Dear Dr. Norquist:
What is the best way to handle the frustration of not being able to confront someone who had done you wrong and who is no longer here? Thank you so much.
Dr. Norquist responds:
That frustration is still reverberating in your body and mind. You do not actually have to have the person you are frustrated at in front of you in order to resolve these feelings. The feelings are inside you, not the other person. Your body needs to experience that you have expressed these feelings in order to physiologically and emotionally resolve your frustration.
Feelings are processed by our limbic system, a part of our brains that we share with mammals. Mammals utilize the fight-flight-freeze response. When they feel in danger they growl, bite or attack. This is a built-in survival mechanism. Ideally, after the physiological discharge of the fight/flight response, the limbic system returns to a more relaxed non-survival-related state. Humans have the same limbic arousal when threatened. The complicating factor for us (physiologically) is that as humans, an overt “attack” response is much more complicated. Our instinct to attack is thwarted, repressed, and socialized – and is anything but direct. The result is that our bodies are left without the physiological release that comes from fighting back. This can leave the pent up response reverberating in our nervous systems for years, triggered whenever we are reminded of the relevant person or situation.
This is a long explanation meant to help you understand that your reaction and your needs are normal and understandable. The best way to handle your frustration is by expressing these feelings while having your awareness in your body, listening to how your body needs to express them. Start by imaging the person you want to confront in front of you. Decide how close/distant and how big/small you want them to be in your imagined visual field. Now bring your awareness into your body, and notice how your body is responding to seeing that person in front of you. Are there any sensations in your body? Does your body want to respond in any particular way? Perhaps your legs, hands or arms want to move. Perhaps you want to yell or scream or hit or stomp or slap or choke (or anything else).
Listening to your body sensations will give you a sense of what your body needs in order to release this frustration. Once you know what your body wants/needs, see yourself doing this with your imagined other. Again, do it with your awareness in your body, very slowly, so that you can pay attention to exactly which muscles you are using to express this frustration – whether it is your vocal cords (imagined screaming is OK too!) or your arms or legs. This movement needs to be slow and conscious for you to physiologically as well as emotionally discharge and effectively resolve this pent up frustration.
Give this a try a few times, and then please write again and let me know what further questions arise. Thank you for writing!
(Dr. Sallie Norquist is a licensed psychologist (NJ #2371) in private practice and is director of Chaitanya Counseling Services, a center for upliftment and enlivenment, in Hoboken.)Dr. Norquist and the staff of Chaitanya invite you to write them at Chaitanya Counseling Services, 51 Newark St., Suite 202, Hoboken, NJ 07030 or www.chaitanya.com or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by fax at (201) 656-4700. Questions can address various topics, including relationships, life’s stresses, difficulties, mysteries and dilemmas, as well as questions related to managing stress or alternative ways of understanding health-related concerns. 2011 Chaitanya Counseling Services