Nuisance Nuance

John Burton, Ed.D.

"What would happen if the 'nuisi' became cannibals?"

This story recounts a recent first session experience in therapy with a 12 year-old boy. We will call him Josh. This is as true as I am able to recall the sequence of events. This boy comes from a home in which he was neglected if not abused; little difference though, as one is passive and the other active. A few weeks ago he went to live with his single aunt who has also taken in other children, relatives and non-relatives. He acts out in school to the tune of getting written up for misbehavior 14 times in the first 24 weeks of school. He has also received in school suspension another seven times. By his own account he does not get along with other children at school. He reports most of his episodes of getting written up stem from "vocalizing" at the wrong times. He may say words or just make odd noises. Underneath this Josh describes "free floating energy" which just seems to have to come out.

I asked him to further describe the energy in terms of physical location and sensation. He stated the energy locates itself in and around his stomach and up through his chest. Josh stated the energy was hot when present. I asked how it was after dispensing it. He said the area was then cold but his heart was racing because he knew he was in trouble.

We then searched for times when he felt the hot energy and did not express it. He described these times as leading to a "good and solid" day. Brief attempts to further this process and future pace it seemed insufficient to address the root.

I proceeded to ask if he likes to draw. He replied he does like to draw. I asked what would the hot energy look like if he drew it. He said it would be a nuisance (the energy would be a nuisance). I inquired just what a nuisance would look like. He described large sharp teeth (a full set upon clarifying) with a very small brain attached to them. Noting the obvious disproportion I asked what would happen if the brain and teeth switched sizes. He stated it would be worse because the nuisance would be smarter and do more harm. When asked its’ purpose he paused and said it is to eat the good and spit out the bad. He then added he actually had hundreds of these nuisances not just one. My unconscious mind then assisted by introducing another concept. I jokingly referred the plural nuisance as nuisi (noose-eye). This led to eventual shifting to self-concept.

I asked what would happen if the nuisi became cannibals. Josh said they would eat each other up and there would be none left. However, I then asked what if the nuisi actually had been given the wrong instructions long ago. They thought they were supposed to eat the good and spit out the bad but were actually supposed to eat the bad. In fact wouldn’t that make everything good then? Maybe the nuisi just got the wrong instructions but because they were loyal and following instructions they obeyed. They never were really bad they were just doing what they thought they were supposed to do. What would happen if they were re-programmed? What if they were told the correct instructions, not to eat the good? He then came up with the marvelous term. They would be goodi (good-I) then. So then what would happen when they join with the other good parts inside already. Well they would all become nicei (nice-I) then, he said.

Josh then decided they could all have a meeting inside to re-program the soon to be former nuisi. This was in response to the question of how could the nuisi be reprogrammed. He said they would all go inside this room and close the door leaving him outside. He was a traveler who could visit both parts but they would leave him out of this process. He also said it would probably take two or three days to do all this. Additionally, he would leave one nuisi. This would be OK as long as it would do what it was supposed to do when it was supposed to. Clarifying led to realizing this is his mischevious part which could work in socially appropriate ways.

After a brief pause and silence he suddenly proclaimed they were already done with their meeting and completed their work. Future pacing and some ecology checking followed. This met with positive responses and we finished our session. Before parting he shared some of his wisdom. He stated the part which had been good and bad were now able to be like Cypress instead of fighting like the Greeks and Turkish people. He also shared as we all have a nuisi within us, just one and that is not bad. Further, he stated we all have a wise part in us. This part comes out after we have some bad event happen to us. It helps us go on and be better as a person. He believed he has recently had his bad event and can now be a better person. I know I was privy to his wise part that day. The exposure will follow me and make me a better person.

Two follow-up sessions took place over the next two weeks. The first found Josh controlling well his energy at school but not so well after school at his new home. We then did a visual squash with just visual images merging. Images representing the part letting out all the energy and the part penting up all the energy were used. The elicited images were in separate but parallel locations at about the auditory/visual level. A merging of these two images took place at the center point at a higher visual locale. The result was a comfortable blending he called "normal". We future paced the resulting resource position and found multiple new responses now available. The ecology check completed the process.

The third session found Josh reveling in his good behavior and the rewards following at school and home. Reports from his surrogate mother and himself tell of teachers complimenting him and of his efforts being above and beyond those required. We spent most of the session deepening and broadening the new states and programs along with future pacing them.

Gradually we are shaping a new identity for this child as his former one was significantly negative. He is displaying new behaviors and thus causing new consequences. These will combine to hopefully create essentially a collapse of anchors into a new self-concept. Significant work remains but laying ground work regarding his being OK with being OK is done. Additionally, a custody issue and the implications he perceives about self if he chooses not to go back with his natural father await hurdling.

Over one month later we have met two more times and included his natural father. Gradually we are transitioning Josh back into his original home setting. This includes a step-mother and half-brother. The later is six years his junior. Airing of past concerns and conflicts was followed by negotiating new response patterns. Additionally, considerable deeper understanding of family dynamics and reframing was included. The deeper understanding is a meta position to the former surface understanding. Once reaching this position new states and behaviors become readily available and appealing. All parties developed new perspectives and new patterns of response along with significantly more resourceful states. Josh’s step-mother was not present in the sessions. The new resources were simply and effectively implemented in the relationship with a "willing to try" step-mother. A follow-up on his school behavior reveals his principle referring to him as an "ideal student".

This child and his family were and are all motivated to find solutions though, initially Josh displayed reluctance. The beauty of the unconscious mind permits infinite resourcefulness and this revealed itself throughout our sessions. Sometimes it seems the necessary resources are lost and never will be found. However, by accessing the unconscious we find and rejoice in the finding of formerly missing ingredients. As Josh and his family now operate from increased resourcefulness one could liken the recovery of "missing" parts to the return of the prodigal son. However, this family chose to celebrate by going out to eat crab legs. None of them felt resentful, rather each was appreciating and grateful.

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(c)1998  by John Burton, Ed.D. All rights reserved.