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Teenage Boy Acts Out When Mom Gets Sick

04 Sep


Hi Belleruth. A friend of mine is married with a 14-year-old son. His wife is ill with advanced breast cancer. My friend's son is having a terrible time with the potential loss of his Mom, acting out with his family… at times, being very cruel to his Mother. Do you have any suggestions for guided imagery for this young man? He's been completely opposed to seeing a counselor, or being in a group, or any help of any sort. Any ideas would be welcome.

Thanks. Joanie


Dear Joanie,
Yikes, I sure hope everyone’s compassion for this kid doesn’t keep somebody from grabbing him by the ear and dragging him to the nearest family therapist, along with his father, siblings (if there are any) and, if her strength allows, his mother.  

Completely opposed to seeing a counselor or joining a support group, is he? Too bad. This is when family therapy is just the ticket – everyone goes.  His behavior is fairly begging for some well-placed, kind-but-firm, parental authority.  And he also needs an emotionally safe place to talk about what he’s going through – no doubt the whole family does or they’d not be tolerating his behavior – and what 14-year-old couldn’t use some good, solid boundaries to bump up against? …Especially when his world has turned upside down.

I’m not even sure guided imagery would be something he’d be ready to try otherwise – he doesn’t sound like he’s ready to address his vulnerability or come face to face with his feelings quite yet, without some preliminary ‘prep work’.  A couple of sessions with a skilled family counselor could change that in a heartbeat.

If and when he is ready, and depending on how his reactions are manifesting themselves, he might benefit from imagery to help with sleep, stress, grief, anger, depression, panic or trauma

But first things first: letting a distressed 14-year-old call the shots in the middle of a family in crisis is a little bit like giving him the keys to the family car in the middle of a hurricane.  He’s in no position to be driving them anywhere (although he could have some useful insights from his perspective as a passenger).  

His behavior is not only hard on the family; it will eventually be his undoing too, when his guilt and shame over how he treated his sick Mom catches up with him – and it will. He could be signing up for quite a depression if left to his own devices.

Sometimes the kindest thing we can do is deliver a well placed (metaphoric) bonk up side the head.

I hope this helps

My best wishes to the whole family,

Belleruth Naparstek

Psychotherapist, author and guided imagery pioneer Belleruth Naparstek is the creator of the popular Health Journeys guided imagery audio series. Her latest book on imagery and posttraumatic stress, Invisible Heroes: Survivors of Trauma and How They Heal (Bantam Dell), won the Spirituality & Health Top 50 Books Award