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Written by: Judith Morton Fraser MFT

“I’ve started to notice how I make relentless judgments about people whom I don’t even know.” Phyllis said as she sat on the sofa in my office. “I want to slap the Gelson’s cashier for calling me sweetie. If the man upstairs doesn’t stop tap dancing on my ceiling during dinner I’m going to scream.  And, I want to take a giant fork lift and remove all those ‘crazy’ drivers on the freeway who are out to get me.”

     Phyllis brushed her short black hair back behind her ears. “It’s not like me to want to retaliate, but right now I feel like I’m looking for reasons to be angry to protect myself.” She shook her head, scrunched up her mouth, then glanced at the print of hearts on the opposite wall.

    Phyllis, a life coach, is usually filled with compassionate understanding for others – filled with heart like those in the wall print. 

     “Maybe this grouchiness happened after my dad died when I was a kid and has stayed buried until now.”  Phyllis shivered and tightened the velvet blanket over her shoulders like a shield of protection. “Or, maybe it’s a reaction to being in pain. Before I was diagnosed with cancer a few years ago I was growly and irritable. I hurt all the time.”

     Trying to find a reason for a stressful feeling is not unusual.  Sometimes it can be helpful.

     Phyllis looked up. Her eyes softened. “I know there’s a reason for it,” she said. “I just have to find the key.”

     Phyllis let go of trying to figure out her problem and chose to do an in-depth, inner journey process with me based on Eugene Gendlin’s FOCUSING. It’s a process that we had done before.


When we take time to listen to the body’s responses in a positive manner the body can give us valuable information. Eugene Gendlin calls this an “aha” experience. It’s a felt sense.  A release of blocked energy. A letting go of a fear no longer valued.


I’ve broken down the steps that I use to: Intend, attend, descend, and amend.

     I waited as Phyllis relaxed into the sofa, closed her eyes and let go of any distractions that would block her from being present to her feelings. 

 Step One: Intend (to discover something new)

     “I want to discover what this inner irritation and anger is all about.”

 Step Two: Attend (to body sensations)

     “The back of my neck, between my shoulders is tense.” Phyllis reached back and touched the area.  “There’s a lump there.  It’s always an irritation.”

     Noticing where the irritation manifests itself in the body is helpful.  It provides an actual place to attend to. “Is it all right to bring your breath and your Intention to the lump to discover more about it?” I asked her.

     “Umm humm.”  Her eyebrows knitted together in a frown. “There’s someone.  It looks like a crotchety Gnome there.  It’s irritated all the time.”  Phyllis took a deep breath and shook her head.

     Since Phyllis was a highly visual person it was not surprising that she pictured a tangible image. “Is it all right to discover more about this crotchety Gnome?” I asked.

     Sometimes just making contact with the irritation and/or the shape it takes on is enough. The symbols that arise from the unconscious are protectors.  They are there to block a traumatic event or painful memory from being revealed.  The journeyer must be emotionally strong enough for the protector to reveal more information.    

 Step Three: Descend (deeper into the body sensations)

      Phyllis growled and continued without hesitation.  “He’s on guard waiting for something to make him snap.” Phyllis twisted her face to take on the visual look of her inner Gnome.  “His job is to wait and see who’s next to snap at.”  Phyllis took a deep breath and relaxed her face.  “Yuck!  Why does he have to do that?”

     It was one of those questions that can only be answered by encouraging Phyllis to stay with her inner experience. I suggested that she might talk to her Gnome.

     Phyllis took a little time to herself. I remained attentive as she continued to listen to her body. “It’s like we made an agreement, this Gnome and me … God!

     There was a definite shift in awareness.  An “aha” moment of discovery. Phyllis sat up higher in her seat and threw her head back.

     “My ex-husband, Tom, was so abusive … physically and emotionally.” Tears rolled down her face.  “I ended up on the floor in a bloody mess more than a few times.  When I left, after years of putting up with being the target of his rage, I said to myself, ‘I’m never gonna let that happen again. I’m gonna be on guard against anyone who might hurt me.”  She swallowed hard.  “The Gnome is protecting me.”  More tears flowed as she continued to explore the reason for her irritation.

     Phyllis had talked about her husband’s abuse with me before, so it wasn’t anything that was hidden. I wondered why the protection was still there. “Can you talk to the Gnome and find out why he’s still guarding you?”

     Again, I framed the question as a choice. It would be up to Phyllis to accept or decline.

     “Why are you still guarding me?”  She asked.

     Time stood still as we both waited to discover what would happen next. 

