Ian's Story of Change

24th of November, 2016

Ian is one of the many men that have benefitted from ReachOut’s support, and so has his family.

Ian has been married for almost 30 years, and recently life brought some changes which caused him a lot of stress. His wife, already experiencing depression, was diagnosed with a degenerative brain disease; his daughter entered a ‘challenging’ teenage period; and his professional life became unstable as his company restructured. Life had become very insecure.

“How I responded to those changes was to become excessively controlling” Ian says.  “I couldn't control things at work, so instead, without realising, I focused my control and criticism on wife and daughter. I constantly pulled my daughter up on her teenage ‘manners’; I accused my wife of not caring about me, despite seeing she was struggling so much. What they both really needed was my love and support.”

Ian’s behaviour caused huge arguments with wife, and his daughter, who was having counselling for anxiety. “My wife suggested we have some time apart. I was very reluctant - it felt like this was the first step of separation - but I knew there was no other option. As I was the one whose behaviour most needed to change, I moved out and we both made a commitment to get appropriate help.

“It was very hard to leave home, but at the same time, I knew if I’d stayed, despite the best of intentions, nothing would change. I knew I needed help to change my behaviour and, as there had been family violence involved, I followed my wife’s suggestion and phoned Aviva. I’d taken the first step...”

Ian’s first session with his ReachOut worker Darragh a few days later proved insightful for him. “He listened to me intently, then respectfully suggested my behaviour wasn't because of stress - it was really because I didn't like or approve of myself. My wife had previously said the same to me many times, but it hadn’t made sense. Darragh explained it in a way I could understand – basically my opinion of myself had formed back in my childhood, which wasn’t great. If my picture of a loving relationship was based on what I saw as a young child, then no wonder it was really distorted.

By the end of his first session, Ian realised the real issue was not all the external factors he was experiencing. “Knowing what the real problem was meant that I could do something about it now. I had hope again” he says.

Ian had to follow his insights up with hard, emotional work that required re-examining his attitudes to his my wife and daughter, and how they might feel experiencing his behaviour. He realised that he had to rebuild his family’s sense of safety before trust, communication, and intimacy could be expected. His change in thinking and understanding affected his actions and when things didn’t go so well, they no longer escalated - a sign that he and his family were creating a new, better way of relating.

For Ian, one of the best moments was reconnecting with his daughter. “One night I described my ‘journey’ so far to her and apologised for my behaviour towards her. She said to me ‘Dad, it’s like you’ve grown up 20 years emotionally and gotten 10 years younger physically - all your worry lines are gone.’ I was blown away by that.”

Ian and his family are now safely back together and working towards a vision of family life for their future. “The difference that the support I received from Aviva has made has been incredible. I see my wife and daughter differently now, I’ve learned to approve of myself and we have started to love each other all over again. There is a totally different atmosphere in our house. We have occasional lapses, but situations do not develop any more. We have a family safety plan together in case one of us should get angry again and we’ve all signed it. Our family now feels like a positive spiral where every bit of progress, every positive difference we see, makes the foundation stronger. So much tension has just....GONE – and for the first time since I was a young child, I feel happy about ME!!”