Neill Neill Ph.D.
A Story of Healing
One time years ago I was treating two young women who were both showing signs of depression and grief and in general having a hard time in life. Both lived in a large city and didn’t know each other.
Neither could afford to pay for [tag-tec]psychotherapy[/tag-tec] so their mothers were footing the bill.
It turned out that one had suffered sexual abuse as a child and the other as a teen had been in a couple of serious accidents causing physical injury, plus some other severe trauma in the interval between the two accidents.
We focused on clearing the aftereffects of trauma and were progressing very well with the work. Both were coming out of their depression. Both were no longer grieving their losses, one her loss of childhood (sexual abuse does this), and the other her loss of a carefree healthy transition from child to adult.
But then one week a strange thing happened. The first young woman came in as usual, but announced that her mother wouldn’t pay for any more sessions and this would be her last session. Contrary to what I was seeing, and contrary to what the young woman said she was experiencing, her mother said, "You’re not getting better; you’re just getting angry! I’m not paying for this and you can tell that to Dr. Neill."
I was doubly surprised when the other young woman came in a day or two later with practically the same message. Her mother was stopping her support because she wasn’t paying someone just to make her daughter angrier.
What went wrong?
Nothing went wrong, except that I failed to realize what was happening in time to warn the mothers.
Each had started off seeing me when their "emotional level" of functioning was quite low. Depression and grief are low-level emotions.
As we worked together fear replaced the grief. The various fears were gradually replaced by general anxiety and malaise, still negative, but certainly higher on the emotional scale than fear and grief.
We were making progress! They were both still in a negative place, but were much better. They were getting glimpses of happiness.
Then a still higher-level negative emotion, resentment, began to displace their anxiety. Everything was happening as it should in successful therapy.
What’s next? The next higher-level emotions after resentment are hostility and [tag-ice]anger[/tag-ice]. Actually, anger is the highest-level negative emotion on the scale of emotions. Normally after you work through anger, you move on into the realm of positive emotions. Contentment, joy and exhilaration begin to emerge. Life becomes good again.
In the case of the two young women, our work was almost complete when they began to feel anger. All we would have had to do was work through the anger to complete our healing contract.
You heal better when you know what to expect as you dig yourself out of an emotional hole. As one negative emotion gets replaced by another, it’s encouraging to know you are climbing out of the hole, that is, you are moving in the direction of healing.
I know from my work in positive psychology that it is more healing to look ahead to where you are going than to focus on the nasty past you are trying to leave behind. Ever since that wake-up call when the two young clients left, I have tried to keep all my clients better informed.
If you find yourself in a dark place after life has dished out some trauma, pay attention. Notice the first signs of anger as they begin to appear in your depressed world. Then celebrate your emerging anger as a sign of healing.
When you celebrate your anger rather than deny it, you greatly reduce the risk of getting stuck in your anger.
The more you celebrate the anger the faster it will pass. Know that your anger is just a part of coming alive again.
Psychologist Dr. Neill Neill maintains an active practice on Vancouver Island, BC, Canada. He focuses on healthy relationships and life after addictions. He is the author of Living with a Functioning Alcoholic – A Woman’s Survival Guide.