Chapter 213: The Emotional Inheritance
The long buried but long simmering resentment between siblings often rears its ugly head again when the parents die and the will is contested. I call this phenomenon the emotional inheritance. Many members devote much of their time and energy in group agonizing over what they believe they are entitled to. But just as money is symbolic, so are other symbols of who in the family is owed what, and the dynamic comes into play in between the grief and loss of the patriarch . In recent years, within the world of professional group psychotherapy, the death of the forefathers and the foremothers of the field has spawned the emergence of a bizarre and iatrogenic twist to this common family scenario. Several years ago, a colleague called me and said that he had a dilemma. Knowing about my writings on boundaries between therapy and not therapy, he asked for my advice on what to do.
He told me that after the death of his long-time group therapist, a renowned and powerful man in the field (who ran many therapy groups), several of my colleague’s group “siblings,” who were also group therapists, took it upon themselves to declare that they were the heirs apparent to the powerful man’s kingdom. As such, they were recruiting their bereaved group “brothers” and “sisters” to join their treatment groups as patients. In other words, brothers morphed into fathers, and sisters morphed into mothers. I asked him, “Why are you telling me this?” He said, “I’m seriously considering joining Martin’s [one of his group siblings] group. What do you think?” I said bluntly, “Are you nuts?” When he asked me why I thought so, I told him, “The transference, countertransference, and resistance would be so contaminated by the role reversal that the treatment would be worthless.” He joined anyway. I suppose cheap is cheap. He didn’t pay me for my advice, and I didn’t tell him what he wanted to hear, so he disregarded what I said. As it turned out, this was to his chagrin. Years later he called to tell me I was right. The whole thing was a total disaster. He said, “I could never tell Martin when I was angry with him.” I asked, “How come?” He replied, “Because he was referring prospective patients to therapist group members who were his favorites. I didn’t want to jeopardize my chances of being one of his favorites.” I was incredulous that this bright, psychologically sophisticated man had reduced himself to groveling. I felt a mixture of disdain and compassion for the poor guy. It took all my strength to bite my tongue not to say, “I told you so.” However, his passivity sparked my sadism and I could not help myself. I said something crude and scornful, “So you were willing to take the spores off his droppings.” He simply said, “Ouch. That hurt!” I told him, “You’re having the right feeling.”