16. Challenge Again - RonaldMah

Ronald Mah, M.A., Ph.D.
Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist,
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16. Challenge Again

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Processing the pain, the depth, and the sense of futility and failure with Carson, so Vee could watch was extremely therapeutically powerful.  "For women clients, the present research suggests that therapists should encourage men clients to provide more self-disclosure and to refrain from challenging their partners." (page 33-34).  Vee had the opportunity to understand Carson's process when the therapist connected his choices to the family-of-origin experiences he disclosed.  The therapist will aggressively seek such opportunities as part of the essence of therapy, unless it is too painful.  The therapist may also hesitate to activate if culturally unfamiliar or uncomfortable with experiencing other people's pain.  If this therapeutic approach is successful with one individual, the therapist then needs to also challenge the second person in the relationship.  "Results suggest… that therapists should provide women clients with more challenging statements" (page 33-34).  In this case, Vee was receptive to the therapist's skillful challenges.   "…negative statements made by partner did not influence therapy alliance for women clients.  For women, challenging statements made by therapists positively influenced tasks and bond dimensions of alliance.  It may be that women clients expect to be challenged in therapy; therapists who challenge women clients may be seen as appropriately facilitating in-session conversations, which may, in turn, contribute to the therapeutic alliance, even in the first session in therapy.  Alternatively, challenging statements made by their partner negatively influenced these two alliance dimensions for women.  These results contrast with the results for men... It could be that women do not appreciate being challenged by their partners because they experience these challenges at home, whereas men may feel that therapy is a protected place to discuss relational differences.  According to these results, therapists should carefully attend to how men and women may differently perceive and respond to challenges from their partners" (Thomas et al, 2005, page 33).

The therapist may integrate these recommendations and challenge Vee instead of prompting Carson to either make negative statements or challenge her.  It is essential to find a therapeutically sound way to confront her.  Vee's "attack" may be perceived as subjectively less aggressive because of lower decibels and more modulated facial and body language.  The therapist may have personal and cultural experiences and models of acceptable to unacceptable aggression that may hinder recognition of truly vicious and damaging communication.  Male aggression in particular is more readily identified and labeled as counterproductive to developing intimacy.  Male socialization is often expressed in struggles for ascension and against descending the social hierarchy.  Overt domination, intimidation, and physical conflict would be characteristic of the struggles.  Female behavior viewed through male social standards of verbal volume, profanity, and physicality may be seen as non-aggressive or only mildly aggressive.  Female socialization is often based on inclusion and as a result, female aggression is often based on exclusion from the group.  Marano (1995) describes how gender differences are often expressed in differences in how males bully versus females bully.  From little girls to high school to tea parties and socials, female bullying expels victims from the social community.  While male bullying tends more to physically assaulting or intimating their victims, female bullies also attack their victims' reputations by spreading malicious rumors, making accusations, and attacking their victim's relationships by threatening similar ostracizing treatment of those who would continue to associate with victims.  Although all strategies occur across genders, exclusion strategies are particularly used to great psychological devastation in female bullying.  Female-style socialization for emotional, psychological, and relational aggression may enter the two-person community of a couple or multiple dyads in a family.  Rolling one's eyes, sighing, theatrical facial expressions, passive-aggressive behavior, subverting respect from other family members, and so forth can become aggression by a thousand sharp needles with an occasional stiletto stroke.  When Vee said, "Whatever…" she effectively annihilated Carson.  Whatever he felt, whatever he thought, whatever his grievances, whatever he was… whatever.  It… he did not matter.  What devastation!

3056 Castro Valley Blvd., #82
Castro Valley, CA 94546
Ronald Mah, M.A., Ph.D.
Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist, MFT32136
office: (510) 582-5788
fax: (510) 889-6553
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