The Dance Steps of Anger, Hurt and Fear: A Collected Effort Toward Healing – Part II

So, having plunged deeper into the sea, getting past anger and into hurt, we now travel to the bottom of the ocean floor.

Sitting on the sea floor is our human needs. Denial aside, we all have them. Yes, there are the basics – food, shelter and clothing – but there are other essentials as well – all the emotional, narcissistic needs that keep our hearts sustained. Such requirements include understanding, trust, love, belonging, relationship and community, and meaning and significance.   Perhaps the most important of these human needs is safety – emotional and physical. Without the mental assumption of my own security, I am paralyzed by fear, our most primitive feeling, our first feeling.

Thus, we have come to the third central human emotion – fear.   In this feeling category, I am including such emotions as anxiety, insecurity, panic and dread.   Unlike anger, which tends to reside in our head, neck and shoulders, and grief, which we hold in our chest, fear sits in the center of our bodies, in our gut, our core. The interconnection between the emotional and physical begins to take on new meaning. Just think of all the gastrointestinal difficulties that are overmedicated and wrongly diagnosed. But I diverge …

There are two basic fears. The first is fear of not being okay, of not surviving. Consciously, or perhaps more often unconsciously, we are constantly asking ourselves – am I going to be okay?   Will I make it? Can I go on if he leaves me? Will I survive if the company goes belly-up? What will become of me when the kids leave home? Who am I with this medical diagnosis of unknown consequence? We all seek out ways to create safety that will relieve us mentally of the boundless fears of not being okay.

The second fear is that of insignificance. As with our fear of not surviving, we are also, consciously and unconsciously, constantly asking ourselves – do I matter?   Does it even matter that I breathe the air and occupy the space I do? To whom am I connected and what do I contribute? Does it even matter that I write these articles month after month?   Who will attend my funeral and what will they say? We are persistent in finding ways to give our lives meaning and significance which provides our lives safety.

Because we were not created to meet our needs solo, we take these needs and place them on others in the form of expectations. And because no one can meet our needs 100% of the time, 100% the way we’d like, with 100% consistency, then our expectations get broken. Some more, some less but broken just the same. As a result, we feel hurt and it most often surfaces as anger:

Anger

I

Hurt

I

 Broken Expectations

I

 Human Needs (Safety/  Fear)

Let me give you a few examples. I have a need to provide a living for my family. I place this expectation of financial sustainability on my boss at work. The company needs to make cut-backs and I get the pick slip. Broken expectation results in hurt and angry. I have a need to be loved and feel secure. I marry the star quarterback. He finds someone down the road who fits his fantasies better than our worn and tried love. I am left betrayed, hurt and enraged.   I have a need to be protected as a child. I place this need, consciously and unconsciously, on my parents. They cannot watch me every moment, with lives of their own and busy distractions to mind. Danger ensues and I am left wounded, hurt and angry.

So, the model is complete and we now see the relationship between anger, hurt and fear ever more clearly. And in its understanding we can grasp its implications and application:

First, the model helps us see the point of intervention for emotional wounding. For example, if I were to go without food for a period of time, I would awaken to my next meal “extra” hungry. As in childhood, if I do not have enough of my needs attended to, I go into my adulthood needier. As a result, according to the model, I now have additional expectations – you better be there for me 110% of the time, 110% of the way I need you to be. As one can predict, this is a set-up. My superfluous expectations only get broken more, adding on extra hurt and extra anger to the pile already stored inside me. Thus, the point of contact and healing is not at the top with the anger and hurt, but in the primitive depths with one’s human needs. As one begins to penetrate the deprivation and the unmet needs, grieving the carried loss and pain, one’s expectations begin to normalize and the resulting emotions can then be regulated at a manageable means. This emotional maturity toward moderation allows one the opportunity to be effective in oneself and in one’s relationships.

Secondly, this model is helpful as to its correlation and integration with the body and the breath. Babies are born breathing from their full body in what is known as diaphragm breathing. Quickly, in adapting to a broken and wounded world, folks move the breath from the belly to the chest. Such panic breathing restricts access to the deeper and more genuine feelings at the gut of our body. Such a restriction of breath restricts life.

And lastly, the model reinforces the adage that what we see is not always what we get. By understanding that certain emotions can actually mask more genuine feeling states, we have the opportunity to understand ourselves and those in close proximity at a level of honesty where true contact can be made. And it is in this context of authenticity, understanding, healing and intimacy can truly be had.

