9. Harm - RonaldMah

Ronald Mah, M.A., Ph.D.
Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist,
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9. Harm

Therapist Resources > Therapy Books > Out Monkey Trap- Breaking Cycles Rel

Sometimes, a person sticks with or cannot let go of a negative interpretation of the things that happened.  It may be because the interpretation is essentially correct.  The other person had been dismissive, vindictive, or otherwise saying or doing something with negative intent.  On the other hand, the interpretation may be incorrect or deemed so by the speaker, but the recipient may still hold it as true.  This may be based a simple misunderstanding, bias, neurotic analysis, or prejudice based on early childhood harm or strong cultural bias.  The therapist's focus on the historical origins of negative interpretation will automatically begin exploration of the harm previously experienced.  Whether the negative interpretation is accurate or not, negative personal harm occurs or is experienced.  Therapy can examine the experience of harm.  The therapist may ask, "Is it the same?  Does it hurt the same way?"  If the individual is able to pause and contemplate the experience, he or she may find that it does not hurt the same way.  This can be another point of intervention.  The personal experience of harm usually comes from one or more of five areas: harm to power & control, self-respect, security, self-identity, and competence.  Within each of these five areas are more specific issues:




Ideal Self
Real Self


With the negative interpretation that the other person is denying access, opportunity, autonomy, independence, or choice, the individual experiences a harm to his or her sense of control and power in his or her life.  The sense of being respected may be lost causing one to feel lesser sense of worth or value, or feel humiliated or embarrassed- that is, lose face.  Disrespect causes one to feel rejected rather than accepted.  Minimizing importance, feelings, needs, or thoughts creates this harm as well.  Treating someone as a thing- an object, that is objectifying another is disrespectful.  Ignoring him or her as invisible us also harmful.  A fourth negation of respect occurs when one person infantilizes another by speaking or treating him or her condescendingly as if he or she were too immature to process as an equal.  One's words or behavior can also threaten security, safety, serenity, inclusion and belonging, and imply ejection from the community of the couple or family.  

Each person develops a sense of self- who he or she holds him or herself to be.  This self-definition drives the actions of each individual.  Each person attempts to live up to the ideal self or the best person he or she believes he or she should be in terms of values and morality.  When an individual says or does things that impugn the other person's ideal self as less than honorable, that person's sense of self is insulted.  The real self is what a person can do or does do in while trying and sometimes failing to meet the goals of the ideal self.  For example, accusing one's partner who has been putting in great effort of not trying fails to appreciate the person's sense of his or her real self investments in the relationship.  Injury to ones self-esteem and hurt pride are related harms.  Related to the sense of self is one's sense of being competent.  Not everyone wishes to be competent in all areas, but each person has his or her own set of areas that it is extremely important for him or her to feel competent in.  A person may do or say something that implies (or, is interpreted) that the other person is not skillful or have ability at something he or she holds important.  That will harm his or her sense of competence.   For example, the partner implies the husband does not satisfy his partner sexually.  If the husband holds this as an important area of personal competence, he would be harmed.  If he does not consider himself to be or feel he should be a great lover, then implications of lesser proficiency in this area are not particularly disturbing.   

If the individual is self-aware of his or her vulnerability to such injuries, then he or she can possibly soothe or heal him or herself without or before retaliating.  He or she can reaffirm his or her sense and reality of power and control, self-respect, security, self-identity, and competence.  The therapist can prompt the individual to identify the area of harm and reaffirm him or herself.  Therapy may explore how this type of harm has occurred and sensitized him or her in past relationships- in particular, from the family-of-origin, prior relationships, and previously in the current relationship.  Healing of old wounds may lower the individual's vulnerability to being harmed in this manner again.  In addition, at this point of intervention the therapist may be able to prompt the speaker (offending partner) to affirm or validate the harmed person relative to the area of harm.  For example, "Are you trying to take control?  If not, you need to let her/him know."

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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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