Focusing Self-Help Manual Excerpt


  1. Basic Assumptions 


… If you view an angry person as a hurting person, you are well on the way toward an empathic, or Listening, way of dealing with interpersonal conflict.  When a person is screaming with anger, she is saying “I perceive you as treading on one of my essential needs, and I am hurting”.  If, through Focused Listening, you are able to help the person to a more direct expression of her vulnerability and need, it is likely that your own defensive reaction will change to what is called “relational empathy”:  even though you are in conflict with the person because she is keeping you from getting your basic needs met, you will be able to see it as it looks to her, to acknowledge the legitimacy of her need, and to care deeply for her in that.  Then a resolution of the conflict can arise as an attempt to find a way in which both of you can get your needs met, rather than as a defensive competition to see who can “win” or be proven “right”…
…This assumption is basic to the client-centered philosophy of Carl Rogers (1961), from which the idea of empathic listening and Pure Reflection arises.  Rogers makes the a priori assumption that human persons are basically good and that all of their behaviors are manifestations of a “tendency toward self-actualization”, an attempt, no matter how twisted or strange the behaviors, to fill basic and legitimate human needs.  If through Intuitive Focusing, accompanied by Focused Listening, a person can be helped to express her need directly, the other person will be moved by the legitimacy of the need and willing to work toward some compromise where the needs of each can be met.

The Listening and Focusing skills outlined in the previous chapters can be used effectively to turn angry confrontation into relational empathy.  The two people involved can take turns using Focusing and Listening with each other, or they may call in a third person as a Listening-facilitator.  The method is outlined later in the chapter.  Here are more basic assumptions:

  1. It is essential that each person be willing to try to go behind her angry feelings by Focusing on the cause in her, trying to get to her own hurt and vulnerability.  Interpersonal Focusing is not a place for dumping one’s anger on another, for blaming another.  Anger will be expressed but as a means of getting to the deeper sources behind it.  Showing one’s own vulnerability is the best way to allow the other person to let down her defenses.

  2. It is fruitless to try to establish whose fault the trouble was – each person contributed something of her own to the situation, and each has something to learn about herself, and to share, in the Interpersonal Focusing.  In the same way, it is assumed that neither person is essentially bad or evil.

  3. Being allowed to have anger openly, to rant and rave irrationally, can help a person to get in touch with the hurt underneath, if only she can be responded to in a Listening way.  Having the anger reflected (“It really makes you furious that I could have allowed that to happen”) allows it to shift to the next step, expression of the hurt beneath it.  Having to sit on the anger, to attempt to be rational and understanding of the other person, can interrupt this process.  Having a third person Listening Facilitator present, who can reflect the brunt of the anger, allows the anger to be expressed without injuring the other person.

  4. Working through an angry interaction in each other’s presence can lead to a strengthening, rather than a weakening, of the bond between two people.  Sitting down, sharing heavy feelings, seeing each other get in touch with the vulnerable need behind the interaction, leads to relational empathy, a powerfully warm feeling of understanding the person as she is in this situation and being moved by her pain.  Because the two now have some sense of how each reacts to the specific situation, they can also be more sensitive to each other on future occasions and even work out ways of avoiding this particular hurtful interaction in the future.
  1. Interpersonal Focusing Protocol    END OF SAMPLE EXCERPT


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These materials are offered purely as self-help skills. In providing them, Dr. McGuire is not engaged in rendering psychological, financial, legal, or other professional services. If expert assistance or counseling is needed, the services of a competent professional should be sought.