The Story of Richard
Richard’s feels ignored by his mom and dad. His parents are so much into their own career they give their one and only child the minimum of care. They live under the illusion that they are good, caring parents. The reality is, Richard’s care see-saws between a nanny on some days of the week, day-care on others, and a teenage babysitter on the nights they attend their ‘mandatory” business meetings. When Richard does see his parents, usually on the occasional evening and when they are not catching up with domestic and household duties on the weekend, he is needy and frustrated and prone to angry tantrums. His parents have absolutely no time for these anger tirades. They themselves do not possess the capacity to see or understand the connection between their absence and his frustration. When he does express anger they respond by sending him up to his room for long periods of time, having him leave the table without finishing supper, disallowing him from playing with his PlayStation or computer, or banning him from watching his favourite television programs for the rest of the week.
In time, Richard begins to realize that the expression of his anger creates further isolation for him. In these isolatory periods when he is up in his room staring out the window, his tummy rumbling with hunger, he curses himself for getting angry. He hates that he let his anger get out of control again. He blames it for their lack of presence, seeing it as the main problem for his parents’ rejection of him. And so he makes a private commitment that he will never allow himself to get angry again. From his non-sophisticated perspective, if anger creates isolation, then if he were to control it he wouldn’t be punished through isolation. But maybe, just maybe, if he kept his anger at bay his parents would not go out in the evenings and they would pay more attention to him. Thus he exiles his anger.
There was in fact nothing to lose from trying. So the tirades and the tantrums stopped, and he no longer was sent up to his room. When he was around his parents, they still weren’t emotionally present for him, but at least he was on the same floor of the house as they were when they were around, and he didn’t go hungry anymore.
Exiling his anger did improve matters. In fact, since Anger’s imprisonment, his parents occasionally referred to him as a “good boy.” He was a “good boy” because he didn’t throw his food on the floor at the end of meals, because he didn’t scream when they left for the business meetings, and he sat and stared at the TV with the babysitter instead. Though it was fleeting and nothing more really came from it, being told he was “good” was some recognition and attention – and he wanted more of it.
Richard organized his emotional system to prevent, or at best limit the expression of his anger, realizing that doing so brought more benefits than if he were to allow anger an expressive freedom.
In the following classroom excerpt, I, as the instructor, interactively demonstrate how Richard’s re-organized emotional and defense systems can be mapped.
An Extract from ARC’s “The Art of Creative Resistance” Class
Pietro: Let us pretend that we as a class represent Richard. Each of us represents a part of Richard’s emotional system, so that every one of us is an emotional or behaviour part of him. The question is, how might you as Richard prevent or distract from the expression of your anger? (Read: What is a part?)
Student: I might start to read books so I become totally involved in my reading and it becomes an escape from the reality of what is going on around me.
Pietro: Good. I am going to put anger here on the blackboard and draw a balloon-like circle around it. Notice how I am making the circumference of this balloon the colour red, because it represents Richard’s anger. He exiled his anger, therefore I want to make this part of him distinct. Now I am going to draw another circle touching one side of the anger balloon and in that circle I will write “Reading.” The circumference of this one will be another colour. The rest of the balloons I draw will be the same colour as “Reading”, because these represent Richard’s defense. So if Richard feels angry or irritated, he might read as a way of distracting from his anger. (Read: What is a defense?)
Student: When I feel angry I binge. If I were a part of Richard intent on distracting him from his anger, I would advise him to go eat, probably something fatty and sweet, like a chocolate milkshake, something that get my taste-buds singing (class laughs).
Pietro: I am drawing another balloon here with the word “Eat” in the centre. How else might Richard distract from his anger? What other defense parts could arise were he to come close to being angry, frustrated or irritated?
Student: Well as a defense part of him, I would advise him to take full advantage of the media distractions at his fingertips. I would have him watch lots of TV, have him play video games and use the internet lots.
Pietro: We already know that he has PlayStation as a distraction. So we will make that official by creating a balloon or a part titled “Video Games.” Let’s create another and call it “TV” and another called “Internet.”
Student: I would refuse to cooperate and stop talking to you, probably for years. Once you have offended me, rather than tell you honestly what I am feeling, I would cut you out of my life. I wouldn’t return your phone calls, I would ignore you if I were to pass by you in the street, I would delete your emails, I wouldn’t think about you – ever!
Pietro: Is this something you do to distract from your own anger?
Student: Absolutely. I am trying to manage it, meaning I pull myself out of my recluse when I see myself doing it. But I have a terrible history of cutting people off when I am angry or upset with them.
Pietro: Where did you learn to distract from your anger in this way?
Student: From my father. All of my father’s brothers and sisters deal with anger in the same way. Most of them don’t speak to each other. Some of my uncles’ have not uttered a word to each other for decades.
Pietro: Then we will create another balloon around anger and call this one “Cut-of/No Communication.”
Student: I would cry. If you got angry with me, I would feel self-pity and cry.
Pietro: What does that achieve for you?
Student: Well it usually succeeds in ‘dampening’ down the situation (class laughs). It literally does take the heat out of the situation, in that almost all of the time the person on the other end transforms from being angry into being sympathetic to me. Within a minute the person angry at me may go from red-faced rage to hugging me.
Pietro: So now I add a balloon named “Crying” around anger.
Student: As a musician, I play the piano when I get angry. I learned this when I was a child. Whenever there was a threat of an argument between my parents, I would go practice my piano, and most of time it worked as a family distraction. Whenever I feel irritated or frustrated, I go play the piano.
Pietro: It sounds as if this could be healthy outlet for your anger.
Student: I would agree that it is most of the time. However, I never ever express my anger to anyone. So in that sense it does too good of a job, in that it gets in the way of the times when I should confront someone, but I never do…
As the class continued, the students added additional parts around the anger. The end result was a deep layer of balloons representing the defense parts that surround Anger in the centre.
As the exercise continued, the line between Richard’s defense parts and the students’ own parts became blurred; they began to talk less about Richard’s defenses and more about their own. We all possess common defense parts, and despite the differences in circumstances, our own reactions to anger, may have created many of the defense parts similar to Richard’s.
How do you creatively distract from the healthy expression of your anger?
Are there benefits to distracting from the healthy expression of your anger?
Are there costs to your ways of distracting? Does it limit you? Does it effect your emotional or physical health? Does it adversely affect others?
What effect does your forms of distraction have on your anger? Does anger show up in other ways despite your methods of distraction?