I was working at a computer software company in 2017 when a big merger resulted in my department being closed. I was let go with about two dozen of my peers. I had been there for seven years, the company gave me a good severance package and I had some savings on top of this. Within about 3 months of not looking for work and being afraid of the consequences of never finding work again I slid into a rather ugly depression.
In Recovery meetings we address everyday situations, and the recommendation from the group with regards to serious issues is to seek professional counseling. We recommend meeting one-on-one with experienced and accredited counselors for issues like dealing with a death in your family, divorce, job loss and other major events.
Finding a Private Therapist
My health insurance from my previous job was still active so I sought the assistance of a counselor. I chose someone through psychologytoday.com. Psychology Today posts advertisements and credentials for counselors by region. They provide a photo, contact information, areas of specialization, and a short biography as well as fee ranges and what sort of insurance will cover each therapists' fees. In Canada a referral to a psychiatrist from a GP is covered by OHIP, but a meeting with a talk therapist is usually only covered by private insurance, and even then coverage can be very limited.
There are two basic tiers of fees. Individuals who are just starting out, or who have basic credentials like a degree in social work charge $90 - $150 / hour for their services. Professionals who have Ph.D.s often charge $200 - $350 / hour, even in Hamilton. I made an appointment with a social worker to talk frankly about my fears and pain. I'll call her TM going forward. TM was older than me with lots of counseling experience. She charged $120 / hour and had a nice comfortable office for talking to clients, and specialized in several counseling areas. I talked to her on the phone before meeting her at her office. She seemed friendly and professional and told me a few things about her approach and what she thought we might work on together. Given her experience and the going rates I thought that working with her seemed reasonable.
I met with TM for several months. She was supportive, and understanding. Eventually my insurance ran out and at the encouragement of my partner I continued to see TM at a reduced frequency, once every few weeks instead of every Monday. I paid for those meetings out of my own savings.
Joining an Interpersonal Therapy Group
Interpersonal therapy groups are an old idea going back to the 1960s. The concept is that under the guidance of a trained therapist a group of people meet on a weekly basis and talk about whatever they like, and try to learn to relate to one another in a better way. The goal is to identify and work on communication and interpersonal relationship issues that arise in the conversations. The core idea is that mental health issues are caused in part by the inability to relate to others in a healthy way, and that by exploring exchanges between group members as they come up a therapist can guide individuals towards better behavior and potentially reduce the stressors in their lives.
Each peer in the group is a "mirror" for the others, and what happens in an interpersonal group therapy sessions represents a microcosm of the external world. TV programs often show support groups where people put up their hand and say "I am an ..." addict, grieving parent, ex-cult member, etc. These dramatic examples are better characterized as support groups and they are commonly featured in television because they give the main character a way to explain their story. In a support group individuals tell their stories, usually focused on a single kind of tragedy, and try to empathize with the other members. The model is one of sharing and caring. Interpersonal therapy groups aren't so much about just talking about your problems, but are suppose to instead provide a venue for learning about your behavioral quirks, attitudes and the bad habits you have in your dealings with others.
A Recovery meeting is neither an interpersonal group therapy session nor a support group. Recovery meetings are highly structured learning exercises where small groups have a discussion about mental health concepts that are described in Abraham Low's books and follow this up by taking turns explaining how they applied those ideas in their lives through practical examples. There is some opportunity to socialize at a Recovery meeting and have an unstructured dialog. Groups often go to a coffee shop after meetings and talk about whatever they want.
A common point for all types of groups is that there is an acknowledgement that peers provide feedback that professional therapists do not. Sometimes people are on their best behavior with a therapist, or they intentionally choose a therapist that looks like someone they would respect or can easily relate to, an older gentleman for example. A person might simply never describe or act out certain issues when meeting with the same therapist week after week. The group experience is not necessarily better than meeting one-on-one with a counselor, but it is at least as good, and it is a good complement to other types of treatment.
In a peer setting all sorts of people show up and the friendly interactions can provide as many insights as the awkward ones. Peer therapy methods are also far less expensive than one-on-one treatment. At Recovery meetings leaders ask for an optional $5 donation from attendees to support the administration of the group, and people can pay or not pay as they like. Talk therapy is acknowledged to be slow, there is no guarantee that six months of one-on-one discussions will produce a result. A typical insurance plan provided by an employer might provide $1000 for counseling, which would pay for perhaps one or two months per year, depending on the rate your counselor charges.
