Tuesday, January 28, 2014

More Wisdom for Couples from the Mouths of Babes...

I love this kid...I could write a blog post about each of his 20 things we should say more often....I especially love this one for couples,  It's okay to disagree just don't be mean about it.  Stay tuned to my follow-up to these wise words.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Saving Mr. Banks Revisited

Moved by the psychological lessons in Saving Mr. Banks, my husband and I schlepped off to see the movie again on a frigid Chicago night.  Generally, one viewing per movie is my limit. I schlepped off to see the movie a second time because I thought I had more to learn from it.

This movie is about PL Travers, the author of Mary Poppins and her relationship with Walt Disney.  PL Travers had an alcoholic father who died when she was 7 and a depressed, suicidal mother. Interestingly enough, Walt Disney,too, had a difficult childhood with a father who could be characterized as emotionally abusive.  it is not uncommon to find married couples who each have had painful childhoods fraught with trauma.

What stood out to me in my second viewing were the personality traits of Mrs. Travers that are characteristic of adults who have grown up in an alcoholic family.  To say that Mrs. Travers had profound difficulty with flexibility and trust would be an understatement.  From the moment that she steps on the plane to the US, she it totally unable to accept help from anyone for something as simple as stowing her baggage in the overhead compartment.  Repeatedly her chilly response to anyone kindly offering her assistance is, "No thank you. I'm perfectly capable myself."  

Being forced to assume super-human amounts of responsibility as children, ACOAs develop a shell of pseudo independence that is tough to penetrate, and I might add, to love. A peek into the childhood of PL Travers reveals heartbreaking scenes. Ultimately, she feels that she is responsible for the survival of both parents.  That is a load to heavy for any child to bear.  Mrs. Travers inability to accept warmth and help and her controlling nature have evolved from her childhood experience where life was totally out of control.
There were no big people around to shoulder the horrific emotional blows and losses that Mrs. Travers experienced as a child.  

If you understand Mrs. Travers in the context of her childhood,it is much easier to have compassion and understanding for her.  Although it may be a very sanctified picture of Walt Disney in this flick, he does a terrific job of getting Mrs. Travers and relating to her in a productive and gently confronting way.

Whether you are a Mrs. Travers yourself or married to one, understanding yourself or your spouse in the context of the pain that either they or you grew up in will always help. Don't psychoanalyze your spouse or pepper them with interpretations about their childhood.  That is an understandable impulse but a terrible idea. Trust me, it never works.  But seeing yourself or your spouse through eyes of understanding and empathy will always help. It's a tall order but it works.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Are you married to an ACOA or are one yourself? You gotta see Saving Mr. Banks...

 Saving Mr. Banks is a powerful and poignant portrait of PL Travers, the author of Mary Poppins. Flashbacks to the childhood of this formal and crotchety British author provide  profound insight into the inflexible and rigid  Mrs. Travers.  Her alcoholic father was alternately warm, generous,loving and vicious and cruel. Her mother wears the weary mask of the wife of an alcoholic. In a scene that takes your breath away, she walks into the lake in a suicide attempt. Fortunately PL Travers' mother is rescued by her hyper -vigilant daughter.

The movie flows gracefully between the past and the present.  Mrs. Travers struggles with the songwriters as they attempt to transform Mary Poppins to a Disney movie.  Having grown up in trauma, loss and chaos she does not surrender control easily if at all.  Control struggles and an unyielding sense of always being right are pretty typical symptoms of adults whose childhood was more or less out of control.

Walt Disney who discloses to Mrs. Travers about his own painful childhood astutely intuits what Mrs. Travers needs.  Although she vigorously protests, a day in Disney World is precisely the find of fun and leisure that Mrs. Travers sorely lacked as a child.  ACOA's often do not do well with fun and leisure and like Mrs. Travers have to be dragged kicking and screaming.

My favorite line in the movie is by Walt Disney.  Our stories are redemptive, he says. That's what we story tellers do. We restore order with imagination.  We instill hope again and again and again. Both P.L.Travers and Walt Disney found redemption and healing for their childhood pain through telling their stories through the magical lenses of their characters.  

What does all this have to do with marriage therapy, you may be scratching your head and asking yourself.  Saving Mr. Banks is a wonderful lesson in empathy.  If you are married to someone like P.L.Travers  or recognize a bit of her in yourself try seeing your spouse or yourself through the lens of their childhood trauma.

Underneath the brittle exterior is often a frightened child who is terrified of change.  If, like Walt Disney, you can avoid control battles with the adult child of an alcoholic and comfort the frightened child who is cowering within that exterior of control you can go a long way towards making a connection.