Seventeen year-old ‘tough guy’ Ned is in crisis. He is trying to address frequent violent behaviour, that is putting him at risk on a number of levels.
The Modern Day Knight in Armour
Ned is living a role, trapped in his dominant identity as an angry young man, good with his fists. Summed up here:
Call on Ned. He’ll sort it.
Need someone to fight your corner for you?
Ned’s fists are at the ready.
Got a problem you can’t be bothered to sort out for yourself?
Fancy being entertained by some pointless fighting?
Light Ned’s torch paper and watch him explode!
A Brief Overview
Through his 1-1 sessions with me, Ned is starting to understand his behaviour. It has been tough-going! By identifying and focusing on his strengths of being ‘caring’ for his friends (particularly female friends) and trying to help them with a variety of troubles, Ned realises that it has got out of control. He is trying to step away from his role. Progress has been made: using the ‘Drama Triangle’ below he recognises himself as a ‘rescuer’ and a ‘persecutor’, (see Post 10).
He has also admitted that he feels like a ‘victim’.
Role and social standing is a powerful force within the developing teenager psyche. Credibility is crucial for Ned, who has grown up in a setting where the male role is aggressive and ‘strong’ – a stereotype that he is bravely trying to break free from, for fear of following the male family tradition of prison, due to violence.
But Ned is equally frightened by the choice he now faces:
How do I change my role without losing my friends?
Will they think I’m weak?
Who will I be if I’m not ‘Ned the Violent’?
If he dismantles the wiring, who will he be? He already suffers from low self-worth. His crisis is very real and I am concerned that Ned may exit, because, to him, that may be the easier option. So what does he need?
At this stage, the relationship between myself and Ned is crucial. In his blunt way, Ned has made it clear that he values it.
I need to continue to:
Be empathic / understand him
‘Properly listen to’ him
Be curious (but not too ‘probing’)
Allow him ownership of the process
Gently challenge him
The last skill cannot be effectively activated until a firm foundation of trust has been established – through the initial four skills. The weekly, interactive, SFC activities have also been key in his progress and in building the relationship. He is settling, he is owning, he is learning.
Protecting Mental Health and Nurturing a New Role
But Ned’s mental battle ensues! We will not remove Ned’s problematic role before he develops a new role in to put in it’s place. Why?
I show Ned another diagram: the ‘Winner’s Triangle’:
I sit back and let him study it.
Ned has plenty! He asks about assertiveness, as featured on the triangle. Can he achieve it?
We study the ‘Nurturing’ bullet points on the triangle.
I’m curious: “I wonder if being needed by your friends makes you feel confident, Ned?” Ned nods, “and important,” he says. We also acknowledge that Ned already possesses some elements of the Winner’s Triangle or is moving towards them – positive progress.
His eyes move to his ‘Strengths’ chart and his list of ‘Personal Values’. Could his acceptance of these build confidence? His ‘My World’ Mind Map also contains evidence of the everyday things that Ned does that could also earn him ‘confidence points’ if he let them…..he works hard in a pub, he looks after younger siblings, he is a keen gym-goer… Now, it is as if a door of possibility is opening in his mind, letting the light in.
The evidence of his ‘true’ positive personal qualities, created by Ned seem to finally be offering a viable new identity….
….except….this ‘viable identity’ isn’t ‘new’ at all: it has existed all the time, waiting to be illuminated! It was crushed by a damaging stereotype that Ned had clung to but despised – thus, in turn, despising himself.
Ned decides to utilise his honesty:
When my friends ask me to sort their problems:
I will try to suggest solutions that will help them to sort it out for themselves and stand on their own two feet
I will tell them that I am there for them, but that my fists are no longer available because I will end up in a police cell
Gradually, Ned applies his plan. Initially his friends are surprised. He gets a bit of flak. Some friends melt away but Ned realises that they were just spectators that enjoy watching a good fight.
It’s not easy, but myself and his girlfriend support him. He understands that in encouraging his friends to think for themselves, he is doing them a favour. He is adjusting the roles, dismantling his armour. Fiercely loyal Ned is rewarded with loyalty. He does not lose his true friends.
It is unlikely that Ned will never be involved in a fight again, but he demonstrates a new determination in his modified role. He realises that his new approach is still ‘caring’ and ‘helpful’ and….somehow….he feels stronger.
His new skills of physically calming his anger allow him crucial thinking space so that he no longer gallops in with his fists. Now, when he receives a text from a friend, asking him to ‘sort it’, he pauses, breathes, thinks….
Does he lose his credibility? What do you think?
So Ned completes his sessions and we part ways…..
A few months later, Ned pops in for a chat.
“How’s it going?” I ask.
“Good. I’m chilled,” he flashes a (rare) lop-sided smile.
“How’s your course going?”
“It’s okay, but I’ve decided to grow up, stop mucking about in lessons. It pisses my teacher off.”
“I’m impressed. Sounds like you’ve set yourself a new target. Need any help with that?”
“Nah…..Compared to how hard it was to sort my anger…..I mean…I thought that was impossible. It was SO hard. But I did it….So this will be easy! But thanks.”
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