Group – conflict

I am torn about describing my group. It really affected me strongly this week and I’d like to make sense of it by writing it down. I’ll keep any details that aren’t my own out of it.

This week, E takes centre stage once again. There are a few minute’s silence at the start, where we wait for someone to start. This is a very very shy group, so no one jumps on it, so then E, who has lots to say, gets the group for the evening once again. Sigh.

E describes problems she is having with hubby, and describes how she finds it difficult to speak to him when there is conflict. She talks about this for a while, and there is little response from the group. A few questions are asked, then this peters out.

Ron. So does this conflict remind you of your problems with Ellen, especially last week?

So E turns to this topic. It’s actually difficult to remember what happened here, for one thing because I lose focus when E is speaking, for another because things became kind of emotional.

Ellen – So why don’t you practice the conflict with me? I don’t matter, I’m just here in the group and not a part of your life. You can practice on me. It’s fine – I won’t melt. I don’t even care that much – I have other things I’m worried about besides you. It’s OK.

E starts talking about how she is worried about my relationship to Ron being affected by her, as I’ve mentioned that.

Ellen. It’s fine. It’s not your problem. It’s true a big concern I have is that Ron will take your side, but it’s OK. Just go ahead.

Then E tries to tell me how she feels, especially about my calling her ‘mean’, and she can’t.

Ellen. But it’s really stupid. I was thinking about this during the week. You’re a (particular profession). What I said to you was just stupid. How come you don’t give me an argument, say something about this?

E. So you think I’m stupid??

Ellen. No, I’m saying what I said about you wasn’t really intelligent or anything.

E. Then why did you say it?

Ellen. I think I couldn’t articulate what it was that actually bothers me, so I said that instead. I do feel that E. is taking up most of the group time. Why are we always talking about E’s problems?  I wish the rest of the group would speak up more.

E. We sat for four whole minutes at the start and no one spoke up. I come here because I want to work on my problems. I want to make this time worthwhile. So I talk.

That actually makes sense to me. I feel less resentful of her taking so much group time, now I’ve said it out loud. However somehow I don’t mange to articulate this.

Ron. E, why don’t you try and respond with how you feel….

E. Well, Ellen, right now I’d really like to kick your f’ing head in.

Ellen. Wow. You do? ……. That feels really strong. You want to do that?

I’m shaken by the violence of that image and I don’t like it.

Then E. explains that she can’t think with conflict, that she shuts down. She says she’s really afraid of me, which shocks me.

E. I can’t even go there, I can’t, I just can’t….

Ron Why can’t you go there?

E. Because it’s too much….

E is very emotional, she starts crying, and she is really angry. Me, I’m having trouble feeling much. I don’t feel very connected to this for some reason.

E. So are you enjoying this? It feels like you are manipulating me, and now you’re sitting back and laughing at me.

Ellen. I find that insulting.

Ron. Why do you find that insulting?

Ellen. Wouldn’t you be insulted? That you’re intentionally causing someone pain and then enjoying it?

Ron No, I wouldn’t be insulted.

Ellen. Well I am. No, that’s not what I’m doing.

That’s all I can remember. E talked a lot more. I did encourage her to keep talking, and I did not retaliate. I made a gesture at one point with my hand, meant to convey – keep going –

E. What’s that for? Are you making fun of me?

Ellen. No. Not everything I do or say is an attack on you.

Anyway. At one point E. says she really wants to change how I feel….and she gets feedback that people can only change how they themselves feel.

Towards the end of the group Ron says that neither of us are really hearing the other.

Ellen. I think I’m doing a lot of listening actually. Maybe I should reflect back to E what I hear her saying?

I’m ready to plunge into this. However Ron wants to open this up to the group for their input, as there are just a few minutes left.

Y. It seemed as if you, Ellen, where trying to line Ron up onto your side at one point there. Do you think you were doing that?

E. Yeah?

Ron. Are you going to respond to Y’s comment? Here he is, so sensitive and perceptive. Maybe you should pay attention to him.

