A Case of Acceptance and Letting Go

 

Elizabeth came to counselling because she was experiencing intense anger, and was not coping with her life. She complained of failed relationships with her ex-husband, and with another man whom she left her husband to be with.

 

Elizabeth cannot move on from the anger she feels about her failed relationships and she is feeling isolated from her family and friends. This had an effect on her ability to cope with her work. As a consequence, Elizabeth has sold her successful business.

 

The Professional Counsellor saw Elizabeth for 5 months and used an eclectic approach with her, including techniques from Cognitive-Behaviour therapy and Solution Focussed therapy.

 

For ease of writing the Professional Counsellor is abbreviated to “C”.

 

Background Information

 

Elizabeth is a mother of two; she has a son aged 18 and a daughter aged 15. She shares custody of the children with her ex-husband, Jodi, whom the children spend a lot of time with. Jodi lives with another woman and they are engaged to be married. The children have a close relationship with their father and get along well with his new partner.

 

Despite the separation, Elizabeth’s ex-husband is still very much a part of her life through his relationship with the children. He has retained good relationships with her family and their mutual friends, who are very sympathetic towards him, due to the fact that Elizabeth ended the relationship to be with another man. Elizabeth was resentful of this sympathy and of the strong relationship that the children had with their father.

 

Elizabeth described her ex-husband as manipulative and verbally abusive. She felt that he was not supportive of her needs or her career. She finally ended this difficult relationship by leaving Jodi to be with someone who was more supportive of her at the time.

 

For the first two sessions, C worked with Elizabeth to reveal more of her feelings and story. At times, it was difficult for C to clarify the many emotions and complexities that Elizabeth revealed and C became aware that Elizabeth was veiling some information. Elizabeth spent a lot of time trying to convince C that she was a nice person. It was important for C to understand this message and to accept Elizabeth unconditionally.

 

C understood that her client had many self-esteem issues in relation to her career, family, friends and relationships. She had experienced significant verbal abuse from her ex-husband that also contributed to her low sense of self-worth. C was able to convey empathy and concern to Elizabeth and her total acceptance of Elizabeth the person. C developed Elizabeth’s trust in the counselling relationship by explaining that counselling is not about moralising or laying blame, but rather it is about empowering clients to cope with, move on, and grow through their situations.

 

C was able to develop a significant amount of rapport and trust in the relationship, which allowed Elizabeth the safety of disclosing her painful experiences.

 

Areas of Concern

 

There were five main areas of concern for Elizabeth. These were a lack of support from her family and friends; her inability to accept her experience of unpleasant (‘not nice’) emotions; her anger concerning her children and their relationship with her ex-husband; her loss of life-style, business and respectability; and her inability to let go of her past relationship.

 

For the purposes of this case study, a description of C’s work with two of these issues will be presented. These issues are firstly her inability to accept her experience of unpleasant emotions and her belief that “nice people do not have hate or jealousy”, and secondly, her inability to let go of her past relationship.

 

Once good rapport was established and Elizabeth’s self-esteem lifted C turned to address her client’s issues relating to negative emotions and letting go. These two issues had continually interfered with Elizabeth’s progress and were brought up at every session. Elizabeth could see no solution or resolution of these issues.

 

At this stage, C had worked with Elizabeth for three weeks for two sessions a week. She had been closely observing Elizabeth’s continual return to these topics.

 

Elizabeth could not admit that she hated her husband or that she was jealous of him with the kids. She did not accept that she was resentful of him finding another woman, and becoming engaged. The fact that the children were comfortable with her ex-husband’s new partner and enjoyed being in their home made her very angry. She continued to beat herself up over leaving her husband for another man – she believed what her family and friends also thought, that she had behaved immorally.

 

C realised that until Elizabeth admitted how she felt, and looked honestly at her own thoughts and actions, that she would not be able to let go. Elizabeth wanted very much to be a nice person, but a nice person does not leave their husband for another man, they do not hate, they do not fight with their kids and they never have jealous thoughts. She needed to reconcile the difference between her ideal and real self.

 

Visual Technique

 

To help Elizabeth begin to express her emotions, C used a visual technique. C asked Elizabeth to draw a picture of herself in her home with her ex-husband and family.

 

She drew a picture of a kitchen. It had a breakfast bar that was very ornate. The picture showed her behind the breakfast bar with a big smile on her face, her hand was holding up a glass of champagne. Behind her was a well-defined fridge. The rest of the kitchen was quite loose comprising mostly of box shaped kitchen appliances. In the front of the picture are her family and some friends.

 

C began asking questions about what this situation represented.

 

Extract, Counsellor and Client:

 

Counsellor: “I noticed that the breakfast bar is very ornate.”

Elizabeth : “Yes, I designed that.”

Counsellor: “You are proud of that…yes?”

Elizabeth : “It was something that I could claim that he could not take from me, everyone knew I designed it. It belonged to me.”

Counsellor: “It is a very big smile”

Elizabeth : “It is not a real smile, it is my company smile”

Counsellor: “Why pretend?”

Elizabeth : “It was expected, I had to perform like a monkey for my ex-husband, he needed the social contact but did not have the skills. I took up the slack but he never gave me the credit.”

Counsellor: “That made you angry.”

Elizabeth : “Yes”

Counsellor: “How did you feel about him at these times?”

Elizabeth : “I was angry”

Counsellor: “Just angry?”

Elizabeth : “No, I was more than angry, I do not know what I was.”

Counsellor: “Was this the behaviour in the home that encouraged you to seek understanding outside the home?”

Elizabeth : “Yes, I could never talk to Jodi, he was always so self-centred, he never once took an interest in my business, and I won awards and every thing.”