TM suggested that I join her group therapy sessions which were co-hosted by a male therapist, JW. This seemed like a good idea to me, partly because I couldn't afford to see TM on a weekly basis and I had previous good experiences with Recovery group therapy and so I signed up. I had a personality clash with the co-leader JW in my first meeting with him. JW was a doctor who worked as a generalist at a hospital. He was 20 years younger than me. He had just graduated from medical school and didn't seem to have any formal education in either psychology or in providing therapy beyond what the average doctor receives as part of a medical education. TM offered the group sessions for free for the first 3 months and then at $30 / session after that, so I resolved to put up with the aspects of JW's personality that I didn't like and try to see what benefit I could gain from this group. TM had lots of experience running group sessions. Since the group met at her office and TM watched while JW ran the sessions, I assumed that she was mentoring JW, although their exact working relationship was never made clear to me.
My Problem with Authority
After being unemployed for a year and spending 8 months in therapy with TM, 3 months of that in her group sessions I went to meet with her privately. I was considering restarting lithium treatment given where I was at. 22 years ago I had been diagnosed with Bipolar II disorder and lithium treatment had been helpful at that time. I hadn't taken lithium in over a decade and I was concerned about restarting it. Lithium has some negative long term side effects; patients who take it on an ongoing basis run a high risk of kidney damage. Doctors who prescribe lithium have patients get periodic blood test to ensure the proper functioning of their kidneys, nevertheless the risk remains. I met with the psychiatrist who prescribed lithium for me separately from TM and JW and he agreed that restarting lithium was a good idea. I wanted to talk to TM about the decision to start medication again. I was worried and I wanted some feedback from her regarding whether she thought my emotional state was serious enough to warrant the physical risks of taking lithium.
At some point near the end of the session I brought up a discussion that took place in one of the group meetings where someone had asked me if I thought I had authority issues. TM initially said that she didn't discuss group issues in a one-on-one setting, and said that they needed to be talked about in the group. In response to something else I said, (I can't remember what exactly), TM turned on me in a surprising way. She shouted at me "... You *have* a problem with authority!" She said that she thought I was making decisions about who's authority was valid based on my personal opinions. She told me that my notions were relatively groundless and based on my ideas alone and extended to many people in my life including JW and even herself.
I guessed that I had probably said or done something in the group meetings that she thought was unreasonable, although she didn't flag it at the time so I wasn't totally sure what. I had asked JW a number of questions about the group process, and he may have taken my attempts to understand the group as a challenge to his authority, although that wasn't really my intention. Yes, there was also some truth in what she had said, I do make decisions about which authorities I think are valid, but I think we all must do that. Blind trust in someone because they say they are an authority is irrational in my opinion.
I think the question of authority is interesting though. Who has authority? Who deserves your respect? Should you accept someone's authority just because they have some official looking credentials? Was I behaving in a disrespectful way? Did I have a problem with authority?
What is the Relationship Between Trust, Respect, Authority and Being Important?
There is a common trope in movies where a hustler walks into a situation and pretends to be very important and gets a free car or someone else to pay his bills. He smiles a lot, talks quickly, tells a few lies, shows a fake id, or somehow or other bamboozles some fool into giving him what he wants. This makes for good comedic entertainment. In real life if you try to bully or put down a sales man to impress upon him how important you are and how he ought to offer you trust and respect, more likely than not he will be annoyed and you will walk away from the deal unhappy. Salesmen aren't dumb, they see this kind of thing all the time, they would be out of business if everybody who pushed for a free ride got one.
I think we develop a lot of funny ideas about trust, respect, authority and being important from the movies. From gangster films we get the idea that the family is the most important group of all and its okay to shoot someone who disrespects you or your paisans. In legal and medical dramas professional degrees matter a lot and characters tolerate the rude specialist because he is an important authority and he doesn't have time to be reasonable or respectful, but we trust in his abilities without question. We also have fantasies about how kings, knights, monks and serfs behaved towards one another in medieval times. We romanticize about the importance of honor, duty and sacred trust, the seriousness of titles, and the righteous piety owed to one's master.
