Raoul was wary but willing to try, so the therapist said, “Say these few words out loud: What I lost really hurts.”
He thought about that for a few seconds, and then said he wanted to change the words to “What was stolen from me really hurts.” Raoul then said those words.
After a few seconds, the therapist asked, “Do you feel anything in your body with that?” Raoul put his hand on his solar plexus and said, “Yes, it feels hot and tight right here.”
“OK,” said the therapist, “let your hand lightly hold or massage that place for a few seconds, and then we’re done with it for now and we’ll focus on other things.”
Gradually, over several sessions, Raoul opened to the full, direct experience of his grief, and each time, he saw that the waves of grief and pain, even the most intense feelings, lasted only a few minutes at most. To ensure that juxtaposition experiences were occurring, at certain points the therapist briefly guided him to connect with his old expectation of being overwhelmed. Toward the end of this process, the therapist asked, “How much is left of thinking you’ll be wiped out by the grief you feel? What percent?”
“Close to zero,” Raoul confirmed. Beyond allowing his grief process to unfold, this approach had transformed his knowledge of his own capacity to feel emotion.
Raoul’s third statement was “Without my anger, I feel he totally got away with it and there’s no accountability or justice in the world. Letting go of my anger would be letting go of my demand for accountability and justice, and that’s totally unacceptable to me.” His business partner had stolen his money, as well as his hopes and dreams, and Raoul was struggling to keep alive his implicit model of the world as being good and just, and relying on his angry demand for accountability to accomplish that. In essence, resorting to anger was his passionate campaign to preserve a sense that there’s good in the world.
The therapist asked Raoul if he felt any connection between this campaign and what he’d previously described about the total honesty and goodness of his family. His childhood, he’d said, was sheltered from bad experiences and scoundrels, leaving him unprepared for such encounters. To help him access that theme emotionally, the therapist said, “To you as a boy, the world of people seemed to be all goodness, and then, at 31, you had a powerful, traumatic encounter with badness. I can imagine that might be challenging to come to terms with. Could we take a look at what’s going on inside about that?”
That question opened the door to a chamber of implicit meanings, and Raoul now recognized that his angry quest for justice was actually his desperate attempt to preserve the innocent, uncompromised world he’d experienced as a boy. With this dilemma in mind, the therapist commented empathetically, “So, for you, the existence of this bad person has the power to nullify all the good that you also know exists.” Raoul’s mismatch detector immediately swung into action on his revealed schema, lighting up his own contradictory knowledge and creating juxtaposition experiences. He soon arrived at a new, more nuanced model of the world. As Raoul put it, the world “contains lots of good and some bad.” He no longer needed to be an angry seeker of justice and accountability. In his last session, he announced that his wife, with great affection and gratitude, had offered the final verdict on his healing journey: “The man I married is finally back!”
Of course, neuroscience has yet to magically transform psychotherapy, making all that was opaque, hidden, and out of control now clear, open, and well regulated. So after years of fascination and even infatuation with brain science, it’s understandable that some therapists have grown a bit disillusioned with the whole subject.