Topics: dysfunctional partner relationships, codependency, learned helplessness syndrome,
Therapeutic goals: accompaniment and education in relational attachment, alcohol addiction, processing of a burdensome emotional event from childhood, support for regaining personal freedom and independence, activation of the ability to make decisions and act, support of self-confidence and self-confidence, self-help and support groups
Recommended age group: adult population – women
Form of work: individual, group
Brief content of the introductory story You love a man who doesn’t love you back:
Cohabitation with an unloving partner and an occasional alcoholic at the same time is difficult, and the basis of why this is so is the original dysfunctional family. The heroine of the story, Jill, met her partner Randy unexpectedly at a party, and it was a passionate outburst for her right from the start. For Jill, this acquaintance represented a fateful love and she wanted to keep this relationship at all costs. However, she was unable to evaluate him realistically and suffered in him, while she blamed only herself for all misunderstandings and conflicts, she could not even admit the possibility of resolving the relationship misunderstanding by breaking up. She made it her mission to manage mutual misunderstandings and win the fight and release the repressed love within him. She made up her mind that she would love Randy unconditionally and help him with all her might. She gradually retreated from her needs and demands for the relationship, as a result of which she came completely under his influence. She realized that she had already experienced this repetitive situation, which now returned to her, and it was repeating to her what she had already experienced – that she was rejected.
Jill herself came from a dysfunctional family where there were daily conflicts and arguments, so she had no idea what she was supposed to tolerate in the disharmonious relationship between parents and family. She didn’t trust her feelings, so they were suppressed and she considered this to be the norm. The dysfunctional family rejected reality, so they took this message into their lives and created their own unique attitude towards all relationships. As a result, she did not even guess that the rejecting and cold behavior of her partner was his addiction to alcohol.
If an adult woman who grew up in a dysfunctional family often doesn’t believe her feelings and doesn’t follow them, she repeatedly reacts automatically the way she experienced it and what she grew up with. From the past, the relationship pattern for her – emotional coldness and oppression was a natural life pattern and the basic norm of coexistence.
The author of the book, Robin Norwood, used stories from her therapeutic practice and summarized the characteristics of women who love too much into 15 points that form part of the book.
Description of the possibilities of professional pedagogical/therapeutic work:
The use of stories from practice in therapeutic work with clients brings enrichment, expands the therapeutic process and gains experiential therapeutic potential in the treatment process. Bibliotherapy, especially with elements of education, is helpful in the process of counseling or therapy not only for individuals, couples and groups, but also beneficial for medical educators in helping and counseling professions. He uses the opportunity to participate in the evaluation of the client’s unprocessed memories and real events connected with the traumatic event, which is still activated and enters their current life without their understanding. Through the process of bibliotherapy, the client can gain a better understanding of himself and at the same time evaluate and understand his personal “wounds and life losses”.
A specific bibliotherapy goal is a process where, by reading/retelling a selected story, we help the client to reflect and react to his experienced difficult life situation in a safe distance and environment. The therapeutic potential of bibliotherapy is contained in the fact that the client can fully immerse himself in the story heard and thus experience his own parable. In this process, there is identification with similar difficulties and identification with the thoughts of the symbolic character or the narrator of the story. He himself experiences similar emotions in this process, which provides a significant sense of similarity with the client’s own life situation. The story itself and its experience can provoke a process of change in the client and direct him to new thoughts or attitudes. After the inner calm from the internal mirroring of the story in his life, the client evaluates himself and can take important decisions in his life. His activation occurs, when he himself offers his own analysis of his possibilities and self-help solutions, and the optimal effect of therapeutic accompaniment.
For decades, in my psychotherapy practice alone, I have been meeting clients – mostly women from dysfunctional families with a number of experienced but unprocessed traumatic events, the severity of which exceeded the usual childhood experience. As a result of this experience, the child develops a feeling of his own helplessness, the inability to consciously defend himself and develop a meaningful counter-action. There was often a loss of a sense of personal power, with an inability to make decisions for oneself and to react appropriately. Similar behavioral manifestations are present in children who are involved in domestic violence, bullying with physical, social or psychological harm. The traumatic experience and possible brain damage subsequently affects their emotional and mental health and thus contributes to the loss of self-confidence, self-assurance and self-esteem. At the same time, social inhibition is often present in these children, which can be a trigger for self-underestimation and even self-harm, as well as isolation and avoidance of social relationships.