Many people think that if you are important, then you deserve respect and trust, perhaps more than other people and that being important comes along with having authority. I think we ought to respect everyone we meet and treat them in a civilized fashion no matter what the circumstances. Trust is different than respect. Trust must be earned. You might occasionally need to take a leap of faith and trust someone you just met although, being habitually distrustful isn't necessarily a good default. I don't think that you can ever automatically have complete trust in someone just because of their credentials or what you have heard about them. I think that being important is always relative; important to who is the question. I am important to my dog, although he could care less about the president of France, unless of course the French president is willing to come by and give him some liver treats.
Who Deserves Your Respect?
I think that everyone deserves your respect. The homeless guy on the corner should receive from you the same level of initial courtesy that you offer to your landlord, to a policeman who has stopped you for speeding, or to a doctor that you are seeking treatment from.
In Recovery we talk about being non-judgmental, and for me when I feel the urge to pass judgment on someone I am in a space of temper. When I say that the cop is overly-aggressive, I am passing judgment. When I say that the doctor is rude and full-of-himself I am passing judgment. When I say that the homeless person is lazy and should go find a job I am passing judgment.
There is nothing wrong with making decisions about who you want to spend time with if you have a choice. If you have a friend who argues with you a lot, and you don't enjoy the exchanges, you can spend time with someone else.
Whether you like or dislike someone you can still be respectful. Being respectful means not telling someone who they are, generally being truthful especially in your business dealings and not providing advice unless someone has asked for it. It is helpful to keep the agreements that you make, speak in plain and simple terms, not insult someone directly or indirectly and generally recognizing the boundaries of what we might call civilized society.
Isn't it Common for Important People to Sometimes Seem Disrespectful, Especially to Less Important People?
It may be common, but that doesn't make it reasonable. Thinking that someone deserves more or less respect because of how important they are is exactly when we get into trouble. You might say that the man who holds a medical degree has worked extremely hard all his life and helps a lot of people. Perhaps you think he is deserving of your respect and that you shouldn't be surprised when he is abrupt with you because he is so busy and important. Do we say that in contrast the homeless man who is addicted to alcohol and can't find a job does not deserve respect and it is actually okay to be less concerned about him? Are you saying it is okay to tell the homeless man how to live his life, but rather we may never tell the medical professional what to do because that would be rude since he already knows?
I think you can get away with disrespecting people who don't have authority over you, but that doesn't mean that you should. It is not very hard to be polite and reasonable with everyone. Being rude with someone when you can get away with it doesn't help you as much as you might think. It might be fun, but those people aren't likely to be easy to deal with if you come across them again. Being respectful doesn't necessarily mean inviting everyone to your house for dinner, or giving them your pin numbers, but there is no reason to be any more polite or reasonable with your family doctor than with anyone else.
Do Some Authority Figures Deserve "Special" or "Extra" Respect?
Here is where we get back to my counselor TM telling me I had a problem with authority. Since JW was a medical doctor, I think she believed that I owed him "special" respect. Honestly she didn't explain herself very well, and as far as I could tell I was never disrespectful towards either TM or JW, but I didn't offer JW any special respect either. I treated him about the same as I treated anyone else in the group. While I didn't like him personally and that might have been apparent through my mannerisms or disposition, I did my best to be polite and reasonable towards him.
In the time that I attended group meetings with TM and JW I was slowly coming to the conclusion that they didn't have anything that I wanted. I liked the group sessions, I liked the other participants, I found many of the meetings to be interesting and even fun. The sessions were held in a nice room with large abstract original paintings on the walls done by a local artist. The chairs were comfortable. The lighting was relaxing and the room was usually quiet with no distractions from the hallway or outside the building. The atmosphere was hip and cool. I grew to like the other people who attended the sessions. I got to know things about them and to understand why they were there, and what some of the things that they struggled with were about.
My main problem was that I couldn't see any therapeutic value in this particular group. As far as I could tell the other participants were not learning anything, or if they were they didn't talk about it. I didn't feel like I was getting anything other than a night out of the house, so I decided that the sessions run by TM and JW had no value for me. I made this decision not out of disrespect but rather because TM had lost my trust, JW had done nothing to earn it, and neither were providing anything I needed.
Did TM and JW expect extra respect from me? When TM shouted at me and suggested that I had been actively disrespecting JW and also herself it made me wonder if she thought I wasn't paying enough deference to JW because of his credentials. They asked me to give their group 6 months. While I attended I tried my best to be reasonable and stick to their guidelines and requests. During my sessions I saw 4 people drop out, I was the 5th dropout right at my 6th month mark.