E. Well, maybe I was doing that…I wasn’t aware of it. That is so bad….

Y. I don’t think you’re bad. I also can see why being called a sadist basically would bother you – that is a bit much.

E. Yeah? Thanks…..I wish you guys would talk. I feel like I’m out here, the only bad person, and everyone else just watches…

A. (very angrily) I hate how you’re (moi) always telling us we’re not participating. I can be sitting here quietly and still I get a lot out of the group. The other day, I was out with my mother, and I was able to stand up for myself, all because I’ve watched you and E….I think the group is fine.

A said some other things, I think supporting E (the two of them are kind of bonded), but which I can’t remember.

E. Thank you A. That’s exactly it.

A. And why are you always saying you’re bad? And we should be too? Do you think we’re all bad?

Ellen. I think I say that to get a handle on it. We all have dark sides to our personality. By saying it, I want to kind of acknowledge and name it. 

A. You’re just saying that so people will tell you that no, you’re not bad.

Ellen. OK, that’s fine. That’s good. I want to hear it.

A. And I don’t need you to approve of what I say!

Ouch. She’s really angry with me. I feel chastened and sad, and don’t say anything else.

Now R (my pal) says some things that are supportive of what I was trying to do. Really nice, and I’m incredibly relieved that someone sees I’m trying to help here. This whole thing really hasn’t been about me, I’ve been trying to help people express themselves….And R totally gets that, and I almost cry with relief.

D. (who rarely says a word, says very softly) So the sadism part….that reminded me  of my father and my brother…they were sadistic….so it was difficult….

Ellen. So it upset you?

D. Yes a bit….

I really like D for some reason, and she never talks, and it always bothers me that Ron doesn’t try harder to bring her into the group. Ron does ask her some question here, and she says a tiny bit more.

Then our time runs out.

Ron. So I really think some things broke open here today, and a lot happened. We have to stop now.

So I leave. I don’t rush out, I walk out with dignity, I hope. I feel upset, but I don’t feel I did anything wrong. I don’t look at Ron as I leave.

R walks out beside me, and I give him a lift home. At first, I am about to cry, and thank him for his support, in a shaky type voice.

R. I hope you believe it. It’s true.

Ellen. Thanks. Oh dear…

R. You know, we don’t have to talk. I can be silent the whole ride home.

Ellen, smiling. Oh, not necessary. Thank you though.

I like that about R, he doesn’t diminish emotions. I’m not sure why now I want to cry, while I didn’t while in the group. A’s unusual outburst, where she was really angry with me, caught me off guard. And having E say she wanted to kick me in the face – that shocked me as well. And that E took everything I said and turned it around to make it an attack on her – that surprised and upset me as well.

R. says in the car that it was the best group he’s been to. Then that he can see how it would be hard for me, especially the last part…

You got that right.

Then we talk about what it’s like to be in therapy. We end up cackling and laughing hysterically, at what I can’t remember.

Oh yeah, I remember one thing.

Ellen. It’s so nice to talk to you. I don’t know why, but it’s so difficult to explain things to Ron. It’s the transference I bet. It’s like entering the twilight zone – spooky music should start playing when I walk into his office!

We both giggle hysterically.

Ellen. Oh man, sorry, I’m obviously off my medications….

And we laugh some more.

Ellen. Actually, Ron’s a great guy. I don’t want to seem like I’m bashing Ron. He’s been great.

Then R explains his theory of therapy – about how the ‘bad’ parts of ourselves get lost, because they’re disapproved of, but then those are the real us, so we end up being fake….and therapy is about finding those parts again.

At home, I am incredibly wound up. I don’t even try to sleep until after midnight, and don’t fall asleep for hours. I start taking pills to help, and with two anti-histamines, and a xanax, first one half and then another, and a glass of wine, and a meditation tape, I finally drop off around 3:30. I wake up again at 6:30, and don’t return to sleep. I feel as if I’ve been punched in the stomach – kind of shocked. Not depressed, and it’s driven all the usual internal dialogues right out of my mind. I feel kind of super alert and shocked basically.

