In the first part of this blog I wrote about two different men who had come to see me for Anger Management. One who was able to use me to clarify his core issue and another who used me rather differently. I want to add one more man to this list. He was in his early twenties and came with a history of violent emotional and physical abuse from his alcoholic father. In all honesty he was not going to win any awards for charm. He was contemptuous of almost everyone. His mother and sister; his father-who had died some years ago; his boss; many of his friends. The list was long and never ending .He saved his most virulent contempt for the schools system which he felt had failed him at every turn. (There seemed to be some truth to this claim-although his behaviour would not have made him an easy pupil to manage.) He stayed with me for about a year. At eight months I , at least, came to understand what had to happen if he was to grow emotionally. There had to be a recognition that he was a victim and had a need-and a right-to mourn. He needed to mourn his lost childhood. He needed to mourn his lost father.He needed to mourn all that he had had taken from him.
When I first suggested this to him he made his feelings very clear. He was not a victim. No fucking way. That was for losers and he was no fucking loser. No fucking way. I continued to explore the idea of loss with him. He continued to let me know what he thought about the idea. (One does need a certain staying power as a counsellor!) I suggested that one reason for his refusal to mourn was his fear of what would happen if he allowed himself to know how much hurt he carried with him. I further suggested that if he did let himself grieve for all his loss, it would be very painful.
Several more months went by until he came to one session and sat very quietly for several minutes. He then told me how he had been alone at work one morning that week and had been overwhelmed by feelings of loss.” I cried like a baby. I just hoped nobody would see me.” I nodded sympathetically and we spent the session talking about those feelings. Towards the end I reminded him of my coming break and began to organise my diary. “Ah.” he said, “Um… I’m not coming back. Um… I’ve got CBT with Healthy Minds and it’s free. So, I’ve got to take it, haven’t I?.” With that he thanked me for my work, paid and left. I was dumbfounded but left with no way of talking with him about this decision. (Which was, of course, his exit strategy.)
What links these men? Many things. But one is how they managed their feelings. Particularly their feelings of loss, anger, bewilderment, outrage-to name a few that can be named. My Forces patient had a Good Enough childhood. Certainly there were areas of lack. There always are. But overall it was a Good Enough upbringing. He took in a sense of himself as loved, wanted and valued. Thus he could give up something important- his Forces career- for something more important. His family. My other two patients had not had Good Enough parenting. My second patient vividly remembered his mother bringing home many men friends whilst his father was at work. He knew this was wrong and tried desperately to do something. He would have stomach aches, headaches, toothaches. Anything to ensure that his mother would not go upstairs with her friend. It rarely worked.
My third patient also had a miserable childhood with his mother’s attempts at making things better failing equally miserably. (She did eventually leave the marriage but perhaps not soon enough.) The manner of his leaving was an eloquent statement about his need to still kill off the father me. As he felt robbed of so many joys in his childhood by his father, so he was going to deprive me. I was not going to be allowed the pleasure of watching him grow and mature. (I doubt that CBT will do anything much for him, effective though it can be as a therapy.)
Patient B (my second case study) was unwilling to consider that his infidelity had anything to do with his childhood. He simply liked women. My suggestions that he might , in phantasy, still be punishing his mother was met with utter contempt. If i was any good as a counsellor I would leave this psycho- babble to one side and help him stay faithful! (One other valuable skill we learn as counsellors is when to say nothing!) Patient C ( my third case study) also had issues with sec and intimacy. his goal in life was, simply, to get laid. It was a source of constant shame to him that he had not had a sexual relationship with a girl. Indeed he had had no relationship of any kind with a girl. (Perhaps not surprisingly since all a girl represented for him was, crudely, a cunt to fuck. And this was not even for the pleasure he hoped to get from sex. It was only so he could say that he had scored. and thus have something to tell his friends.)
Both these men-and many others whom I have met with a formal psychiatric diagnosis- split off their anger and pain from its source. There is a psychic retreat, to use Steiner’s phrase.And the problem is always located elsewhere. It is my wife. Or my children. Or my boss .Or Gays and Lesbians. Or… The problem is never to do with me.
And in the interests of keeping this blog to a readable length, i will do more theorising in a third and final piece.