There is a case for seeing your family members and close friends as extra important and really deserving of your concern care and respect. Those people are especially important to you because of the long term emotional investments you have in them. We often anticipate their needs, do things for them that we wouldn't do for anyone else and rely on them to be there for us when times are tough. This special respect isn't universal though, rather it represents the bond between individuals, and it doesn't transfer to people you just met for the first time.
Your regular acquaintances, or people you know only in passing, deserve regular respect. Anyone who claims that they need some sort of extra respect from you, beyond the normal politeness and reasonableness you might offer anyone else, might be a bully. They may be confused about the importance of their own ego, or possibly trying to manipulate you into a position where they can get a free ride at your expense. You should still be polite with them, but going way out of your way just because someone demands it isn't fair to you. Your family and those who deserve extra support and care from you are selected by you. No person can enter your life and demand to be treated as though they were as close to you as a family member or as one of your significant associates. You choose which people to grant that status to.
What is the Hierarchical Nature of Authority?
People have authority when they have something you want, or there is a general convention prescribed by society that you should defer to them. A cop has a gun and a badge and his authority over you derives from his ability to give you a citation or put you in jail if he sees fit. Likewise with a lawyer, judge, or any person you might encounter in the legal system has a similar kind of authority. They deserve your respect as does anyone else.
I spent a lot of time in the University system which sometimes felt a bit like living under a feudal lord. Earning a Ph.D. or doctorate is a major milestone at the University and demonstrates a person's expertise in a subject area, in their general ability to research that subject independently and their proficiency in presenting that material to others, usually through writing or lectures.
Among those with Ph.D.s at the University there are Presidents, Provosts, Trustees, Regents, Deans and Chairs. Professors come in various forms. There is the Tenure Track Professor, Assistant Professor, Associate Professor, Adjunct Professor and just plain Professor with no prefix, sometimes informally called the full Professor, who is the most important of the group. You will occasionally meet a Post Doctoral Fellow, a person who has a Ph.D. and is working at the University under a professor, usually doing research for them full time.
A lecturer is not a professor, the sessional lecturer with a four month contract is one step below the Ph.D. who holds a contractually limited appointment - typically good for 3 years. Teaching assistants and lab demonstrators usually don't have Ph.D.s, and only some are on track to earning one. These advanced students are given a shared space with other advanced students. The fact that they don't have a private office is a clear sign that they are low on the pecking order.
While almost all professors have Ph.D.s, and may ask you to call them doctor (which you should if that is what they request), it isn't true that just because someone has a doctorate that you can call them professor. In movies sometimes a character says they have two or three Ph.D.s but this isn't a realistic sign of a brilliant individual. In reality, once you have this terminal degree you are a doctor of philosophy and you move on and get a research, teaching or industry position if you can gain acceptance from one of those groups. Honorary doctorates are sometimes given to individuals that a school wants to provide additional recognition to, but the degree itself isn't a magical key and will always be referred to as honorary to distinguish it from a Ph.D. that was earned. Every individual holding a doctorate is usually forced to defend their ideas on a regular basis and if they are unable to prove their worth to the organization that supports them, they are soon ignored.
As peers, academics provide each other with varying levels of deference depending on their individual publication records, what they have achieved during their careers, who they are friends with, and on and on. Because they are all busy, their perceived relative importance can be measured by communication frequency. If they think communicating with you is important they will respond to you when you try to initiate a conversation via e-mail. If they don't value an exchange with you very much, you will end up on their to-do list, receive a one line response, or possibly you may never get a response. Academics exercise their authority by deciding who to hire, who to fire, who to allocate funds and other resources to, and at the lowest levels of the teaching assistant, what grade an undergraduate gets.
It is a complex pecking order and it takes a long time to know who is who. It can be an unpleasant and sometimes painful system to participate in, especially if you take it too seriously or you don't understand the expectations.
While I was a graduate student there were two individuals who had lots of power over me at the University. My academic advisor signed for my paycheck, told other professors whether I was a good student or not, and either did or did not give me interesting things to work on. The departmental secretary also had a lot of power over me. The secretary knew all the politics of the system and could advise me on who to speak to and who to avoid. While she had no decision making power she certainly could lose my grant application forms in a big pile, or call the right person to help me ASAP when I had a paperwork problem that I couldn't solve.
All these people deserved my respect, but I always thought it was amusing that the departmental secretary had more power and authority over me than the president of the University.
