summer family events – to go or not to go, that is the question #mentalpod #guywinch #guilt #apology #mentalhealth #recovery

July 13, 2014 § Leave a comment

I listened to the mini-podcast on Mental Illness Happy Hour with Guy Winch. Paul Gilmartin was talking with Guy Winch about topics from his book, Emotional First Aid. The focus of this particular mini-podcast was guilt. He talked about the skill required to apologize for causing hurt for our loved ones. He said the sign that an apology has been affective is that the tension caused by the hurtful offence dissolves, often with the beneficial effect of releasing feelings of tenderness and closeness.

One of the examples Guy Winch used as making an apology for missing attending a close friend’s birthday party. He gave a very good example of what a proper apology should contain, and why including statements that demonstrate empathy for the friend’s suffering are essential for a successful apology.

This podcast was very important to me. I have been grappling with my dread of family gatherings for decades. It does not help that I have several incidents in recent memory that only exacerbate my urge to avoid these events. When Paul Gilmartin asked how to deal with a past event that caused you hurt that makes you want to avoid attending an event, Guy Winch said this should be dealt with before the event by saying, “I would like to attend your event but there is something that I need to talk to you about. Can we have coffee?” And then share your experience of the past event and why you are feeling uncomfortable about attending another event. This kind of communication would fall into the category I call ‘difficult conversations’.

They did not discuss what to do when there is a lifetime of un-discussed events that have reached critical mass because there is no family system for having ‘difficult conversations’. I have a history of events with every member of my family that has led me to want to avoid attending family events. Not to mention the collective wall of family denial that has caused me great psychological injury. I remember from somewhere being given the advice to only focus on issues arising from the last 5 years. Anything before that time period is going to be too long in the distant past to be manageable. I have examples from the last 5 years of encounters that I found difficult with each of my closest family members: Father, Mother, Sister, Brother1, Brother2, Brother3, and Brother4.

There is an invitation, or rather an announcement, of a family event taking place on August 9. It is my distress, obsession and compulsion provoked by this invitation that is leading me to write my way through my history of mental ill health with my family. I don’t know how to respond to this invitation. I am tired of isolating from the family to protect my feelings and psychological well-being. I am wary of attending because of this extended history of casual family cruelty that I find so debilitating. What Guy Winch recommends makes sense, but I am not sure I can figure out how to turn his advice into bit-size portions. Something that I can actually enact.

It is food for thought, and if I am going to find relief from the obsession and compulsion, I am going to have to determine my own autopoietic response to the dynamic contextual conditions of my mentally ill family system.

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