Being Stirred Up

In the case of this Grendon client’s story, his account of these somewhat erotic night wanderings chimed in with a tendency I then had to go on solitary walks. They were not at night usually, though I would sometimes walk in the town where I lived in the late evening. The day time walks however took me by a river through an area where willow bushes had grown to make over the path a shaded area. I would reach this point and hover in the shade, wishing I could almost curl up and go to sleep in the gentle green light. The sensation of the shaded light in the shelter of the willows was physical, caressing. But the walks were troubled, haunted by a kind of guilt and failure about my wish to escape from home, marriage, family life into these private moments.

So I wondered whether I was getting my own experience confused with those of the offender; was I feeling things that represented some unacknowledged quality in the dangerous night prowling? The Grendon client did not speak of any emotional quality of his night walks in any direct way, as though he did not know or would not face any erotic element to his experience – the sexual attacks he would describe as impulsive violent acts, but was it the softer sexual feelings he could not tolerate, that were threatening to his sense of security and that fuelled an anti erotic exercise of brute power?

My purpose here is not so much to answer such questions but to illustrate how certain disturbed clients prompted such queries – they seemed to create confusion about boundaries, to raise uncertainty about whether our feelings said more about ourselves or are a way to access the inner world in the client that the client either resisted or was unconscious of altogether. I came to recognise this phenomenon most clearly amongst a group of clients that were seen as personality disordered individuals.

Probably we are most aware of this in adolescence, where all kinds of new and potentially disturbing feelings are arising, new and unrecognisable to the young person. Adolescents have a characteristic tendency to stir up parents/carers and to combine this with a sort of emotional inarticulacy. Talking seems to achieve little; being understanding easily annoys them or they resist being turned back into children. Somehow, it seems they can only feel that their rage or confusion has been recognised and understood if they actually generate rage and confusion in their parents. This is of course exhausting!

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