When my therapist, TM, shouted at me that I had a problem with authority I thought about all these individuals that I had respected over the years and I wondered if there was anything to what TM was saying. I had certainly disagreed with a few of them here and there, I did have a number of arguments with one of my academic advisors, was she suggesting that I should never disagree with an authority figure ever? Maybe, but she had lost my trust with her outburst and I never followed up with her on this question to figure out exactly what she was talking about.
What Does a Problem with Authority Look Like?
There was a time when I was a teenager when I thought lawyers were dumb because, you know, they are lawyers and they think that they are hot sh*t but they are actually sneaky liars. My father always told me he thought that doctors and lawyers were indecent types of people and would mutter under his breath about how unworthy they actually were. For a long time I believed him and agreed with him although I never understood the details of what he was talking about. Where he got this idea, or whether it was based on some bad experience in his past, I didn't know.
When my mother died my sister and I hired a lawyer to help us go through the details of my mother's will. The lawyer we hired answered a lot of questions, referred us to other professionals including accountants and real-estate agents, and basically helped us sort out my mother's rather vague and messy instructions. We were lucky that she had left us a will telling us how to proceed, but there were a lot of unanswered questions and loosely defined statements explaining how she wanted her house and various accounts dispersed.
The lawyer had something that we wanted, an understanding of the legal system and experience with handling the distribution of estates. At some point we got into conflict with some extended family members that had been named in my mother's will. We were bickering with them over a small fraction of my mother's accounts and the interpretation of her will and exactly how many dollars they should receive, and how soon they should get it, and who was being rude and who was being respectful. The lawyer said something to us that comes straight out of the Recovery handbook, he said:
"... just treat this like a business transaction. I know you are hurt and upset by your mother's death and what these people are saying but understand that there is no satisfaction to be gained here by winning an argument. My time costs you money, these people are asking for something that you don't think they deserve, lets find the compromise that will cost you the least and forget about who is right and who is wrong. You will not be satisfied by *winning* anything here. I've seen this many times, there is no satisfaction to be had by anyone. Let's just focus on finding a solution that everyone can agree on and wrap this up as quickly as possible so you can minimize my fees."
We came to this man looking for help with dealing with paper work and finances, but this extra idea, that winning a fight would be unsatisfying was really new to me at the time.
This man also made me decide that lawyers were not the monsters my father had warned me about. I suspected that my father had a problem with authority that I had not inherited, at least not to the same degree or the way that TM was suggesting. Lawyers are all different, and surely there are dishonest ones out there, but I think for the average person a lawyer is just a specialist who can help with certain situations. They charge high fees, and they can only do certain things, like explain the law to you, represent you in court, or help you file certain kinds of legal paperwork. Its rare to find one who is also insightful, but they are out there as well.
So the power or authority that a person has in your life is really only relevant when they have something that you want. A problem with authority might reasonably manifest itself as you refusing to seek the assistance of a lawyer when you obviously need one (like my father might have), or perhaps being rude to the lawyer just because, you know, he is a lawyer and lawyers are skum.
Does the lawyer who helped me navigate the pain around my mother's death along with the practicalities of her messy will deserve more respect than the therapist who wasn't very helpful? No, they deserve the same amount of respect.
But What if I Really am Important and Nobody Recognizes it?
If you think you are not receiving the recognition that you deserve then I agree that there is a problem, but the question to ask is, who's problem is it? When I worked at the computer company I noticed that you could measure the importance of my peers by the number of questions they were asked in a day. When I started there I had a fancier collection of academic degrees than most of my peers, but nobody cared. They didn't care because I was new and I didn't know anything specific about the product and couldn't help them.
My favorite coworkers there often had lineups of people at their desks waiting to ask questions. When I got stuck on a problem only certain individuals knew the answers and would take the time to help. My extra degrees didn't matter right away, rather it took a long time before I knew enough about the software that we sold that people started to come to me to ask questions. My education helped me to learn things quickly and I had other skills that I could deploy that my peers did not have, but it took years for me to move from the position of new-hire, to knowledgeable-person-who-can-help-you.
Like many things in life, whether you are funny, interesting, talented or important, these are qualities that other people will decide, and not something you can declare for yourself. If you think you are funny, but no one else does, you need to re-evaluate your sense of humor. If you think you are important, and deserving of special respect, but no one else does, you need to rethink how you perceive your accomplishments, your true value to others, and what kind of respect you offer to them in return.