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10 comments
  1. Laura said:

    could you call this session 'Clash of the Titans', or 'When Worlds Collide'?I see your intent to be helpful to your frenemy, that was a confident move, and it seemed like she jumped on your offer… what I notice is that it brought out HER story about you, your story about her, your story about the group (that they're sitting there passively while you do the dirty – honest – work), and their feelings about that story (huh! so the people who don't talk are getting something out of being there?), your allies, her allies.Especially the exchange with A seemed like a clash between the way you see her, versus the way she sees herself. She says, FU, I'm THIS way! The exchange with E – her picture of you, is dismaying!Did you feel you got beaten up? It didn't look like it.

  2. Amanda said:

    That sounds a whole lot for a group session – so much so that I'm speechless. How are you feeling now that a bit of time has passed?

  3. Ellen said:

    Hi Laura,I didn't feel too Titanic, that's for sure. I didn't feel my story was addressed much actually. To me it seemed to be all about E. That's one reason I didn't feel that emotional at the time. I was just responding to her. I think I wanted to move our relationship from unreal, and then a bit of sniping, to at least real, but I didn't enjoy the experience. I was shocked at the way she saw me. The group is very quiet. I end up feeling kind of lonely when I'm the 'unruly' person and they sit back and don't risk anything themselves. Plus I do want to know what they think. Not just what E thinks.Well, it takes two to clash, and I didn't respond to A. She just vented. It was an odd and unexpected thing….I hadn't been talking to her in particular. Maybe she was upset by the conflict and wanted it to stop and blamed me for it. This is a very very young woman.I did feel beaten up, especially by the 'kicking you in the face' comment. I'm seeing that image over and over, me being kicked in the face. I do feel I didn't get to express anger myself, or really any feeling, I just reacted to what E was getting into. So I didn't feel satisfied that I had explored my own self. Mixed feelings on this. I am getting to deal with conflict which is not something I'm good at. It hurts though to have two people with such intensely negative feelings about me. I feel nothing like E's rage for me. And I am not angry with A at all. Thanks for commenting@ Amanda – I still feel kind of shocked by it actually Amanda, though I was able to sleep the following night. I didn't realize I'd find listening to E's feelings so difficult, but I did. I think Ron could have shown a bit more support for me….but at least he was careful not to support E much either – he kind of stayed out of the way. Maybe that is a good thing.E is not used to expressing any anger it seems like, so when she does, she goes overboard I think. It's difficult to be on the receiving end of that.Thanks for the sympathy.

  4. Laura said:

    well, what I meant was that your stories about them collided with their stories. which seems like a great thing – that it is the beginning of finding out what's really there. Not that their versions of reality are any more true than yours.Your story about A (part of it, anyway) was that she doesn't risk anything, young, young, and (poor girl) she doesn't get anything out of group because she doesn't speak, and some resentment that puts you in the position of being the unruly guy. (this would have been MY story about her as well). She took angry exception to that description! She says I like group the way it is, I learn from the interactions here, and I feel you're manipulating me to applaud you – something like that – right? I'll bet she has to fight off her mother's mis-fitting ideas about her, too, or being minimized, which might account for the anger. that presents a "side" that I wouldn't have guessed at, increases my understanding of where A is coming from, I'd have to discard my story about her, because she's telling me the way it is! It makes sense that she would be angry at you and not the other way.I had an argument with my mother once, and she said something that made me realize that she sees herself as powerless – and to me, she's the one with all the power. I'm just a kid. so, who's right? or are we both wrong? If A is responding to you as if you were her mother, that's her story about you and it's also a distortion of what's actually there. In THAT sense, it becomes clear that you're like ships passing in the night. You realize that they see things very differently than you do – that what's reality for you, isn't the same for them.You allowed them to tell you how they experience you – and it was a complete surprise.Does your stance in group remind you of your childhood household? I was just wondering about this for myself. Did you take or invite the parental flak, while your sibs kept their heads down?

  5. Laura said:

    ps, in terms of the "power" differential, you see yourself as powerless, a freak, vulnerable, bad, and (some) others see you as powerful and dominating! When Worlds Collide, I think!

