Ferne Kotlyar

How can you trust your parents again after they hide a massive secret? How do you know when there are no more lies?

Welcome to  a new season of The Frame of Mind Coaching™ Podcast! And what's the best way to kick off Season 3? That's right, with an episode of Fridays with Ferne!

Today, Ferne and I explore a case about a young woman named Chris who lived her whole life as an only child. Then one day, she finds out that she has an older brother and that her father had this child when he was 18. Chris feels angry and betrayed. Why would her parents hide her own brother from her? Why are they still being secretive about it? Chris doesn’t know how to build a relationship with her parents when she feels like she can’t trust them.

I suggest that Chris tries to have compassion for her parents and tries to understand why her father never shared this part of his life with her. It is unlikely that hiding her brother came from a bad place. Her father probably only wanted her to see the good side of him, not the parts that he may be embarrassed about. The goal for Chris is to come to a place of understanding so that she doesn’t feel so betrayed.

Have you ever been in a situation like this? Do you have another interesting case you’d like to share? Let’s talk! If there's a challenge you'd like to discuss here on the podcast or privately, please reach out to us:


Episode Transcript

[00:00:05] Kim Ades:
Hello, hello. My name is Kim Ades and I am the President and Founder of Frame of Mind Coaching™, and you have just joined The Frame of Mind Coaching™ Podcast. Today it's a special episode, it's Fridays with Ferne.  

If you don't already know, Ferne is my daughter and she comes to us every Friday with a special case that we talk about and we work through. And so, Ferne, welcome!

[00:00:31] Ferne Kotlyar:
Thank you so much. It's a pleasure to be here.  

[00:00:34] Kim Ades:
So what do we have today?  

[00:00:38] Ferne Kotlyar:
All right. So today we have a case about a girl named Chris, and she... this case today, I mean, the names are made up, but this case today is actually a true story inspired by a friend of mine from back home. So, not made up, but I'm going to dive right in.  

All right, so Chris lived her whole life as an only child and growing up all of her friends knew her as, you know, the iconic friend that was an only child. You know, she never had siblings, she never had to share and that's just how she grew up. It was her and her parents and that was it.  

No grandparents in the picture, no aunts, uncles, cousins, nothing, just her and her parents. Now, one day... so she's 24 years old, one day, her grandfather passes away. Her father's father passes away and you know, this is a man she never met, and at the funeral, she goes there and she meets this other guy that her dad seems to be talking to, and it turns out that this other guy is his son. She figures out that she has a half-brother.  

So when her father was about 17-18, he had a child with a woman, helped bring him up and then many years later, the son met her father's new wife, which is Chris' mother, didn't like her and they stopped talking. And so this girl, Chris grew up completely without him, but also not even knowing about him.  

And so she grows up without knowing about this brother. She figures out that she has a brother who's like 20 years older than her and she feels betrayed. You know, she grew up her whole life without thinking that she had siblings and it turns out that she does and she never knew him.  

And she starts to pry, you know, she starts to ask her parents, her father, about his son, about his experience growing up with this other child. And he closes off, he doesn't tell her, he holds back. He shuts down the conversation whenever she brings it up and she doesn't know what to do because she feels like she can no longer trust her parents.  

And it's not only her father because you know, her mother knew about this as well. And so things get even more tense when... so her grandfather dies, a man she never met and her grandmother has dementia. She was being taken care of by the grandfather and the parents move her into the house. 

And so Chris is at college and the grandmother takes over Chris's bedroom. And whenever, you know, Chris comes home from college, from university, she sleeps in the basement because the grandmother is in her room. And this is, once again, a lady she's never met.  

And so she really, really feels betrayed and she doesn't know how to bring this relationship back with her parents because she feels like she can no longer trust them, if they hid such a big secret from her and won't tell her the full story. And she doesn't know how to have that relationship again with them.  

[00:04:02] Kim Ades:
So when she tried to talk to her father, what was the angle? What did she try discussing, asking? What was the conversation like?  

[00:04:14] Ferne Kotlyar:
Well, so she asks him about what happened like, about the son, about why he wouldn't share with her before, and he just kind of ends the conversation. He changes the subject, he cuts her off, he doesn't let her go there.  

[00:04:32] Kim Ades:
And what about the mother? Same thing or is there a different conversation? Does she try asking the mother?  

[00:04:38] Ferne Kotlyar:
Yeah. With the mother it's like "talk to your father. It's his story".

[00:04:43] Kim Ades:
So she also doesn't engage in the conversation. 

[00:04:46] Ferne Kotlyar:
Yeah. And she pushes it off onto the father because it's his son.  

[00:04:50] Kim Ades:
And did she built a relationship with the stepbrother since that event?  

[00:04:55] Ferne Kotlyar:
The half-brother?  

[00:04:56] Kim Ades:
The half-brother, yes.  

[00:04:57] Ferne Kotlyar:
So, the half-brother left because... this is all Chris knows is that the half-brother left because he didn't like her mother, Chris' mother. 

[00:05:07] Kim Ades:

[00:05:08] Ferne Kotlyar:
So that would be the stepmother.  

[00:05:10] Kim Ades:
Did Chris attempt to stay in touch with her half-brother after the funeral?  

[00:05:17] Ferne Kotlyar:
No. So he lives in England and she's in Canada. And she doesn't have any sort of contact with him whatsoever.  

[00:05:25] Kim Ades:
Okay. And what is her relationship with her grandmother right now? The one that has dementia. Or she's just gone, she's out of it?  

[00:05:32] Ferne Kotlyar:
Nothing, yeah.  

[00:05:34] Kim Ades:
No relationship.  

[00:05:35] Ferne Kotlyar:
No relationship to her, it's just some unknown woman in the house. I mean, she never knew her before dementia and now she's kind of just a shell.  

[00:05:43] Kim Ades:
A shell. So she has no ability to recollect the past or anything like that?  

[00:05:49] Ferne Kotlyar:
Yeah, no.  

[00:05:51] Kim Ades:
Okay. So what would I do with Chris? What would I recommend? Well, I think the first thing that I would do is that I would just have a conversation with Chris and ask her why she thinks her father never shared it. Right? What's her best guess? Where was he at at the time? What stage in life was he at? What was going on for him?  

[00:06:18] Ferne Kotlyar:
For 24 years.  

[00:06:20] Kim Ades:
She may not know the answers, but I would ask her to guess and ask her to, just at the beginning, try to have some level of compassion for why he might have kept this a big secret. Where did that come from? I would explore his background, his upbringing. 

I mean, it sounds like he didn't have a great relationship with his parents either because she didn't have a relationship with his parents. So I would kind of explore with her a little bit about his background, just for her to come to an understanding about why he kept this a secret and why perhaps he keeps avoiding it, so that she doesn't feel betrayed, but she feels a sense of understanding. Right?

Because there's a reason why he's keeping it a secret. Does he feel shame? Does he feel embarrassment? Does he feel like he messed up? Does he feel like this was really something that reflects a bad part of him?  

Like, we want to kind of get a better understanding of why things went down the way they did and not so much from his point of view, but help Chris understand perhaps where he might be coming from and why he's behaving the way he is.  

'Cause that understanding gives us a lot more ability to allow him to keep a secret if that's what he needs to do. Right? So right now she's positioning it as "he hasn't told me for 24 years, he broke my trust, he broke my confidence", but really it's not about her. It's about him.  

And so the goal is to help her come to an understanding. Why he held onto the secret for so long, what beliefs he had that made him feel like telling this secret would be a terrible idea.  

[00:08:10] Ferne Kotlyar:
So let's say she comes to this place. Let's say he hid it out of shame, he hid it out of embarrassment because, you know, he had the kid at like 17-18 and he didn't want to set that example for her. Let's just say.  

But Chris doesn't agree with that. Doesn't think that even though that's the reason, she doesn't think that that's okay, because this is her brother, this is her life, these are her family members. How does he have the right to hide that from her? 

[00:08:41] Kim Ades:
Well, if it is her brother there in her family members, at the age of 24 years old she has the ability to go and have a direct relationship with these people at this stage. Again, we can't go back. We can't undo the past. We can't erase what's happened. We can't reclaim those years. So what's going to happen now? 

And so what's interesting to me is she's made no attempt to get in contact with and have any type of relationship with her half-brother. If that's important to her, I would encourage her to go have a direct relationship and hear his story and go and meet the other people and understand where their experiences might've come in, what their point of view is and sort of build a relationship with a whole new group of people who are related to you.  

Why not? That has nothing to do with your father. This man is probably find-able and go ahead, have a direct relationship with them. So that's thing number one. If your friend Chris doesn't agree, she doesn't have to agree. It's a decision her father made. The question is how does she get to a place of peace with this decision?  

So, number one is understand where he's coming from, understand why he made the decision. Even if it's not a decision that she would've made. Understand where it comes from, understand that it was designed to probably protect her and not designed to hurt her. 

[00:09:59] Ferne Kotlyar:
And how does she come to terms with it? How does she understand it if he won't talk about it?  

[00:10:04] Kim Ades:
Well, so here's the other piece is the idea is to try to imagine what it might be like to be him at that time and imagine what it might've been like to be him growing up with his family, his parents, his upbringing, and imagine what it might've taken for him to make that decision. 

