Rick's Christmas

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A few years back I had a man in my program I will call Rick. He was in his early twenties. He was ordered to complete the Abuse Prevention Program as a consequence of abuse in a relationship with a girlfriend. While in the program he found a new girlfriend. It was a much healthier relationship and Rick was able to understand and apply the principles of Creative Conflict Resolution in that new relationship.

Once a participant completes the Abuse Prevention Class he moves into the Practice Group.  Rick had completed the class months earlier and was addressing well the conflicts in his relationship with his girlfriend, but he had not addressed other conflicts in the group, particularly those at work. He was having trouble staying at a job.  As he interviewed well, he easily found a new one, which he would then again quit in anger.

No one completes the program until they have met all of the goals. Because he was doing so well in his primary relationship, he challenged me on why I was saying he hadn't completed the program. He wanted to know what he still had to do.

I asked him to identify his five most significant relationships.  This is the first question in the oral final exam for the class.  Rick had heard this question at least twenty times.

Well," said Rick, "there is my girlfriend, my brother, her mom, her dad..." and he paused thinking if there was anyone else.

"How about your dad?" I asked.

He had told some of his family history months earlier. His dad had gone to prison when Rick was four years old for child abuse. Rick never described what his dad had done to his brother and him. As this event happened nearly twenty years ago it must have been pretty significant. After his dad's release while Rick was a teenager Rick had trouble in his relationship with his mom and went to live with his dad. That arrangement lasted about a year and a half.

Shortly after Rick entered the program his dad had done something dismissive to Rick's brother. Rick and his brother were really tight and Rick wasn't going to let that stand. He went to his father's shop to confront him. But knowing how his dad is, he tucked a gun in his belt at the small of his back.

Standing in his dad's office with his dad seated at the desk, Rick began to tell his dad what he thought of him and what he thought he should do. Dad would hear none of it and ordered Rick to leave. Rick became more demanding and Dad opened the top right drawer. He pulled out a gun and waved it at Rick. Rick pulled the gun from his belt and they leveled loaded pistols at each other.

Fortunately neither had the poor judgment to pull the trigger.

Rick knew that his relationship with his dad was an important one for him.  He also knew he wanted to get out of the program so he started paying attention to his feelings about his dad. He was psychologically minded enough to know that he didn't need to actually talk to his dad to address his issues with his dad.

The first thing he noticed was that he put his dad's face on every boss he had. As soon as he had a job long enough to begin to feel comfortable in it he started reacting to his boss with the feelings he had towards his dad. Just identifying that allowed him enough distance that he stopped quitting jobs and, because he was actually pretty bright and industrious, he quickly got promoted to a place where he wouldn't go any higher unless he got his GED. He put his mind to that and a month later passed the test.

It was early September when Rick started to work on his issues with his dad. By mid-October he was working on his GED and by mid-November he had passed it. Just after Thanksgiving he decided that he wanted to talk to his dad. He called him on the phone and, at the end of the nearly two hour conversation, his dad was in tears. They spent a couple of hours together on Christmas and they both enjoyed it.

It is not typical that participants in the program experience this kind of rapid transformation. Rick already knew the principles and had practiced applying them in his relationship with his girlfriend. What is typical is that Rick initially "knew" that he couldn't positively impact his relationship with his dad. He "knew" that everything that was wrong in the relationship was his  dad's fault. He "knew" he had nothing to gain by even addressing the issues.

What he didn't know was how powerful he could be in transforming his relationship with his dad simply by changing how he approached him.  When he was able to calmly identify what he needed as qualities in his relationship with his dad, and persistently act in ways that moved to create those qualities, he no longer had to change his dad or be changed by him.  He created an entirely new and healthier relationship.

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