Posted by: Marie | June 28, 2012

(658) Healthy negotiations – Part 3 of 4

Post #658
[Private journal entry written on Monday, July 18, 2011 about a conversation between my therapist and me – continued from previous post]


(I looked at my sticky note yet again . . . when I saw what was next on my list, I had to take a deep breath in preparation . . . it was a risky topic . . . )

Me: Okay, next . . . oh . . . something else I’d like to bring up with you . . .

On the Hike by Martin Chen

There have been a couple of times in our sessions, lately, when I’ve been triggered by our conversation . . . I start to get angry . . . my body tenses up . . . I raise my voice . . .

In those times, I find myself wanting to turn loose and explode . . . really express the anger I’m feeling.

As you know, I’ve had a hard time being able to express my anger either with words or with physical movement. I think part of that is that I’ve had a hard time moving from a calm state to an angry state on demand . . .

For example, when we were doing the racquet exercise, we were having a calm conversation about what I could do with the racquet . . . well, I was very emotional during that conversation, but I was feeling fear, not anger . . .

The idea of the racquet exercise was for me to express anger. That meant that I needed to transition from feeling fear to feeling anger. I wasn’t able to do that on demand.

I’m not sure I could have swung the racquet even if I had been able to transition to anger, but I know for sure I couldn’t if I wasn’t really feeling the anger.

So, maybe it would be helpful if we take advantage of the moments in the session that I get triggered involuntarily, resulting in a burst of anger. I’d like to take advantage of that and express what I’m feeling in that moment.

Edward: I remember that you wrote something about that in your last email . . . can you tell me what that might look like?

Me: I probably would use words to express my anger . . . and I might raise my voice . . . I’d probably yell – or, at least speak with a loud voice and harsh words. I might be able to do something like throw or hit a pillow . . . maybe.

Even if the topic at hand has nothing to do with my dad, expressing my anger around the topic at hand might open up the possibility of subsequently expressing my anger towards my dad.

I think that, if I had a “good reason” for becoming angry in a particular moment, my anger might feel more “justified” to me and I might have an easier time acting it out.

Edward: Let me ask you this . . . so, there have already been times in our sessions that you would have liked to express yourself in this way . . . ??

Me: Yes.

Edward: What kept you from expressing anger in those times?

Me: Well, when I started raising my voice, you interrupted me mid-sentence by raising your voice a bit and challenging my anger. Once you did that, I no longer felt safe enough to continue with expressing my anger – I had no choice but to shut down my emotions – stuff them back down like I’ve done all my life . . .

Edward: I’ve interrupted you?

Me: Yes, a couple of times.

Edward: I wasn’t aware of that – I don’t doubt you, I just wasn’t aware that I have done that – it is something I try very hard not to do.

Can you give me an specific example of when I’ve done that so I can better understand your experience?

Me: Well, for example, in the last session, I was feeling triggered by all of your questions that I couldn’t answer. At one point, I raised my voice and said something like, “I don’t know the answers to your questions!”

In that moment, I really wanted to explode and move the anger out of my body. But, you raised you voice and said, “You aren’t supposed to know the answer!” That caused me to shut down.

Then, things got quieter and you started working with me to analyze and diffuse the emotion. At that moment, I didn’t want to diffuse and understand it – I wanted to explode.

I can think of one other specific example . . . and I think it has happened at least one other time although I can’t remember the specific incident . . .

I’m guessing that you might be getting triggered when I raise my voice and that is why you stop the escalation of my emotional outburst . . . that maybe, in the situation where my anger is directed more towards you and your behavior rather than at my dad, that feels unsafe to you and so you stop it.

Edward: I’ve not thought about it, but that could be a very real possibility. Because I’m human, I do get triggered sometimes. As a mental health professional, it is my responsibility to identify and address my own trigger points as soon as I become aware of them so I don’t drag them into my work with my clients.

I’m glad you’ve called my attention to this so that I can address it – your courage and honesty allows me to become a healthier human being and a more effective therapist – so, thank you for that!

And, as we are sitting here talking about it, I can identify a concern I would have around us allowing the expression of your anger to escalate in the context you are describing . . .

I’m concerned that a undirected outburst might cause the inflammation of your anger but that it might not actually resolve that anger . . . that it would only bring it to the surface but not move it out of your body . . . and that could be counterproductive. I think that would be my biggest concern.

Me: Hmmm . . . yes, I see what you are saying. However, I think I would have an initial outburst . . . a release of tension . . . and then I’d be in a better position to sit back and work through it . . . for you to help me understand the underlying causes.

Sometimes the tension is so heavy that I get paralyzed . . . when that happens, I’m no longer free to take a step back . . . I get stuck.

Allowing the tension to disburse would put me in a better place to do the work that we’ve been doing already when I get triggered. I think it would be a healthy thing, especially in here where you can help me work through it.

Edward: Okay . . . I trust your instinct on this. So, let’s plan that way . . . when I sense that you are getting triggered and your anger is building, I’ll make sure I don’t interrupt you or try to stop the expression of your anger. Instead, I’ll do whatever I can to help you express that anger in a safe way.

Me: Okay . . . good . . . thank you! That is what I was hoping for!

(Edward sat quieting, watching me for a moment . . . )

Edward: (Very gently) So, does it feel to you that this matter is resolved for now? I mean, do you need further assurances from me that I understand what you are saying or that I understand how to support you in this way going forward? What do you need from me today in relation to this?

Me: I feel good about it . . . I don’t need anything more from you today. I feel heard and understood – and thank you for that! I appreciate that you are willing to hear what I had to say even if it might be uncomfortable for you. That means a lot to me.

Edward: You are welcome!

[Continued in the next post . . . ]

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