A Phenomenological Uncovering of One Woman’s Experience of Alcohol and Substance Misuse.
Within this written piece I hope to augment one person’s experience of alcohol addiction and substance misuse. My willing participant, Angela, has been a dear friend for some five years. She has been dry for about nine years. Angela has also been in personal therapy for several years and has a good support network around her and so I am confident she will effectively be able to source support for any issues which may arise. I felt confident in approaching Angela to participate in this phenomenological piece, knowing that she was emotionally robust and would recognise any shift in her internal stability. Further Angela was made aware that she could stop and review or terminate the interview at any time. We discussed protecting her identity and so she assumed a pseudonym. Angel also understood that she could request therapeutic support, which I provide the financial cost for, should any issue arise from the interview.
My initial readings were from the Transactional Analyst Magazine. I was deeply impacted by the work of Julie Marshall. Marshall writes of the Rebellious Adapted Child and clearly defines the mechanism by which some may use alcohol and substance as a means to access their child ego state. Whilst others may in fact use alcohol and substance to disable the adapted aspect of child however they may not actually access free child in the process but activate Rebellious Adapted Child instead. That is child is still responding to the oppressive (parent) stimuli in a rebellious fashion but adapted to nonetheless. Consequently the excluded free child could be misconstrued as the ‘real self’. Use of alcohol and substances may give the impression of gaining access to the ‘real self’. Further Marshall states that the RAC may use alcohol, drugs, food etc as a means of control. Effectively being otherwise powerless the RAC gains power through the control of the use of substances. Although these actions themselves ultimately render the RAC powerless. The RAC would be particularly attracted to the use of alcohol and substances at it would also take them away from the painful realisation that they were powerless within their own lives. Finally maintaining a sense of self is vital for the RAC and must be accomplished at any cost, even if that cost is damaging to the RAC on a physical level. Within this piece Marshall makes no comment about whether or not alcoholism is or is not a disease. However there is a clear definition of alcoholism as a complex social phenomena. I cannot help but wonder what would happen to the described addictive behaviours if the individual concerned found some other means of control, or indeed was able to access the real self without the aid of substances. Would normal social drinking resume?
Michael S Levy (1990) differentiates between the consumption of alcohol as a response to sociological or psychological processes and alcoholism as a disease, which has nothing to do with the previously mentioned factors. That is those who continue to drink will find that the disease has a predictable path, it has a recognisable, chronic, progressive course. Significantly those afflicted are perceived as ‘poorly’ and not personally accountable, nor is their environment nor family/historical dynamic. The alternative concept to the idea of disease would see alcoholism as a complex disorder. Many factors could be seen to be playing a contributing role in the inception and maintenance of the alcohol problem. Socio economics, family dynamics, motivational dynamics, cognitive process etc.
In terms of treatment there can only be one possible successful outcome if one considers the etiology of alcoholism to be disease. The disease requires complete abstinence. Any individual who refuses complete abstinence or acceptance of the presence of a disease is deemed to be in denial. However if one considers a biopsychosocial model of alcoholism one may consider the possibility of developing within abusers of alcohol a system by which they could moderate or control their drinking.
Berne however was not commonly known to view alcoholism as a disease. He did publish a paper in 1964 named ‘A layman’s guide to psychiatry’ in which his views closely mirrored mainstream thinking of alcoholism as a disease. He essentially described it as an addiction but also with psychosocial, psychological and also physical components. He recognised a loss of control both physically and in terms of dysfunction of behaviour. Within this model Berne recognised cure as a two stage process. Firstly physical addiction must be arrested primarily by complete abstinence. After which the craving must be replaced by something more compelling than alcohol. He suggested that the alcohol should be replaced with people, specifically relations with people. In this model it appears that returning to social drinking would not be possible.
More commonly Berne is known to describe alcoholism as a game and the alcoholic as a role that is played out. Further Berne stated that the hangover was a payoff of the game which enabled the player to act out self-castigation. Berne distinguished between the biochemical and physiological processes related to alcoholism, claiming they were the medical view, and that the social transactions related to alcoholism the game. By such distinction Berne rejected the idea that alcoholism was an illness. Indeed such was his belief that Berne claimed that a criteria for determining a cure for alcoholism would be a safe return to social drinking.
The AA also view alcoholism as a disease. According to Selavan (1976) AA holds that alcoholism is an incurable disease. Berne (1964) states that the AA continues to play the game of alcoholic however instead of being the victim it induces the alcoholics to play the role of rescuer. Karpman (1968) claims the AA is a parent organisation and like Berne claims that it keeps the participants within the drama triangle, although the roles may change. The AA does give permission to alcoholics to not drink and also agrees to protect those staying sober. The AA does not however emphasise developing the Adult, consequently the protection can become symbiotic. That is not to say the alcoholic cannot remain alcohol free and happily functional.
