early experiences.  Unbeknownst to the members of such dyads are uninvited guests and even, ghosts that filter and color experience and perception.  For some individuals, these uninvited experiential guests and ghosts take up permanent residence in the relationship to the detriment of intimacy and functionality.  They can destroy the relationship or if the relationship somehow is sustained can corrupt it.  Whether the individual realizes it or not, there are relationship templates that the new person and his or her behaviors are referenced to.  These are the developmental, childhood, and family-of-origin models that guide one to replicate positive experiences and minimize or avoid repeating negative ones.  Of critical importance to the individual is whether these models, templates, guides, or filters are accurate and applicable to arising situations and emerging relationships.  Pauly was not the abusive first owner, but Hester's doggy instincts anticipated he might be another abusive human.  Pauly was not the emotionally disconnected Poppi, but Salome's instinctive vulnerability anticipated he might be the next emotionally barren male intimate figure.  Hester reacted as if Pauly would be mean, but was available to Pauly's kindness to alter his perception and thus, the resulting relationship.  But then, Hester is a dumb animal!  What does it take for an otherwise intelligent human such a Salome who reacts as if in danger again, to be available to reparative experiences and a healthier relationship?  Or, would perception and anticipation force a replication of prior dysfunctionality?

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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