Be kind to those you meet. And that starts with being kind to yourself first.
Take care. We have lots more to talk about in 2017.
Be kind to those you meet. And that starts with being kind to yourself first.
2016 is really turning out to be a year we all wish we could forget, isn’t it? I know I am still trying to figure out how to grieve for the passing of David Bowie and the hits keep coming.
After the election results came in (as if the campaigning before the election wasn’t exhausting enough) and people began sharing more and more worries on social media, a fellow therapist announced they were taking a break from social media and this unleashed torrent of “terror sharing.”
I like the phrase so much I am borrowing it.
It has been more difficult I think for all of us to take good care of ourselves now that terror sharing won’t really stop for the next four years here in the United States.
There have been plenty of terms used before to describe this before the election of 2016: worst case scenario, pessimistic, cynical, perseverating, future based worry, emotional thinking, trying to predict the future, projecting our fears onto our environment, etc.
Terror sharing does the trick though. It works.
Terror sharing has the capacity for us to feel vulnerable in a way that didn’t exist before. Or maybe it is just a new way to experience an old kind of fear.
It is important to see terror sharing as a real means of daily and habitual stress.
In the past I have mentioned the one psychology acronym I have committed to long term memory. It comes from DBT and it is HALT: Hungry, Angry, Lonely and Tired.
If you or someone near you is HALTING, then chances are your ability to communicate and be emotionally available are not at their ideal levels. Just add another T to the end of HALT for Terror Sharing. Or Trump if you prefer.
Much of what brings a person into therapy to begin with is our own relationship to the idea of control. The control we have over our lives, or lack thereof. The control others are trying to exert on us. Or how our environment can feel controlling.
Now, with this election, we have a whole new way of experiencing that terror.
As a country we all are being forced to come to grips with how the personality of the president elect will impact our own experience of control over these next four years.
You are not alone. If anytime has been more of a right time for all of us to unite and work together as a people I can’t think of a better time than now.
Consider volunteering or organizing locally.
Too much terror sharing can make one irritable, unhappy, disconcerted, fearful about the future. And with good reason.
Be kind out there friends. Most importantly be kind to yourselves.
I get asked from time to time what does my weird, professional world view of people make me think about, I don’t know, the variety and differences in human suffering. Fair question to a counselor, I suppose.
So the word that came to mind was: Fragile. Or at least the way I conceive of the word in relationship to human behavior.
When I use the word Fragile I am trying to describe a complex set of human behaviors and beliefs one could have about themselves. Living in the world that we all inhabit being this kind of Fragile is really, really difficult.
Fragile is related to emotional reactivity. A lot. In a way being Fragile means having very few options to deal with our own emotional selves. That is not absolutely true for all of us, as you should know. But struggling with this kind of Fragile is absolutely harder for some of us than it is for others, but we can always learn, adapt and grow.
I am sure you can think of people who you know who are at least “more” fragile than yourself. That seems to be the way we compare it to ourselves. If someone is “more” fragile than us, then maybe that’s not a good idea. Or it bothers us at least.
Fragile crosses lots of boundaries. Extreme political correctness might be a Fragile characteristic. The “safe spaces” movement in universities may be an indication of Fragile. White privilege and white fragility are definitely about being Fragile. Polarizing beliefs, black and white thinking, Fox News versus MSNBC, are all examples of being Fragile. Blaming others but never taking responsibility for one’s own actions is probably the biggest behavior behind Fragile.
Being Fragile is all about what separates us from others (and poorly at that) than what brings us together in unity, and in strength.
Consider an egg. The shell is this tiny, thin covering that protects the heavier more vulnerable inside.
The inside is where all the value is. No wonder eggs are such a powerful metaphor about life.
Whether you eat the whole egg or just the egg whites for your omelette, no one thinks twice about that cracked shell—except hopefully to compost it.
Some times some people develop in a way that they only feel like they are the shells without anything left inside. To use the Lego room model from last time, these are the same people who only have the one big Lego room to house everything about themselves. No antechambers. No way of venting off powerful emotion except to be overwhelmed by any emotional reaction one might have. I don’t know about you, but that sounds positively exhausting to me.
If there is an opposite to Fragile it is Flexible. Next time we could explore that more, but it should be no surprise for those of you who have been following for a while now.
By deciding not to be Fragile, one must acknowledge their innate vulnerability. And ironically by accepting our vulnerability, we exercise bravery and strength. Two things we most definitely will need in our life. Two things that coincidentally the shell completely lacks.
The power is inside of us all. Don’t let anything or anyone tell you otherwise.
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!
Time for something different, and an actual tool to use with all of the latest talk around our own vulnerability. I perused the internet and didn’t find a very exciting scale already out there, so I decided we can make our own damn scale.
The Therapy is Dandy Vulnerability Scale.
It’s easy to use, and this post will tell you all about it.
