I have been working as a Family Consultant since 2011. I work with couples, families, individuals and at times children who have experienced a high level of conflict during the break down of a relationship. I work within and alongside legal frameworks, such as in mediations, collaborative processes or alongside the courts.
In my experience something that typically drives peoples conflict is fear. Fear of the future without the finances people are used to, fear of being alone at some level, fear of being seen as failing, fear of missing their children, fear at being out of control and fear of the unknown.
It is human to feel the fear. Fear can be a healthy response, as it is essentially there to make sure we take care of ourselves and protect ourselves.
However, being stuck in fear or allowing fear to drive our actions is not so helpful. When we are fearful, our stress system is activated. We are full of chemicals, helpful in fighting or running from something, but which actively block us from reasoning, thinking, seeing other perspectives or making rational decisions.
If we meet someone who confirms our ideas about the perceived threat such as an unhelpful legal professional who has only worked in the court system, and agrees our ex sounds like a monster, they will collude with our fear. There could be an over exaggeration of the threats, the worries and before we know it we are engaged in battle, with our legal counsel becoming a shield, as we become more defensive, closed down, and less and less able to see our children’s real needs, or the woods for the trees. We also feel powerless in these situations, which feeds back into the fear.
On the other hand, we don’t want to dismiss our fears or sweep them under the carpet and pretend they aren’t there. They will inevitably seep or jump out at some point and can sabotage processes later down the line. It isn’t always possible to simply put the fears down, change our minds and let them go.
So what do we do with our very real fears? Fears of financial uncertainty, of the worry that the other parent who hasn’t spent so much time around the children won’t be able to cope or prioritise the children, of having to accept that someone who has behaved a certain way for a long time may not be able to change, that your role will be different, that your children may not be ok without you, and so on….
First and foremost my aim as a Family Consultant is to listen to clients fears, allow space for them to be aired, heard and considered. Together we take them out ‘from under the bed’ and have a long hard look at them in the daylight.
I encourage clients to think about the worst case scenarios they have rolling away at the back of their minds, express the emotions that are pent up, cry those tears, swear those swears and be able to own their own vulnerability. We create a safe place and take control of our emotional selfs before then engaging our adult reasoning minds to think about the fears in other ways. Testing, wondering, scaling the importance, the likelihood, the impact of these worries. Curiosity is our friend. If we can be curious we can get out of feeling overwhelmed by emotions.
We can sort out which fears can be let go of, which can be managed and how and which, if any are dangerous and need action or support.
We take the reins and we don’t let fear make our decisions. We give a space to make sound, reasoned decisions, to open up the thinking to new ideas and experiences.
By understanding and taking control of our fears we become more empowered, we feel safer, we are able to reason and understand. We may even be able to accept that this fear may also be being felt by our ex partners and that takes us to the next stage of being able to make some lasting decisions around our children.
Leia Monsoon – Family Consultant and Psychotherapist.