25 January 2009

With Thanks to Dr. Harriet Lerner

Most of the time, when I post here, I've already worked through the strong feeling surrounding an event, or a series of events, or a pattern -- at least far enough to be able to describe it and consider it without the feelings taking over completely as I do.

This is called detachment. It's not only healthy, it's essential for taking inventory and making meaningful changes. Those things happen from the inside out, and you have to be able to think clearly [and to "serenely bear the trial of being displeasing to yourself"] or they can't happen at all.

I'm going to be working through something in realtime, here, for once. This is probably a good thing. But you need to be aware, this series of posts will be different. I'm going to be exploring more than explaining, and I have no idea, myself, where I'll end up. But it's a necessary journey, and I'm already underway.

Before I get into that, though, I want to express serious thanks to Dr. Harriet Goldhor Lerner, whose book series "The Dance Of" [Intimacy, Deception, etc.] was started in the 1980s and continues to this day.

I'm reading one of the oldest books in the series now - you guessed it: The Dance of Anger. And would you believe: many concepts that I've learned through discussions with counselors, or by querying colleagues whose specialty is mental health, or by cogitation over coffee or prayer, or by rummaging about in the professional and popular literature online, are explained very well indeed in this very book. She discusses triangulation, the "Change-Back" reaction [in fact, that's what she calls it], and a number of other concepts that are old, familiar friends to me now.

I wonder how many of the people I've learned from ... learned what they taught me directly from her?

The Dance of Anger was published in 1985, so it is a bit limited by the mindset of the times, which did not address abusiveness directly. The prevailing emotional tone is thus 'there aint' no good guy, there ain't no bad guy, there's just you and me and we just disagree'. I.e., everyone is decent if you dig down far enough, and everyone tries to do their best by themselves and by others.

This reflects the 'values-free' approach to therapy which is still popular today, and is the main reason I found many self-help books to be no-help books when I was younger. I knew I was being abused, and all the case histories, in which two or more people all miraculously come to their senses and work out mutually satisfactory solutions to shared problems, sounded to me like fairytales.

But now I understand abuse. And I'm trying to find the root of specific, very inappropriate behavior that I 'acted out' all by myself, seemingly without provocation, just a few days ago.

I need to go back to the basics, the real fundamental stuff, and try to see and think clearly. Her explanations of the psychodynamics of anger look like a good starting point for necessary self-examination. I can adjust the perspectives myself, now, to factor in the reality and impact of abuse. And as I read, I catch little flickers here and there, turns of phrase, subordinate clauses, which do allow for the existence and impact of abuse, if I pay close attention. She knew it was there, of course. All along.

Thank you, Dr. Lerner.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

But wasn't your outburst about other people's ignorance and stupidity?

Isn't hating that and reacting out of that strong emotion just as laudable as hating abuse in all its forms, and just as important to our faith and integrity?

I was thinking this the other day..

Most people think love and hate are opposites. Most Christians believe that if you are a child of God you can't justify hate, we are told to love our enemies and not hate them etc.

But one thing I have learned and experienced in myself and in others whom I admire both past and present, is that love and hate are corollaries. If you love God, you hate sin. If you love the truth, you hate lies. If you love your children you will protect them with a passion from everything that would come against them. And it is that passion which is born from a deep love of the precious thing which you protect. Jesus who came with passionate anger against his enemies the pharisees was incensed by their utter lack of regard, their narcissism if you will, for their own people. He hated what they represented, that false religion which has swallowed us whole even today. His anger was righteous because of its object, not necessarily because he was/is. And if God gets angry at sin, and other people's stupidity (remember the Noah story - I can completely understand why he regretted creating people if they are anything like the retarded species we are today), then why is it wrong for us to be just as angry?

OK, I don't know you, you could be a serial killer for all I know, but we have corresponded for quite a while now and you have always been kind and compassionate to me, so I am simply making an extrapolation, albeit a presumptious one.

I am also just airing an opinion I have had for some years since my own experience with a religious cult and the abuse therein.

There is room in us as believers for a passionate anger against the sort of malaise which creates minds impervious to either love or hate. I am tired of encountering christians who sleepwalk through their lives thinking that to NOT feel is in some way morally superior to feeling anything or to be observed feeling anything more to the point, and further that to feel anything bad or negative is to sin.

Perhaps I am misunderstanding your concerns here, but I am worried that you may think of yourself as a bad person because you may have overreacted to something...once.

It is the repeated actions over time which signify the true nature of the person, and in my experience, yours have always been nothing if not sensitive encouraging and deferential.

Obviously if your conscience is telling you that you said things you shouldn't I can't speak to that, that is between you and those you spoke to and God. I am more concerned with the possible sense of misplaced guilt....

OK...sermon over. Sorry I went for so long, but as you can imagine, I who have been told that my feelings don't matter for 40 years am very protective of my right to feel, and the rights of others to the same privilege.

25 January, 2009 19:00  
Blogger Stormchild said...

Sermon greatly appreciated, Meg.

I'm walking a tightrope right now, in fact, trying to discern the appropriate response to that very ignorance and stupidity you refer to.

What I found deeply distressing about my behavior is that I was basically trying to fight fire with fire, when I not only know it's fire, I reject that same fire categorically.

I'm having a Hebrews moment here; the very thing I hate, that selfsame thing I have done.

So the challenge for me now is to look at how I behaved, identify not only what was amiss but how I got there, and see what I can come up with that's more constructive. Then figure out how to really put that into practice.

I ran a search today, on the term 'anger', here, and found that I've spent very little time actually exploring it.