In brief, Angela, my participant, is a white woman of working class origin in her mid forties. She was born and grew up in the North West of England enjoying an average level of financial and material wealth during childhood. She is the eldest of four children, she has two younger sisters and her youngest sibling is a boy. Angela’s father is an alcoholic. Angela has had three significant relations ships, two resulted in the birth of her children. Her third partner passed away. Angela and I agreed that we would meet at her home and Angela would recount her storey in her time. I would not act as a therapist but would simply listen with some input. We agreed that I could tape the event and at a later date I would type up a transcript. The tape would be destroyed on receiving confirmation of successful completion of this assignment.
Within this phenomenological piece I am wondering what sort of researcher am I but before I can ask this question I must begin to understand where I believe I belong in the world. I must begin to understand the impact of my life experience on my sense of belonging which ultimately determines my perspective, my place.
I’m immediately thoughtful of Allan Luke’s (1995) ideas of ‘identity papers’ or Eric Berne’s (1961) concept of a ‘life script’, that is each individual has their own internal story or speed like the meter & rhythm of a book which can change from chapter to chapter. What does my internal dialogue say about the speed of my traverse through the swamp of Timespace (May & Thrift, 2007). Mazzei talks about the production of a script as a performance. In this sense a script is an enactment of written data into performance and as such allows for time and space. Specifically allows for validity and meaning to be attributed to time and space. Although how, or the translation of the language of time and space is not specific. Phillip McGuire (1985) confirms Mazzei’s (2007) thinking with ‘The words of the text do not provide us with the means- ‘the authoritative datum’ – for understanding the open silences that the words themselves generate. For such understanding we must turn to performances’ (Mazzei, 2007)
I agree whole heartedly but how do we uniformly translate such performances? My preferred method would be to employ Transactional Analysis. Which provides a well thought out, academically and sociologically accepted framework upon which to hang data for consideration. Transactional Analysis is a social psychology as well as a theory and method of counseling and psychotherapy. It has a long tradition of application to organizational and educational settings, and provides a readily understandable and easily applicable approach to improving relationships. It does this by allowing one to see oneself relationally. The TA framework allows one to systematically unpick the origin of belief, perceptions and consequently thoughts in a way that accounts for the human ability to attribute meaning in an individualistic way. Although I could equally achieve these goals by employing IPA (Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis). In many respects the process I prefer is IPA however the framing of ego states is useful to me and enables me to manifest relations which are not always overtly visible.
In order for me to understand the silences and performance of the interview, I need to first understand their origins and decipher the code of their meaning. It is possible to just use rational thought to decipher these meanings but I am concerned that our rationality, unattended to, can itself become a filter and hinder our ability to truly hear and see. As Foucalt states ‘all discourses are dangerous, especially without continued examination’ (Foucalt, 1983)
So I have decided that when I come to decipher the performance of text I shall loosely hold in the forefront of my mind the model of Transactional Analysis upon which I will loosely hang my un-coverings. In this way I will account for some of the problematic of performance within the current frameworks of research methodology. This method of discovery, in terms of research methods in Education would lead me to consider myself as an idiographic researcher. That is I am more concerned about the individual and the unique rather than the general or the universal. Further it would be fair to say that within the spectrum of conceptions of social reality as defined by Burrell & Morgan (1979) my perception firmly sits in the sphere of the subjectivist approach to social science. Or as described by Descartes a mentalist, who postulates two distinct entities. That is the body and the mind, which are linked together in unfathomable ways, as yet. The opposition to this belief would be the epiphenomenalist who would believe that thoughts and feelings are mere shadows and bear no scientific significance. Similar to the beliefs of the positivists who believe all knowledge should be empirical.
Which leads me to identify myself as one with a nominalist view of ontology; an anti-positivist stance on epistemology and a belief that human nature is Voluntarism in essence. My preferred methodology would employ both qualitative and quantitative methodologies, a mixed methodology. However in this instance I am using qualitative methods alone.
The first and most apparent observation within this piece is Angela’s sense of being on her own and having to do everything alone, of being loaded with responsibility. In her opening gambit she describes herself as an overly adapted child. ‘I did everything, I was like the eldest of four, I did everything. So I looked after my brothers and sisters like at 11 on my own I was quite responsible.’ Line 5-7. She describes her dog, Lacey, as her best friend and then goes on to say how she looked after Lacey, all the effort she put in. Again this relationship strikes me as needful. It in effect felt quite demanding and stressful to me as I heard it. Not that Lacey demanded Angela get up at six am and carry out numerous laborious tasks of looking after her but that somehow Angela had imposed this dynamic onto herself. Perhaps this was a means of validating herself in a fashion that had been demonstrated by her parent. That is, Angela found her worth in over adapting and serving others or pleasing others.
Unfortunately Lacey had a terrible accident, Angela was emotionally moved whilst recounting this traumatic experience and I was touched by the enormity of this loss suffered by Angela. In particular I sensed that Angela lost something by which she could define herself and which she could control, that is impose upon herself as opposed to have others impose on her. So in effect the dynamic was the same but the administration differed. Angela experienced this loss alone. She alone at 11 years old had to pick the injured Lacey up as none of the adults present were willing to do so. ‘I remember picking the dog up and putting her in the boot of the car because no one else would touch her. Because she had just bitten me’, Line 24-26. How very disappointing for Angela to experience adults as unreliable and not willing to take control or resolve this situation.
