Counselling, Psychotherapy, Reflective Practice, The Inner World

What have feelings got to with anything?

ImageSome years ago we were having dinner with some friends. Jane was talking about an incident at the school where she taught. I listened and asked “How do you feel about that?” Before she could answer her husband commented ” What a self referential question ‘ What do you feel about that?'” That stopped her in her tracks and the conversation moved elsewhere. It took me a long time to think about his question- and to find an answer. My answer is “Why should a feelings question not be self referential?” We were not discussing whether acid burns or whether the moon is round, which are questions of fact. I was asking about her inner world. The men whom I have seen for Anger Management are very remote from any inner world. They have little idea of the effect of their behaviour on others. Little idea of the effect of their behaviour on themselves. Mostly because they are emotionally inarticulate. They have no vocabulary of feelings. (Which is not the same as having no feelings.) When this inability to articulate one’s feelings is linked to a sense of entitlement, there is a recipe for misery.

Self harming is well recognised as being both a way to feel and a way to not feel at the same time. The angry men whom I have met use their anger in much the same way. To both feel and not feel. They can feel angry. What they cannot  bear to feel is loss, sadness, fear, anxiety, vulnerability. At least some of the reasons for this are defensive. If I make  myself vulnerable, will anyone know? Or care? At its most pernicious, Anger represents an attack on Hope.For patients B and C they had lost Hope. Almost as if it was a parent from whom they had become separated in a supermarket. But a parent who was never able to be found again. THese men had developed autistic thinking as an art form. As a veey effective way of not thinkijng. Rycroft in his Critical dictionary of Psychoanalysis (Penguin 1968) defines Autistic thinking as “… thought which is determined solely by the subject’s wishes and phantasies without reference to the environment or realistic considerations of space and time.” In this style of thinking, the ego is King. I need make little or no reference to the outside world except when it suits me. I will use whatever means I can to keep dependency at bay. And Anger is one very effective way of keeping everyone at bay.

My work as as a counsellor is to provide a safe place where it might be possible to Hope. Or at least think about the implications of Hope. And if-when – hope becomes possible then other feelings can come out the closet in which they have been locked. Laughter, joy, fun, pleasure. But also loss, pain, loneliness, fear. But these last ones need not be so feared. Because with Hope comes the ability to allow the full range of feelings. The Apostle Paul wrote “… hope does not disappoint because the love of god has been poured out into hearts through the Holy Spirit.” (Rom 5:5) The KJV puts it better, I think , in its translation “Hope makes not ashamed…” To Hope is to Risk. I might be let down again. I might fail. But Hope also enlivens. And that is no cause for shame.



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