The Long Reach of Childhood

How early experiences shape you forever

Therapy Thru the Magnifying Glass of Sherlock Holmes

Solving A Crime: With "You" As Sherlock Holmes—Part Two

Part One opened with: “Psychotherapy is not unlike forensic science in that its focus is on uncovering the clues that have not allowed you to live your potential—which is a crime.”

Today’s blog is focused on a “crime of a dissolving marriage” and how, using the tools and principles of forensic science as explained in Part One, it was possible to solve the “crime” and free the “victims.” The “victim” (patient) is the relationship of Andrea and John, a married couple whose interactions have become increasingly negative; the “crime scene” is their “space-betweens”; the primary focus of investigation is the basic forensic tenet known as the exchange principle which states that when two things come into contact with each other, each leaves a trace on the other. The detective (therapist) is You, the reader.

Before we begin it might be helpful to have a brief review of some of the key tools of CSI and their psychological equivalents:

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exchange principle: whenever two people come in contact with each other, each leaves a “trace” on the other

crime scene: “space-between” holding the true reality existing between two interacting individuals

evidence: explicit knowing; what an individual can consciously recall

DNA: psychological DNA is remembered experiences of childhood, including dynamics of goodness/poorness-of-fit, family secrets, power plays

intuition: implicit knowing; relational knowing; non-verbal and non-conscious; how to be with the other

ciphers: hidden messages requiring child’s adaptation to needs of others

documents: letters, photographs, memoirs, family films

analysis of fingerprints, handwriting, footprints: analysis of the “traces” left behind still active in the “space-betweens” such as emotions, beliefs, and echoes of childhood wounds

Let's apply these CSI tools now to the aforementioned “crime of a dissolving marriage” and see how You, as a psychological detective help the couple achieve the potential of their marriage.

Initial Facts of the Case:

Andrea’s initial reason for seeking therapy was to deal with her resentment toward her biological family, comprising of her mother, her two younger siblings, and an absent father. Her parents had divorced when she was 12 and she had assumed greater responsibility in an attempt to fill the emotional and parental void left by the father’s abandonment; possible cipher—whose needs would the child have had to adapt to—mothers’, siblings’, or both. She had continued to play the role of family caretaker, often at the expense of meeting her own needs; analysis needed re: “traces” still active in her “space-betweens.” She deeply resented and still does, the lack of acknowledgement of her value by the other family members, particularly her mother; analysis of footprints of their attachment.

At the time of her first meeting with you, Andrea had been married to John for sixteen years. Unable to have a child of her own; analysis of feelings of the unfairness of life—she had become, a few years earlier, an involved stepmother to John's two daughters from a previous marriage when both girls enrolled in West Coast colleges. The younger girl had recently become an object of Andrea's resentment.

She rarely makes any reference to her husband, John, either positively or negatively; an important clue to a possible secondary “crime.”

The Shift in Investigation:

You begin to question what is the true “crime of loss of potential” that Andrea is experiencing, particularly in her seemingly lack of feelings about John’s non-involvement in her life; it’s your Holmes’ intuition of what is missing and You focus your magnifying glass on how she experiences John. Her answers shift the focus of her therapy and raise the question of her having a different motive for wanting therapy.

According to Andrea, John has become more and more distant and more involved in his passion for the outdoors; analysis of possible cipher in his behavior. Andrea feels shut out by John; analysis of possible echo of her childhood when, because of her responsibilities in her family, she had been shut out of participating in much of her own life. You raise the question of inviting John to occasionally join her in a session—she responds positively and John agrees.

The “Space-Between” Them:

You meet John for the first time and note how the two relate to each other in the first few moments. Each takes a seat on opposite corners of the couch, a clear non-verbal statement of the distance between them; physical evidence. It doesn’t take long before the tension between them takes form with Andrea expressing her belief that John doesn’t really want to be involved in therapy with her. John replies that he does, but complains that she doesn’t give him enough space.

“You’re like a,” he hesitates, silently raising both hands curled in a gesture of domination; strong indication of psychological DNA.

Andrea reacts with an angry complaint of “It’s always about you and your damn space. Your space is so crammed with what you want that there’s no room for me;” analysis of what echo has been aroused.