My last Interpersonal Group Therapy Sessions
After attending group therapy with TM and JW for six months I went to my last few sessions. In my second last group therapy session only one other participant showed up. People had been dropping out, and attendance had been poor. I agreed to wait for about 10 minutes to see if someone else would show up, but no one did. I thought that we should cancel the meeting given this low attendance, and said so, although JW said it was okay to have just two participants. The conversation rambled along and at some point JW asked me what I thought I was getting out of the meetings. This was a stock question which he had directed at various people during my time there. I didn't have a good answer. Some of the group members had said they thought I could be long winded, and occasionally boring, although others had disagreed, and I had acknowledged these comments. To me being long-winded didn't seem like a real cause of my depression. I saw it more as a cosmetic personality quirk, something to be mindful of in a job interview or other settings when the time is short and stakes are high and people have the potential to be bored.
I had a brief epiphany in that moment, not only did I not have a clear idea of what I was getting from these meetings, I had no idea what anyone else was getting. After six months it seemed to me that I should have a sense of not only what the other participants were trying to deal with, but also how they were benefiting from group therapy. I did not.
I went to my last meeting, not knowing it was my last, with the simple intention of staying out of the spotlight and trying to confirm what I suspected by listening. I suspected that others in the group weren't claiming to get anything from the group and also that JW's behavior really was kind of weird and worth dropping out over.
Four people showed up to this meeting in addition to JW and TM, and after about 20 minutes or so JW and TM started focusing their questions on me. I referred to this as being on the "hot-seat". In interpersonal group therapy sessions it is not unusual for the session leader to focus the time on just a few participants. People often have complicated things to say and given a 75 minute session it is hard to pay equal attention to each member when seven or eight people show up.
After a few questions TM asked me what it was about JW that annoyed me. I was a little put off by this question, but it wasn't outside of the range of what the group addressed. I told him in very clear terms that I thought he spent an inordinate amount of group time focused on me, and that I didn't think it was either reasonable or worthwhile. I mentioned that in the last several sessions he had spent a lot of time asking me questions, and not attending to anyone else. I pointed out to him that we already had people in the group that complained about my long-windedness and I said that this is simply exacerbated by a leader who keeps directing questions at me. I told him that I acknowledged that I had a hand in this and that I would, going forward, limit my answers and asked him if he would agree to stop questioning me after some fixed period of time, say 20 minutes.
He said he couldn't agree to a 20 minute time limit because of his "technique", and so I told him that going forward I would decide to stop answering his questions when I was tired out, or had had enough. I followed this up by telling him that I would begin this policy immediately and that I would not answer anymore questions today. He responded by telling me that he had "... one more thing he wanted to ask ..."
And that is when I lost my temper. My heart was racing, I could feel that my face was flushed. I was speaking in a harsh manner biting off my words as I spat them out and told him in precise terms what I thought about his question. I told him that he hadn't heard what I had just said, that he was disrespecting me and that he needed to learn to not do that. He seemed surprised and said nothing in response.
I'm not entirely proud of snapping at JW. In the moment I got some satisfaction from it. I had caught him in his nonsense and was presenting my judgment of him as a disrespectful bad listener to a group of people who were paying him to patiently listen to them. In Recovery we recognize this kind of judgment as an angry temper, and in our meetings we talk about accepting that you will get angry at times. The recommendation is to express yourself in a reasonable way. There are a lot of other things I could have done that might have been more civilized. For example, I could have listened to his question and not answered it, or said what I had said in a calmer way without the accusations, or even told him that it made me angry that he had asked a question after I had explained to him all the problems I had experienced with his style of questions.
At this point someone else picked up the thread and changed the subject which gave me some relief. I seemed to be taking the whole exchange more seriously than anyone else, nevertheless I thought I had had enough. As we were about to leave JW promised us that next week we would talk about how to deal with authority figures. This remark was unusual in that TM and JW had never chosen topics in advance, and normally stayed away from conceptual discussions. I felt like JW was trying to get in the last word and remind me of his authority in the session. Although, I don't know if my feeling was right or not, because I didn't understand JW very well. He revealed almost nothing about himself during the sessions. Perhaps that was part of his "technique", in any case, whatever was going on, his mind was completely unknown to me.