When Angela talks of going to say goodbye to Lacey at the vets she makes no mention of anyone being with her, on questioning if anyone was with her she replies, ‘Nobody, I was on my own oh my mum had took me to say goodbye the next day.’ Line 33. So Angela was not able or did not recognise the other, that is her mother, her experience was of being alone. Of having to experience this with no support. I wonder where her father was at this time. The adults in her life appear to be non impactful, devoid of power somehow, therefore Angela has to do ‘everything’.
This very sad incident combined with the birth of her younger brother leads Angela to her first drinking experience at 11 years of age. Angela felt her position within the family as a surrogate boy for her dad was being usurped by this new real baby boy. So Angela’s sense of herself and her place within the family constellation was in serious jeopardy. (Line 71-74). Interestingly her approach for resolving this was to seek ‘oblivion’ Line 79; that is to sink further into being alone, cut off, removed. Her father already drank daily and so I imagine somehow this approach to emotional stress had already been demonstrated to Angela several times. Angela describes being drunk as ‘I just remember being comatose and not being bothered. I could hear everyone
around me but I just wasn’t there I was somewhere else.’ Line 93-94. Angela had effectively isolated herself from everyone around her.
Further Angela’s experience of her family, in particular the relationship with her mother continued to provoke feelings of separateness. At 14 Angela’s mother removed her from school and sent her to a new school because she wasn’t happy with the way Angela’s spoke. ‘Erhhm I just that just really grated me that she separated me from the others that she didn’t want that for the others, she didn’t want them turning out like me.’ Lines 117-118. Further Angela confirms that she began self harming when, ‘I think hmm no it was when I started Poynton school and I think it was when I felt not a part of or different it was at that point I started self harming at after that point.’ Line 148-150. At the end of her first most significant relationship Angela deals with the loss by drinking and burning herself. She expresses having to deal with the consequences of the burn alone however then goes on to say she is not sure if she had asked for help from her mother and been let down or hadn’t asked for help in the first instance. Significantly the memory Angela holds is of great sadness and isolation, she wasn’t able to get what she needed from her mother.
Angela’s behaviour continued to be erratic, she made a sudden decision to work abroad. She left home with no solid plans and returned after four weeks of working and drinking heavily abroad. Angela expected to return to the family home and be welcomed however she was sorely disappointed that yet again there was no body to welcome her, keys were left under the matt and in the short time span that she had been away her bedroom had been given to her younger brother, the brother who had usurped her position as honorary son for her father. Angela now had the smallest room in the house. Angela’s experience of being emotionally squeezed out of the family was apparent.
Angela went on to meet somebody and had her first child. Initially this was a wonderful experience and full of promise of the idyllic family Angela desired. However very quickly feelings of isolation set in, ‘He was always at the pub and I was left with the baby…’ Line 340.
This relationship did end and shortly afterwards Angela met another man. This quickly became a dysfunctional relationship where Angela suffered emotional and physical abuse. After a particularly violent attack, in public, ‘Next thing I know he’d punched me and knocked me out, I was out cold, ‘In the pub?’ yeah and apparently he was stamping on my head. I was on the floor and he was stamping on me’. Line 419-422. Angela reports that ‘Soon as he came crying and saying he was sorry I just wanted somebody to put their arms around me and he did so I stayed. Err but I felt very isolated at that place.’ So strong was Angela’s desire to connect with another that she was willing to do so at the cost of her own safety. As in her childhood Angela experienced this relationship also as her doing everything, ‘…..I was working from 6 in the morning til 9 at night sewing and bagging and packing and he wasn’t paying me.’ Line 446-447. There is a real sense of powerless, that somehow others, that is adults and then later significant partners hold all the power.
I have a sense that Angela is really angry with her mother for not being there for her although she makes little mention or expectations of her father. Further she heavily criticises her mother, and demonstrates many ways in which she behaved spitefully towards her throughout this piece yet still she has an expectation, clearly unmet, of love and respect. Angela remembers being let down by her mother on several occasions, however on pursuing this subject she in fact cannot actually remember if her mother was physically present or not or even whether or not she had informed her of unfolding events. Perhaps significantly Angela’s experienced much of her younger years as being alone. She in effect didn’t get what she needed from the adults in her life. Neither too did she get the intimacy she needed from her partners as she grew older, and some childhood patterns continued into adulthood. The drinking excessively being an obvious one. Further Angela wasn’t able to recognise the many ways in which she gave her power away.