Case study on the story “You love a man who doesn’t love you back” (p. 13-36)
Upon her final arrival at the clinic, the client expressed the reason for the visit – to manage her anxiety state, which is probably the result of a post-covid relapse. During the initial meeting, she added her anamnestic information about problems in cohabitation.
Age 35, manager of a major corporate company in the city. Higher education and foreign postgraduate studies and stays abroad. Divorced with one child – the daughter is 9 years old. In addition to the health problems indicated in the introduction, there is “without other more serious burdens and copes with life’s challenges in full force”.So far, she only got married after a very short acquaintance, the marriage union lasted for a short period of 3-4 years. After the divorce, she stayed with her daughter and the history of her life repeated itself. The second and current partner, with whom she has been living for about 5 years, is her former work colleague, he is “single” with one commitment (son, 8 years old, contact with the boy is limited by his mother).
Reason for visiting the ambulance and description of the problem:
The client made an appointment a few times and immediately canceled it a few times. As the reason for the first visit, she stated that she wanted to manage her anxiety state and cope with stress at work. During the initial meeting, she added about the reality of problematic cohabitation. In addition to “post-covid”, she has been exhausted by two years of disorderly cohabitation with her partner, which is mainly connected to his frequent use of alcohol (? suspicion of drugs) and, at the same time, his inability to succeed in employment. She doesn’t want to repeat her family story, but she also doesn’t want to lose him, because she loves him, but she doesn’t know how to help herself or him.
Description of the support process and story work:
At the beginning of the first meeting, the client provided a subjective picture of herself, her problems in the context of her personal, partner and parental life. She herself assessed that her problems with anxiety (which she got used to even in childhood) are not entirely caused by the covid period, but also by her personal life.
She described her childhood as bleak as her father abandoned her mother and she didn’t quite understand it at the time. In the small town where she lived, divorce was unusual and for their wider family community exceptional. So she grew up alone from early childhood without siblings, only with her mother. The father left the family when she was 3 years old, the mutual relationship between them was not established. She rejected him as a father and also as a person close to her.
She studied well at school, tried to behave confidently and pleasantly, wanted to please and present herself. Her room was decorated with the awards she won from the competitions and she also often performed at school and extracurricular events. Mom, as she was mainly a “self-supporter”, tried to secure funds for household expenses and subsistence. What was important to her was a “decent standard” and maintaining a satisfactory social life. She still experienced negative feelings and carried a sense of shame about being divorced. She learned and thus led her daughter to pretend that everything was in order “to the eye”.
However, Tina already knew that she was different, she did not know how to spontaneously sincerely enjoy and show love, compassion and accept the appreciation of others. Outwardly, in life she always tried to look better, more successful and well-secured career-wise and financially. By not growing up with her father, she didn’t learn how to treat men. For the recognition of her surroundings, she began to pay more attention to her appearance and external behavior. This “program” of hers mainly took up college, and she was also successful in this area and also used her sexual attractiveness. After the statesmen, she married without a long acquaintance, and a child – a daughter – was born to them right at the beginning of the marriage.
The first years of marriage were peaceful, although the situation changed with the birth of a daughter. Taking care of the child alone did not satisfy her, she devoted herself to more activities aimed at her professional growth and her security. This endeavor required a lot of traveling away from home and even abroad. She alienated herself from her family and marriage and left the care of her daughter to her mother, who, according to her, was “paying off her debt”. The relationship with her husband gradually became dysfunctional, as he too was often away at work and also slept over everywhere. They became estranged and she knew that her husband had a parallel – extramarital relationship. In this way, the reason for divorce was reached, and after an agreement, they divorced soon after. The marriage lasted 4 years until the divorce, then she lived alone with the child and partly with the mother for several years, later when the granddaughter was more independent, the grandmother returned to her home.
It was at that time that the client renewed her relationship with a man who, after a while, moved into her bed and household. Her current partner is a former colleague whom she knew at a previous workplace and he was her subordinate at the time. Despite the fact that she is no longer alone, she is a financial drag on the whole household and cannot let her partner go. She describes him in a good light – he was always a pleasant man who liked her, knew everything about her and only he understood her, understood her and protected her. At that time, he himself needed her help for a change, and she accepted him. Later, she learned that her partner has a daughter and also pays child support.