Knowing that their “space-betweens” hold each of their psychosocial histories; the crime scene—you note the “traces” that each has just left on the other; the exchange principle. And you also know that you have just witnessed the essence of the true reality that exists between them, that reality that holds, not only their histories but also the wounds and distortions of their pasts.

You ask Andrea to try to define what “trace” John just left on her. She is silent for a few seconds and then says, “a lack of appreciation for who and what I am.”

You turn to John and ask him what “trace” did Andrea just leave on him. John, shoulders bent in a defensive stance answers, “a need to protect myself, although I’m not sure against what.”

You now ask each of them what “trace” they believe each may unknowingly be leaving on the other. Neither can answer the question, although you observe that each has been confronted with a totally new idea of their implicit participation in the negativity of their interactions; important clue of neither having a sense of how they may impact others.

Additional Facts:

John is a professor at a local university. His previous marriage had been to a woman he experienced as demanding and controlling. He had lost his role of father to his daughters when his ex-wife re-married and moved, with the girls, to the East Coast; psychological DNA of power plays. He was delighted with his newly assumed role as father, having his girls on the West Coast, and was unaware of any tension between his daughters and his wife; possible negative “trace” on Andrea. He came from a financially secure family; his father a successful businessman, his mother, a typical 1960’s mother-at-home and an older sister who, according to John, had been a nuisance with her playing the role of the “older-know-it-all sister.”

The Investigation Continues:

In the sessions that follow you continue to explore the psychological DNA still reverberating in their “space-betweens.” You encourage Andrea to share her remembered memories of what it was like to be caught in so much responsibility; evidence. Her answers allow John to see the part of Andrea that is her wounded child, and also validates that her family did take advantage of her—allowing each family member to have less responsibility and more freedom—at her expense.

Gathering several pieces of evidence revealed; DNA’s of both Andrea and John, ciphers of hidden messages, validation of evidence; You suggest that Andrea might be confusing John’s need for space as his need for less responsibility—at her expense. John nods in agreement; a clue now identified.

John takes his turn looking through the magnifying glass of his memory to explore a possible reason for his having had to protect himself, and finds none; his inability to see a possible connection to his controlling wife is a strong clue of a need to deny. His memories of his father are generally positive, including shared interests in sports and a general love of the outdoors. The only criticism was of his father’s passivity in regard to family matters, leaving most of the family decisions to his mother; possible connection to father modeling behavior of non-involvement in family matters or an escape. His mother had been deeply involved in her volunteering efforts and his sister, although a nuisance, didn’t come across as any kind of a threat, a possible cipher of denial.

There doesn’t seem to be a reason for John’s defensive stance until he brings in some family pictures and the pictures paint a different family dynamic; documents. In most of the pictures, his sister is in the center of the photograph, father on one side, mother on the other and John stuck somewhere between a parent and the sister, with her hand firmly on his head; mystery of need to deny solved re: power of the family vested in the older sister—at the expense of John. With your knowledge of how a young boy would be affected by this family dynamic, You help John see how he experiences Andrea’s need for acknowledgement as a strong “echo” of his sister’s need to dominate him; another clue identified.

As therapy progresses and insight into the beliefs each hold about the other grows; including analysis of the hidden “echoes” of their pasts, their “space-betweens” begin to change. That, in turn, changes what is being communicated; the “traces” each leave on the other, which continues to change the essence of the reality each experiences of the other. As this process continues, a number of clues emerge and are solved such as: Andrea’s reaction to John’s daughter; as an “echo” of her siblings demands; John’s lack of awareness of Andrea’s feelings and his absence in her life; as an “echo” of her fathers’ abandonment; John’s need to escape the dominating presence of his sister by escaping to the “great outdoors” which in turn acts as an “echo” to Andrea of her family’s leaving her holding the bag of responsibility; and some yet to be discovered as therapy continues—with you or without you.

What You do know is that your knowledge of the effectiveness of a CSI approach to therapy has offered Andrea and John a choice of a new relationship—the choice to respond to each other as either a hurt child of the past or a caring partner of the present, each living their potential.

This blog will continue to expand on The Long Reach of Childhood: How Early Experiences Shape You Forever including strategies that can play an important part in the process of breaking free. Hope you’ll continue to join me on this journey. And hope your relationships exist within a positive exchange principle.

 

Ditta M. Oliker, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist in Los Angeles and the author of The Light Side of the Moon: Reclaiming Your Lost Potential.

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