by Sam Bearer, PLPC
In the first part of this blog series, we looked at how vulnerability in a therapy group is key to unlocking positive change in our group members’ lives. The second way group therapy works is by offering the experience of unconditional positive regard of the group for each particular member, both in a single instance of intentional vulnerability as well as consistently over time. This experience becomes an emotional touchstone for a reality fundamentally at odds with, and outside of, the negative emotional experiences that so often serve as the foundation for addictive behaviors. If we didn’t have these negative emotional realities, or had a better way of coping with them, we would not have to resort to our numbing drug of choice.
The trouble is that at some point we learned to survive the negative emotional storm by using something to numb, and we became hooked.
As a result, we have lost the internal resilience to be able to handle it. This dulls our awareness to such a degree that we are no longer conscious of the emotions that drove us to use in the first place. One unique way that group work helps to uncover these emotions and simultaneously provide an experience of unconditional positive regard is through playing out the relational patterns and dynamics that an individual learned in his family of origin. However, because the group is not that same environment, the members of this “new family” will respond differently to an individual’s usual style of relating. For many, this brings up all sorts of anxiety, but it also brings the possibility of learning different ways of coping with these anxieties in the here and now. Each member experiences the other group members reflecting on how they are affected by each other’s stories and then learns how more accurately to process, reflect, and self-evaluate openly with the group.
A person may never have considered the questions or perspectives that are shared by others, or he may receive empathy from the very kind of person he assumed would regard him as weak or unimportant.
The way group therapy ties both of the dynamics of vulnerability and unconditional positive regard together is a safe environment. This is in part created by the therapist but must be maintained and reinforced by the group. If safety is not a common value of the group, it won’t be possible to adequately support members or appropriately challenge them, which I will talk about more in the next part of this blog.
by Jonathan Hart, LPC
My previous blog is this series proposed that shame and contempt shape our worlds more than we know. Do they? Here I am going to look at the vicious villians of shame and contempt in our daily lives. Listen to your words and your thoughts. Pay attention to your verbs.
It may surprise you how often you use “being” verbs in your daily life to describe yourselves and others.
Every time I shout at another driver in traffic, “Idiot!” (the full sentence by implication is “You are an idiot!”) I express contempt. I express my feeling that the other driver’s intelligence is defective, that they are in their very being worthless. And this, because they did something careless or something that I didn’t expect.
When I make a mess of things, make a mistake or deliberately do or say something hurtful, if I beat myself up about it, I am operating in shame. “Idiot! I can’t believe I did that.” I am expressing self-contempt, saying that because of this thing, and maybe others like it, I am of no real value in the world. I believe that everyone who hears of it would agree, and that they would be correct in having me summarily executed, that the world would be better off without me.
Of course, we don’t articulate either of these thoughts fully. If we were to articulate them fully, we would have to retract our statements.
So if (a) Shame and Contempt themselves are lies in their essence, and (b) most often we don’t really believe in the full extent of what we are actually saying, then there is a lot of falseness in our daily lives that we simply accept as “normal”.
Listen to your verbs. I challenge you to change your being verbs into descriptive action verbs and see what changes in your experience as you walk about your life. –JH
(Coming Soon: The Flipside of Shame and Contempt)
Validation: Why it matters.
by Mary Martha Abernathy, LPC
We have all experienced a situation where we have not validated a person’s beliefs or behaviors as we interact with them. We also know what it feels like for someone to ignore our feelings, minimize our experiences, or change the subject of a conversation when the topic really matters. Validating our own feelings and those of other people is an important skill to have and to hone.
What is validation? Validation means “acknowledging that a person’s emotions, thoughts and behaviors have causes and are therefore understandable”.
To validate someone means we are looking for the kernel of truth in another person’s perspective, even if we don’t agree with them.
Why is it important? Well, it shows that we are listening to the other person and that we are trying to understand them. It helps to strengthen our relationships because we can avoid a power struggle over who is right by validating the other person. When we don’t validate others, it hurts.
How do we do it? Pay attention to what the other person is saying. Actively listen and reflect back to them what they are saying, without judging them! We have to use our observation skills and we have to be pay attention to the conversation. It is important to notice the little things, how is the person standing, are their arms crossed, is their face red, do they look like they are getting ready to cry? All of these clues help us in conversation.
We need to notice how a person is acting, listen to what a person says, and respond according to what we see and hear to help create and improve connection in relationships.
What’s the impact? Like I said, validation helps to create connection. Validation challenges us to be present in conversation. We have to be listen to what the other person is saying in order to respond in a way that helps a person to feel understood. Validation can de-escalate a situation because you’ve avoided the fight and acknowledged the other person’s experience.
Give it a shot!
Information adapted from DBT Skills Manual for Adolescents, Rathus, Jill H., and Alec L. Miller. “Validation.” DBT Skills Manual for Adolescents. New York: Guilford, 2015. Print.