This is the entry that I try to finish the week before going on holiday. So to make it somewhat easier I thought I would try to combine psychology and Lego. Here it goes.
In the past few weeks, with various clients, I used an example of the brain built out of Lego. Specifically our brain’s ability to pay attention to stuff, or not, depending on the brain in question and our development of very important concepts like attention, patience, withholding immediate gratification, mindfulness, self acceptance, conflict, and vulnerability. All topics that by themselves are daunting and challenging, and have shown up here or there in past blogs of mine.
So this time we will use Lego or Legos to simplify our experiment.
To start this exercise off I want you to imagine a room built out of Lego. Scale is important, so when I begin to imagine this room, I think of a room built to the scale of the little Lego sized people. The Lego minifigures are two inches tall according to people who know that sort of thing. Your Lego room may not involve the people, but let’s face it: the Lego people are really cool. And then we can all imagine our little Lego homunculus (or homunculi) inside.
We all start with one big room. It is where our attention is focused primarily. Its function is to deal with any present need that we have. It can be big like a Viking long house, with ornate fireplaces at both ends, a wooden (lego) roof, and a long table with benches and filled with Lego cups and plates and other decorations. Maybe your Lego brain room just has a foldable chair and a potted plant. Or it is decorated in nothing but mid century modern Lego style. If that is your thing, all right then. Maybe it goes on and on, endlessly like something out of Doctor Who—but keep in mind this is where your ability to attend to things lives: there has to be a limit somewhere. But it is entirely your room. It can say whatever you want to say about yourself and your preferences. But it should also be true.
Unless you enjoy taking part in mental exercises where you lie to yourself. I don’t recommend that.
For some people their room can fill up rather quickly due to the demands of interacting with their environment. I imagine a lot of Lego minipeople running around my Viking dinning room. Aliens, dogs, snowmen, whatever. It’s my brain and I get to decide what represents what inside of it. The more full our big room gets, the more stress we are apt to feel, the more overloaded or overwhelmed as well.
Some people like a busy room. Some like a quieter room. Some of us are extroverts just as some of us are introverts.
Some of us are going to feel more vulnerable with a certain level of activity in that room than others would. Some people have very, very full rooms before they even begin to get anxious or vulnerable on a scale of 3 or 4.
The great thing about Legos and this model is that you can always build more rooms that are connected to the main room. I called them antechambers (since my Lego brain room wants to be a castle, apparently) but you can call them whatever you want.
As a therapist, when working, I have a number of counseling specific antechambers that open up when I am with a client. One room is full of my own personal reactions and emotions that get stirred up doing emotional work. That would be called the countertransference antechamber. I have a room that is also there just to observe the kinds of things that go into the countertransference antechamber. That would be called the Observing Ego Antechamber. I deal with those two rooms much later, after the session is over and the client is gone.
My need as a therapist is to be emotionally available and present to the needs of my client, therefore, I put my needs (a hundred or just one) into an antechamber so that I can focus on my client’s needs. I make my castle/viking/sometimes a spaceship Lego room available to mirror whatever my client is sharing with me. That would be required (in this example) to create an environment conducive for empathy to exist.
I do that because I have had practice. And because I have some capacity to do it at all.
Not all people are created equally. Not all people are as adept at moving needs and attention from the main room to an antechamber.
Some people may not even know how to use antechambers.
Every thing that happens to them happens in that one big Lego room. And they can have great difficulty putting things off, or prioritizing, or dealing with anxiety (used in the most general sense).
Anxiety, in this example, is the sort of feeling that we can all develop where we lose touch with our ability to focus on what is immediate and what is clear (or what is in the main room) at the moment.
Content from other rooms come flooding into the main room, and it is quite distracting. Obvious examples of this are when the work antechamber or the money antechamber floods our big room. Relationships, family, intimacy and trust also have a way of flooding our main Lego room with needs that never seem to stop, well, needing our attention.
I think building specific antechambers happens whether we mean to or not. I have specific rooms for specific family members. I have rooms built for past romantic partners. Rooms built for past negative experiences or traumas or memory specific rooms. Rooms specific to hobbies, or moods, or appetites. Build enough related antechambers, like family, and you have yourself a wing of antechambers devoted to family. Or a wing consisting of rooms containing intense emotions. A wing for past jobs, etc. We do this to give some clarity to all the many different connections and experiences that exist in our minds.
The things we struggle with, for example, negative self talk, or criticism, is like the contents of that one big (perhaps huge) room spilling out of its specific room and invading our central room and getting in the way of us being happy, or dancing with the Vikings on the tables, or whatever.
PTSD would be an example of where the emotions and the experience of a particular situation not just leaves its assigned room, but takes over the main room causing us to experience symptoms and reactions of the event again as if it were happening in the present moment.
Does that make sense?
I hope this playful but completely feasible example of the mind helps the next time you are having some anxiety or an unwanted experience. Imagine taking that content and creating an antechamber for it, and shutting the door. That could allow one to better focus on what you want to focus on in the main room. You can always go back to that antechamber later when the time is right.
Let’s talk more about this Lego model in a few weeks. Until then!