Session 1: ‘He won’t tell me why he cut me out and it’s tearing me apart’
Rachel* was a gentle and warm woman in her mid-50s who had an air of quiet confidence. She was a GP in a small practice and loved her work. After our introductions, I asked her: ‘What brings you here?’
‘I’m embarrassed to even say this, but my brother doesn’t want anything to do with me. I didn’t think this would ever happen in my family. We had a wonderful upbringing. I can’t think of anything that has occurred to cause this, and he won’t give me any explanation. It is destroying me! I have tried everything to resolve the situation – from pleading and begging, sending cards and letters and suggesting that we have mediation to losing my temper with him – but nothing changes his mind. I am desperate and sad and I don’t seem to have any power to change the situation,’ said Rachel in despair.
I waited patiently as Rachel broke down and sobbed inconsolably. I could only offer her my attention and care, a box of tissues and a glass of water. I told Rachel that I had worked with clients in similar situations, and I recognised the hurt, confusion and powerlessness that came with it.
Rachel was reassured a little and explained further: ‘I feel like a leper – as though people are looking at me and wondering what I did to cause this rift. It’s an isolating experience. I have also lost my nephews and niece. Nobody is prepared to intervene on my behalf – they don’t want to get involved. I feel so alone.’
Rachel looked at me woefully and asked: ‘What can I do? Is there something that I haven’t thought of that would help?’ I told Rachel that I could offer her a confidential and safe space for her to hear herself speak about her feelings and circumstances out loud and, that way, perhaps she would generate more options for herself.
More sessions: What is in your power?
Rachel continued to go over the details of her brother’s rejection of her. ‘Maybe it is his wife’s decision… She was always quite controlling and didn’t warm to our family,’ she pondered. ‘Perhaps he is having a mental health crisis and I should have helped him… Have I offended him without realising? Perhaps he always hated me and waited until both our parents died before rejecting me… Maybe I am actually a horrible person and don’t realise it…’ she guessed.
Rachel acknowledged that she was experiencing a painful bereavement, although her bother was still alive. I felt such compassion for Rachel as she wrestled to find a reason why he had deserted her, questioned herself and blamed herself for things she imagined she might have done to cause it.
Rachel was going around in circles and all she could think about was the situation with her brother. I asked her: ‘How much do you think your brother agonises over what has happened?’
That stopped Rachel in her tracks. ‘I guess he is just getting on with his life while mine has come to a grinding halt. He holds all the cards and has all the control. I am powerless. I am just waiting for him to invite me back and maybe that will never happen.’
I suggested gently that one way forward would be to start thinking about people in her life and aspects of it that nourish her, and what she could control.
Last sessions: Accept and move forward
Rachel came to terms with the fact that there was no magic wand to resolve the situation, that she may never know why her brother had spurned her and that she did not have the ability to change matters. Slowly, she started to focus on her own life and what she could control: her health and fitness, social life, her patients and her work and the wonderful people in her life.
We even laughed about a five-minute timer that Rachel set every day – a limited period to fret about her brother. It was a good idea and I told her so.
In our last session, Rachel told me: ‘The pain will never go away but I have reflected on my lifelong experience as a GP, where I have seen how tragic and unpredictable life can be. As long as I have life, I am going to live it, whether my brother is part of it or not.’
Learn to cope with grief and loss
Important things to know about grief:
- Grief is an emotional response to any kind of loss and is a complex mix of emotions – not just sadness.
- Grief is not only associated with the death of a loved one. Feelings of grief can be triggered by all sorts of changes: divorce, financial adjustments, job loss or redundancy, empty nest syndrome, moving house and loss of health or mobility.
- Grief is also about broken dreams – the things we expected would be in our future and expectations that will not be fulfilled.
- If you are grieving the loss of something, it is important that you don’t minimise it or compare it with other types of grief. It has meaning for you, so acknowledge your feelings and your loss.
- Find someone who will listen to you without judgment or telling you that it’s time to move on, it could have been worse, you should count your blessings or that there are plenty more fish in the sea! Acknowledge that many people do not know how to react to someone else’s loss. Consider speaking to a bereavement counsellor or an organisation that supports people in their grief.
How to look after your needs:
When a relationship comes to an end – with a person or a job, for example – it can be a highly stressful time. Often, that relationship may have met many of our emotional needs, such as:
- Love and emotional connection
- Security, safety and support
- Fun, friendship and laughter
- Shared and new experiences
- Meaning and purpose
- Challenge and growth
- A sense of belonging
- Being part of a wider group of people
To meet your emotional requirements, think about each of the above needs and how to get them met in other ways. You may not be able to replace the person or thing that is gone, but it is important to find new methods to fulfil your needs. Take time to ascertain which needs were being met by your previous situation and which are most important to you. Everyone needs these things in different quantities, so don’t try to get them all met at once. Just notice the ones that are depleted by the end of the relationship and consider where else you might find these important aspects of life.
*Name has been changed.
Join our life leap club. Subscribe now!
Get free coaching from world-renowned psychologists and experts when you subscribe. Click here for more information.
Photographs: Getty Images