Anger and Relationships

Alaine De Botton on anger:

Not sure if this really Seneca’s take on Anger. It interesting though. The essential take on anger is that it is the result of holding unrealistic expectations and that more pessimism will help calm you down.

Anger is a philosophical problem with a philosophical solution. Perhaps a bit like CBT?

My philosophical response is that it is not sufficient. Unrealistic expectations can equally lead to sadness and then it is usually framed as disappointment. However there is something to this philosophical take. Our thoughts not the other persons behaviour are at the root of anger.

A fuller take on this idea from Marshall Rosenberg:

In short: Anger is the way we get a signal that there is an unmet need. I think he uses the example of the “check engine light”.

I’m aware of another form of anger that is not really either of the above. Anger at injustice. this is from wikipedia: “Socialism is the flame of anger against injustice.” I think of this being tied in with our fight response, adrenalin rushing to survive against onslaught. This not just in the eye of the beholder as some might say. Inequality, sexism, racism, exploitation and oppression really do exist. There is a good fight. Anger at violation of human rights surely is a good thing.

There are a couple of traps here though. Take this site:

Question: “How can I know for sure that my anger is righteous indignation?”

Answer: We can know for sure that our anger or indignation is righteous when it is directed toward what angers God Himself. Righteous anger and indignation are justly expressed when we are confronted with sin. Good examples would be anger toward child abuse, pornography, racism, homosexual activity, abortion, and the like.

Makes sense if you think God is against gay rights and women’s right to choose. But it does not make sense in the real world. Investigation is the key to knowing waht is real.

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Anger and Psychotherapy

I’ve heard this a lot in my profession:

“Anger is a socially suppressed emotion and people – especially women – need a safe place to get in touch with their anger. Expression of anger leads to discovering the emotions under the anger, being assertive and getting needs met. Anger is not the same as violence.”

The trouble with this is that it does not work like that if the person comes home and thinks it is a good idea to be angry with their partner. In some way anger can easily lead to violence verbal, emotional and physical. Marshall Rosenberg’s principle that other people are not the cause of our anger needs to be taken into the picture more fully than it often is.

It is easy for a therapist to side with the person in front of them. To see their side of the story. Much harder to concretise the “other” in the room with the other perspective.

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Angry Couples

In psychotherapy with couples the question about the nature of anger is important. It is held by many couple therapists that people who choose to be together in an intimate relationship are in a “horizontal relationship”. The tenet is that as therapists we should not take sides, but be a catalyst to the healing potential in the relationship. From an Imago website:

Romantic love is the door to a committed relationship and/or marriage and is nature’s way of connecting us with the perfect partner for our eventual healing.

In my work with couples I can hold that trust that the couples are equally wounded and that the power struggle can be nasty and that they have equal responsibility to get out of it. Each partner can take full responsibility for the relationship.

Talk so the other will listen.
Listen so the other will talk.

Even when there seems to be abuse of power, it usually does not take long to get to the fear, hurt, powerlessness and vulnerability under the surface. All problems in the relationship are co-created. i.e. the way one partner talks leads to the way the other listens – learn to talk without blaming shaming and criticism. Learn to listen so the other will talk. Even social inequalities can be addressed with this principle. I’m amazed how far I can take that principle in my work with couples. I’m amazed because I don’t think society is an even playing field.

Male Privilege

Look at the list here “160+ Examples of Male Privilege in All Areas of Life”. This social inequality seeps deeply onto marriage and committed relationships.

Michael White years ago drew my attention to a Gregory Bateson idea: there are “restraints of feedback and restraints of redundancy” The feed back ones are created on the level playing field.

The other restraint is due to the social values that are the ruin of a relationship.

Therapist’s Values

William Doherty is very good at seeing and responding to the social forces that mess up relationships. His book Take Back Your Marriage, Second Edition: Sticking Together in a World That Pulls Us Apart is excellent. All about the restraints of redundancy to use Bateson’s impossible jargon.

In the psychotherapy Networker he advocates:

The biggest problem in couples therapy, beyond the raw incompetence that sadly abounds, is the myth of therapist neutrality, which keeps us from talking about our values with one another and our clients. If you think you’re neutral, you can’t frame clinical decisions in moral terms, let alone make your values known to your clients. That’s partly why stepfamilies and fragile couples get such bad treatment from even good therapists. Stepfamily life is like a morality play with conflicting claims for justice, loyalty, and preferential treatment. You can’t work with remarried couples without a moral compass. Fragile couples are caught in a moral crucible, trying to discern whether their personal suffering is enough to cancel their lifetime commitment, and whether their dreams for a better life outweigh their children’s needs for a stable family. The therapist’s moral values are writ large on these clinical landscapes, but we can’t talk about them without violating the neutrality taboo. And for clients, there’s the scary fact that what therapists can’t talk about may be decisive in the process and outcome of their therapy.

I think this is tricky terrain. I think it best to focus on the co-creation of the relationship rather than the unequal society it is born from. That is a value I have because there is a lot a couple can do to address these issues in their relationship IF they can connect.

