Wilderness Interventions: The Offensive Cactus

thumbnailOffense is such a burdensome feeling that often affects the offended more than the offender.  A male student in Outback was struggling in his group because they were constantly offending him.  This constant offense created a lot of tension and conflict within the group dynamics.  Even though conflict can be extremely powerful in providing raw data for psychological assessment and also help direct therapeutic treatment it must be addressed intentionally to insure an emotionally safe environment.  Because the majority of this conflict was due to this one boy being easily offended by others even when no offense was intended, I took him aside one day and asked him if he wanted to play catch.  He said, “sure”, so I reached down and cut off a section of a prickly pear cactus with my knife, then I said, “Here!  Catch!” Then I tossed the cactus toward him.  He immediately jumped out of the way and said, “I don’t want to catch that!  That would hurt me!”  I replied, “Then why are you so eager to catch offense from others?”  With a surprised look in his eyes, he stood there silently.  I went on to explain that while words can truly have an effect upon us, we get to choose how big of an effect they have.  “Instead of being easily offended by every little thing that is said by others in the group, what would happen if you jumped out of the way like you did when I threw this cactus at you?”  He responded hesitantly but with a look of increased understanding in his face “I wouldn’t get hurt so much.”  “Exactly!  The more you can intentionally avoid offense, even when it is intended, the more you protect yourself from being hurt.”  We spent the next few hours talking about how to avoid being offended by using common tools like “reframing” so he could have more control over hir anger and less confrontation in the group.


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