Do You Punish the People You Love?

Jack couldn’t see why he shouldn’t be “hard” on his wife and kids. It was for their own good. “I’m no harder on them than I am on myself,” he would say, as if his self contempt justified his brutalizing of others. In reality, no good could come of his barbaric approach to personal improvement.

Jack only wanted the best for his family, he wanted them to be “happy.” Unfortunately, Jack was not an expert on happiness. It was foreign to his experience, it was not part of his agenda.

During his first session, Jack told me how he often got angry at his wife and kids. How he regretted his out of control rages. How he always apologized afterwards, as if saying “I’m sorry” made their hurt and fear go away. They were not impressed by these apologies. They knew he would repeat the whole scenario all over again.

In listening to the circumstances that provoked Jack’s anger, such as Jane’s grocery bills, 7 year-old, Jimmy’s disrespect, 5 year-old Jill’s “laziness,” a pattern of vulnerabilities became apparent. In response, I asked Jack a focusing question:

Therapist: “What do all these anger provoking situations have in common?”

Jack: “Nothing. They’re all different.”

Therapist: “That’s true. Jane spends too much money on food, Jimmy is rude and Jill is irresponsible. But is there a common denominator?”

Jack: “I don’t see any.”

Therapist: “You’re right, you don’t see it yet. Tell me this, what was you father like.”

Jack: “He was a good man, except when he drank.”

Therapist: “What do you remember?”

Jack: “One time, I was 6, he had been drinking. He pushed my mother down on the antique chair so hard that the arm broke off. He died shortly after that. The chair is still broken. I think of that whenever I go over to my sister’s house and see that chair.”

Therapist: “What was the worst thing about it.”

Jack: “It was scary.”

Therapist: “You felt out of control. You didn’t know what was going to happen, you couldn’t control it.”

Jack: “I felt sorry for my mother.”

Therapist: “Did you feel angry watching your father push around your mother when you were growing up?”

Jack: “No. I wasn’t allowed to get angry. Only my father was.”

Therapist: “Now that you’re a father, you can get angry.”

Jack: “Yea, I won’t allow my son to disrespect me with his anger.”

Therapist: “You are repeating the scenario of your childhood. You are maintaining your consistency.”

Jack: “Consistency is important to me.”

Therapist: “Inconsistency would be weak, out of control.”

Jack: “That’s right.”

Therapist: “Your father liked consistency, too, didn’t he.”

Jack: “Sure he did. What’s your point?”

Therapist: “You still don’t see the common denominator, do you. What was the worst thing about your father pushing your mother?”

Jack: “Men shouldn’t push women.”

Therapist: “What do you call it when they do?”

Jack: “It isn’t right.”

Therapist: “If it isn’t right, what is it?”

Jack: “It’s wrong.”

Therapist: “Everyone knows that, but the common denominator of your anger at your wife and kids is that they make mistakes.”

Jack: “I don’t have a problem with that.”

Therapist: “You should have a problem with it because your anger at mistakes is making everyone miserable, even you.”

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Shared by: Aaron Karmin, LCPC, Contributing Blogger

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