Currently, I’m enrolled in a 10-month counseling training program in San Francisco called Interchange. The sessions are comprised of lectures on therapeutic theories and techniques, as well as a lot of practice as both clients and counselors. This update looks at the healing potential of aggression and other stigmatized expressions of human energy
I pinned her up against the wall and yelled with all my aggression directly into her face. She told me I wasn’t enough, and that I would never get what I wanted.
“You can’t have it,” she mocked. “You never will.”
I pushed harder, my feet sliding out from underneath me, as I could feel her delicate shoulder bones start to give way under my palms.
OK, she said, losing all the intensity we’d developed in the last few moments. Now I want you to push up against the wall behind me, so that you can give it all of your aggression without hurting me.
I smiled and agreed. It was only an exercise after all.
Spread throughout the newly reclaimed elementary school campus on Treasure Island were nearly 20 more pairs of people connecting with their aggressive energies. I could hear angry yells down the hall, and muted thuds from people punching pillows with all their might.
Earlier that morning, we were sitting calmly in a circle, listening to a lecture on the various energy systems that each of us maintain as we go throughout our days. To those who may have deemed the reference of “energy systems” as too hippy dippy or unapproachable, we clarified its meaning by conducting an experiment with the person sitting next to us:
Turn to the person to your right and look into their eyes. Say something if you’d like, like “hello” or “hi”, but this isn’t the important task at hand. What’s important is that you notice this person, be present with them, and recognize that they project something through their way of being. This way of being might be labeled with positive words, like warm, inviting, calm, and/or stable. Or, their way of being might be better explained as rigid, cold, distant, and/or detached. Whatever the case, we notice that this person next to us expresses a way about them that is communicated without words. We can feel that we know something about them without their saying anything at all. Turn to the person to your left and do the same thing, but notice your feeling is not the same at all. Notice that this person’s energy is unique to this individual.
This is what is meant by an individual’s energy system.
Once we’d developed a baseline understanding of what we were talking about when talking about energy, we recognized energies that are often deemed inappropriate in our culture. Specifically, we talked about aggression.
To understand the powerful potential of aggressive energy in ourselves, and explore how it could be useful in counseling, we couldn’t just talk about rage, anger, and hate. Instead, with the help of a partner, we were given an opportunity to bring these feelings to the surface, which is why I was pinning a woman up against the wall as she provoked me with choice taunts that struck my vulnerability.
I don’t know what your reaction to hearing this update is (though I’d be thrilled to hear from you), but, if you were like any of us in the training program, you’d be timid to willingly prod at an energy that is so often the cause of regret, hurt, and destruction in our lives. However, we weren’t engaging with our aggression aimlessly. Rather, we were curious about whether aggression held within it something that could be of service to us. After all, it is an inseparable part of every human’s experience.
Now, you might be wondering how this translates into a counseling situation. So was I…
After the enraging session with my partner, we split off into new pairs. This time, rather than stimulating each other’s aggression, we conducted a counseling session. As each of us took turns being counselor and client, we considered how aggression might be utilized in a session.
Here are some ways in which I found aggression could be helpful in counseling:
From a counselor’s perspective, aggression can be used to reinforce determination, focus, protection, resilience, and fearlessness. The energy can be channeled to remove great obstacles and stand for great good on your client’s behalf. Aggression can destroy, but it also protects the precious things we build.
From a client’s perspective, aggression catalyzes discharge of weighty emotion, repressed anger, resentment, and/or hurt. It can move a client from the role of victim to victor. Aggression can be blinding, but it can also be the backbone to breakthrough.
Aggression is only one of many energies at play within our human experience, but it’s one that is often discarded as useless or too unruly to wield wisely. What are other energies that we avoid rather than nurture toward our benefit? I’d love to hear your answers.
As a suggestion: What positive purpose can sexual energy bring to an interaction (other than the apparently obvious end of intercourse)?
Peace and good,
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