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Transactional Analysis Journal


High Level Confrontation: Desensitization

Valerie Lankford
Transactional Analysis Journal 1981 11: 316
DOI: 10.1177/036215378101100410

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High Level Confrontation:

Abstract differently. There is not so much time

Discusses responses typical of individuals between one session and the next that
when faced with another's anger. Des- people "get cold feet" and decide to with-
cribes a group exercise, modified from draw. This problem has been evident when
"The Game" approaches of Cathexis Insti- the exercise has been attempted in weekly
tute and Synanon. Suggests the exercise groups or individual sessions. Though
as a group device to facilitate desensitiza- some have experienced positive change in
tion to anger, and subsequent modification even those once-a-week encounters, the
of responses to others anger so that optimal benefits have been felt by those
increased effectiveness in responding can who repeat the exercise three times in a
be developed. Presents recommendations relatively short time span. Reasons for this
for the initiation, conduct, and closure of may be 1) the same people are present to
the exercise, with specific precautions to give supportive encouragement; 2) people
be observed in its employment. contract to do three exercises, and time is
available to meet the goal; 3) other people
find the exercise inviting and do it during
Many people have trouble listening to the same weekend, so participants can
others who are angry at them. They benefit from watching and hearing each
experience being "attacked" verbally. For other and; 4) I state emphatically that
some this verbal confrontation is nearly as participants improve their skills signifi-
threatening as a physical confrontation cantly by the third experience, so this may
would be. Their heads are filled with words serve as a positive fulfilling prophecy.
to defend themselves with little room left to The desensitization experience is
hear what the other person is actually typically timed for three minutes
saying. They experience strong feelings in announced by an official appointed timer
reaction to the confrontation with who calls "Start" and "Stop." Roles are
adrenalin moving in their bodies, as well as defined as "Confronter" and
other distracting physical sensations. The "Confrontee." The goal of the confronter
following "Densensitizing Exercise" was is to attempt to elicit discomfort and
designed to help people respond to con- ineffective responses from the confrontee.
frontation (internally and externally) with The goal of the confrontee is described,
increased comfort and effectiveness. The "Attempt to keep yourself as comfortable
excercise is modified from the "Cathexis as possible. You may respond in any way
Game" and the "Synanon Game" which you choose. All options are available."
have been used with more troubled popu- One groundrule for both parties is that
lations. neither physically touch one another.
The best results have been achieved when When "Start" is called out, the confronter
the exercise is experienced three times begins loudly barraging the confrontee
during a weekend marathon situation. with verbal abuse combined with fact and
People take time between each encounter fiction. The confronter takes a clear
to prepare to do each subsequent exercise Persecutor role-intruding, interrupting,
316 Transactional Analysis Journal

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making false interpretations, being eliciting verbal or physical strokes.

dramatic, attempting not to listen to the Another effective option I model is to
confrontee except for material to use confront the confronter. I announce that I
against her. If the confronter runs out of won't take a Victim role, and I'm going to
material, she may find the following ques- do some of the defining about what we'll
tion useful-"Where are you vulnerable talk about in this confrontation. In addi-
anyway!?" Surprisingly many confrontees tion, I model responding particularly
answer. Then the confronter regains the thoughtfully at moments to any elements
verbalattack. "Stop" is called. Both take a of truth the confronter may use to confront
pause that refreshes, and an evaluation me. I then respond neither offensively nor
periodensues. defensively. I speak thoughtfully and then
First the confrontee is asked how she confront the confronter if she does not
thinks she did. "When did you feel most respond caringly in return.
uncomfortable/comfortable?" "What did Both the people who participate in this
you do to be effective?" Others are then desensitization exercise and those who
invited to give feedback. How did they see watch learn effective ways to deal with
the confrontee do? What options do they confrontation. They enhance their abilities
have to offer before round #2 is begun? to listen to the content of confrontations
Later a second exercise is either initiated by inside and outside of the therapeutic
the confronter as a surprise to the setting.
confrontee or the confrontee initiates a
request for round #2. Valerie Lankford, MA, Certified
After the second or third exercise, I often Clinical and Teaching Member is in private
invite anyone to be the confronter, and I practice in Baltimore, Maryland.
take the confrontee role. I model a variety
of options-some of which many people Cathexis game. Cathexis Institute, Oakland,
have not considered. One of these is using California. Personal communication, 1974.
the group members' support while I am Synanon game. Synanon Foundation, Marshall,
being confronted. This might be by California. Personal communication, 1969.

Vol. 11, No.4, October 1981 317

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