Every single person I have ever met has had wounds on “the level of self”. We all have learned to 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 we have a good experience we feel good and if we have a bad experience, we feel stressed. For example, if my boss is an ass then I get hurt or angry; and if I get a compliment from my partner, I feel special or connected. We are like ping pong balls responding to our environment. We respond from our inherited thought / emotional learned patterns in our brains rather than the part of our brain that has access to our Self that has a felt sense of our innate worthiness.
THE TASK OF LIVING (AND THE PURPOSE OF THE THERAPY): Most of us lack the awareness that it is even possible to nurture a preferred Self. The first task in the therapy is to learn how to sort and be aware of which “self” is operating the show. Then we learn how to shift into our preferred state(s). As we are experiencing in our bodies emotions and mind our preferred limbic state, we learn how to embrace that state as “who I am”. So the therapy is more about learning how to identify and live from Yourself rather than your learned (mal)adaptive patterns. The work is not to try to upgrade the auto-pilot learned strategies into a better pattern, but to identify that the negative patterning exists and unlearn them by not using them and instead shifting into living from your Self. 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.
When I learned this worldview in 2012, in retrospect, I can say that I was living in a combination of fragmented auto-pilots rather than from my self probably 98% of the time. And when I was living from myself, I was living in Me by accident. My goal is to live in my core/organic self/”who I am” 100% of the time. I am still a work in progress and believe I live in my organic self perhaps 80% to 85% of the time in the world and about 70% of the time with my partner.
AUTO-PILOTS/FRAGMENTS/HABITUATED LEARNED PATTERNS: 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. This means that they are closed systems that are not capable of learning.
ADAPTIVE AUTO-PILOTS: 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. People that received enough emotional attunement and connection get hard-wired into their brains patterns that allow them to have a healthy sense of self, worthiness of boundaries, and ability to pursue their desires and wants in the world while considering themselves and others. According to the literature, two thirds of people are this lucky (I believe that 2/3rds figure is very optimistic). 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 sets 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 dysfunctional culture, 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 people with adaptive auto-pilots and mal-adaptive auto-pilots 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?
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 from their deeper Self.
I help my clients gain awareness of the Self that already is empowered and worthy. I help them become aware of the fragmented selves/patterning that pops up and interrupts them from living from their Self. I help them develop personalized techniques that help them auto-shift into their preferred Self. We then practice stabilizing staying in their Self. We can then practice staying in their Self when they picture life dilemmas that would normally pull them into a fragmented patterning. We practice in the session on how to do this and learn how to use life dilemmas as opportunities to practice shifting into their preferred Self outside of the session. One of the reason this type of therapy is much quicker than most psychotherapy is because it is empowering and clients can practice between sessions. The shift in mindset that I am responsible for which “self” I send in to deal with dilemmas is an empowering game-changer.
AN EXAMPLE OF CATCHING CLIENTS IN CLEAR EMPOWERED STATE. What I do is catch you when you are in an empowered state (however brief it may be) while you are sharing your painful dilemma. When you are in a limbic state that is confidently and clearly saying, “My boyfriend never listens to me”; I’ll tactfully interrupt and invite you to pay attention to that clear and confident Self that is showing up (which happens to be informing 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 have when you are in a Self that is clear and confident. I invite you to notice “which self” is discussing the dilemma. I will help you bask in the preferred state while noticing what it feels like to be in your Self.
We might spend a lot of time stabilizing the ability to stay grounded in your preferred Self and after it is stabilized, look at the initial problem. A client stabilized in her Organic Self has a relaxed, clear confident response towards their initial dilemma of “My boyfriend never listens to me.”
The key isn’t what they do, it is that it is coming from their Self and there is a rightness in their emotions, body, and felt sense of self. They don’t have to fight to be taken seriously or accommodate to the other without asking for what they want, or pretend things are fine when they are not; having access to their innate Self, they have access to appropriate solutions that their fragmented selves that they were previously operating from didn’t have access to.
When one is in their Self rather than a learned fragmented patterned self, there are lots of possibilities:
Now that they are in their grounded Self, they operate from their own compass and develop solutions to their problems without me telling them what to do. They naturally come up with solutions like saying calmly, “I can help him learn how to listen to me in a way that really lands with me.” Or they say, “it is clear that this relationship isn’t what I need and I need to move on and find somebody that can listen to me.” Or they say, “This is so sad, I’ve spent so many years trying to make this work” (they grieve a real loss). Or they say, “I will ask him to get help learning how to listen via therapy or a book, etc. and stay with him if he upgrades his ability to be loving to me.”
COMMON FRAGMENTED SELVES THAT POP UP:
Because our fragmented auto-pilot selves have such deep grooves in our brains and we are in a bad habit of using them, usually a fragmented strategy-self pops up to interrupt the organic self.
PROTESTER STRATEGY. For example, there might be a fragmented self that formed was formed in a family system 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. The protester strategy is fighting for the right thing but is stuck in a tight limbic system that needs to fight to be taken seriously.
