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Are You Acting Out Your Pain or Working Through It?

Working through the pain is challenging, but rewarding.

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Linda: When we act out, our inner conflicts show themselves repeatedly in poor choices and limited well-being in relationships. Consider the case of Audry and Hugh. Audry acted out her fears and pain by being sarcastic, demanding, and critical of her partner, Hugh. Her own pain was so great that it leaked out on him and others around her. Her judgments caused Hugh to withdraw.

The relationship that Hugh and Audry lived in before they reached out for support to the 12 steps and therapy had no chance of success. Their repeated ugly scenes, fueled by Audry’s verbal attacks, led to repeated nasty fights. Hugh did not know any alternative to storming off, slamming the door, and retreating to the barroom to blot out his pain. With all this acting out, none of their issues would get resolved. This vicious cycle went on for years before they hit bottom when Hugh got his second DUI and lost his driver's license. They finally got the help they needed to work through the issues that were plaguing them.

Hugh had been so distressed due to the old pain in his life coupled with his present predicament when Audry, that he self-medicated with excessive alcohol. He had to take a look at himself and the part that he had been playing. It was a major turning point when he admitted that he was an alcoholic and finally joined Alcoholics Anonymous. Hugh confronted his pain, got a sponsor, and a support group, stopped drinking. He worked through his pain by expressing it openly in meetings and using the support of his fellow alcoholics to create a better life. His life became characterized by caring connections with other people and greater self-respect.

When she was no longer distracted by Hugh’s alcoholism, Audry was forced to take a look at herself as well. Acknowledging her suffering, caused by driving people away with her hostility, finally forced her into therapy. In therapy, she learned to express her pain rather than blaming others; she worked through her original mental suffering in her family of origin where she had to become the tough girl and survivor. She begins to understand that she no longer needs the tough girl persona to protect herself. She can be more open and vulnerable. As Audry’s healing took hold, the fights settled down.

For the longest time, Hugh’s shame was so great that he was paralyzed by it and would not stand up to Audry when she shamed him. He acted out by withdrawing. Consequently, these two had a terrible relationship, and it did not look like it was going to last. But when Audry began to show definite signs of healing and growth, it had a strong influence on Hugh, prompting him to become hopeful and to show more loving attention to her.

It took many months of hard work, but since they both had a fire in the belly to find their motivation, their relationship steadily improved and they were able to stay together. In working through, just like Audry and Hugh did, we can confront our inner conflicts, which allows us to make more skillful choices. When we do so, our relationships automatically improve. Instead of the same old unskillful patterns repeating themselves, new healthy, wholesome patterns emerge.

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