Still I am pleased to have the “permission” to have values, to weave them in in such a way that I am not seen as taking sides, because I am not.

Varieties of Encounter

Facilitating interaction was the dictum I used for the first couple therapy I did. I recall, as an untrained social worker in a hospital being asked to work with a couple who had difficulties. The night before I read a gestalt based book on couple therapy and facilitate interaction was the central practical guide I took away. I could have done worse.

I have written on dialogue and encounter in the AANZPA Journal more recently: The Imago Affair. Let me quote a relevant chunck from that paper as I wish to further reflect on encounter.

Encounter

At their heart, both Moreno’s and Hendrix’s work go beyond technique and are an invitation to a profound experience. The aim of a dialogue is not a specific outcome, nor is it reliant on one method. Here is the section of Moreno’s well known poem that encapsulates the idea of encounter.

A meeting of two: eye to eye, face to face.
And when you are near I will tear your eyes out
and place them instead of mine,
and you will tear my eyes out
and will place them instead of yours,
then I will look at you with your eyes
and you will look at me with mine.
Moreno

Harville Hendrix introduced the validation step into the Imago structure with an eye to facilitating just such an experience. It is often taught as understanding or making sense. The lead-in line goes like this: “You make sense. And one thing that makes sense is…” The listener is invited to cross a bridge into the world of the other, and to see what they see, and feel what they feel in that world. Note the similarity to Moreno in Hendrix’s idea.

Buber clarified for me that a “Thou” relationship with others required honouring their “otherness” as an “I” distinct from me and any concepts I might have of them. This required a willingness to look at the world of another through his or her eyes.
Hendrix

Linger on the moments of connection described here:

I will look at you with your eyes (Moreno)

look at the world of another through his or her eyes (Hendrix)

Are they the same?

Both Imago and in the work of Moreno there is the idea of a special meeting. Not just any meeting, but something profound, where you become the other…

How to facilitate, or operationalise encounter is different in the psychodramatic sphere than in the I Imago sphere. They use different contexts for their techniques as well, psychodrama: the stage. Imago: the couple in dialogue and Hedy Schleifer has a variation:  Host / Visitor to the other’s world.

There are techniques/concepts in these modalities that are sometimes akin, but differently nuanced, and sometimes unique to the method. There are other modalities and have techniques for interaction, of importance is the variation of Imago developed by Hedy Schleifer and her husband, and the work of Dan Wile.

My friend and colleague Dan Randow and I are working on describing the varieties of techniques for encounter. Here is a beginning.

Here is a list of techniques/concepts:

Doubling: in Psychodrama

Mirroring — Psychodrama

Role reversal — Psychodrama

Doubling in Imago:  Related to the use of lead-lines

Doubling in Dan Wile’s CRT

Mirroring in Imago

Validating,  Imago

Empathy as used in Imago

Dialogue (Imago)

Host, Visitor (Hedy Schleifer)

 

Notes:

How does role reversal relate to encounter? In role reversal and in doubling you become the other to the best of your ability. You take the physical position of the other, quite literally in role reversal and by being alongside and slightly behind the other when doubling.

Is it useful to distinguish the inter-psyche from the intra-psyche; what goes on in our subjective world and what goes on between us?  Maybe sometimes, all these encounter processes aim at improving the relationship and healing and growth of the individuals at the same time.

 

 

Time for a talk? Create a good warm up.

You are fed up. This is been on your mind for a while. You need to tell the other person. Its not fair. They are a problem. You’ve been meaning to do this but they’d never listen…

Those thoughts and feelings are your warm up. A warm up like that needs some attention. The other party is not likely to listen. When the time comes to talk you need better warm up. The six steps will create a good warm up for a productive conversation. “It is all in the warm up.”

Create a Topic

What is the title of this conversation? One that is of interest to both parties. Create a topic that is constructive. Do this well before you approach the other person. This will determine everything from here on.

Begin with the impulse for the talk, e.g. “Your careless behaviour over the years has made me resentful and bitter and it is time you changed.”

Remove blame: “I think you are careless and I resent that and I’d like you to change.” Notice the subtle difference with the words: “I think…”

Remove resentment: Resentment is something you have allowed to build up, own it. “I think you are careless and I have found this difficult to raise with you, and I’d like you to change.”

Convert judgmental words, and be specific about outcomes: “I think the jobs can be done more efficiently.”

Make it collaborative: “I think we can do this more efficiently.”

Topic: “How we can do some things more efficiently”

Make a Request

How you do that also creates a warm up. More on that soon.

How do I respond, can I say anything?

When learning to dialogue people often ask how to respond to their partner after they have listened to their first “send”. What do I say, can I say anything? 

Response is central to relating. Is everything a response to the previous thing? Perhaps, but I like to distinguish the words of the initiator of the dialogue, the protagonist, from the response by the person who is listening, the receiver, who I encourage to think of themselves as an auxiliary. In responding as an auxiliary, we are not asking for anything. Of course the sender (or protagonist) might listen and mirror the response, but as a responder it is useful to keep the mind-set of an auxiliary, then the response is a form of mirroring in that the protagonist can see how they impact on the other person.

