I have been asked to deliver a conference speech at the “Intersubjectivity, Desire, and the Mimetic Brain: René Girard and Psychoanalysis” conference in November att St John’s College Universityfo Cambridge (details can be found at http://www.girardpsy.com).
This is a chance for me to meet up with leading figures in the field of mimetic theory from around the world. I will be presenting paper titled “When Leymann meets Girard: Re-evaluating workplace mobbing”. Over the next few posts I will explain what mimetic theory is and why I think it is important to be used within a psychotherapeutic/counselling setting and how I use it in my practice.
A good introduction to mimetic theory can be found here and an overview of Rene Girard, the academic who re-discovered mimetic theory, can be found here
Often I have clients who come to see me because someone, often their spouse or partner, has given them an ultimatum that they need to deal with their ‘anger’. Sometimes the client agrees that it is an issue, other times they do not, they feel the other person is trying to change them – which, unsurprisingly, makes them angry. I am not going to get into discussions around control and power games in relationships here (that can be left for another post soon) but IU wan to focus on what anger really is.
For many years it has been recognised that anger is a negative emotion as it is destructive. In general, this is true but as with many things the situation is more complex than that; anger can be channelled into a creative force – just think about many of the social advances that we have experienced over the last few hundred years that have resulted in someone getting angry about injustices, such as slavery or the anger about the vote for women. Anger was transformed into a positive; it provided the motivation to seek to challenge and change society. Unfortunately, most people who come to see me experience anger as a destructive force that affects themselves and those around them, particularly those who they care most about.
Ask someone what anger means to them and you get a fairly standard response but the reality is, again, far more complex. What makes one person furious may be a mild irritation or frustration for someone else or the mood someone is in at a particular time on a given day may affect their reaction. What is most common is the way that people will, generally, blame someone else for their anger and that it will feed off its self; as if we move into a spiral where we become angry for the sake of being angry, forgetting the cause of the anger and focusing on past injustices that have been done to us. The problem is that as we get angry those around us seek to defend themselves and that can make us even more angry. This leads to physical changes within us as the fight and flight mechanism begins to kick in – our pulse quickens, we feel hot, blood pressure rises, we want to act …
Research suggest that different people have different tolerances to difficulties that they face in daily life. There is as ever a debate between whether some people are born angrier than others, my own view is that anger is a learned behaviour; we saw someone else succeeding getting their own way by being angry, so we copy them. If in copying them, we get what we wanted we will continue to carry on getting angry. Following on from this some people were never taught how to manage their anger and express their feelings in a different way – why would you when you are getting what you want – irrespective of the impact on other people?
The problem is that for most people, not everyone, who get angry they begin to get angry at themselves and feel guilty after the event - they are not bad people, they just have a difficulty. We need to understand the triggers that light our fuse both the things that are outside of us (other people and events) but also our own thoughts and concerns. The next post will focus on how we can identify those triggers.
There are things we can do to help ourselves to begin the move up the spiral and out of depression.
A major move forward would be to recognise the negative thoughts and feelings for what they are – past conditioning coming through – challenge them – make a note of them; get them out on a piece of paper. Don’t leave it there though, get all the negatives out how you feel about other people in general, about what the future might hold.
Then examine them to see if they are real and for all time; are they automatic thoughts – coming at you almost like a built in default. Are they unreasonable; “everybody hates me” – is this true – have you spoken to everybody in the whole world – past or present? Are any of these thoughts exaggerated?
Maybe think about how, when you wrote the list, you deliberately ignored that little voice in the back of your head that questioned what you wrote – when you ignored something that was even slightly positive?
We tend to use the word depression a lot and most of us at some time of other have felt depressed, down or ‘out of sorts’. Often these events are tied to those times when we are highly stressed; when someone dies, when a relationship breaks down, redundancy, or when financial worries get on top of us.
I try to explain it as a downward spiral, where we hit the same issues but at an increasing deeper level. The spiral starts with some stress which drags us down. For some at this point they let go of the issue and walk away from it; they begin to see what they can do about the situation – they stick to the reality. Unfortunately, most of us react in the way we have been conditioned – that it must be our fault, we are can’t do this or we begin to put things off. When we begin to think this way we move further down the spiral as we the begin to put even more pressure on ourselves to do things which we feel we cannot do – we begin to lose our confidence, maybe even lose interest or enjoyment and become irritable and snappy. Eventually we end up in situation where we are paralysed – we want to act but we don’t feel as if we can this might be an emotional response but it can also be a very physical response – we become too knackered to physically do anything because we cannot sleep, for example.
This however is simplified because in reality the spiral is a bit messier than that. To say that stress is the trigger may not be right as the stress may be caused by something else; either external to us (such as financial problems, job problems such as bullying or redundancy, or simply too much being expected by managers) or in some instances internal to us – long term conditioning – being told as a child we are not good enough, or our own thoughts or feelings about ourselves.
The research into depression is very clear; the self-talk (the way we think of ourselves) is really does affect the depression that is experienced. The way you think of ourselves will affect our emotions and therefore our ability to carry out even everyday chores. Some argue that depression is ‘internalised anger’ which is understandable when we think that we can begin to feel guilty and try and push ourselves harder and harder and when we don’t get anywhere we begin to beat ourselves up even more.
Individual treatment is often termed as psychotherapy, and is meant to help people with their emotional issues, which can range in order of their severity or intensity. The main aim of this form of therapy is to change the quality of life by defining the path of life clearly, and bringing in more clarity. Whether it is the problem of repressed childhood that you are facing, or an emotional breakdown due to divorce, failure or loss of a loved one, a professional counsellor can help you revive your mental health through counselling.
I am a counsellor and coach based in Wells, Somerset. I am currently a PhD candidate at the University of Bristol researching conflict behaviours both at work and at home. I completed my Masters degree at the University of Bristol in 2010 where I developed a counselling model which, with some adaptations, still provides the framework for my conversational, solution focussed approach, to working with my clients today.