This leads very much to the next theme which is the apparent incapacitation of or hostility from the adults in Angela’s formidable years. There just appears to be a complete lack of responsible, nurturing Adult in Angela’s childhood. Although she speaks affectionately of her father she also recognises he he himself battled with alcoholism, she states of his behaviour ‘No it was normal behaviour(laughs) errhhmm my dad used to be asleep a lot on the settee and he’d wake up to my mum hitting me errhhmm screaming at me over something’. Line 279-281. My impression is that Angela’s father is incapacitated. Not only is he unable to support other family members he is also demonstrating a coping strategy, that is cope by being out of it a lot of the time. I have already mentioned a few ways in which the adults in Angela’s life were experienced as non impactful. On line 73&74 Angela sates ‘….and then I think that it was more I thought my dad was being taken away because he had my brother now and then my dog went.’ Clearly Angela was suffering a great feeling of loss and also somehow she didn’t believe that her father would have the integrity to maintain his special relationship with her regardless of the birth of a baby boy. Further she considers that the feelings of disconnect with her mother originated from her birth and that somehow her mother was jealous of her. I’m curious to know what this means and my feeling is that Angela feels that her mother is somehow out to ‘get her’. Angela felt violated and engulfed by her mothers demands. I sense that she had not had good enough role modelling to learn strategies for dealing with this and instead of a rational defence Angela rebelled to the other end of the spectrum. So she was either adapting to the stimulus or rebelling against it but never quite broke free of it. This pattern persisted into her adult relationships.
Angela goes on to talk about regularly getting drunk at 13 years of age and I can’t help but wonder, where are the responsible adults? Why does this appear, from Angela’s account to go unnoticed? It compounds both the feeling of being alone, unnoticed, and also of not having potent adults available to nurture and care for her. Angela reports that at high school she wagged school for months on end, coming home stoned and going straight to bed. Then on weekends she was drunk or stoned. Again I’m left feeling that nobody really cared, nobody really noticed or took action to uncover what was going on with Angela. The adults were too busy with other ‘more important’ people than to spend time on Angela. She herself was brazen in her actions and I get a sense from her that she was furious that no one did anything. Angela continued to drink heavily as a teenager in the family home ‘but I remember many a time being asleep on the back seat of the car whilst my dad was driving to the market because I’d been drinking the night before. Line 271-274. Angela has already stated that her father was an alcoholic himself and so I expect there was a normalisation of this type of behaviour. I imagine that he wasn’t able to look after Angela as he himself was participating in similar behaviour, so Angela’s drinking went unchecked. Angela describes her experience, ‘I thought everybody was against me and nobody liked me apart from my dad Erhhm but that’s a bit later on I heard my mum, she always used to slag me off to everybody, all I ever heard her say was Angela has done this Angela has done that’. Line 289-292.
On one occasion Angela was desperate for help. She turned to her mother, as she herself recognised she was unable to care for her children in her current state. Angela had taken too many drugs and was coming down and really struggling to cope. Angela’s mother took her children to Wales where one of them was bitten by a dog. The bite was on the boy’s face and required 100 stitches. I was so struck that Angela was in desperate need of support and the ‘adults’ were not able to attend to her, in fact they just brought more distress. Could Angela rely on anybody?
Although she felt love from her father his drinking rendered him impotent whereas the potent parent, her mother, was experienced as persecutory. However regardless of the discord Angela was always able to access her parents, although she may not have got what she needed she was always able to return to the family home.
This leads to my final theme which is that of Angela feeling overwhelmed by others and being in a constant state of flux, that is either pushing against others at any cost or overly compromising her needs to meet the needs of others. From a very young age Angela ignored her own needs in order to do ‘everything’ for her mother, her younger siblings and her dog. When her dog died Angela didn’t have the internal tools to ask for what she needed. She did however recognise from her father that drink took you out of yourself so that was a way in which she could alleviate the grief she was feeling.
Angela also expresses the desire to be naughty at about this time; specifically to aggravate her mother. Although she does mention the accolade she received by a particular peer group at school it seemed more probable that Angela’s intention was to push against her mother. Specifically she believes her mother deliberately had a son in order to usurp Angela’s special relationship with her father. Angela says she took that away from me as well, as if her mother was somehow responsible for the death of the dog also. Angela appears very powerless, she doesn’t recognise any way in which her father could or would continue to love her or the fact that her mother could not have controlled the gender of her new baby.
Angela talks of a spiritual malady, a soul sickness which makes me wonder where she locates the origin of her unhappiness, that somehow it is removed, distant or of external origin. Somehow I sense that she is not owning these happenings. Angela confirms why she started smoking weed, ’….So yeah just to dig it in a bit more because the bitch she was now known as the bitch not as my mother’. Line 114-115. So again Angela did not feel she had any power or other means of dealing with unhappy situations. It seemed she either did everything she was told to do or she did nothing she was supposed to do. Almost like the swing of a pendulum from one extreme to another.
