Tim and Mavis had been married for 15 years, and they have two boys, Jon was 12 years old, and Greg, 6 years of age. Mavis was the first to be referred. The initial interview painted a picture of a rather rebellious Jon, who would not hesitate to berate his mother, and even attacked her on one occasion, over his studies and schoolwork, and generally, discipline at home. I next requested permission to interview Jon, in the presence of his father. The story that surfaced contradicted Mavis’ in almost every aspect. After speaking with Jon for about 40 minutes, I clarified various points with Tim, as Jon waited outside the counselling room. Apparently, Mavis’ discipline of Jon always ended with severe beatings, usually quite disproportionate to any infractions on Jon’s part. Jon was immediately referred for further counselling to another psychologist, as he self-mutilated occasionally. Our next session with Mavis was confrontational, as we got down to teasing apart her interpretations of events in her family. She was teary as we descended further into her sad personal story around her family of origin.
Mavis was an extremely possessive mother, and she controlled her sons and Tim to the point where they became accountable to her for their every move, in and out of their home. Her irritability and mood swings put a tremendous strain on all her relationships, and this resulted in both Tim and Jon rebelling, and frequently raising the temperature within the household in shouting matches and even fist fights. Frequently, these toxic sessions were initiated by Mavis as her anger tantrums became uncontrollable. It did not take long before Tim and Mavis grew apart emotionally, and each clung to their favourite child; Tim kept Greg close to him, while Mavis concentrated her efforts on Jon, even though Jon was becoming more independent and did not particularly wanted his mother’s crushing attention and control. Mavis’ emotional instability that resulted from her own volatile self-image, contributed to her recurrent idealisation at one point and subsequent devaluation moments later, from time-to-time, did not improve their situation. Her own father abandoned the family when she was in her early teens, and it impacted Mavis more than she had realised, as he protected her from her abusive mother, who was suffering from schizophrenia. The physical, mental and emotional abuses worsened when her father left. This was only alleviated when Mavis ran away from home to live with an elderly aunt, when she was 16 years old. Her affective instability also contributed to her suicidal ideation, particularly after an acrimonious session of mutual accusation with Tim or with Jon. Tim and Mavis had seen other counsellors in the past, but had consistently discontinued their sessions prematurely.
After a series of tests confirmed Mavis’ borderline personality issues, I referred them to a family therapist to be counselled as a couple, while Mavis continued her sessions with me on her own; occasionally, Tim would join us. Mavis had few friends, as her paranoid sense of fear of being abandoned again by those around her, made her very suspicious of any threats from others to withdraw from her. These doubts often ended with confrontations that became bitter and hostile.