|Clinical Mastery Linda Bacon Attachment Theory Mary Jo Barrett CE Comments Ethics Men in Therapy Etienne Wenger Alan Sroufe Challenging Cases David Schnarch The Future of Psychotherapy Trauma Couples Therapy Mindfulness Clinical Excellence Brain Science Gender Issues Wendy Behary Attachment Anxiety Couples William Doherty Diets Narcissistic Clients Community of Excellence Future of Psychotherapy Symposium 2012 Mind/Body Great Attachment Debate|
|Case Study - Page 4|
Learning to Recognize His Own Truth
My commenting on his body-based sensations helped Jim experience previously ignored emotions. Surprisingly soon, he started a meticulous "lie diary" to record and reveal his habitual untruths, especially in his strained marriage. His diary revealed minor daily lies, such as telling his wife he had to work on the weekends when he really wanted to be with friends, telling her he'd closed the garage door when he hadn't, and telling his boss that he hadn't taken his pen when he had.
More dramatically, about six months into therapy, Jim vividly revealed his extreme passive-aggressive tendencies by telling me about his regular, intense fantasies of tying women up and sexually abusing them. I was taken aback and decided to err on the side of safety. "Jim, should I be worried about your hurting me?" I asked. Genuinely surprised by my concerns, he said, "No. I've never physically harmed a woman and don't think I ever would." I realized from the content of his fantasy and his reaction to me how powerless he must feel around women. No wonder he couldn't stand up to Beth or his boss, but could only lie, blame others, fantasize revenge, and act out his rage by masturbating to violent pornographic images.
After several months in the group, Jim became more fluid in relating to other group members. He'd laugh with them and could take a joke aimed at him without automatically feeling shame. He began openly sharing his feelings and revealing the beatings, neglect, and pain he'd suffered as a child. He even learned how to listen to criticism without becoming paralyzed by shame. In fact, his feelings
Yet, for all his progress in the group, he remained unable to confront people or to ask for what he wanted. I felt irritated with him when he announced that he and Beth were having another baby in the midst of all their marital difficulties. Rethinking my reaction, I reframed this event as proof of the power of Jim's dream—however unlikely—of a happy family life to "correct" his painful childhood.
It took months before he admitted to himself and the group that he'd never loved Beth, but had always been afraid to say no to her—including about having another baby. Even as he made this confession, he didn't seem very upset about it, though. I was determined to focus him on his body to help him access his feelings as he considered this important truth. When he added that he felt like a "scared little lost boy," I asked him how he knew that.
"Where in your body are you feeling scared, little, and lost?" I said.
"In the middle of my body," Jim replied welling up with tears. "I've always had this emptiness in the middle, and it makes me feel scared and alone."
"I'm with you and the group is with you right now," I replied.
With that, he fell into a heap of tears. Afterward, it dawned on him that he'd never before felt any compassion for that little boy. "It felt really good to cry and to trust that none of you would humiliate me afterward," he said.
In the sessions after the realization that he could express feelings of sadness and loss in front of others and not be shamed for them, he began finally taking the risk of going further into his feelings, often reporting his body sensations without prompting. He started to experience genuine sorrow and fear, to feel his long-standing anger toward his parents, and to understand how his lifelong inability to recognize or effectively express his anger had fed his passive-aggressive actions. As his emotional awareness and confidence grew, he decided to leave Beth, although they'd spent a year in couples therapy. But deciding to leave and doing so were two different things. First, he chose to sleep in the guest room so that his wife and daughter had time to acclimate to the changes in the household. His plan was to wait for his second child to be born before moving out of the house, which he did. He was torn between abandoning his family and abandoning himself, but he and Beth eventually worked out the terms of their divorce, agreeing that she'd keep the house, he'd continue to support her financially, and that he'd be as much a part of the children's lives as possible.