I first learned about congruence from Frank Farrelly.
One thing in my mind was very clear: that radical congruence, if held constant, was very helpful to patients in interviews; that I could not only laugh at patients without detriment to them but even with help to them; that laughter towards patients was not inevitably “demeaning their dignity”. I also felt very freed up in interviews. I wasn’t “grinding my gears” and my responses towards clients weren’t going in one direction while my thoughts, reactions and feelings were going in another.
Now, that isn’t to say I laugh at my patients. I certainly laugh if they say something I find funny, but in my line of work that’s rather a rarity. I do, however, respond to them honestly.
- Very recently, a man’s wife died at my hospital, and he was understandably distraught. As he kissed her for the last time and told her that he loved her, I choked. I had to walk away. Some would have said I was “unprofessional” for letting my feelings show like that. I disagree. (Fortunately for me, so does my manager, and so do the ICU nurses.)
- Some time back, a woman on our psychiatric unit was dismantling the furniture in her room. She was upset about something and the staff were afraid to go in and get her. I went to the door and saw her surrounded by drawers. “Move them away from you, please,” I asked. She asked why I wanted her to do that. I said, “To be honest, you’re scaring me a little. I’m afraid you might use one of them to try to hurt me.” She looked at me, maybe a little wide-eyed, and moved them away from her. She then accompanied me to the “Quiet Room” without a problem.
- Typically, if I have to restrain someone, I’m not pleased about it. I understand how frightened they must be and I treat them the way I’d want to be treated if I’d placed myself in their position. I approach such events with the attitude described in stanza 31 of Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching (Stephen Mitchell’s translation):
Weapons are the tools of violence;
all decent men detest them.
Weapons are the tools of fear;
a decent man will avoid them
except in the direst necessity
and, if compelled, will use them
only with the utmost restraint.
Peace is his highest value.
If the peace has been shattered,
how can he be content?
His enemies are not demons,
but human beings like himself.
He doesn’t wish them personal harm.
Nor does he rejoice in victory.
How could he rejoice in victory
and delight in the slaughter of men?
He enters a battle gravely,
with sorrow and with great compassion,
as if he were attending a funeral.
One of the things I keep in mind is that, because I intend to remain congruent in that way, I have to decide what response I want to have in such situations. My NLP skills permit me to do that. I can decide what’s important to me in a given situation and resolve to behave consistently with that.
Sometimes, people don’t know how to take me. They assume there’s something else going on. Incongruence seems to be the norm, I guess. My girlfriend told me, early on in our relationship, that she felt like I was looking into her rather than at her. I wasn’t. I was looking at her, and she’d gotten used to everyone else looking at the pretty, perky, sunshiny persona she exudes so well. And I still have to deal with her responding to stuff I didn’t say, simply because she seems to assume I “really meant” something other than what I actually said.
I think my favorite example is the time a supervisor at the hospital tried to bully me. It was the way he got things done, and it tended to work with pretty much everyone. He wanted me to do something for him, and I was willing to do it for him (he wasn’t my supervisor), but he took on the “pushing people around” affect with me. In a completely congruent fashion, I responded to him as if he’d instead asked me for a tremendous favor. He tranced for a split second, and then he responded to me as if I’d just agreed to do him a tremendous favor. And the funny thing is, he never tried to bully me again. If I recall correctly, he didn’t bully anyone when I was around. Not that he thought about it and decided against it or anything… more like it never even occurred to him.
Anyway, congruence is a powerful thing, and I’m exceeding grateful to Frank for having opened it up for me. I enjoyed my Provocative Therapy training and highly recommend it to anyone. I also enjoyed the meal I shared with him and with Doug O’Brien; it was a ball. If you ever get the chance, go see Frank in action.
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