Oblate Program at Belmont Abbey, NC

John H.

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John (not his real name) is a very immature adult, at least on an emotional level. In the 37 years that I have known him, 17 of those was spent in manifesting bullying behavior, to not only keep people at a distance, but also manipulate them through fear; which worked to his detriment as well as the community. Those in care of him in the past feared him, and pretty much let him do what he wanted. The present administrator has also expressed his fear of John, though not to the extent of those in the past, and I have confidence that his love and concern for John will allow him to do what is necessary if it should come to that, in order to help him.

About 20 years ago, after he had a violent altercation with someone much older that he was, which could have ended badly for both, but did not; after the incident we talked. He was swaggering with what he thought was some kind of victory over an enemy, when in fact his enemy was a 90 year old man, with a severe personality disorder. The man was feeble, could barely walk, and very much overweight. He poured a large container of punch over his head, which soaked his robe; luckily the pitcher did not hit his head when it was poured.

The gist of conversation was this: I told him that his ability to control his anger was losing ground, and if he did not find some way to deal with it, he would one day have to be dealt with. I also notified him about the consequences he would have faced if he the man he attacked was hurt in some way; his latest victim of his anger and rage. He is, or was even more so 20 years ago, very free in voicing his extreme feelings, either positive or negative about someone. For he either loves or hates you, no middle ground allowed. However since therapy, though still operating, his reactions are somewhat less vitriolic, though still strong. I went on trying to get him to understand, how many have heard him say, in very strong language, how much he would “like to kill the bastard one day”. If his violence led to assault, he would either end up in prison or perhaps a mental institution. For he was truly out of control, there was no one to confront him that had any authority at that time, which was very frustrating for me, since a great deal of fear and suffering resulted from his behavior for more than a few, in the community.

He trusted me, so he took to heart what I had to say, and started therapy, and stayed with it for about 15 years, which did help. It was difficult for him, we met every week to talk, he would often cry, for his emotions run very deep and he is deeply wounded. As he child he had a cleft pallet, also from what he told me, his father rejected him, though he later found out through therapy it was unconscious. So he is better today, but I have to watch him closely here in the infirmary.

He now needs full time care, so he is in our infirmary which is small, and our main setting room is not big enough for all that goes on in there, so at times it can be noisy, chaotic, and very crowded. At times he will revert back, though it has not happened often, to his bullying behavior, which works on most people, for his voice is loud and strong, his face gets red and at times purple, eyes puff out, and he can at times throw things. Once he shoved Edmund (now deceased) away from him with some force. Edmund was frail and in a wheel chair, and was suffering from severe Alzheimer’s. He still has very strong antipathies towards some, usually but not always, towards those much weaker that he is.

He has the ability to feel compassion, but he tends to only allow himself for the most part, to feel for those far away. Often in the past spending hours weeping over the suffering of those in other parts of the world, while being very insensitive to the suffering of those around him, or his own role in some of that suffering. So I guess one aspect of his anger, thought not all of it, is to keep the pain of empathy at bay, for those with whom he lives closely with.

The nursing assistant who works the 3-11PM shift, as also notified me that John yells at her at times, which makes her nervous; this is the first time that I was notified about this. She only works on Saturday’s. This seems to be a further development in his possible reverting to his past behavior.

Yesterday he threw a stool across the room, which could have hit someone; Leo was close to where the stool landed. There was no external provocation from anyone; it seems he was having trouble moving the stool, and threw it out of frustration. I did approach him very strongly, and told him how that kind of behavior is not allowed, he pretended to ignore me, but I know he was listening. I used strong firm terms, for he understands that approach, otherwise it is looked upon as weakness, which encourages him to continue to act out. I hate doing this, talking to an adult, in his right mind, as if he is a child, or perhaps someone with dementia, but I don’t know what else to do.

I think I may need to sit in on some sessions with Ann Marie, for the reason she is coming is really his therapy; I have her come so that perhaps John would vent with her and off set what is in fact happening. Though it is infrequent it is slowly starting to manifest more than in the past.

I need to be careful how I react with John, for I can also give in to trying to force my will in difficult situations; yes I can bully also. I understand John, not completely of course, but our inner struggle with anger and fear and a loss of control, is something we share in common.

I will talk with him today and see how that goes.

Br. Mark Dohle, OCSO
Holy Spirit Monastery

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