April 26, 2009
Every now and then, Dr. Paul Weston (Gabriel Byrne) from HBO’s series, “In Treatment” comes out with a good line, full of depth, and accurate to the therapy process.
In one of the episodes I saw this week, Dr. Weston says, “Is it easier to be angry with me than to look at your own pain?” His client was throwing all kinds of angry jabs at him when clearly she was angry, upset, and miserable about her own life.
Even though it was said on television, that line has a lot of truth in it.
Is it easier to be angry with me than to look at your own pain?
I realize that most of you reading this blog are not connected enough with me — Kathy — to make me a likely target for your anger. Frankly, I appreciate that. Believe me, I’m not “volunteering” to be the target.
But, have a think about the people that are closer to you — the people that are more visible in your life.
Is it easier to be angry with your therapist than to look at your own pain?
Is it easier to be angry with your spouse than to look at your own pain?
Is it easier to be angry with your friend than to look at your own pain?
Is it easier to be angry with your boss than to look at your own pain?
Is it easier to be angry with a stranger than to look at your own pain?
Is it easier to be angry with yourself than to look at your own pain?
So many people want to deflect their pain by pointing at other people, blaming other people, and being angry with other people. It’s often too hard to sit with your own pain without doing that.
What makes anger easier to express than pain?
How many times have you argued with or fussed at your therapist when you were in deep pain?
What makes your therapist a safe enough person to be the target of your anger?
For people with DID (dissociative identity disorder), it is even more complicated because there are often insiders with memories of pain that they want to talk about, and the host / front alter part may not want to hear about it. Host parts can get angry and upset with their therapists for listening to the inside ones. Why is this so often the case?
Are you getting angry at your therapist instead of looking at your own pain?
Listening to all that a person says is an important part of therapy. Would you rather your therapist not listen to your inner parts? Isn’t that the same as asking your therapist to not listen to you as a whole person? Why should your therapist talk to some of you, but not all of you, especially if those others want to talk about the pain that they are feeling? Why should they be ignored, neglected, shunned?
What if your therapist listened and talked to them, but not to you? It probably wouldn’t go over so well if the shoe were on the other foot.
See, even though you are switching, and you feel very much like different people, your therapist will still see you as the same basic person. While there may be some parts of your system that are more involved with the current day / outside world than others, everyone in your system is still important, and everyone can have their say.
Of course, part of the difficulty here is that some of the insiders speak about things that the host is very very uncomfortable with. Sometimes the insiders speak of trauma memories that the host doesn’t want to hear about. Sometimes the insiders speak of ongoing abuse, or abuse by a loved one. Sometimes the very speaking about abuse at all is more than the host wants to hear.
Another common reason that dissociative trauma survivors express anger at their therapist is because expressing anger at their perpetrators is too complicated. Displacing and projecting anger at your therapists instead of your perpetrators may help to find some version of release of anger, but it isn’t really going to get to the root of the problem, so it’s not going to get the kind of resolution that you might be looking for.
Expressing anger at the people that hurt you — while one might think that should be easy — is actually very difficult for survivors with dissociative disorders. There are a number of different reasons for this:
- The violent, sadistic abuser is still alive and still poses a threat. If you are overwhelmed by your fear of this person, it is harder to feel safe enough to be angry with them.
- You may have been threatened with great harm and more violence if you expressed anger or irritation with your perpetrators. This “rule” is hard to overcome.
- You may be too dissociated from your trauma memories to really know who your perpetrators are. When this is the case, you are at risk of expressing your anger at the wrong people.
- Due to the complications of your family dynamics and trauma memories, you might feel too trapped by your own guilt, or shame, or humiliation to feel able to be angry at anyone else.
Emotions can be very complex and finding a way to safely and honestly express your pain and your anger may take a lot of work and practice.
The next time you are angry at your therapist, think about what Dr. Weston words, “Is it easier to be angry with me than to look at your own pain?”
Kathy Broady LCSW