For the past few months we’ve been working through various aspects of the 4 Rs model (Rupture, Regression, Repair and Resolution). We have learned that when a Rupture unbalances us in the here-and-now, Regressive emotions can be activated to bring the past unexpectedly into the present with a disorienting array of feelings. The discomfort that follows can be painful and often puzzling. In Repair, we take time to approach and honor these feelings in order to identify and explore their significance.
For many, making sense of Regressive emotions is like sitting down to one of those puzzles of a thousand pieces. It requires patience sorting for patterns, persistence linking the pieces, and cleverness joining them to reflect the picture on the puzzle lid. The difference when decoding one’s personal emotions is that there is no picture for guidance, only painstaking effort until awareness and meaning evolve.
In this blog post, we will rejoin the group members from the June 2015 vignette. Observe how, in Repair, their collaborative approach supports curiosity about oneself and each other as they identify puzzle pieces which emerge in their ongoing work.
At the start of the session, Jim announced he had unfinished business with Francie for suggesting he uses his wife’s inability to connect as a way to justify avoiding her. He said he felt minimized and humiliated by Francie in front of everyone. Group members recalled Jim’s frustration with Francie when he exclaimed, “What if my wife’s love is just a façade?” They wondered if Jim’s anger with Francie could be similar to the distress he experiences with his wife. As Jim considered this, he was surprised that his struggles with his wife showed up in the group. Francie said she felt frightened by Jim’s anger and he wondered if his anger frightens his wife. Hank jumped in and said, “I don’t get it, Francie. How is it that you are afraid of Jim’s anger, but not the anger you elicit in your partner? Startled by Hank’s comment, Francie said nothing.
The work of unfinished business captures the essence of Repair and multiple puzzle pieces emerged. Jim acknowledged how his anticipation of being shamed could set him up for feeling angry and upset. Doug considered how his fear of being devalued and rejected makes him cautious with others. Grace wondered if feeling flawed and unworthy of kindness keeps her isolated and afraid. Francie admitted feeling bewildered and ashamed by the contradictions in her behavior.
Doug followed up again with his question to Jim about what needed to change for Jim to experience success connecting with his wife. Jim recalled he had said “the solution is awareness of the cause,” but thinking about it now, he doesn’t understand what he meant. Doug thought it might speak to a need to explore deeper feelings as a way to uncover causes and reveal possible solutions. Jim said, “Doug, I admire your willingness to say what you are thinking and feeling. You have a lot of courage, awareness and good sense. I value how you show up in group.” Doug blushed and wondered aloud, “Maybe my sensitivity to being rejected is less about me and more about those who, for whatever reason, aren’t ready to take in my observations and insights.”
Francie said she was realizing how she might have put her own behavior on Jim. She explained how Doug’s insight, about feeling rejected by those who don’t want to acknowledge what he is saying, struck home. “I wonder if I provoke fights with my partner because I don’t like what she is saying to me. It seems I want to avoid admitting to myself that maybe she sort of knows me.” Tears welled up as she said, “I hope I can let myself be known enough in group so together we can figure it out.”
Hank told Francie that her comment from the last session, about how negative attention is better than getting the nothing she expects, hit him like a punch. Hank explained how he and his father have lots of interactions but rarely connect. “When my dad starts picking on me, I wait for a trap door to swallow me up and save me. I am realizing how being alone seems to be more appealing to me than connecting.” Grace asked Hank what he thought the “trap door” represented. Hank looked to me for an answer. I encouraged him to stay connected with Grace and he noted his habit of looking to female authority figures for help. Grace told Hank she didn’t like being blown off and that she would bring it back to group as unfinished business. As the session was ending, Jim said he resonated with Hank’s “trap door” image more as an “escape hatch,” and then admitted to Francie that he too has fears about letting others get too close.
Repair addresses the jumble of emotions and behaviors that surface in the confidential setting of group. Awareness of the 4 Rs helps group members stay connected to one’s self and each other. As Ruptures occur in group, so do Regressive reactions as one’s defenses, enactments, and projections come into focus. Curiosity about these regressive thoughts, behaviors and emotional stances can evoke mixed feelings of pain, anger and grief.
Viewing group interactions and insights as puzzle pieces offers members a valuable perspective for approaching their relational dynamics. As puzzle pieces connect, authentic feelings are awakened in the here-and-now of group. Working together to decode one’s early patterns of self-protection positively reframes current insecurities as group members actively affirm their commitment to each other with their continued work.
In the September blog post, the group will address more of their puzzle pieces as Repair continues and resilience is realized.