In her late teens Angela finds herself in a vulnerable position in a night club and retaliates by hitting another girl in the face with a glass. I was deeply impacted by Angela’s account of this matter. I didn’t hear Angela express any remorse for this. I did however hear real fear in her voice, as if the danger of a possible attack on herself and also the possibility of going to prison for this offence were still very real. Angela confirms it was self defence. She speaks in a manner which makes me wonder who is she confirming her innocence to? Angela does not talk about the impact of her actions on other people, in particular the girl she hit with the glass. I sense that Angela at this point is escaping an oppressor and her actions are at the retaliation end of the spectrum. Later we see her overly account for and accept physical abuse from another. During the trial for her violent action, Angela is supported by her father and abandoned by her mother. Behind the anger towards her mother Angela carries some shame around this.
Initially during the course of Angela’s first relationship she appears to be very happy. She feels life is full of promise. Although she does describe herself as becoming mumsy and a stiffy, and I wonder if she had moulded herself to meet the needs of another and yet again somehow lost herself. Later in the relationship when Angela begins to feel lonely she does not talk about anyway in which she could address this matter with her partner or resolve it. Instead she leaves Clive and says of her mother, ‘…she usually didn’t like any of my boyfriends and maybe she wanted me to leave Clive, I don’t know’ Line 352-354. I was really surprised at just how much of Angela’s decision was based on what her mother wanted. I wondered what Angela wanted and also how incapacitated she appeared at being able to get it.
Later Angela acknowledges that other people thought badly of her because of her sexual encounters. Angela chose to justify her actions. I have a sense that Angela believes she is accountable somehow to an invisible judge and jury and at the same time she doesn’t acknowledge the impact of her actions on others. Again there is a strong sense that Angela is still caught up in the moment and the moment is a persecutory experience.
Angela goes on to talk about her next significant relationship. Right from the onset she establishes herself in a less than position, ‘….I don’t know I felt a bit like I was down here and he was up there. Line 374-375. Within three months Angela and Mark were living together. Initially everything was fine and then Mark shoved Angela around on New Years Eve. Angela didn’t express exactly what happened but she did say she ignored it. In the next sentence she says he wanted a baby so they started trying for one straight away. What did Angela want?
During the pregnancy Mark increased his violent behaviour towards Angela. The first time Mark punched Angela she apologised to him. She took responsibility and accountability for Marks appalling actions. She made herself bad, and Marks needs overrode hers. Initially I was perturbed at how Angela makes light of the abuse she suffered, ‘Errhhmm but then hmm these were just little punches and slaps and then I’d had Jacob’. Line 393-394. And then I wondered if Angela was speaking literally, these were in fact small slaps and punches compared to what was to come.
On speaking of her drinking Angela says she tried not to drink whilst pregnant but was not able to deal with Mark in a rational way and under extreme stress resorted to managing her anxiety in the way she had learned, which was to get out of it. Or as discussed earlier to ‘react against’ so essentially the stimulus remained in the centre of her focus and she performed around it either by losing a sense of herself or aggressively acting out.
It seems that when Angela is not doing what other people want her to do she is doing something which is harmful to herself, i.e. drinking heavily, being aggressive, taking an overdose.
Even after a very serious physical attack from Mark, Angela is unable to leave. She says she had no defence against him. Later when talking about drug and alcohol use she makes the same statement; that she has no defence. And so from a place of no defence Angela decided to ‘join’ her oppressor and spent the next few years on an alcohol and drug binge.
On some level Angela did recognise that this was not how she wanted to live and she began to escape from this situation by removing herself and her children into a women’s refuge. She still had not quite managed to develop a good enough strategy to keep her away and safe but she was beginning to take positive steps.
Angela did leave Mark after several more violent attacks. But again she dis-empowers herself saying the father of her first child wanted her to leave. What did Angela want? I am sure she did want to leave but am frustrated to see her transmit the power of this decision onto another person. Angela does recognise that she was not functioning well at this stage of her life. She acknowledges that she wasn’t able to look after her children. She describes a chaotic lifestyle where the needs of the children are not met. Further Angela takes an overdose because Mark stole her car. What strikes me is the fact that Angela’s first course of action was to harm herself. After coming out of hospital Angela did pursue Mark in the hope of regaining her car. Some months later she did rekindle a romance with Mark but again this ended after another violent attack. Angela acknowledges that she was seeking an idyllic union and felt at times she achieved this with Mark. I’m not sure if Mark adapted and rebelled also but there were times when they could both meet in a meaningful way.
Angela continued to heavily use drugs and alcohol after her separation from Mark. The children no longer lived with her all the time.
Somehow during this period Angela also managed to go back to her studies. The pendulum was still swinging though and Angela felt she had no defence from the influence of others. As much as she fought against it time and time again her good intentions would be mislaid. What frustrated her immensely was that other people were having a good time but Angela wasn’t having a good time anymore. More often than not the experience of being out of it was a negative one leading to Angela being aggressive and desperately unhappy.
At this stage in Angela’s life she did not feel she had any other options other than adapting or rebelling but either way she was held by the stimulus. Be that her mother, or partner or other imposing figure. The alcohol and drugs were used as a coping mechanism. Either they allowed her to be herself or they allowed her to cope with the pain of the experience of living.
