It’s all your fault. All your f’in fault. You can’t just leave me alone, leave me to do my thing can you? You have to meddle, stick your nose in where it’s not wanted. And I hate you for it. I absolutely bloody hate you for it.
Everyone’s at it. You’re at it, teachers are at it, social workers, doctors, nurses, therapists, care home workers, you’re all in it together making my life a flippin’ living hell. If you’d just leave me, my family, my mates alone I’d be just fine. Thinking you know better about me and my life than I do, f’in cheek.
I hate you, you hate me. Well this is going to work well isn’t it?
“I’m getting that you’re angry with me? Or is it social workers/school/the Youth Offending Team in general? What’s winding you up?’
Woah, hang on a minute? They actually care that I’m well peeved? Scratch that, they’ve even noticed I’m peeved?! I think we’re in for an interesting ride…
Immediately, I’m paying attention. This is different, real different. And so it begins… the beginning of me learning not to hate you. Me learning that maybe you do want to help. Me learning something about myself. Me moving past this rage that I have against you and your organisation and actually engaging. Me changing stuff, changing my thinking, my attitudes, my behaviour. Me becoming different, real different.
So what makes the difference? How do you harness this powerful hate and turn it into something constructive? What gets me from this place of hate to a place of change?
You noticing. Even if my thinking is based on misconceptions about you and your organisation, the fact that you even notice that I am feeling something negative about you and consider it of importance to mention means more than you probably realise. By noticing, you acknowledge my emotion. You don’t necessarily agree, but you recognise its existence. You acknowledge my anger and hurt at injustice I feel has been done to me by you or your organisation, sometimes correctly and sometimes incorrectly perceived. Suddenly I exist.
You allowing me to feel as I feel. Most of the time when I’m getting pretty pissed about a situation people try and shut me down, get me to be quiet. All this says to me is that I’m not allowed to be angry, not allowed to be annoyed. That my feelings about a situation don’t count for much. But my feelings do count, they count very much. While the factual basis of them may be a bit dodgy, while I may be viewing the situation with immaturity, naivety, with a blindness to the character flaws of significant people around me and how that has led me to here, I feel as I feel. Before trying to do anything else with me, you have to allow me to feel as I feel. It doesn’t happen often.
You’re listening. You are always trying to ‘get me’. Even if I am thinking that all social workers are scum, all teachers are dickheads, you think I am important enough to try and understand. You try and understand it all from my point of view. That empathy that so many think I lack- well you always show me what it looks like.
You let me tell my story of how I got here, along with all the misconceptions I have, my bendings of the truth. By letting me tell my story, judgements aside, you open yourself to learning how I tick and that means that you are always in the best position to work out what you need to do to help me. So the stuff we talk about, the things we do always seem relevant to me. Me as an individual, me with my very own tailored suit of help.
You ‘get’ that I don’t ‘get’ me. I don’t understand myself- why I think what I think, why I feel what I feel, why I do what I do. I don’t ‘get’ how my thoughts, emotions and actions influence one another. Half the time I don’t even really know what I think and feel- I’m in survival mode, operating on a purely instinctual level. And that’s why instead of understanding all that, understanding how my actions might have affected my situation and how my thoughts and emotions fuelled those, or how others actions have got me here, or what I even felt in the first place, I do the obvious thing and blame you and your organisation for getting me here. By blaming you, I have all the understanding I think I need. It is your fault, that is it. No change is needed here, ball is in your court.
But you see past my invective and don’t make the classic mistake…
You don’t try and change something that I don’t already understand. So often workers see my anger at them and their organisations and they label me with ‘anger management issues’, ‘lack of personal responsibility for actions’, a ‘retaliatory aggressive attitude’. They then very efficiently launch into a one-size-fits-all (or one-size-never-fits-all) anger management or consequential thinking program. They try and teach me new approaches, new tools. But you ‘get’ that this is pointless. You ‘get’ that you can’t get me to think differently, to feel differently, to behave differently until I first ‘get’ what I am feeling and thinking and doing right now. You totally ‘get’ that I can’t change something that I don’t understand in the first place, into something different. That has to come later.
You always start exactly where I am at. So I’m here right now and I’m angry at you and at your organisation. So you work with that. I blame you and your organisation for being in court, for being in this hell-hole of a children’s home, for having to be at this dumb-ass appointment, for having to change schools…. And so instead of brushing this aside and trying to ‘achieve’ something else with me, you embrace this as a learning experience for both of us. I’m so caught up in my emotion against you right now, I can’t be thinking of anything else. So you work with that, that’s what I’m bothered about right now. That’s where we can connect.
So you help me unpick it, and in doing so start to learn more about me, and also help me to begin to understand what and how I feel, how thinking, emotions and actions interact, about perceptions and misconceptions. And as I get it off my chest I begin to thaw. Hell, I’m talking to you which is a minor miracle in itself. You’re beginning to ‘get me’, I’m beginning to ‘get’ me.
You help me unpack misconceptions, to see a different perspective. I begin to see that just because people think and say that social workers are meddling scum, doesn’t make it true. That just because I have been treated unfairly by some teachers and this has caused me great upset, does not mean that all teachers are unfair. I then learn that I should not be driven by this emotional memory of betrayal, of unfairness, to treat all teachers badly, that I can put my thinking into play to try and control this emotional response.
Just the fact that you are right here, destroying all my beliefs about people who do your job, people in your organisation, gives me my first insight into the fact that my thinking isn’t always right. That my emotionally driven responses aren’t always based on fact, but often on misconceptions, on faulty belief systems, on blanket judgements. And so you have something to build on, I’m beginning to let you in.
You help me to reconnect with my thinking, my feeling, my behaviour and help put me back in control. Instead of being at the mercy of myself, I actually stand a chance of being in control of myself.
And that feels good. You think I’m out of control, well deep down I kind of know it too. And when I begin to get that feeling of being back in control again, I don’t want to lose it. I kind of wake up to myself and my attitude changes. I hate less, I feel less squashed by life and I begin to feel that maybe I do have the ability to change. What once seemed impossible to me now seems very possible.
And then you start cookin’. Once I’m in this ‘rethink’ mode where I feel I have possibilities, then I am way more interested in any focused interventions to deal with my anger, peer pressure, substance abuse, whatever my issues are. Connect with me, connect me with myself and things start changing.
You just have to start at the beginning, the very beginning and want to learn about me, from me. You’ve got to ‘get’ me before you get me. Often the best way to achieve this is to seize on the very thing that you think destroys any chance of me successfully working with you- my anger towards you. It’s a powerful thing, but if you walk into it rather than away from it a real sparking connection occurs and that energy can be converted into movement for change.