Counsellor: “You sound exasperated. Was living with him that bad?”

Elizabeth : “Living with Jodi was hell, I hated going home, I hated pretending, I hated sleeping with him.”

Counsellor: “What about Jodi, how did you feel about him?”

Elizabeth: “I know you want me to say I hate him but that would mean I am not a nice person, it is bad enough that I left him for another man, nobody is on my side, they do not know what I lived,….yes …yes …I know I never told them….they would not believe me…it would be a betrayal… {crying}…….okay!!…yes!! I hated him, I hate him, and I cannot believe that he has moved on, found another woman, my children go there with no thought to me or how I feel, he still has the power…I feel he is still there, I can’t escape him. I HATE HIM!….YES! I am jealous, how dare he move on. She will find out and be sorry.”

 

C let Elizabeth vent all her anger, expressing the emotion that had been bottled up for a very long time. This was a breakthrough for her, and with the release of those feelings, Elizabeth began to work them out of her system.

 

Using the picture, Elizabeth had explained what was happening, and her performances to please Jodi. C noticed the distance between Elizabeth and the rest of the people in the picture. When C asked about this, Elizabeth said “they didn’t see me, I felt isolated.”

 

C used Solution-Focused therapy and asked Elizabeth what the picture would look like if she had a magic wand and could change any of it. Elizabeth replied that she would be on the other side with the people in the picture. Jodi would not be in the picture, and she would be independent and have a loving man at her side.

 

Elizabeth ’s admittance of jealousy opened another door for self-acceptance and she was able to talk openly about this feeling. Elizabeth accepted that she was jealous because Jodi had found someone else and it burned inside her. The kids liked his new partner and Jodi did not seem to suffer in any way because of the break-up.

 

Jodi still had all their friends and family on his side. He still had control of her life through her children. She had not found anyone else. Elizabeth was feeling guilty that she felt so resentful and jealous. These feelings were contrary to the “nice” image she wanted to portray.

 

Together, C and Elizabeth worked to separate Jodi’s behaviour, from Jodi the person. Elizabeth came to realise that it was his behaviour she hated - his controlling tactics most especially. And although she did not like him any more as a person, she found that she did not hate him.

 

With further work on her acceptance of her situation, Elizabeth came to understand that her negative emotions were common to all people, even nice ones. This revelation was quite a breakthrough for her.

 

Using the visual technique of drawing a situation gave Elizabeth the opportunity of exploring her feelings through the picture. Thus the feelings became a tangible item to work with. C referred to the picture constantly to draw out emotions. This was a less taxing and less obtrusive method, which gave Elizabeth something solid to focus on, rather than just hear her words in the air.

 

To finalise the activity, C asked Elizabeth to draw a positive picture of herself in a new kitchen. The drawing was different. This time she depicted many people, there was no distance and the smile, she assured C, was real.

 

Parallelling

 

Despite the progress that Elizabeth was making and her growing acceptance of her feelings, she was reluctant to let go of the feelings and move on with her life. C used a number of strategies and tactics to encourage Elizabeth to let it go, but without success.

 

C was becoming frustrated with this situation and was considering approaching her supervisor for some further input and advice. Before she did that, she tried a parallelling strategy.

 

C recalled some of Elizabeth’s experience as a successful businesswoman where she dealt with a range of clients including suppliers and the general public. Elizabeth had been faced with a range of frustrating experiences in her business and had coped with these problems and disappointments. C decided to ask Elizabeth questions about her business, how she began it, what she needed to do to run it, what it meant to her, how important it was for her to remain professional and focused, what was the most uplifting part of her business. When answering these inquires, Elizabeth became very animated and excited – and talked like a person who was in total control of her environment. C used this strength to parallel as such:

 

Extract, Counsellor and Client

 

Counsellor: “So working with suppliers, they often let you down?’

Elizabeth : “Yes they often let me down.”

Counsellor: “Does that make you angry?”

Elizabeth : “Well yes, it is very frustrating.”

Counsellor: “Did you stop using them?”

Elizabeth : “No, that would be silly, and very unprofessional, I get over it, and move on. I need them and I know that it is not a deliberate act to hurt me. Most of the suppliers have problems of their own.”

Counsellor: “Were there many who let you down a lot?”

Elizabeth : “Yes, one or two”

Counsellor: “How did you cope with that?”

Elizabeth : “I let it go, I need to. I could not maintain my business if I held grudges.”

 

C asked many similar questions alluding to letting go of anger and frustration in her business world, the message was always a resounding yes. Elizabeth had formulated strategies that she used to cope with the disappointment.

 

C pursued the same line of questioning with Elizabeth’s experience of handling problems with the general public. Elizabeth gave almost the same answers. It took about another three questions before the penny dropped and Elizabeth realised that C was paralleling. She began to laugh, really laugh. It was a wonderful sound for C to hear.

 

It was a big breakthrough for both Elizabeth and C. They spoke about applying her professional techniques for letting go to her personal life. Elizabeth agreed that the skills could work in both her personal and professional life.

 

Conclusion

 

In summary, C used a visual strategy, which gave Elizabeth an opportunity to express a feeling and to make that feeling a concrete thing to refer to and address. It helped her to accept those emotions that for her were not always acceptable.

 

The second tool – parallelling – enabled C to highlight Elizabeth’s strengths and to show her that she already had the tools to resolve her problems. She had used these tools effectively in many aspects of her business life. The paralleling gave her an opportunity to see that she could transfer these skills into another area of her life.

 

Elizabeth progressed in leaps after this breakthrough, attending sessions every second week for a month then once a month for two more months. She has moved on and is enjoying a better quality of life.