Treating an angry involuntary hold with compassion; Tim's story

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Could Violence be a disconnection with our human nature, a disconnection with our human needs ?

I am probably not the first one to see that, but what amazes me is how fast people can reconnect with their human nature, use the power of anger to serve life, and move forward toward happiness when they are given the chance to reconnect.

Let me tell you the story of one of my patients.

I am a nurse in a short-term, locked facility for people that are on a 72 hour legal hold as a danger to self or to others due to psychological disorder. In other words my patients arrive often on the unit yelling with hands cuffs on.

This is how Tim ( for the story) arrived on my unit. He was a young man on a hold for being a danger to others. Before he arrived, I learned by phone report that he had broken everything at his ex-girlfriend’s apartment, had thrown the TV out the window and they had needed three policemen to contain his fury. His yelling preceded his physical arrival onto the unit and because he refused to “cooperate” with the doctor, he was escorted directly into one of our seclusion rooms.

The policeman asked Tim to sit on the bed and Tim complied. The officer gave us a look as if to say,” what is your plan?”

Our concern at this point was safety, so I told Tim that I wanted to listen to him but I needed to be safe. He gave me a quick look of surprise and raised his shoulder and said “of course”. I said “thank you”. I gave a sign to the officer that it was Ok to remover the handcuffs, still locked on Tim’s wrists behind his back.

With a quick chin gesture I told the staff that they could leave; only my assigned health tech stayed at the door.

Tim’s voice was getting lower as he was continuing with his list of grievances against us first and then against his ex. “What right do you have to lock me up; I am not the problem; that ‘f—b’ is the problem. Why don’t you get her instead of me? You are on her side, right? So she can rat on me that I am using, and that’s OK. The ‘b’ wants me out of her life and my son’s life. Who do you think you are anyway, some kind of God that knows what is right or wrong?”

At that point I am listening, I am also very in touch with my need for safety. Now that he has agreed to sit, I feel safe and I can really listen.

I am always really curious to understand how a young man can “end up” on my unit. I know deep inside me that he is on the same search for happiness, like all the rest of us. But what happen, what choices did he make to get so far away from his happiness?

So I listen, listen in the best way that I can. I mean I listen with all my body, without letting my head get in the way. I listen without analyzing, without judging, with just a genuine listening to what is really alive in him at this time. (It helps me to know I have only heard one side of the story. So how can I pretend to an opinion when half the information is missing?)

At times, I do some echoing of what I hear. For Tim, I heard frustration first; we were taking his freedom away and that was frustrating. When I let him go deeper he said, “She wants me out of my son’s life”; so I hear sadness, a deep sadness under all that anger.

I told him that is what I heard. “I hear so much Sadness, when you are talking about your son”. He became suddenly silent as if he were searching whether it was sadness inside him. Like he needed a few seconds to feel what was in him. He took a sigh and remained quiet for the first time; and then he said, “I am not going to be an absent father like mine was”.

I stay quiet with him for some time and offered, “So I hear that it is important for you to be a father for your kid”. He said, “yes”, and gives me a first real eye-to-eye contact.

I felt that he was re-connected to his feelings and his needs. What I had heard, even though it was only a guess on my part, allowed him to go inside and search. He was then very quick to jump into the strategies to meet those needs, like in a hurry to not waste any more time. He asked to use the phone to call the social worker.

About thirty minutes elapsed between the time the policeman brought him into the room and Tim asked to see a social worker.

It was so sweet to see it happen, to see the power of the connection to the deep self, the one looking for happiness.

This was the Happiness of the father loving his son.

This is what I mean, when I talk about reconnecting with our human nature, our human needs.

I have seen over and over that amazing power that comes out when this reconnection happens. The power of the clear action coming from our common human needs just once step behind the loud confusing noise of anger.

I am not sure what happened to Tim after his discharge. During his 3 days stay in the hospital he never expressed in a destructive way his anger for us or for his life.

I ran into him, once as I was waiting at a traffic light; he drove by in a truck and yelled with a big smile “ I got a job!” and disappeared.

Liz Otterbein,R.N.Certified NVC Trainer
<c> Otterbein {2009)