In other words, you don't have to be right, but just imagine what could have gone through his mind. And my encouragement is that she was really seeking for him to show up and share what he's not capable of sharing. And she holds him, in a way, hostage for not being able to share that.  

She blames him for not being able to share that, but we're not getting at the reason why he's not able to share that. What's really holding him in a place of being quiet or being silent. What's holding him silent? We're not understanding that. And it's very important for her to try to understand what's keeping him silent.  

[00:11:06] Ferne Kotlyar:
So at this point, we're just imagining why he silent because he's not going to speak. So we're just imposing our own emotions on him?  

[00:11:13] Kim Ades:
For the moment what we're doing is we're saying, "gee, if I were in his shoes at the time, right? With the parents that he had, in the time he grew up, et cetera. What would it have been like for me?" Right? So try to imagine what that's like.  

But then the second part of it is she needs to somehow communicate with her father. He's not talking. So at this point, what might be a good idea is for her to actually sit down and write a letter and say, "dad, you know, I tried to imagine what it was like to be in your shoes at the time. I imagine that you might have felt, you know, shame, upset, whatever.  

And I know that you probably were trying to protect me in not sharing with me this story. And what I want you to know is that I love you and I want to be part of your life, and I want to know your history. And if you're not willing to talk to me about it, I'd love for you to write about it. Somehow. I'd like to know who you really are, and I feel this absence".  

So for her to express what it's doing to her. And it sounds like he's a guy who loves his daughter, who doesn't want to hurt her, who wants to shield her from his past and his pain. And what she needs to do is say, "actually, this is causing me pain now, and it's holding me away from you. And that's really not what I want. What I want is a close relationship with you.  

I want to know your story. If you don't want to talk to me about it, write it to me". And what that does for her is that gives her a sense of "I've expressed myself. I've expressed what I'm looking for, I've expressed what this is doing to me". 

So that's something he can have and then she's done her part. And if he fails to do his, she has to accept it. She has to allow him to deal with it in the way that he is. And understand that he's probably really suffering. He's really struggling. He's really having a hard time with it.

So come at it from a position of compassion, as opposed to "I don't trust him. I'm blaming him. He was wrong". Like, that's not serving anybody at this point. That's not bringing the connection we need.  

And perhaps, and we don't know this, but perhaps her approach and the way that she's talking to him, makes him feel a little defensive. So he shuts it down or he redirects the conversation. Maybe her approach caused him to feel a lot worse than he already feels. 

And I don't know that, right? I don't know what her approach is, but maybe her approach could be from a place of "gee, I can only imagine what it was like in your shoes. These are some of the things that I envisioned that I would feel if I was there at that time, in that situation, with these parents, with this community". 

Right? "What was it like for you? I really want to know. Here's why I want to know. Here's why it's important to me that I know. Here's what it means to me. Here's what I want with you, from you, for you in our relationship as we move forward".  

So she's appealing to him. And if he understands where she's coming from and takes time to write it out, then perhaps he'll come back in writing or verbally and say, "okay, I'm ready to talk". Or not. Either way, she's done her part. And that's really, what's important here. And I don't know at this point, if she has done her part.  

[00:14:39] Ferne Kotlyar:
Makes sense. I really connect with the letter writing. I think that that gives a person an opportunity to pause and think about it and use all the correct words instead of kind of getting emotional and shutting it down or getting emotional and getting angry. So I think that's a good tool.  

But if you were to give Chris one last piece of advice, what would that advice be?  

[00:15:02] Kim Ades:
My advice would be to take a moment and really try to imagine what it was like to be him at that time. And so that exercise allows her to kind of put down her anger. Because the anger isn't helping her get the story she's looking for.  

Her feelings of betrayal are perhaps a little misplaced. He wasn't trying to betray her. He was trying to perhaps move past something that he feels bad for, or can't live with himself about. It's not about her, it's about him. And her job is to really understand how that time and that event impacted him and continues to impact him today. 

[00:15:44] Ferne Kotlyar:
Definitely. Well, thank you so much.  

[00:15:47] Kim Ades:
Thank you! That was a good case. And for your friend, hopefully you're listening to this podcast. I hope that it gives you some ideas. And if ever you want to talk directly, I'm happy to have a conversation.  

For those of you who are listening, if you have a situation, a case, a challenge that you want to see discussed on this podcast, please reach out to us. 

My email address is Kim@frameofmindcoaching.com

Ferne, what's your email address?  

[00:16:15] Ferne Kotlyar:
Mine is fernekotlyar@live.com. Please reach out.  

[00:16:25] Kim Ades:
Amazing. And if there's anything that we can do to help you, please, don't hesitate to reach out. If you're listening, please like, please share, please comment. Please provide your feedback. We love hearing from you!  

In the meantime, have a wonderful week and we'll see you next week. Have a great day!

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