I was surprised to find “Good Will Hunting” on our DVD recorded movies list. Apparently my oldest son, Matt recorded it thinking it was about guns. A great movie, and it was the bit at the end that settled an eternal question for me. Matt Damon hugs Robin Williams and says: “Doesn’t this violate the doctor/patient relationship?” and Robin Williams replies, “Only if you grab my arse.”
So, let’s get to the bottom of this once and for all. If it is OK for therapeutic couples to hug, then here are some types of therapy room hugs that might be considered appropriate:
The Stealth Hug: This happened for me about eight years ago. I saw her in the corridor wearing a green jumper and a black pleated skirt and I made a snap decision, so when I got into the room, I launched myself at her. She was quite startled, but put her arms around me and hugged. That, by the way, is the only correct response when a client stealth hugs a therapist. Had she refused, my mortification factor would have been stratospheric and I would have had to leave immediately – never to come back again. When a therapist refuses a client’s stealth hug it can make the client feel contaminated at best and the embodiment of evil at worst.
Sometimes, I catch myself having fierce arguments in my head with people I have never met, about situations that have not happened, followed by resolutions that are never satisfying. My headspace is cranky and irritable and there is no logical preceding incident; it is just where my head automatically ends up when let off the leash and wanders free range. I call this IBS – Irritable Borderline Syndrome.
Now, when I catch myself doing this, I redirect my thoughts into something else. I discovered I was doing this on the 45-minute journey to and from work. Without external noise distraction (my radio/CD broke) and only my thoughts to keep me company on the stop/start traffic jam journey to and from work, I was mentally irritable from plotting evil thoughts, arguing with my inner self and ruminating long before I reached my destination. My armpits and skin would itch with stress induced hormones and my bowels and intestines would cramp into knots.
Borderline Personality Disorder is not just about mental illness and emotional distress, it is also about social skills (or lack of them), empathy, manners, conflict resolution and self-care. Most children learn these vital social skills early on at pre and primary school where they observe other children’s behaviour, learn a “theory of mind” or how other children think and feel (mentalising) and experience compassion and empathy for others. These things come naturally to them.
But some children, through no fault of their own, are unable to learn and remain totally clueless about how to survive socially in the playground. These are the kids who suffer social neglect, rejection and abandonment. These are the children who need a step by step guide or a “recipe” on how to learn empathy, how to be a team player, how to get on with other children, negotiation skills, conflict resolution, the rough and tumble of give and take and sharing toys with grace and dignity.
These kids need to learn that when this happens, this is the correct response. I was not one of those naturally cluey children; I lived in social Siberia most of my school life and became a library refugee.
Here are five survival techniques desperately needed when suffering from BPD: