In the last blog, I focused on Alanis Morrissette’s song, You Oughta Know, from the perspective of how an external crisis effects the progress of a psychotherapy. For this blog, I’m going to consider how the song helps us to understand the narrator’s inner world. For this, I’m going to use a YouTube version of the song that includes lyrics.
An obvious response to the song is to say the narrator was horribly betrayed and is angry, as she would be. The narrator is distressed and deserves our empathy. However, if we limit ourselves to this response, we will miss the richness of the narrator’s communication and what she reveals about her inner world.
There are many different ways to interpret what a patient brings to therapy. In fact, patient’s communications are always multi-layered, offering different, even contradictory, ways of thinking about their inner lives. An outburst like the narrator’s would be revisited many times. It would be a touchstone for understanding new material introduced into the therapy. Also, new material would broaden our understanding of the outburst.
I’ve decided to start where the narrator says, “’Cause the joke that you laid on your bed was me and I’m not going to fade.” I think this statement encapsulates the inner struggle at the heart of the song. The narrator feels humiliated and is fighting to maintain her self-esteem.
The narrator does what people often do when they have been hurt. She sets up a fantasised communication with the person who hurt her. In her mind, she will move the emotional burden from herself to the man who betrayed her. She will suffer less by making him suffer more.
The narrator first tries to deny her humiliation with a show emotional strength. Despite what was done to her, she magnanimously wishes the new couple all the best. However, it’s quickly evident she making too big a demand on herself. Her voice sounds shaky and stilted. Within a few lines she has given the pretence away.
From a psychotherapeutic point of view, it is good that the narrator doesn’t force herself to be magnanimous. It’s not a true expression of her feelings. It would lead her into an emotional dead end.
The narrator also tries to blame the man’s lack of emotional maturity for the breakdown. Despite all the love in the couple, he was not able to be open wide. The narrator’s assessment of the man might well be right. He might be emotionally closed. The problem is that following this tack won’t get her what she wants. While she says it twice in the song, it is not her primary line of attack.
Essentially, what the narrator wants is for the man to feel what he has done to her. He cannot simply dismiss her. Nor can he just move on without suffering the emotional consequences. He cannot treat her like a joke. She’s not going to give up until he gets this. Anger is her weapon.
Many patient’s come to psychotherapy believing that a feeling is a feeling which everybody experiences and expresses in the same way. This is usually a sign that emotions were undervalued in the family of origin. However, people do experience feelings differently. During these times of heightened emotion, patients reveal more of themselves.
As I have said, what the narrator wants is to not be pushed aside by the man who betrayed her. She wants to stay inside his head, forcing him feel what it is like to be her. She says, “Are you thinking of me when you fuck her.”
Other patients may want something different.
Someone else might have violent fantasies, “I hope you drop dead when you fuck her.”
Another might want him to be humiliated, “I hope she says you’re a terrible fuck.”
Another could want him to realise he made a terrible mistake and come crawling back. “She’s a terrible fuck, please forgive me.” Good luck with that.
Another might try to get him out of her head altogether, “I’m going to fuck someone else and forget about you.”
There are a multitude of possible responses. Each will help us to understand the patient.
This song has much more to offer than I realised when I first decided to focus on it. Like a psychotherapy, it keeps opening up. I’m going to come back to it in my next blog.