I went to see a 16-year-old who by all accounts would be described as "oppositional," "defiant" and "verbally aggressive." I would agree with these statements (though I would like to remove the stigma from them and view them as understandable responses she has based on previous experiences).
She was not happy to speak to me. lol
I came because I heard from an older relative that she was expressing suicidal thoughts. She currently lives in a group home. I realized no one had been in communication with her about the plans for her foster/adoptive placement. So my intentions were to inform her, (hopefully) calm any fears she had and to avoid her feeling left out of the process.
She did not care.
She was angry. Enraged, really. For at least the first 15 minutes everything I said felt like a new landmine I was stepping on. Even neutral statements were met with increased aggression and tension. We were not in secluded space so there was an added layer of stress as other people walked past. I felt tense on her behalf as I did not want her business "out" (which in hindsight is silly. I assume these girls talk to each other and all are in the system so it's not like she stands out in this area). Admittedly, I also had to quiet some feelings of embarrassment at being "screamed on" while others could see. I also felt my own frustration and stress continue to increase with no letting up. A knot formed in a chest and I also admit I felt resentment of her anger that didn't feel warranted towards me (though I am part of the system that is letting her down).
Luckily despite my resentment I remembered the basic concept that aggression added to aggression can only lead to more aggression. And she was teetering on the edge. Had I tried getting angry, demanding she calm down, raising my voice there's a good chance she would have gotten physical. So I checked myself, kept my voice low and steady, remained calm and stated facts.
The facts were fine, but again, even neutral words were met with more aggression. The conversation changed when I started sympathizing with her.
"This sounds very frustrating."
The first sign things were going well was she stopped increasing in anger.
"I hear you. This must be confusing and I can see why you would be angry about it."
Then her face softened a bit and she was able to look directly at me (previously she was staring away making no eye contact.)
"Well, let's make a plan then. I can only speak for myself, but here is what I can do... And I will get back to you once I have gotten more information."
Now we had aligned and were making plans together.
My knot left. She calmed and even made a joke. This child that began the conversation yelling, raging and pissed ending it by calmly saying "thank you." If you don't get the magnitude of that change, I'm not sure I have better words to explain it. If you think, it was more important to try to force compliance and obedience out of a child that was *that* disregulated, then you are missing a point so much larger than that.
She taught me so much in that 30-45 minutes. My own capacity and beyond that the reminder that sympathy is a very powerful thing (along with empathy). I care so much more about her feeling heard and us developing an alliance than I do with "correcting" her (understandable) rage at me.