Following is an illustration of how identifying the Prime Love Giver in a family can help resolve what might be considered a serious mental health problem that may show up in childhood.
A family came to see me with their eight-year-old daughter and four-year-old son. The parents had recently decided to have an amicable divorce, and when they went to see a therapist, were advised to have a trial separation to test out how it would feel to live apart. The father had found a place to stay in the basement of a friend, and would visit the children on weekends. However, a crisis developed when the daughter began threatening to kill herself by jumping from the balcony, or use a kitchen knife to do it.
As I mentioned in another post, in keeping with the tenets of DOLF theory, I initially attempt to diagnose how love is distributed in every family I meet. My approach is not to see the whole family together for any extended period of time, in order to avoid conjuring up the same angry dynamics that regularly occur at home, be it parents fighting, children fighting, a parent fighting with a child, etc. As I mentioned in that blog, my protocol is to see the whole family for a brief period of time, perhaps the initial fifteen minutes, and then split them up into smaller subgroups to interview separately. Accordingly, in the first two one-hour sessions I initially saw the whole family for about 15 minutes, then at various times at my discretion, I saw the couple on their own, each of the parents separately, the children together, and the eight-year-old herself. At my request the father attended the third session alone, and the total course of treatment was 3 sessions.
On first meeting the family, both parents appeared to be concerned, though the mother looked poised and composed, while father looked rather unkempt and unhappy. The eight-year-old girl was obviously very protective of her younger brother, placing her arm around him and trying her best to keep him entertained with babyish games. She appeared frightened, not smiling, and on speaking with her alone, she expressed concern about what would happen to her and her brother if her parents were to stay apart. She did not cry or express any extreme emotion, but seemed very sad and distraught, only affirming she missed father and would like him to come back home. After speaking with her for a few minutes, I thanked her for expressing her concerns to me. I also felt it important to reassure her by saying “We (as the adults in her life) are going to look after this problem for you”. I did not speak to her about her desire or lack of desire, reasons or lack of reasons, threats, actions or lack of actions around killing herself, since DOLF theory does NOT examine aberrant or unusual behavior, but looks at THE REASONS BEHIND OVERT BEHAVIOR in order to unravel the motivation or intent that is driving it.
Referring to the DOLF model now, from the first two sessions I formed the impression that in this case, father was the Prime Loving parent to the children (PLG), and mother was the Additional Loving parent (ALG). I therefore asked the father to attend on his own at the third session. Within the first few minutes, shedding no tears, he readily offered that he was feeling very depressed and suicidal himself, although he had not made any overt attempts to kill himself. (N.B.Note that at this point one might easily attribute the young girl’s suicidal actions to heredity, since her father was now expressing the same suicidal inclinations. However, DOLF theory maintains that these motivations are easily explainable by the family dynamics, emotions and distribution of love factors, rather than attributing the behavior to genetic factors or DNA.)
Father said the reason behind his depression was that he had been struggling with diabetes for 7 years, felt he was coping poorly, and that his whole life no longer made sense or seemed to have any purpose to it. After some discussion of his sadness, with the idea in the back of my mind that he was PLG, I began to gently explain to him his children’s attachment to him, his importance to them for their psychological stability, and their actual longing for his continued active role in their lives. The intensity of their attachment to him and dependence on his love, especially in the case of his daughter, apparently came as quite a surprise, as he had never been aware he was that important to either child. In fact, he had never considered his contribution to the family as a whole to be very crucial, but had believed his wife was the one who was running the household and performing most of the critical functions. He had definitely not viewed himself as providing such an essential emotional link to his children’s psychological health.
I took time to explain to this gentleman his children’s vital connection to him and their continuous dependence on his love and warmth, making sure he understood that he was the only one in the world who could provide this, that they would forever feel lost and abandoned without him, and that if he were to leave, his wife could not readily replace his role in his children’s lives. I emphasized that his daughter’s suicide threats are very likely related to her longing to have him back in the home, both physically and emotionally, and that his children do in fact perceive and experience him as their source of emotional strength, and the anchor in their lives. I said all this without actually mentioning the concept of a Prime Loving parent as such, or making any direct comparison of his role with that of his wife. I suggested that if he were to return home and invest his emotional capability back into the family, his daughter would most likely settle down, not feel so distressed, go back to her main occupation of being a child and acting like an eight-year-old, not worry so much about her brother, and be relieved of her burden of fretting about her home situation breaking down. I advised him of my belief that if he did return, she would probably stop the actions she had been taking to kill herself. (Note that he willingly took in this advice because it made emotional sense to him, and because it reflected how he actually felt inside, though he was never fully aware of it before. Not surprisingly, his role as PLG simply FELT correct to him, which was crucial to his instinctual decision to follow the advice.) Now newly recognizing the psychological importance of his role in the family, this father quickly decided to return home, a move that was agreed to by his wife, and at that point the immediate crisis about his daughter seemed to resolve.
The secondary advantage of explaining his children’s attachment to this gentleman was that he now found his own purpose in life. That is, he began to understand that being present for his children contributes vitally to their psychological wellbeing. Discovering his attachment to them and their attachment to him in return empowered him emotionally, and suddenly made his own life seem worthwhile. He no longer felt the urge to end his life or die, but enrolled in a diabetes education and support program that helped him successfully manage his disease.