Every single person I have ever met has had wounds on the level of self. We all send in patterns of responding to the world in order to deal with dilemmas that we face.
PRODUCTS OF OUR ENVIRONMENT VS CAPABLE OF DETERMINING WHICH PART OF US ENGAGES THE WORLD: Most people respond to experiences with patterns they’ve inherited rather than from their nurtured organic sense of self. Most people, most of the time do not operate from their organic core / grounded self for most of their lives. Most people, both high functioning and low-functioning, do not even realize it is an option. In our culture, most of us see ourselves as products of our experiences (If my boss is an ass then I get hurt or angry; and if I get a compliment from my partner, I feel special).
THE TASK: We respond from our inherited thought / emotional patterns in our brains rather than the part of our brain that has access to a felt sense of our innate worthiness. Most of us lack the awareness that it is possible to nurture a preferred self. First, we learn how to sort and be aware of which “self” is operating the show. Then we learn how to shift into our preferred state. Then we learn to reinforce that preferred state as “who I am” and the auto-pilot learned strategies as a patterning that I am committed to unlearn. Our goal is to shift into our preferred self and navigate our work, our partner, our kids, and all that the world throws at us from there.
AUTO-PILOTS: Most of us have not been taught how to check in with ourselves and determine how ‘I’ want to manage the dilemma (of boss being an ass or partner being nice). Most of us operate from our “auto-pilot(s)”. Our auto-pilot(s) are simply patterns that we’ve reinforced in our brains in responding to previous dilemmas. They are separate neural networks in the brain that light up that only have the capacity to do whatever they did the day they were created. If we are the lucky, we develop specific patterns that allow us to skate through the world with adequate coping mechanisms that allow us to come off as high functioning. Two-thirds of us are lucky. They are the ones you want to date and marry.
MAL-ADAPTIVE AUTO-PILOTS: If we are part of the other third of humanity, we’ve inherited patterns of behaving and viewing the world that set us up for depression and anxiety or more challenging problems. If you are reading this website, you are probably in this group. It means you have learned patterns that helped you navigate our dysfunctional culture, your family, school, etc. that were adaptive at the time but have nasty side-effects if they are used in other contexts.
Since therapy is still a little bit taboo and expensive, people usually reach out to upgrade their human experience only if they are suffering. Both groups would benefit by learning how to live from their built in organic selves that have a bodily felt sense access to their worthiness, voice, and boundaries.
So Todd, what do you do?
I help my clients gain awareness of the part of them that already is empowered and worthy. Often, my client start their sessions with complaints about their life circumstances and how it makes them suffer. They think that it will be helpful to start there because of how therapists are depicted on television. Or perhaps their last therapist operated from a school of thought that thought that passively listening for years is more helpful than teaching people how to live.
What I do instead is I’ll catch you when you are in an empowered state (however brief it may be) while you are sharing your painful dilemma. When you are confidently saying, “My boyfriend never listens to me”; I’ll tactfully interrupt and invite you to pay attention to that self that showed up to inform me that your boyfriend never listens. I invite you to pay attention to what your body feel like, what your emotional changing states are doing, and what type of thought patterns you get caught in. I invite you to pay attention to “which self” is discussing the dilemma. I’ll try to catch them when they are in an empowered state.
For example, I’ll point out that the Self that shows up to complain about your painful dilemma which may say “My boyfriend never listens” knows that you are worthy of being seen. I’ll invite you to check in with yourself to see which self that is handling the boyfriend dilemma. I’ll ask you if it is ok if we take a break from the boyfriend dilemma and come back to it later so we can use this as an opportunity to learn which self you send into deal with these types of dilemmas.
Often, we have a combination of selves (that we are unaware of) that are advocating for dealing with the boyfriend dilemma. There is a core organic self that knows that our voice is worthy of being heard. So, if I can, I’ll catch my client when they are temporarily in that state and have them pay attention to their bodies and emotions and thoughts (while they are in that state) so they can see what it feels like to be them when they are in their organic selves.
