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This book is a guide for therapists working with families of adult-children who are dependent on their parents in highly dysfunctional ways. It is based on 10 years of our clinical work with hundreds of such families. It summarizes what we have learned about the use of Non-Violent Resistance (NVR) therapy in such cases, and shares what we learned about the processes of entrenched dependence, accommodation and de-accommodation and their roles in perpetuating or alleviating these families’ sufferings.
An understanding of escalation processes is crucial to any confrontation with violence. Escalation processes, as we saw in Chapter 1, are of two kinds: reciprocal and complementary. In parent–child relations, these two types of escalation intensify each other, and an ongoing swing between giving in and hitting out has been shown to be a common characteristic of families with violent and self-destructive children (Bugental et al., 1989; Dishion et al., 2016). In this chapter, we attempt to trace the processes that fuel these two types of escalation and suggest possible ways of averting them.
Parents and professionals face a dilemma when dealing with children’s violent and self-destructive behaviors. The behavior of these children is characterized by a lack of boundaries, uncontainable outbursts, and a readiness to go to extremes. Most of these children are deeply averse to being supervised or guided by their parents or other responsible adults. When a confrontation arises, they usually convey the message: “Leave me alone!” or “I am the boss!” The parents of these children often find out that their usual ways of reacting, or those suggested by professionals, are ineffectual. When they try the way of reprimands, threats, and punishments, the child responds in kind, escalating the aggressive behaviors.
One of the reasons for the weakening of family and community and the strengthening of destructive and violent patterns in children is the absence of accepted norms that provide a clear and united stance by responsible adults. Society, therapists, families, and individuals move between conflicting poles regarding children with problematic behaviors. The strength of non-violent resistance (NVR) comes from its ability to create bridges between these poles, opening a third way that is much more than a midway between the two.
Chapter 4 presents the NVR approach to suicide threats, which, implicitly or explicitly, are highly present in families with adult-children. Although the literature on suicide is immense, little has been written on how parents can cope with suicide threats. In NVR, parents are helped to cope with such threats by moving from helplessness to presence, from isolation to support, from submission to resistance, from escalation to self-control and from distance to supportive care.
In Chapter 1, based on the notion of emerging adulthood, we define adult entrenched dependence as a failure to emerge. Children’s dependence on their parents can be characterized as functional or dysfunctional. We propose ways to differentiate between the two. We clarify that the goal of our approach is not fostering "independence" (which we view as a rather problematic goal) but helping transform dysfunctional into functional dependence. The main changes we try to promote are: (a) developing a time perspective that allows parents to strive for better functioning; (b) helping parents transition from personal effacement into presence; (c) releasing parents from their "sacrifice mentality" in favor of recommitment to wellness; (d) helping parents counter the adult-child's entitlement; and (e) identifying and resisting various forms of violence, blackmail and exploitation.
Chapter 6 describes how to deal with situations that require adaptations of the protocol described in Chapter 3. Some of these are: emergencies (e.g., psychotic breakdown, suicide attempt or trouble with the police), worrisome conditions that do not yet constitute full-fledged entrenched dependence, very old parents and the implementation of NVR in a psychiatric ward.
Chapter 3 presents in detail the NVR manual for entrenched-dependence interventions. The opening stage is devoted to building the therapeutic alliance, reframing the problem in ways that allow for new options, discussing parental accommodation, working on the parents' narrative of total responsibility, explaining the need for a support network, and training on how to prevent escalation. This stage concludes with the presentation of a therapy roadmap. The second therapeutic stage includes the formulation and delivery of the announcement, and the constitution of a support group. The third therapeutic stage is the gradual and systematic process of de-accommodation, consisting in a series of gradual exposures to diminishing services, infringement of prohibitions and, if necessary, change of living arrangements. The conclusion stage is usually open-ended, offering parents the option of returning to therapy for a short period if crises arise.
Before examining case examples of non-violent resistance (NVR), we must first deal with some common assumptions that contribute much to parental ineffectiveness. Although these assumptions have often been dealt with in the literature, they are still quite prevalent. We thus feel the need to clear the field once more.
Chapter 5 deals with the precursors of adult entitled dependence in childhood and adolescence. The major risk factors are digital abuse, school refusal, social withdrawal, "tyrannical behaviors" and irresponsible financial behavior. Non-Violent Resistance interventions are described that help parents deal with those conditions.
This book introduced the notion of AED as a family systemic condition linked to a failure to emerge into adulthood. It also introduced our treatment approach for helping the parents of adult-children. To our knowledge, this is the first work proposing a systematic treatment for a condition that is probably spreading worldwide. As a pioneering work, it must leave behind it a long trail of unanswered questions for further exploration. We sincerely hope that the following points will inspire clinicians and researchers to investigate this as yet uncharted field.
The harsh facts about the severity and prevalence of parental violence toward children were kept secret for many years. The fog of denial and dismissal was so thick that doctors, therapists, and society at large were reluctant to believe the phenomenon existed, despite recurrent visits to emergency rooms by babies and children suffering wounds and fractures that clearly resembled the results of abuse and despite repeated reports by adults that they had been beaten or abused by their parents as children. The cloak of secrecy was lifted as a result of the efforts of pioneering doctors, feminist organizations, bold therapists, and public figures. Today, Western society is increasingly open to recognizing the horrific facts and prepared to confront the persistent phenomenon of the violence of parents and other adults toward children. Yet on a subject closely related to parental violence, dismissal and denial by the professional community and society at large still reign. The subject is violence toward siblings.
In Chapter 2, we argue why parental NVR is well-suited to treating entrenched dependence. We describe why attempts at individual therapy for the adult-child or traditional parental counseling usually fail. These failures have different forms, such as: (a) the adult-child refuses therapy; (b) the adult-child accepts therapy, but entitled dependence persists; (c) the parents are advised to show unconditional acceptance, but the dependence remains unaffected; or (d) the parents are advised to be tough, but are daunted when they stumble on frightening escalation. We argue that parents are almost invariably the motivated partners, that they deserve to be viewed as clients in their own right, and that involving the adult-child would distract the parents and the therapist from their job. We elaborate some central insights underlying parental NVR, such as: (a) that the parents' narrative of total responsibility actually prevents improvement; and (b) that parental accommodation aggravates and perpetuates the problem. The chapter concludes with a description of treatment goals and of what changes can be realistically expected.
There are close parallels between the situation of parents and teachers regarding children with behavior problems: (1) the child’s behavior problems at home are often reconstructed at school, (2) parents and teachers have experienced a similar erosion in authority, and (3) the criticisms against parents and teachers are often similar. In addition, the tasks of both parties are so interdependent that it would be hard for either one to succeed without the other’s support. Nonetheless, relations between parents and teachers are often extremely strained (Omer, 2011, 2018; Omer & Haller, 2019).