There is much more to Angela’s storey but unfortunately we ran out of time and also Angela decided she did not want to go any further. Simply she wanted to mention Bo. Bo was her last significant partner and although the drug and alcohol use continued she knew and felt that Bo loved her deeply. Perhaps it was this acknowledgment of deep unconditional love which planted the seeds of recovery within Angela.
Although Angela is my subject there is a duality in this research as I am deeply concerned with the process of gathering and interpreting qualitative data. My interest here is somewhat focused on the validity of qualitative data and how it is interpreted by the ear of the researcher. Consequently I wish to momentarily explore the interpretation of the performance of communication as opposed to alcoholism.
Stronach (2002) tells us that before we even begin our writings we have already decided what we will know or learn, much the same as Aquinos who claims we should know and hold the limits of our beliefs, desires and actions. Massei (2007) says we censor out a whole set of data as it does not fit our understanding of the world, this data causes discomfort and so remains silent. Sloterdijk states ‘the threshold of discomfort and aversion, can also be a threshold to other ways of knowing’ (Sloterdjik 1987:151 as cited in DeSilvey 2006). As a researcher should we not then veer towards the discomfort?
Often we do not give value to the silences in communication, particularly in written text. What is it that we fear in silences in communication? Do we fear that which can only be felt and not spoken, a deeper level of communication, perhaps intimacy is the real issue here and it is the fear of intimacy that evokes such discomfort in the observer of silence. My feeling is that the communication of silence is a communication of emotional intelligence (Steiner). Not just verbal silences but bodily actions, changes in pallor, drawing up of the shoulders, withdrawing lessening in, making small or grandiose gestures, all this is language and open to interpretation. Frederick Buechner(1977) states there are truths in silence which are difficult for us to hear, again I sense that silences propel us to a state of intimacy, that is we cannot control or contain that which leaks out regardless of our will. ‘The preacher is not brave enough to be literally silent for long, …. Even if he were brave enough, he would not be silent for long because we are none of us very good at silence. It says too much,’
Massei asks how do we account for silences in speech in texts or in our writing, reflection and action? Massei suggest we should engage the silences as ‘meaningful and purposeful’. Jaworski (1993) further confirms that silences are a form of discourse in themselves. That somehow speech continues without words that is communication of something continues to occur with or without words. I’m curious about pre-visceral and visceral communication and how these skills learnt in our early years are somehow translated into our ‘grown up’ communications, skills forgotten but not lost. Are we registering one another on a (pre)visceral level are we in fact engaging in baby talk?
Steiner (1974) claims that ‘In addition to what she sees in the person the observer can use her own emotional reactions and thoughts as information in the diagnosis; a parental reaction in the observer may indicate that a child ego state is being observed, while feelings of inferiority or rebelliousness may mean that the ego state being watched is critical/controlling parent, and so on’. This goes a long way to informing us what the silences could mean in terms of the message they are relaying. Stewart & Joines (1987) break down the TA Parent Adult Child model, demonstrating five basic life positions, that is ego states, which we shift between effortlessly and often throughout our lived quotidian experience. The basic life states are controlling/critical parent and nurturing parent, Adult, Free/Rebellious Child and Adapted child.
Bowlby (1969) questions if the silences are instinctive behaviour? Is this behaviour registered by proprioceptive sense organs or by exteroceptive ones? He suggests that silence and gesture are part of a sequence of behaviour. That there Is some organisation of behaviour to which the purpose of silence and gesture can be accounted.
It’s not that non-verbal communication does not take place, the question is not just about how to bring non-verbal communication forward and give it voice it is more about what happens during silent communication what happens on the ulterior, how is it acted out. Is it more potent than the spoken? I hear many things some are spoken some are not. Mazzei speaks of viewing text not as one dimensional but as a constitutional part of a multidimensional performance. Maggie MacLure (2003) states ‘It’s more a matter of being attentive to the questions that each individual text raises for you’. This is the crux of all my failings or misunderstandings of qualitative research. If I am interested in what is being raised for me then I need to have a greater understanding of how and why is it meaningful for me. Only then can I begin to disarticulate the text in a meaningful way. Otherwise it will simply be an interpretation of my particular programmed perception of the world.
Canella (1999) talks about body control and how without words we demonstrate ways to be. Berne (1961) acknowledges this as a form of modelling/ unspoken messaging about how to exist and within that process individuals develop an identity and a sense of belonging not only to a place but to a set of values and beliefs about self.
It seems to me that we approach knowing from the past. That is if we decipher the past the present will be known yet at the same time we consider the present to be the locus of knowing. This mixing up of time is confusing for me certainly in relation to belonging, which can only occur through experience laid down in the past.