HOOP JUMPER STRATEGY. 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 great 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 nobody is really going to be there for me and their boyfriend not wanting to listen is evidence of that. A strategy could evolve
MY OPINION ON SOME OTHER TYPE OF THERAPIES: A lot of therapists informed from a psycho-dynamic 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. They patiently listen to the client vent about the dilemmas and their patterns 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. If a client is constantly venting from a fragmented self in therapy, they could be exacerbating their fragmented self by using that neural network rather than learning that it is possible to operate from a preferred neural network of their Self.
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.
THERAPIES THAT FOCUS ON “CORRECTIVE EMOTIONAL EXPERIENCES”: 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 neural pathways in our brain that are organized around wounding and start using the part of our brain that knows we are worthwhile and identify our Self language aka, “this is who I am”, then all of reality is experienced differently.
Instead of fixing the mal-adaptive 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 patterned responses 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.
A METAPHOR FOR WHY WE DEVELOP STRATEGIES: 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 scratched goggles are off, do we discover that we already had sufficient vision.
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 or 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 and vision is already hard wired into us.
In this type of therapy, we notice our deep thought patterns that make us drawn to put our scratched up goggles on. We learn that it is an option to take our scratched glasses off and we learn how to tell the difference between living with our scratched up glasses and living with our natural eyes.
“He who has eyes, let him see,” Jesus. 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.
WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A preferred “Self” and a mal-adaptive “self”?
The languaging of this is a little bit difficult because our language focuses more on experiences rather than states of being.
I will use different language with different people while referring to the same concepts. Words I use to describe the Self include: Self, My Core, My “I am”, my “Organic Self”, My Spirit, This is who Todd is (using my name). I will capitalize the word “Self” in referring to my preferred “I Am” self.
Languaging for non-preferred “selves”. I’ve called them “strategies”, “fragments”, “shards”, “learned patterns”, “self (with a small s)”.
WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A “Self” and a “self”?
When I am my “Core Self”, there is a rightness in my limbic system. This means my body and emotions have a sense of rightness. When I am in a learned “strategy self” there is always a qualitatively different limbic state. There is a tightness. It doesn’t quite feel right in my body or my emotions.
The Self is an open system. This means that biologically, I have the ability to use different neural networks in my brain and can appropriately shift. It is capable of learning, empathy, and self-advocacy. It can ask for what it wants without being tight and a sense of equanimity. It is capable of listening and having different ideas. It is capable of empathy and love. It has access to all human emotions and feels them appropriately. The Self has “free will”.
The “strategic self” is a closed system. This means when it is firing a certain neural-network is firing. The network that is firing is the specific network that got created in your brain that needed that specific network to fire to help you get through a jam. It worked at some point, otherwise it wouldn’t be there. It does not have the capacity to access other networks in the brain. It can only do what it does. In that sense, it doesn’t have “free will”. It is pre-destined. When a “strategic self” is firing, it has it’s own personality, desires, wants, feeling states. It thinks it is “you”. It feels real because it is in a sense because there really are neural networks firing and running the show. But it is not real in the sense that it is a repeating looping pattern that only has access to re-looping. Jon Eisman who created R-CS refers to them as “trances”. I think that languaging is weird because of media stereotypes of a person being in a “trance” can be very different from what is happening. But it is a “trance” in the sense that it does not have access to other parts of the brain.
DON’T I NEED MY STRATEGIC SELVES IN ORDER TO FUNCTION IN THE WORLD?
No. Our “strategic selves” may be highly adaptive and driven and help us get things done. But we can get the same things and more done from our Self.
For example, my “hoop jumper self” learned that if I jumped through hoops I could get connection. If I perform well, if I get all A’s, if I do the ‘right’ thing, etc. then I can get connection from other people and feel worthwhile. The disadvantage of this self is it doesn’t believe I am worthy of connection and internally already worthwhile and worthy of love. It believes I have to accomplish A, B, and C in order to get there somehow. And when this self is firing, I never get there. The carrot eternally dangles in front of my nose and I have to chase it.
But when I am in my Organic Self, I know I am worthwhile. I have a felt sense of innate value that is already there and does not have to be earned. I’m already me. I’m already loveable. Now, this me, can still have preferences and prefer A’s over D’s. This me can still have a healthy desire to learn how to be a better therapist rather than a mediocre one. But what is missing isn’t the drive but the contaminated sense of self that gets attached to the “hoop jumper’s” self.
The “hoop jumper self” biologically hijacked a part of my brain that has drive. It, without my permission is using My Organic Self’s brain to accomplish it’s own mission. When I am my Organic Self, I already have that part of my brain that has drive. But I also have access to parts of my brain that the “hoop jumper” doesn’t. I know I am worthwhile. I’m precious. I know what it feels like to be clear. I can have empathy for myself and others.
HOW CAN I TELL IF I AM IN A “Self” or a “strategic self”?
When clients ask me, “how can I tell if I am in a Self or a ‘strategic self’?” The answer is amazingly simple. I say, “If you wished the state that you are in right now upon me for 24 hours a day and 7 days a week, would that be a “blessing” or a “curse”? If it is a curse, they are in a strategy. If it is a blessing, then they are operating from within their Core Self.