A response will reveal to the protagonist who how they are received. A response may also reveal something about the listener. Self disclosure as it is known in counselling jargon. As long as the auxiliary stance is maintained it can be useful, as long as its not all ‘Me, me, me.’ Good self disclosure on the part of the listener means the protagonist will know they are speaking with a person.  A response that is well done will have the protagonist nodding, relaxing, learning about themselves and ready to open up more about themselves. They will not feel alone and trust will build. A full response will enliven the dance, create a rich space between the two, filled with meaning.

To encourage this when they ask: What do I say, can I say anything? I offer something like this:

What was most exciting to you in what you just heard.
What touched you most deeply.
One thing I have learned about you.
What I found valuable in what I heard.

Enlarge on your response.

Small phrases in the form of lead lines or instructions are essential tools in counselling and therapy. It is astounding the difference wording can make. In this post I reflect on an instruction to the person who is responding in a dialogue.

Enlarge on your response.

I like this instruction. I typically use this in couple therapy when one partner says something like, ‘I like listening to what you said.’ I could use a lead line such as, ‘One thing I liked about it…’ or ‘When you talked about my parenting I felt…’, sometimes that is fine. However the instruction, ‘Enlarge on your response.’ is more open ended. They might say, ‘When you say you learn a lot from the way I parent our children my heart leaps with joy.’ Anything is possible with the idea of enlargement.

It is a challenging instruction, and if I think the person is not able to meet the challenge of the instruction I will guide them with a lead line that prompts them to give something more.

Zerka Moreno on Doubling and Tele

Still thinking about the interpsyche – and found this passage from Zerka Moreno in the Psychodrama Network News from the American Society of group Psychotherapy and psychodrama 2005 I now see the difference between empathy and doubling. Doubling in its conception includes the relationship, it is not the intuition of the therapist directly but the voice of the interpsyche – the relationship between two people.

But there is another, more important, aspect of McGaw’s presentation. When he speaks about how his doubling with a protagonist is so often correct, he interprets this as due to his intuitive ability. When pressed by Rogers to explain it more specifically while speaking of his own power in that respect, he refers to it as his “empathy.” Unfortunately, he overlooks the contribution to the process by the protagonist, as if it all comes out of the therapist’s psyche, that of a single mind. By unfortunate I mean that this is just the area of Moreno’s contribution, namely to have pointed out that it is the interaction between people – tele – resulting in the “inter-psyche,” the space between people, that is the foundation of his and our work. This observation, more than anything else McGaw speaks of, tells me he has not really grasped Moreno’s message. It is our emphasis on the moment, the here and now, the spontaneity of the protagonist, the interaction of minds, that distinguishes our own field from that of individual psychology, a lesson we must never overlook.

Zerka Moreno makes it so clear psychodrama is a relational not an individual method.

Recently while teaching doubling it was clear the person was trying to think what the other person was thinking. Close, but not quite it. I said… let yourself be him, become him, breathe like him, sit like him, look at the world through his eyes and then voice what comes up, you won’t be guessing, you don’t have a choice about what comes up.

The doubling was then noticeably different even though not always exactly right.

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Later: Saturday, 6 October, 2012

I’m now (post the Dan Wile workshop) thinking the phrase above, “you don’t have a choice about what comes up” is right, but not enough.

Many things will come up and it is useful to choose to voice those things that are progressive for the protagonist, such things as empathy for another person, declaring an inner struggle, claiming the validity of experience.

Judgement of others, blaming and self righteous anger may also come up. They could be ignored, but if they feature strongly they could be moderated with such phrases as: I know this is might not be easy for you to hear. I wish I had a way of expressing this more constructively. I have been sitting on this for a long time and my intention is to bring it out to improve the relationship.

Later: Sunday, 29 November 2015

…this is just the area of Moreno’s contribution, namely to have pointed out that it is the interaction between people – tele – resulting in the “inter-psyche,” the space between people, that is the foundation of his and our work.

This makes it so clear that Moreno had the relational paradigm, he did not call it that and he often slips into thinking of individuals, yet he is so instrumental in this as an influence on Buber and then Harville Hendrix and Hedy Schleifer.

F. David Peat

Listened to F. David Peat on Future Primitive. I liked him after a while. Student of David Bohm.

His central metaphor (from item below):

In terms of social or economic systems, action would emerge out of the natural dynamics of the whole system, arising in a highly intelligent and sensitive way and consisting of small corrective movements and minimal interventions. Rather than seeking to impose change externally and at some particular point in a system, gentle action would operate within the dynamics and meanings of the entire system.

As usual made me wonder why he had not taken on board Marx on these questions. The system is biased, not natural.

Found this item: Gentle Action_Surviving Chaos and Change.pdf

Later: Friday, 20 May, 2016

Listened to a podcast about Hannah Arendt Partially Examined Life

The social in here schema is natural, not political which distinguishes us from animals. Bohm may have the same idea.

Not sure I’ve got it but the whole episode is interesting on social roles.

Misses the idea of “bringing your self into a social role”??