  6. Ellen said:

    Hi Laura,I just logged in to write more about this and saw your comment. You are completely correct with my childhood role – I did take and invite a lot of flak, while my siblings were more conciliatory. That's really true. I'm surprised at your focus on A. A's entire feedback lasted only maybe three minutes, and I did not respond to it at the time. E's story took up over an hour, so that is what I'm worried about to tell the truth.I never said or felt that people are 'getting nothing from the group' because they don't speak. By being there, you can be feeling, remembering, and learning even if you don't verbalize anything. I do feel some resentment, towards most of the group, not A in particular, that I get to play the bitch, and they get to sit back and observe. I do think both A and E are constructing me as their mothers. A's mother actually sounds completely toxic and insane, so that is a scary place to go. E's mother seems more normal, but still obviously very hurtful and damaging. It is shocking to see how I am perceived. The stuff about power is interesting too. Not sure where to go with that.Well, I'm still gathering my thoughts obviously. take care

  7. Ellen said:

    Hi Laura, Yeah, Ron pointed that out in my session Friday also, about power. Not sure I want the kind of power that petrifies and enrages though…

  8. Laura said:

    I think I'm looking at A because it seems the simpler case.It doesn't seem as if either person is responding to YOU as you are. so, I don't think you need to worry. They seem to be triggered by you. Just as you see them through your past history, they see you through theirs. You may have power in their versions of reality, but only because of their distorted way of seeing you. It's not really yours.For example E's question as to whether you were enjoying her distress. Does she have any reason from her interactions with you to think you might take sadistic pleasure in her distress? Or is this something that occurred in her past?She was interpreting or predicting your response based on her history, hmmm – familiar…, and she checked it out. (yay!) I guess when something like that occurs, it calls into question (for me) the validity of what she's seeing in general. It also makes me think that we see ourselves as the center (and the hero) of our own little play – and it's a shock to realize that the people we dimly see as our audience, is (each one) doing the same thing!

  9. Laura said:

    Then it was ME who thought that the people who don't talk don't get anything from group. Here's what you said in group on the subject (April 11):…"I did say that I always wonder what the people who don't talk, or don't talk much, would say if they talked…Then all the people who don't talk spoke up and talked! It was kind of cool. I think **Ron's method** of having one central person per meeting really excludes those of his clients **who don't want to be the centre of attention all evening, who need to approach things a little sideways**. … how strange it was to come to a group and **everyone was scared to talk**…"this could be me, writing this!! (** these are interpretations **, as I see it)the picture you draw of the (I would call them lurkers) is of a frightened herd of helpless social phobics, and you think Ron is dropping the ball with these folks, and you are standing up for them and correcting the situation, here. If it weren't for you, it's probable that none of these people would have said boo, that evening. And I would feel good if that were me (as you seem to), until I started to resent it, and feel as if I weren't getting enough credit or appreciation, for all the water I was carrying.It seems as if you've said something similar on other occasions – contrasting how you are in group with your interpretation of how they are (as if they were all the same). and A finally blows up and says – I'm not this quivering bowl of jello that you paint me as, I don't need your help! I think she heard an implicit criticism of how she is in group, and she might have a point, there might be a bit of truth there amongst all the distortion (and it caused a huge reaction because she got triggered). what do you think?I thought you did GREAT – I would have been a deer in the headlights.

  10. Ellen said:

    Hi Laura – Hmmm…OK, I don't mean to draw quite that picture. It's a leap from being cautious in group therapy to being a social phobic. I am more socially phobic than most in the group I think. I can see your point about A. I actually feel like A was out to lunch to tell the truth. In my session, Ron agreed with me that the group is extremely quiet and withdrawn. Yes, maybe I bothered A with those comments about the group…I don't greatly care. If I say anything about this again, I'll be sure to exclude her from the comment. I think A just felt like lashing out so she did, and it's not clear why. I was hurt in the moment, but now I don't much care. I don't feel I want special appreciation for my role in the group actually. I actually do feel concern for the quiet people. Maybe it's not coming across though. In some moments I also feel irritated by the situation it's true too. Thanks for telling me I did well. I tried. I appreciate that. Cheers

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