A Dysfunctional Scream

Misguided or unguided therapists excited by the promise of intense vocalization sometimes lead patients down a wrong path.    

A patient describes a childhood in terror of his father’s unpredictable violence. “What did you do when he came at you?” the therapist asks.   

“I cried ‘Daddy, please don’t hurt me!’”    “All right,” says the therapist, “scream ‘Daddy, please don’t hurt me!’” Then the therapist goes for all the intensity the patient can muster in this phrase.    

What is wrong? The patient’s phrase is not an expression of terror or pain. It is abject pleading. The therapist ought not run with it! It did not work for the patient as a child and is no good as a stance in adult life. If the patient’s work leads to raw fear, pain or rage, and the therapist urges the basic emotion(s) through climactic expression, the poor beginning will have worked. However, a therapist who encourages begging would hardly know how to proceed.   

Instead, the therapist should ask, “How did you feel then?” The patient might say, “scared” or “terrified,” and then therapist brings the patient through a climactic expression of fear.    

The patient would likely also have a great deal of pain. The pain comes up or is elicited with a question: “How did you feel about him not loving you?” The therapist proceeds as in Part II.

Ignoring the Moon

Vast medical and popular libraries discuss stress without reference to critical issues of repression of intense emotions that contribute to stress. Much medical research on stress, relief of stress and cardiac function is valuable, anyway. However, a major underlying variable is being ignored: Inhibited expression contributes to stress; and climactic expression in a supportive environment relieves stress. A middle-aged patient of mine reported a forty-point drop in blood pressure after his first emotional work. He maintained the lower blood pressure.    

Nothing can be well understood while ignoring a fundamental variable. One can chart the tides without knowing about the pull of the moon, and that, taken no further, has been valuable to many persons; but it falls short of understanding tides. To study “stress” while ignoring the role of repressed vocalization of emotion is to ignore the moon.    

A woman who can show with a growl in the voice that she is ready to defend her vital interests maintains flexibility for negotiation (when relevant). A man who expresses need for love in a voice that tugs a woman in the belly, and delight in her that makes her feel loved, allows tender feelings to grow. The embrace may happen when both bodies are ready and the circumstances are appropriate.

How to Lose in Small Claims Court

The tenant is sure he will win because his cause is just. The judge knows that leases favor landlords, so he inclines to give tenants the benefit of doubt when possible. In this case the landlord is calm, cool and respectful. He lies gracefully, because he is not hampered by the facts. The tenant becomes red in the face when the landlord “lies his head off,” and he interrupts, which turns the judge against him. The tenant has stacks of canceled checks and receipts and a list of violations, but he is so angry he is unable to present a coherent story. The judge cannot tell, “what really happened.” He sees a reasonable man and a seething barbarian. He decides for the landlord.   

Does this prove that “anger is dysfunctional”? No, it illustrates that repressed anger can lose a lawsuit. The tenant had a right to be angry at the landlord; but, he had a thousand times more anger at his father, which he had repressed and was unaware of, and he was afraid of that anger. His hostility rendered him incoherent and ruined his day in court.   

To be healthy requires feeling safe with one’s anger. Then, one has choices of when and how to express it or withhold it according to his best interest.  One cannot express honest anger when driven by residues of repressed early rage.

Excerpts from THE GOOD SCREAM​​

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Saltzman, Ph.D.

Follow me on Twitter: @Dr_N_Saltzman