Lots of my clients struggle with ethical dilemmas. Here are some examples.
Your father abused you as a child, abandoned the family and never bothered to support you. Now he’s in ill health and calls asking for your help. Waddaya do?
You’ve spent years nursing your mother through her last illness while your siblings did absolutely nothing to help and seldom even bothered to call and check in. Now your mother is fading fast. Do you call these people and let them know?
You and your daughter had a tiff years ago and she’s kept you from seeing or even talking with your grandchildren. It’s been a daily source of grief for you. Now she calls and wants you to help her escape her abusive marriage. Do you?
Your son has struggled with drug addiction since he was a teenager. He’s stolen from you, threatened you and blown off all your attempts to get him into rehab. Now he says he wants to try again and this time he’s “serious”. Do you believe him?
Faced with these questions I always remember what Storm (Halle Berry) said in one of those X-Men movies. “You have to do what you can’t NOT do.” In other words, you have to decide the type of person YOU are going to be and not worry so much about other people getting what they deserve. You have to make a decision that YOU can feel good about on YOUR deathbed.
Now, people THINK I’m always telling them what to do (especially my kids), but if they listen carefully, I’m really telling them what I’D do. I try to make it perfectly clear that they are the ones in the situation. They are the ones who have to live with the consequences of their decisions, not me. The purpose of therapy is to help them cope with THEIR problems, not mine.
But God help me, sometimes I just have to speak my mind. So this is what I’D do in each of the above scenarios….
Sure I’d help dad out, but I’d also never miss an opportunity to make him apologize for what a rotten father he was. He doesn’t like it, he can find someone else.
Yep, I’d call my siblings, but I’d probably say something like “The mother you completely forgot about and were content to let me take care of all these years only has a couple of days left to live. If you want to see her before she goes I suggest you get your lazy selfish ass down here.”
Yeah, I’d help my daughter out, but I’d want an apology and extra time with the grandkids and NOT as an unpaid babysitter.
Okay, I’d help my son get into rehab, but when he comes out, he’s going to a group home, not my home. It’s going to be awhile before I trust him again.
See a pattern here? I’ll do the right thing, but I’m not going to be a martyr about it. I have feelings, too, you know, and people who wrong me are going to hear about them, especially if they’re now asking me for help. Petty? Maybe. But also honest. It’s what I can’t NOT do.