I wrote TM the next day and very briefly and politely told her I would not be returning to the group sessions. Does that mean that I do have a problem with authority, because I refused to participate any further in JW and TM's exploration of the idea? In Recovery we ask members to consider whether their actions are motivated by an effort to win an argument for the sake of winning, or prove someone wrong so they can be right. If so, then that is a bad reason. We also ask whether decisions are impulsive or made out of fear or anger. If that is the case, then the choice might be bad, and we recommend giving yourself a chance to cool off and not act impulsively.
I was angry when I quit. I felt like TM and JW had wasted a lot of my time and asked me to pay for sessions that had no value for me. I had no plans to see TM again and in my last e-mail I told her that I didn't think the group meetings were helpful. I didn't express anger and irritation to her in that message. I thought that there was already a clear understanding that I had a strong dislike for JW's approach and telling her that in addition I thought the sessions were not helpful gave her enough information about why I was quitting. In Recovery while we advocate suppressing your temper, or your irrational and hurtful impulses to judge others, we also recommend you express your feelings in a civilized way. In my case I expressed my feeling of distaste for JW's approach and my sense that the group meetings were not helpful. I had already decided to quit before going to my last meeting, so it wasn't a snap decision, although some of my remarks might have made it seem that way. Regardless of how I was perceived, I had made my choices, provided some clear feedback as to why, and I think that essentially the decision was rational.
Were my actions ideal? No. Does that matter? Not really. We do our best, and try to be respectful, reasonable and civilized with ourselves and others. For me, quitting JW and TM's interpersonal group therapy sessions was, I think, a good choice.
Summary: How do I Know if I Have a Problem with Authority?
The phrase "problem with authority" boils down to the cliché of someone who insults a cop just because. If that is you, then you have a lot of work to do. Start by ensuring you respect everyone in a basic way, then you should be a long ways towards addressing any generic problem with authority you might have. The tougher question is; "How can you simplify your life by being respectful." ...and... "When should you walk away because you are being mistreated?" I try to work with a simple checklist to decide if I am being appropriately respectful and reasonable, and in turn if I am being treated in a reasonable way by others. This list essentially matches tools that we discuss in our Recovery group:
1) Treat exchanges with others like business transactions. People either have something you want or they don't. If they do, they probably want something material in exchange for it, be reasonable with them and consider the going rate. Winning arguments, or telling people off usually isn't very satisfying and rarely gets you a better price when you are negotiating for something.
2) Advice should only be offered when asked for. Sometimes people try to raise their relative importance by offering unsolicited advice. People almost never want to hear your opinion unless they ask for it. Offering unsolicited advice usually implies judgment or a put-down, i.e. "...I'm telling you what you should do because it is clear you aren't smart enough to know." These kinds of opinions should be kept to yourself, or at least discussed without directing them at anyone in particular. Your opinions probably aren't as valuable as you imagine.
3) Don't tell people who they are, or provide an evaluation of them as a person. In Recovery terms: don't be judgmental. Your judgment of who a person is, probably is not correct, and it will be insulting to the person which won't help the situation. If you feel the urge to provide an evaluation, you may be in temper, and need some cool down time. Everyone has the right to discover who they are on their own.
4) Not being judgmental doesn't mean you should throw away your discernment. You can chose to stop spending time with certain people, or change how you interact with those who you must spend time with. If someone does something upsetting you can tell them what they did and why it was a problem for you, so long as you do so in a civilized way, meaning that you don't turn your response into a story about why they are bad. Using discernment isn't the same as judging someone. The business of a court judge is to evaluate contracts, assess penalties based on precedence, and apply the law. A good court judge remains unemotional and impartial while making decisions for others caught in conflict. Try to be the good and impartial arbiter when you find yourself in conflict, keeping everyone's interests, including your own, in mind.
5) Try to be generous in your responses. If someone says something to you that sounds off-color, is that because they are trying to put you down, or perhaps because you didn't fully understand them? Assume you didn't understand, and give the benefit of the doubt. Temper is a blindness to the other side of the story. While some people are intentionally rude or disrespectful, it is more common that we misunderstand someone else's intentions or remarks. Assume that there is a misunderstanding before you assume that there is negative intent. Whatever you decide is actually going on, don't be reactive, just make simple decisions and keep your temper in check.
Depression and Grief, Similarities and Differences
Perfectionism, Overwork and Burnout
Narcissism, Self-Esteem and Humility