Usually a fragmented strategy-self pops up to interrupt the organic self. For example, there might be a fragmented self that formed in their family where they had to fight to be taken seriously. If that self shows up, then when they study their physical experience, they will likely feel tense and may have a tight jaw. Their emotional state might be guarded, angry, self-righteous. Their thoughts might be fast and racing narrative about how he is an ass and how she is an innocent victim. The goal of slowing it down and really studying what comes up when that “fighter strategy self” pops up isn’t to shame the client out of having an irritating or judgmental state; rather to become aware of the impact that that adaptive self has on them.
Another self might pop up. For example, perhaps the “hoop jumper strategy” might jump in. The “hoop jumper strategy” learned at some point in their life that if they “got things right”, they would become acceptable. The “hoop jumper strategy self” likes getting A’s, having a sexy girlfriend, being super clever, earning lots of money, etc. (Well, we all might like those things; but the “hoop jumper strategy self” needs to accomplish those things in order to feel acceptable. ) A lot of high performing people learned greate hoop-jumping strategies. I spent a good chunk of my life living through my hoop-jumping strategy before I realized I had the capacity to shift states.
They might have a strategy self that believes that they are not worthy of being seen and that their boyfriend not wanting to listen. [***add how this self operates***]
A lot of therapists informed from a psychodynamic and attachment perspective (both perspectives which I have experience with) will simply listen to the client complain about the dilemmas that they are stuck in that set them up for depression, anxiety, or anger. That type of therapy works too; but it takes a very long time and sometime it creates more problems than it helps.
The main focus of therapy with me will be to learn how to sort between our actual organic core selves and the patterns we’ve inherited.
A lot of therapeutic modalities (which as a psychotherapist I have found meaningful) focus on providing a “corrective emotional experience” for the wounded part of the person. I still do this with clients and find that it is sometimes appropriate and helpful. However, what is more helpful is to help the client not use that part of their brain that “got wounded”. If we stop using the neuropathways in our brain that are organized around wounding and start using the part of our brain that knows we are worthwhile and that is who I am, then all of reality is experienced differently.
Instead of fixing the maladaptive thought patterns, we focus on helping client be aware of, be committed to living in, and choose to experience reality through their organic self. The organic self is not broken, so it does not need to be fixed. Instead of learning how to not run through stoplights, we are learning what it means to drive a car, or to be the car. Instead of trying to fix our distorted patterns of behaving that set us up for anxiety and depression, we learn to identify those parts of ourselves, say “hi” to them with compassion, and remind them that we are worthy of contact and connection. We then shift into our preferred state and live from there.
We then practice accessing our already worthwhile states. After we are in the preferred state, we learn how to identify our ego, the “Who I am” voice, as that state. Instead of seeing myself as a byproduct of passing experiences, I am the one who knows that I am worthy. And from that worthy state of being, who is me, and whom I have the ability to choose to be, I engage the imperfect world.
It is as if the client has worn distorted goggles, then learns to take them off and learns how to see the world from their own eyes. Only after the goggles are off, do we discover that we already had sufficient vision.
A METAPHOR FOR WHY WE DEVELOP STRATEGIES: It is as if we put scratched up desert storm glasses on to prevent our eyes from getting scratched. And then since they were so useful in that particular storm, we put those goggles on every time there was a change in weather. And now, we are so used to having those goggles on that we keep them on inside, when there are not storms, and when we are driving. Our vision is blurred from these scratched up glasses, but we’ve a memory of them being helpful, so we use them over and over again. We forget that our eyes are capable of seeing. In this type of therapy, we notice our deep thought patterns that make us drawn to put our scratched up goggles on. We forget we are able to see and that vision is already hard wired into us.
“He who has eyes, let him see.” Perhaps Jesus was referring to that innate part of us that is capable of being engaged and honest in the world is already biologically (and spiritually) wired into us.
Therapy with me is more about learning how to engage your own Self / Spirit and engage the world from there. We are not broken people being fixed. We are learning how to live from our core selves.