It is not just important to be able to detach and observe. It is equally important to know how the agency of my self integrates, dominates, subverts to and assimilates data. Only through this fuller understanding can I appreciate the quality, quantity and impact of my agency on the flows of the research being conducted. It feels to me as if I almost have to accept myself as part of the data and by doing so make myself visible and consequently remove traces of myself from the data. As I write this the words of Thomas Aquinas ring in my ears, ‘Three things are necessary for the salvation of man: To know what he ought to believe; To know what he ought to desire; And to know what he ought to do.’ (Two Precepts of Charity, 1225-1274). How very untrue, this is anti- research. Isn’t it the researchers duty to be in a position of ‘unknowing’ and stay there as long as necessary if not as long as possible. For knowledge can not be objectively absorbed unless one assumes a position of empty headedness. That is to allow oneself the vulnerability of being in a place where the truth, or the real value, significance or impact of a matter is not assumed. By making assumptions we assimilate unfamiliar or even familiar material into the parameters of our world and make sense of them in a way that does not cause discomfort or shift to our fundamental understandings. This belief supports post- positivist beliefs such as presented by Popper, (1980) Feyerabend (1975). Ways of observing and thinking are social constructs and therefore can not be truths. Aquinos’ ideas were perhaps a forerunner to developments at the end of the 19th century where ‘……the invention of technologies not only recorded, copied, duplicated and sorted information but also, in effect, created the modern idea of what information consists of.’ (Canella, G 1999).
My understanding of Angela’s account therefore is coloured by many nuances which I cannot identify in written text. I can however, by using methods described by Berne identify that much of the time my thoughts slipped into a pattern of parental thinking. At times I found myself to be critical of Angela without fully understanding why I had these feelings. At other times I heard my internal thinking that Angela was ungrateful and also she ‘should’ do …….. I was interested in the development of my thoughts as clearly they gave me clues as to the life position Angela occupied. Perhaps more importantly by using the TA framework along with unwritten information gained from the performance of the interview I was able to make some informed assumptions about Angela’s life state at the time of her experiences. I sensed that for much of the time Angela’s life position was either I- U-, or I+ U-. I imagine that in both life positions Angela was in fact still in child and rebelling against the deeply internalised belief that she in fact was powerless against her parents/oppressors.
Angela demonstrated all twelve injunctions known in TA. However the ones I heard the most were Don’t be a child, Don’t belong, Don’t be you, Don’t be close, Don’t feel, Don’t think and Don’t be important. The overriding counter injunction I heard was ‘work hard’ although I expect in reality it was ‘work hard but don’t make it’.
From Angela’s desperate attempts to keep it together I can see that she has a ‘Be Strong’ driver. Further, Angela has a ‘Please Others’ driver which significantly influenced her decision making capacity and also led to a loss of self, which in turn supported her discounting beliefs and actions.
Angela discounts on all four levels within this piece. She discounts the existence, significance, change possibilities and her personal abilities. Angela also demonstrated all four passive behaviours, that is, doing nothing, over adaptation, agitation and incapacitation or violence.
Within the performance of the piece I felt a discord. Angela spoke slowly taking a long time to decide which words to use and sometimes changing the order of her sentence midway, at times her sentences were disconnected. However I experienced the events she spoke of as fast and chaotic. I wondered at how and why Angela had changed since the experiences she described. At the same time Angela appeared to be remembering on a physiological level and so the experiences being described manifested as current. On the physiological level I noticed a change of pallor, also of a physical withholding at times. Angela’s breathing became very shallow at times, her voice lowered and there was a captivating stillness about her. Angela’s sentence structure was sometimes confusing and I wondered if she experienced her own thoughts as disordered and confusing. I also strongly sensed that much of Angela’s thinking was coming from child. Angela’s early life experience is that of adapted child. The belief Angela developed was that the ‘other’ person’s needs (child ego state) were more important than hers. Angela felt overwhelmed by her mother and feared loss of self, which led to her rebelling. However significantly this did not lead out of child ego state. Angela may have experienced her rebellious Child self as her real self but this is an adaptation which is recognised as ‘false self’ (Kohut, 1971). Neither adapted nor rebellious are in fact free child. Angela was a Rebellious Adapted Child (RAC) Marshall, 2014. That is Angela feared her overwhelming parent and so decided to become overly adapted. To do this she would have to supress her rebellious child as this aspect of her personality would have something to say about her unjust treatment. Further Angela would have experienced her excluded rebellious child as her ‘real self’.
I imagine that out of her awareness Angela would have developed several strategies for survival. One she clearly mentions is to blot out feelings. Her substance use allows her to do this. Another which is not so apparent is a response to the belief that Angela holds that she is powerless. Consequently many of her actions are passive aggressive. She inadvertently uses substances as a means of demonstrating control, even though ultimately this control renders her incapacitated.
Angela’s did not complete her storey to current date, however through extensive therapy she has been able to make significant changes to the way she functions. She is in effect able to think and act from Adult. Conclusion
Within this piece I tried to recount the experiences of one woman. Whether I did that successfully is open to debate. What I did learn is that recording someone’s words is not in actual fact recording what they are communicating. That is a much more complex task. I also learnt that alcoholism is not a fixed condition, disease or life stage. It is complex, as is its origin and the method through which it is absorbed into the persona of an individual. Perhaps the deciding factor determining Angela’s life experience and decision making is her sense of feeling.
