"I'm Jealous of My Stepdaughter"
The Counselor's TurnSorting Out Old Ties
"Ellie and Kevin lacked basic communication and conflict-resolution skills, as well as an understanding of their own feelings and actions, which would have enabled them to defuse their constant bickering.
"Ellie didn't have the confidence to say what she was feeling. She was afraid that if she did, her husband might abandon her emotionally like her father had. Instead, she expected Kevin to intuit what she wanted, and she stewed and distanced herself when he didn't. What's more, the deep feelings of rejection stemming from her adored father's rejection had shattered her sense of self as a loveable, even likeable, person. Convinced that she was unworthy, Ellie felt vulnerable and always expected the worst to befall her. Confronted by critical in-laws, who were nasty and offensive to everyone, she assumed that their judgment of her was correct.
"My first goal was to explain how Ellie's jealousy of Amanda stemmed from anger at her father's treatment of her. I pointed out that as children, we all face difficult times, and we form impressions of ourselves based on those experiences. No one helped Ellie buffer the pain of her father's rejection, so she bottled it up inside. When Kevin appeared to put his daughter's, mother's or ex-wife's interests ahead of hers, it pushed all her abandonment buttons and the old pain came roaring back.
"Simply making this connection for Ellie was a revelation. Discussing it provided the clarity she needed to put her insecurity into perspective and help her feel emotionally what she'd known intellectually -- that Kevin's ties to other people in his life don't diminish his love for her. In counseling, Ellie also began to identify the specific behaviors that upset her, so that she and Kevin could devise ways to handle them in a less hurtful way. I explained that being attentive to Amanda didn't mean he had to ignore Ellie, and pointed out that the small gestures -- sitting next to her, speaking in a loving tone of voice -- said volumes. The couple also agreed that Kevin would spend some time alone with Amanda, so that he didn't feel he had to entertain or worry about both of them at the same time.
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