We flee or fight to avoid pain. In psychodrama we call those ways of being the coping roles. The path to the progressive, being fully alive, is to be with the vulnerability of the pain and attend to it. This can’t really be done alone, yet no-one can do it for you.
This is a universal idea and present in many modalities.
The title of this post comes from Hedy Schleifer’s ECcT – Encounter Centred Couple Therapy. On her website she says:
“I want them to leave knowing that the “survival dance’ that they have been dancing for such a long time is “not’ who they are in their essence.”
“Imago shifts the focus from the self to the relationship and posits “relationship” as fundamental reality of which individuals are derivatives. To embody this paradigm shift, partners must shift their focus from their own need gratification to the needs of the relationship. The paradoxical outcome of that counter-intuitive shift is that such a sacrifice will insure the satisfaction of their needs in a way that was not possible when the focus was on the self. When the couple becomes partners rather than opponents in the project of creating and enacting their dream relationship, they create a thriving relationship. This perspective rests on the assumption that human beings are intrinsically relational, that the human problem is relational rupture, that all emotional symptoms are expressions of relational anxiety and that relational repair is the only and sufficient path to human well being.”
Beauvoir, Francine; Crapuchettes, Bruce. Getting Back The Love We Had: Forty-Two Answers To Real Questions From Couples Who Feared They Were Losing Their Way (pp. 4-5). Kindle Edition.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Three articles on the relational paradigm were published in the Imago newsletter this year by Harville Hendrix and Helen LaKelly Hunt. They are available on the Imago website. I have collated them here as I wish to refer to them in my writing on this blog and in discussion with others.
1. Everyone is mirrored. This slows sharing down but develops a sense of each speaker feeling safe and being fully heard.
2. Anyone can volunteer to mirror. If no one else wishes to mirror the speaker, the facilitator(s) will do it. We suggest that if a person wants to “respond” to what has been said, they not be the one to mirror the speaker to whom they wish to “respond.”
3. Have an attitude of pre-validation.* In other words, assume that all persons “make sense” and are valid before they speak. Listeners seek to understand the “sense” that speakers are making and are trying to express.
4. The group holds the “space of validity” for all members and encourages the sharing of different points of view.
5. Avoid MasterTalk* – in other words avoid sentences that imply that only one point of view is correct. If Master Talk statements are made, “Boundary insertions” may be used to return the tone to one of sharing.
· “This is a fact” is politely mirrored, “So you believe…”
· “This is what happened” becomes “So you remember…
· “You are wrong” becomes “So you think differently. You think…”
· “I think I speak for everyone here” is met with a polite request to just state what is true for him or her.
6. Value silence skillfully. Powerful points are often followed by silence. Silence doesn’t have to be filled right away. Listen for the emerging wisdom of the group.
7. Silence, on the other hand, can be a signal that talk is going underground. If this is perceived, a facilitator may invite and encourage sharing.
8. Facilitators and group members encourage all points of view and honor real differences.
9. Work to shift the tone from “conflict” to “sharing”. Saying you want to make an “addition” can be a powerful alternative to debating and win/lose thinking.
10. Encourage a sense of seeing a larger picture by valuing each person’s contribution to the group consciousness.
11. Learn to enjoy hearing and sharing even ideas you don’t particularly like. Learn to hold the tension of differences and grow the communologue space.
12. Senders should make relatively short sends; paying attention to the needs of other’s to share the time available.
13. It is believed helpful for senders to stay with one subject per send.
I recall being advised by my then supervisor, about 30 years ago, to look around for a psychotherapy modality that grabbed me and then to learn it thoroughly and not become prematurely eclectic. I followed that advice. Psychodrama was that modality for me and I am steeped in its traditions and have practiced it for decades and hope to do that for a few more.
However I have more than a passing familiarity with a some other fields of practice, I have a grasp of Archetypal Psychology and I am qualified in Imago Relationship Therapy. I have grappled with my multiple perspectives, and have written a paper about my tension with Imago for the AANZPA Psychodrama Journal: The Imago Affair. I’ve been thinking about this more of late.
In an earlier post I tried to capture a thought I had about dialogues. I was pleased to know someone read it and emailed me to say they were a bit confused. No wonder, I just pour out something I think about late at night — when I should be fast asleep!
I will describe more clearly how I work with couples by unpacking what I think are important ideas in a snippet from the earlier post.
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.
The problem is that I’m using language from two psychotherapeutic modalities. I imagine this makes no sense to anyone really, as there are very few psychodramatists who are also Imago Relationship Therapists. Even to someone who has that background it is still a muddled sentence.
Let me start again. First I’ll use Imago terms and then I’ll describe the same work using psychodrama language.