I still wonder about Martha. If she has permanently transformed her vernacular. But more importantly, if she has begun to dwell in rooms of her internal house that were previously off-limits. Maybe, by now, she is even dancing on the ceiling. If so, I hope to keep working my way that I may join her under the disco ball.

Group Therapy Through the Grand Canyon

After about two hours, I assessed that it was gonna be one long week. Two boats, 28 strangers and four guides – better known as “river rats” – ready to lead the way.

When I booked a whitewater rafting trip down the Colorado River for my kids and I this summer, I was thinking va-cation and re-creation. I was thinking about my teenage son who would be thrilled to wear the same clothes for a week – hell, these were his people. But I was not thinking about group. And, boy, was I wrong. Momentarily, it slipped my mind that all of life is group. And here we were, strangers thrown together, all with the task of navigating together six days of survival in the wilderness.

The first sub-group we encountered were the 70th birthday folks. They gathered in honor of Bill, who wished to celebrate his newest decade without bravado.  He brought his wife – whose name I swear sounded like Titsy, his quiet-but-still-waters-run-deep best friend who became my armchair co-therapist, Titsy’s best friend who was the best of the bunch, his daughter’s boyfriend-soon-be-be-fiancé who laughs like a hyena and my son quickly came to imitate with extraordinaire accuracy… and his very controlling daughter who was working on her second doctorate and made sure we all knew it. By the end of the trip, any external beauty she possessed was superseded by the not-so-pretty behaviors she displayed. It was sad really. Eyes rolled throughout the group each time she told one more person one more time how to do something better – rather, how to do something her way. I wanted to gently tell her that therapy might be a good idea but I figured it was none of my business. And I was on vacation, not a work trip. The kids I decided that we would choose our raft each day based on the one she was not on. The trip immediately became more relaxing.

Then there was another sub-group – the “drunks.” Not really. Just proud imbibers. What a fun bunch. The post-middle-aged men had known each other since kindergarten. One brought his first wife, the other his umpteenth girlfriend. They were funny, personable, and connective while respectful. I miss them already.

There was the grandfather and his teenage grandson. I both admired them and felt jealous. I never had a grandparent take me on such an adventure.

And there was Al, the seventy-five year old, who came as the only single. When I asked him where his compadres were, he told me that they are all either dead or no longer able to take such a trip. I applauded his vitality and told him that I wanted to be like him one day.

And there was my favorite family, the winery owners from Northern California. They have a daughter with the same name as my daughter and the same birthday. We were meant to be friends. We started hanging with them.

And then, there was the “Duggars” from the Midwest. Or the “S” family. Or the “Whos” from the Grinch Who Stole Christmas. Any of these fit – take your pick. Five kids, all within five years of each other, all with names that like “Big Mama’s,” begin with the letter “S.” At first, they did not talk or make eye contact to anyone but each other. They stayed in their clan, always picking the campsite farthest away.   On one hike, two of the boys were behind me on the single-file path. I thought, here is my chance. I will break them down! I will force contact through their walls of silence. So, I ask … what do you boys like? School. Well, I thought, that sounds boring. Let me try sports. You boys Blackhawks fans? Nope. We don’t watch television and we don’t do hockey.  Oh. Even more boring. They really are the Duggars. How about one of my bad jokes. Flat it fell. Ok. Even I gave up trying to make relationship.

So, we remained in the subgroups of our individual families. As the days passed, we talked superficially about the weather and the meals and which  guide we liked better. We exchanged biographical data and 50 PDF sunscreen.

All until the second to last night when the kids finally decided to stop eying each other from afar and bold the cut of the umbilical cord. They figured more fun was to be had with their own kind, away from their parents. All it took was one child from the “S” family extending an invitation, then it was Ultimate Frisbee the first night and Capture the Flag till 1:00 a.m. the next. By the last day, all eleven kids decided to ride in one raft and put us boring parents in the other. They plotted to riot the guide for his remaining candy stash and proudly flaunted their success.

The group had formed.   The only regret was that we had not put down our quick judgements and procured the necessary security to bond sooner. But life is like that. We attach at our own pace. Never sooner. We sift through the masses to discover with whom we fit. And then once we brave connection, we are reluctant to let go.

I must confess that I never did develop affection for the controller. Oh well. I guess some relationships are just not meant to be. Or we decide we don’t want them to be.  And  I am okay with that too.