     After a while Phyllis took a deep breath. “He’s waiting … waiting for me to say … I can take care of myself … so his job is finished.”  She nodded as if listening to someone standing nearby. “He said that we made an agreement … he was supposed to protect me … against being hurt … for as long as I needed.”

     Usually we make up False Beliefs to protect us from emotional pain. Phyllis needed protection from physical as well as emotional pain. 

Step Four: Amend (let go of the past belief)

“Is there anything you want to say to the Gnome?” I asked.

     Phyllis continued. “I want to thank him for helping me all these years and let him go.” Phyllis’s face broke into a big grin. “Thank you Gnome.  You did a great job.”   Her laughter filled the room. “He’s packing up and leaving.”

     Phyllis felt strong enough to release her past protection.  A protection that had been sorely needed for her to develop into the strong wise woman that she had become. I don’t always agree that letting go of a past protector is the right thing to do, but I followed Phyllis’s lead. 

     Each journey, each personal message is different.  Learning to listen to the body in a positive way allows us to heal our past wounds. “Imagine yourself developing an ‘emotional muscle’ to deal with difficult situations that consist of fear, stress and frustration.  Imagine yourself becoming your own best friend, feeling safe and at home within yourself. By learning focusing and making it part of your daily life, you dip into the implicit treasures of your body wisdom.  The result is greater calm, wiser choices, and a deeper sense of connection to your own life and being.” Focusing Institute Vision.

 Dynamic Living Magazine, Jan/Feb 2011, focusing pg1

Focusing as a Process for Anger Resolution, Connections Newsletter, SFV, May – June 2011

Did you know that there are three parts to a relationship? Relationships are made up of the “you”, the “us”, and the “me”. Many times people in relationships place the focus and the emphasis on the “you” or on the “us”. This means that they are constantly focused on what the other person needs or what the relationship needs, rather than on their own needs. When this happens feelings of resentment and anger towards the “you” and the “us” may emerge in one or both partners.

People who place too much emphasis and focus on the “you” are continually looking for ways to please their partner. If their partner is happy, then they are happy too. If their partner is suffering, then they are suffering too. Individuals who focus too much on the “us” are searching for a way to make the relationship the solution to their personal issues. An example of this is when a person believes that their own personal struggles or shortcomings will be mended if they find a “perfect” relationship. When a person focuses on the “you” or the “us” and loses site of the “me”, they are vulnerable to feeling anger and resentment towards the “you” or the “us”.

A person who is unable to focus on their own feelings and needs, may at times say things such as “how could he do this to me, after everything I have done for him!” or “If only this relationship was perfect, then I would be happier and my problems would be fixed!” When a person begins to feel that they are sacrificing themselves for the better good of the relationship and the outcome is not what they expected, they are likely to have feelings of anger towards their partner and towards their relationship. Individuals who are confrontational may engage in argumentative behaviors when they start to feel neglected, whereas, others may behave in passive-aggressive behaviors towards their partner. Whether the person is actively confronting their partner or acting in a passive-aggressive manner, they often have feelings of anger and resentment that are beginning to build up. It is only a matter of time before those feelings begin to create problems in the relationship.

Here are a few things you can do if you find that you are in a relationship where you are beginning to act in aggressive or passive-aggressive ways towards your partner due to your unmet needs. First, take a step back from the relationship and realize that other people are not responsible for the way you think, feel, or act. You and you alone are responsible for the way you think, feel, and act. When you are able to recognize that this is your responsibility you can begin to acknowledge your needs. This may be challenging at first, especially if you are used to focusing on other people before focusing on yourself.

After you are able to take responsibility for your thinking, feeling, and acting, it is important to recognize that you are not responsible for your partner’s thinking, feeling, or acting. Your partner is responsible for how they think, feel, and act.  In a healthy relationship, people do not blame each other for how they think, feel, or act. In a healthy relationship, both individuals are able to take responsibility for their thinking, feeling and acting. This opens the door to discussing feelings and allows for growth within the relationship.

If you feel that you and you alone are responsible for the success of your relationship, you are placing an immense amount of pressure on yourself. If you spend all of your time focusing on the other person or on the needs of the relationship, you are acting in self-neglecting ways. You may find yourself feeling immensely lonely, misunderstood, and confused because your efforts are not resulting in the outcome that you desire. You may begin to feel used and taken advantage of. All of these feelings may lead to anger.

Remember that healthy relationships are challenging to maintain and take lots of time and commitment, as well as practice and dedication. It takes two healthy “me’s”, who are willing and able to take responsibility for themselves to create a healthy “us”. 

  Erika Krueger is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, as well as an Anger Management 818 Facilitator. She is practicing in Tarzana and Sherman Oaks, California and specializes in anger management and addiction and recovery. For more information please visit