Therapeutic intervention and work with a story:
After the initial visit, the client and I agreed on a two-week break, when she would familiarize herself with the story You love a man who doesn’t love you back and she herself will reconsider the continuation of the therapy. The agreement on the therapy process included participation in a total of at least 6 meetings, once a week at most once every 10 days, the time in between was dedicated to the reflection of the stories of women in codependency. The client only received a selection of individual stories from the book, which she evaluated during the therapeutic sessions.
Bibliotherapeutic work with the book requires not only familiarization with the story, but also internal processing and reflection with the experience of the client in therapy with her failures, with mistakes, threats, parallels, and subsequently with the acceptance of her own decision and the final direction to change.
In the subsequent five meetings and in the time between them, by gradually reading individual stories from the book “Women Who Love Too Much” and interpreting and understanding them, the client found personal reflection and discovery of forgotten, but at that time, formable personal events and memories. Gradually, she found her answers and through therapeutic interpretation and clarification, she only saw her meaning and purpose on her life’s journey.
During the therapy, the client was sometimes paralyzed by the knowledge of other women’s stories. What the women told in the stories was often about herself. She was experiencing a whole range of emotions – from anger to sadness to joy and surprise. She often had to stop reading the stories and take a break for a few days, give herself time and look for her answers and parallels in her life story. We agreed on this way of working based on my own experience, when in previous cases women quickly read the book – that is, used it – “took it like a pill” with the expectation that their peace and personal satisfaction is already “equipped” in this way.
After the 6th agreed therapeutic sessions, the client finished the agreed therapeutic process and subsequently and continuing sessions were agreed only according to her needs. Subsequently, she followed the frequency of meeting once a month in the outpatient clinic for the purpose of correcting her newly acquired view of the past, childhood and relationships, and made corrections with the present and her current needs. The therapeutic effect in the client’s evaluation was the acquisition of years of suppressed self-esteem and self-kindness. She is determined to remember this knowledge and mainly wants to protect herself from failure and possible relapse and learn how to do it.
The partner relationship remained, the partner himself ordered therapy and decided “for the time being” for outpatient treatment (indicated with ?, we are not yet informed about the implementation. He also needs the renewal of their and his parental relationship with his son, with the fact that his attitude commented with the words that “if she could do it, maybe he can do it too”. The client still wants to wait for his efforts and keep the promise he made to her. She definitely does not want that kind of cohabitation before the start of her therapy. She will try to make those conditions, anxieties and lack of freedom not happen again, and she will no longer be concerned with how she affects others, but more with how she feels about herself and especially in herself. She is important and she definitely wants to believe that.
Now he knows what he wants and sticks to the recommended equation: admit a problem + don’t be afraid to ask for help + don’t underestimate “it” + accept the support of others = and have a meaningful life.
Bentovim, Arnon. 1998. Abuse and sexual abuse in families.1st edition (Translated by Vratislav Janda, 1998) Prague: Grada Publishing, spol. s. r. o., 118 pp. ISBN 80-7169-629-3
Horney, Karen. 2002. Psychology of women. 1. ed. Bratislava: Aspekt, 2002. 200 p. ISBN 80-85549-36-2
Klimes, Jeroním. 2005. Partners and Breakups. 1st ed. Prague: Portal, 240 pp. ISBN 80-7367-045-3
It didn’t pass language editing!
The possibility to consult the indications and contraindications of the work, specific procedures or experiences, before, during and after using the work with the author of the recommendation: yes
The recommendation was created by:
PaedDr. Jana Špániková, PhD., Workplace: Medical pedagogy clinic – TeraViva, Bratislava, Slovakia, Last updated: March 16, 2023
Recommended citation method:
Špániková Jana. 2023. Case Study Literary Reference for You Love A Man Who Doesn’t Love You from Robin Norwood’s Women Who Love Too Much. In Kotrbová, K. et al: Biblioterapia.sk. Bratislava: PRO SKIZP – Association to support the development of the Slovak Chamber of Clinical Physics, Laboratory Diagnosticians, Language Speech Therapists and Therapeutic Pedagogues, 2023. ISBN 978-80-974667-0-1 Available on: https://www.biblioterapia.sk/en/publikacia/reference-of-a-literary-work-and-a-case-study-women-who-love-too-much/
The contribution was created thanks to support from the European Union Erasmus+ program, Key action 2 – Cooperation between organizations and institutions, KA210 – Small partnerships for cooperation in the field of education and training. Project name “Prototype of an online teaching aid for bibliotherapy”, project number2022-1-SK01-KA210-VET-000082483. It represents the opinion of the author andNeither the European Commission nor the author is responsible for any use of the information contained therein.