Ooooohhh. Big honkin' blind spot. I thought I was dealing with it... rather, I thought it was sort of magically dealing with itself, apparently.

Which is not totally off the wall. Many times we do become less angry, less depressed, etc. once the underlying cause is recognized and addressed.


Not all gone. Some pretty potent stuff has merely gone underground.

So now I have homework... but not to worry. I have no intention of abdicating standards. Once you know that abuse exists and you know what drives it, you can't ever be a moral relativist again.

The task is not for me to become magically never-angry no-matter-what; since I can't accept moral relativism, that would require me to be deeply in denial, which I also can't accept.

The task is for me to know the anger - as anger - when it first arises; harness the anger consciously as a potent source of strength; and then express it in more constructive ways - at the crucial moment, in the heat of 'battle'.

I need this in my repertoire, because it's not realistic to think, as I have been thinking, that I'll always be able to 'step back' from what angers me long enough to let the anger subside. I need a better way to handle it when there's no chance of that [or, to be fully honest, when I want to be angry, more than I want to be sensible].

I can see that I have made definite progress in other areas. I'm confident that I can now make progress in this one.

God knows, I'm motivated. And a week ago, I couldn't even have articulated those paragraphs above, defining this task for myself.

So there's hope.

To be continued.

25 January, 2009 23:13  
Blogger TH in SoC said...

Hey there, Stormchild,
I am just getting caught up on your story. After I read your first post, I sorta guessed which blog it was that you visited. My experience with that blog and its hosts started a couple of years after I left my old abusive church. I really enjoyed reading their posts, as they skewered many practices of abuse and authoritarianism among clergy, as well as their satirical pictures of modern evangelical culture. The thing that was really great about them was that they used the plain reading of Scripture to show that many American evangelical practices are unscriptural.

But something has happened to them over time, and they have moved away from the Scriptures. In fact, some of the hosts have begun to defend and espouse positions that are plainly against Scripture. In addition, they have become more sensational, as if they were deliberately trying to provoke their readers - somewhat like talk-show radio hosts who inflame their hearers in order to boost their Nielsen ratings. Their aim is no longer to resolve issues, but to antagonize. That is why, a few months ago, I deleted them from my blogrolls. I hate to put it so baldly, but in my opinion, they're knuckleheads.

As for anger (and other failings), ah, me! I sympathize with you. I can remember times even within the last few years when I could have just kicked myself for things I did when angry. Yet God still seems willing to pardon me and clean me up afterward...

26 January, 2009 21:43  
Blogger Stormchild said...

Thanks TH, you can't imagine how much you've helped.

You're absolutely right about all of it. It helps to have the history validated, because I had the sense that things were sliding downhill and that certain participants were instigating this.

I did not stop long enough to think before posting, or I would have realized that nothing good could possibly come from it no matter how diplomatic I managed to be.

But I really did behave inappropriately, and it's time for me to figure out a better way to handle this.

There is a real trap here. Being abused gives us primarily abusive models, and if we don't find other, better models, we fall back on the only ones we know.

You did the gentlemanly thing - stated your concerns and left quietly, wiping your feet. I shrieked like a banshee and slammed the door.

Thanks for providing a good model of a better way to handle it :-).

And thanks for the Christian, clear eyed affirmation, I hear you telling me that I'm going to get this sorted out, with God's help.

Thanks again to Meg, too. It's a huge help just knowing you're there.

27 January, 2009 10:05  
Blogger CZBZ said...

There's 'hate' as an emotion and there's 'hate' as a state-of-being. This is an idea I've been pondering lately.

"This reflects the 'values-free' approach to therapy which is still popular today...in which two or more people all miraculously come to their senses and work out mutually satisfactory solutions to shared problems, sounded to me like fairytales."

Well-put! I also resisted self-help books and even today, look for a disclaimer by the author. If they don't write: "This book is inappropriate for 'lettered' individuals", then I read it with one-eye-outwards to the lettered and the other eye inwards to myself. A girl can get cross-eyed if her partNer insists she keep both eyes turned inwards.

I think all the good advice in the world has the potential of being abusive if we're dealing with a pathological person and don't know it.

In normal relationships (or so I'm learning), anger is respected as a boundary. People automatically look inwards and question themselves as to why the other person is angry. Even if an argument escalates to preposterous levels, it often ends in mutual chagrin OR laughter. Not so with the 'lettered' for whom Hate is a state-of-being.

So what do we learn when our anger is continually invalidated? We learn to shush our anger, one of the most important warning signs we have that we're being mistreated! I highly doubt most 'lettered' folks are aware they are teaching us to numb our emotions. They only know it works, so they keep on workin' it. It's a death trap for the soul though...after awhile, people can use us, abuse us, excuse us as insignificant, and we have no response. We have effectively become indifferent to our selves.

No wonder abused people skyrocket from one end of the anger continuum to the other in a ‘healing process’. We never practiced moderating this powerful emotion without going to extremes. We're deskilled in a way, groomed for abuse, and when we begin to accept our anger as a good thing, we’re lousy at handling it appropriately!

Learning how to handle anger is like learning to walk---we fall on our faces, bruise our knees, scuff our elbows and make idiots out of ourselves. Eventually, we hold up our heads and walk with dignity and grace.


CZBZ with band-aids on her knees

31 January, 2009 17:27  
Blogger Stormchild said...

Thanks CZ

For the validation and the sharing, for the understanding and support.

Reading about your experiences along this same rough patch of road is so helpful, I can't begin to say how much.

Thank you.

31 January, 2009 18:03  

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