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Found in Translation "Enactment as a means of communication"

Through my work with adolescents marginalised and excluded from mainstream education, I have come to understand that certain language and behaviour are a means of communication. The "acting out" (or enactment) of certain behaviour is a way of trying to communicate distress and an attempt to get rid of intolerable feelings. The recipient of these projections may find themselves very troubled by both the behaviour and the way it makes them feel. Both can evoke quite punitive responses. Those working with the young person can find themselves either rejecting or stigmatising them, and this is often the root cause of the exclusion. My experience is that in order to understand the communicative element underlying these behaviours one needs to recognise that it is fundamentally a communication of distress.

I would use the term "counter-transference" as one means to understand this further. I was once working with a boy of 14 who attacked me verbally about both my physical appearance ("bald headed c**t") and my mother ("a whore"). My initial feeling was one of retaliation, and to get rid of the feeling that he had projected into me. It was almost unbearable and impossible at that point to digest, which of course echoed his own experience with his own mother. He had successfully rid himself (albeit temporarily) of the unpleasant feelings he carried toward his own mother. She had left the family home when he was 8 years old and he had been excluded from school after school after this experience. This had led him to the special independent school which I worked in.  

It was only through analysis of this behaviour in Supervision that this could be understood and returned to him in a more thoughtful and digestible way. He could then begin to access the feelings of loss and grief which he had previously been unable to make sense of. His only means of letting others know of his terrible distress had been via this communication which had led him to exclusion after exclusion. These adolescents are also experts at pushing the buttons that evoke retaliatory responses in adults and it is important to recognise this.

I will be publishing a paper in the near future in Psychodynamic Practice which takes up these themes. This I think is more urgent in terms of the current social landscape.

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