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  • Vickie Fuhriman

Hereditary: the therapeutic aspect

Let’s talk therapy and family dynamics in Hereditary. Annie and her mother obviously had some attachment issues that were never resolved, Ellen Leigh likely struggled with her parenting due to the coven lifestyle that she led and the “schizophrenia” that ruled her life. Ellen Leigh shows signs of Sociopathic tendencies as she is adamantly working towards putting King Solomon inside of her son and does not seem to care that she is actively harming her family. It’s fair to say that we see Annie’s anxious attachment style throughout the film, Annie is struggling with worrying that Steve will be there for her and is worried about abandonment from others. Though there is some overlap between the PTSD she develops and the attachment style that she has, there is no doubt that she struggles with abandonment and her emotions run on high. Ellen Leigh was likely an unpredictable parent as evidenced by Annie’s brother blaming Ellen Leigh for trying to put spirits in him as a cause of his suicide. She likely was preoccupied and did not parent effectively most of the time due to her underlying illness. Ellen Leigh wreaked havoc on those in her life, including her husband who starved himself to death. Ellen Leigh and her husband likely would have benefitted from couples counseling focusing on their ability to communicate and honesty. Though with Ellen Leigh’s secret life in the coven, there’s no doubt that there was a rift between them that stumbled down the line into parenting further affecting Annie.

Peter, oh Peter, the PTSD, and depression that wreaked havoc on this poor boy were all too real as he smoked pot to numb his feelings, had flashbacks, and was on edge most of the time. Annie struggles with the emotional guilt of not having wanted to have Peter which causes distance between them and even leads to those untoward feelings of homicide that arise during her sleepwalking. There is obvious triangulation that has occurred with Steve taking up third base holding down the reigns in the midst of an uproarious, and tumultuous relationship that develops between Peter and Annie as the film draws on after Charlie’s death. Annie relies on Steve to hold the reigns when things start to crumble between her and Peter and Steve takes up this role with stride, however, Annie and Peter are soon unable to function without this dynamic in place and their relationship suffers. This family would seriously benefit from learning to use “I statements” (ex. I feel upset when you stay out late at night because I worry about you) and taking responsibility for their actions. A Bowenian technique could be beneficial in addressing the Graham family as they have a complicated dynamic and any therapist worth their weight in gold would do a genogram (basically an advanced family tree that shows family dynamics) with the family to understand where to even begin. This family struggles with differentiation of self and it is obvious that if Peter is going to succeed in life he needs to first be able to differentiate his thoughts and feelings from that of the family. Not only can this type of thinking hamper his ability to function but it makes communicating with other members of the family difficult as there is a lack of boundaries and little to no emotional connection. The negative emotional beliefs that Annie carries with her about her mother carry forward and affect the relationship pattern that she has with her children. Charlie and Ellen Leigh carried a different relationship than that of the disconnected and nonexistent relationship that she had with Peter which changed the way that Ellen Leigh and Annie connected as well as how Annie connected with her kids. Though Annie would never admit it, Charlie was obviously the favorite in the house and parents’ beliefs about their kids carry their weight as they change how one interacts with their kids. Annie likely parented differently for Charlie and Peter and often showed favoritism. The sibling position (where one is born into a family – you’ve probably heard that the oldest is the most independent and that the youngest gets spoiled) has its place here in the Graham home as Charlie was the second born and was obviously given much more attention and special care than Peter as the firstborn. Though there were outside factors that led to why Charlie became the favorite, the fact that she was the second born likely did not help the cause. The whole Graham family suffers from emotional cutoff (when one stops relating to someone), Annie has cut off her husband and Peter, Peter has cut off his parents and friends, and Steve has cut off his wife. When individuals cut off individuals in the home it leads to the distancing of each other both physically and emotionally and then by no surprise there are communication issues in the home.

Using family sculpting (the child puts the family in the way that they see the way the family is – parents distanced, kiddo in the corner, family situated in daily activity, etc.) with this family would allow Peter the opportunity to show how he feels in the home by arranging himself and his parents in a way that would give him to the space to show how he is feeling in a very tangible way. Peter would likely separate his parents and would likely put distance between himself and his parents as well. Teaching Steve and Annie de-escalation techniques and coping skills (probably square breathing (breathe in for four, hold for four, hold for four, breathe out for four) and a grounding technique (such as 54321)) including how to take space (taking space is when you go to another room to cool off and use a coping skill) when upset would be beneficial in being able to handle the conflict in the home as they currently handle conflict by verbal aggression.

I have taken a liking to the “Explosive Child” and it works well for many families and Peter would be no different. It is not that he does not want to do something it is that he either cannot or does not know-how. Annie and Steve can address this in a “one problem at a time” approach by focusing on the problem rather than the behavior and taking the Plan B and Plan C approach (plan A is the usual approach of parents telling kids what the reward/consequence will be, plan b is when the parent talks with the kiddo to see what they are struggling with on the task at hand and then work collaboratively to find a reward and consequence that works for them both, plan c is when you focus on one thing at a time because Billy running into traffic is more important than him brushing his teeth) with Peter where they can talk with Peter and see what Rules, Rewards, and Consequences (RRCs) would work best for him in the situation. By taking the Plan C approach they can focus on one problem at a time and put the others to the wayside. Focusing on Peter’s substance use and verbal aggression may be higher on the priority list than him sneaking out to parties.

By taking this family under a therapeutic wing we can see that though Peter may have his difficulties, Annie does too – but this stems from a tumultuous relationship with her mother and the lack of parenting that was given to her. Annie and Peter both suffer from Acute Stress Disorder from Charlie’s death which only exacerbates the depression and anxiety that Peter was feeling beforehand. Medication and individual therapy can help Annie and Peter process Charlie’s death and prevent this from turning into PTSD. Though I cannot recommend medications, I do believe that Peter would benefit from an Anti-depressant and an anti-anxiety medication as he is self-medicating with the marijuana at this point and is obviously struggling. Peter likely suffers from PTSD from when his mother tried to kill him when he was younger and has been trying his best to cope with that all these years later but the new death of his sister has pushed him over the edge – not to mention all of the supernatural shit that would be bound to push anyone over the edge even without a mental health condition.



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