I can only express the frustration which surely must be ‘felt’ in research methodologies of being unable to decipher a particular sphere of communication. For surely and apparently communication does take place on this level of ‘feeling’ and is expressed in many nuanced, spoken, gesticulated, bodily and silent ways. However there appears not to be a universal concise code for deconstructing such occurrences and yet we, as a people, do so all the time and I imagine some of us do it with great precision.
Finally my eight year old son asked me today, whilst discussing the universe, how do things stay apart? The question really struck me for I had spent so long postulating how things come together, how they meet and interact that I hadn’t considered how they stay apart. There are many answers but I suppose the most obvious is magnetism and polarity. Each entity or body has its own gravity and consequently exerts and receives pressures and stimuli of relational value. So to do human bodies and so too must the indescribable ‘feelings’ identified by Langer. I can only assume therefore that each person has their own constellation of feelings which keeps them apart from others.
Berne, E. (1961) Transactional Analysis In Psychotherapy. New York, USA, Grove Press.
Berne, E. (1968) A Layman’s Guide To Psychiatry And Psychoanalysis (3rd ed. Rev.) New York: Simon & Schuster.
Buechner, F. (1977) Telling The Truth: The Gospel As Tragedy, Comedy and Fairy Tale. San Fransisco, Harper & Row.
Burrell, G. & Morgan, G. (1976) Sociological Paradigms and Organisational Analysis. London: Heinemann Educational.
Bowlyb, J. (1969) Attachment And Loss. Volume One. Random House Publishers. UK Ltd Reg 954009.
Canella, G.S. (1999) The Scientific Discourse of Education: Predetermining the Lives of Others – Foucalt, Education and children. Texas A & M University, College Station, USA.
Chernus, L.A. ( 2005) Psychotherapy with Alcoholic Patients: A Self Psychological Approach. Smith College, Studies in Social Work. 2005;75,3;Pro Quest pg 63
Cohen, L. Manion, L. Morrison, K. (2011) Research Methods in Education. Seventh Edition, USA & Canada. Routledge Press.
DeSilvey, C. (2006) Observed Decay: Telling stories With Mutable Things. Journal of Material Culture, Vol 11 (3): 318-338.
Foucalt, M. (1983) The Subject Of Power: afterward to H Dreyfus & P. Rainbow (Eds) Michael Foucalt: Beyond Structuralism and Hermeneutics (pp208-264) Chicago: University Press.
Freyerabend, P. (1970) Against Method: Outline Of An Anarchistic Theory Of Knowledge. London: New Left Books.
Jaworski, A. (1993) The Power Of Silence: Social And Pragmatic Perspectives. Newbury Park. Sage.
Karpman, S. (1968) Script Drama Analysis. Transactional Analysis Bulletin, 1968, 7, pp. 39-43.
Kohut, H. (1971) The Analysis of Self. A systematic Approach To The Psychoanalytic Treatment Of Narcissistic Personality Disorder. New York: International Universities Press.
Levy, M.S. (1990) Individualized Care For The Treatment Of Alcoholism. Journal of Substance Abuse and Treatment. Vol 7, pp245-254. Printed in the USA. Copyright Pergamon Press.
Luke, A. (1995) Text And Discourse in Education: An Introduction To Critical Discourse Analysis, Reviews of Research in Education, Sydney, NWS: Allen & Unwin.
MacLure, M. (2003) Discourse in Educational and Social Research. Buckingham, UK, Open University Press.
Marshall, J. (2014) Substance Misuse and the Adapted Child. The Transactional Analyst, Winter 2013/14. UK
May, J. & Thrift, N (2007) Timespace: Geographies of Temporality. USA & Canada: Routledge.
Mazzei, L.A. (2007) Towards A Problematic Of Silence. Educational Action Research, 15:4, 631-642.
Mazzei, L.A. (2003) Inhabited Silences: In pursuit of a muffled subtext. Qualitative Enquiry 2003 9:355.
McGuire, P.C. (1985) Speechless Dialect: Shakespeare’s open silences (Berkeley, CA, University of California Press).
Popper, K. (1980) Conjectures And Refutations (Third Edition). London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.
Selavan, A. (1976) Alcoholics Anonymous- ‘Rescuer’ or Rescuer. TAJ, 6:3 July 1976
Selavan, A. (1990) Berne’s Perspective on Alcoholism: An Addiction or a game?. TAJ Journals, Volume 20, No 2 April 1990.
Smith, J. & Osborn, M. (2007) Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis. Qualitative Psychology.
Steiner, C. (1970) Games Alcoholics Play: The Analysis Of Life Scripts. New York: Ballantine.
Stronach, I. (2002) This Space Is Not Yet Blank: Anthropologies for a future action research. Educational Action research, 109, 291-307.
Stewart, I. & Joines, V. (1989) TA Today: A New Introduction to Transactional Analysis. England, Lifespace Publishing.