The first key feature of this scale is there is no such thing as a point on the scale where you feel no sense of vulnerability. Vulnerability is inevitable. Life is a constant state of vulnerability. Most of us may not have to struggle for food, water or shelter on a daily basis, or avoid running into bears of snakes, but we are here to survive. And that survival is not guaranteed. Right?
There are only 5 stages on this scale. The higher the level of vulnerability, the more difficult it will be for us to maintain calm mindfulness and rational problem solving behaviors. Said another way, the higher on the vulnerability scale we go, the more emotionally reactive we can become. Unless we practice our mindfulness, our awareness, and our deep, calm, and soothing breaths. Yet another way of saying it is, the more vulnerable we feel, the more likely our reptilian brain will respond with fight/flight/flee responses UNLESS we develop the expectation of this occurring and then practice our mindfulness skills thanks to our great big prefrontal cortex.
One of the things I find annoying about scales (other than this one) and anything that tries to be helpful by being reductive is that they all tends to generalize too much for the sake of the scale.
People. You. Me. Your mom, are going to experience vulnerability differently. So, my standard level of vulnerability (SLV for short) is going to look very different than yours, or your mothers, or Donald Trumps. That is perhaps why no good scale exists. And it may be why this scale is a bad idea to attempt. But I am going to try it.
To address this issue, I have included some examples. These examples will not be in exactly the same place for everyone. Remember, as a certain Prisoner one declared: you are not a number, you are a person. An individual. If your SLV is triggered by an event your partner would put on level 1 but you react to it as a level 3, then clearly this is really important information for you and your partner to know.
Every example given on the scale is possibly a level 1, 2, 3, and 4 for some of us. I am including them in the order provided to give a sense of the continuum of vulnerability that any of these events may cause someone. For someone with PTSD from past military service for example, fireworks may or may not be a level 2 event. The same adjustment would apply for an experienced ER nurse and her reaction to seeing blood at work, as opposed to a fresh out of graduate school kindergarten teacher seeing blood at work. Your experiences will affect your SLV accordingly. But I have put something down as a starting point for us to consider. Maybe the best thing for you to do after reading this post is come up with your own examples for each level that accurately represent your vulnerability.
If you believe in your own invulnerability, or that such a thing truly exists, I direct you to your local bookstore’s fantasy/sci-fi/comics section(s). And happy reading. I mean it. Read some Neil Gaiman, it might teach you something about the universality of vulnerability.
Level 1 Baseline Vulnerability.
Like how it feels to be reading this blog. Or for me to be writing this blog. Or being on a regular airplane flight with negligible turbulence. No big whoop. Unless it is, if simply reading this blog is elevating your sensitivity to being vulnerable, then try level 2.
Level 2 Mild Vulnerability.
Like a first date, a job interview that you feel prepared and confident about, driving in regular but busy traffic, a single woman walking down a busy urban street with at least one friend. You being a client at your counseling session talking about easy topics. Waiting in line at an airport through regular security. Unless it is not that simply. If not, then you need to look at level 3.
Level 3 Heightened Vulnerability.
Like your wedding day and/or the day you receive divorce papers, a job interview for your dream job when you have a hangover, driving in bumper to bumper traffic without air conditioning, a single woman walking down a busy urban street, alone, while being catcalled by men who should know better. You at your counseling session in the middle of an empty chair exercise. Being asked out of the airport security line into one of those examination rooms. Being on an airplane with a lot of turbulence.
Level 4 Intense Vulnerability.
A car accident or a near miss of a serious car accident. A physical fight. An act of violence. A panic attack. Witnessing any of these things happening in front of you to someone else.
Level 5 Flight/Flight/Flee. It doesn’t get any higher than this.
So now that the basic framework is done for the scale, how about you come up with examples that illustrate each level of appropriate anxiety for yourself? Next time we can work on it a little more, I think. (Sorry Donald T, I don’t really want to talk about you.)
Until next time, friends.
That’s the question that starts us off this time.
It is part mindfulness, part emotional intelligence, part je ne sais quoi.
It’s the opposite of emotional reactivity. Indeed, when we are being emotionally reactive, that is exactly what is preventing us from being able to look outside of our own experience and attempt to ask the question: what is this (other) person feeling right now?
Emotional reactivity isn’t the only explanation for why some of us are not that great at asking the question, “How is this person feeling right now?”but it is definitely something we all can learn to do better. Those of us who are introverts or have some form of social anxiety could do well to remember this kind of question. Because it gets us out of our own heads. It forces us to interact with our environment and slowly, hopefully, to the realization that not everything is as terrible as what we think (in our own heads).
It is a very excellent question to begin asking yourself whenever a conversation between you and friend, or partner or family member begins to get heated. And rather than step on the gas and keep to your talking points (your content), slow down and pay attention to your process. What are you feeling right now, and why is everything getting so heated all of a sudden? It’s a skill, more than anything. So that means you are going to need to practice it.
Even during a conversation like the one above and maybe it’s the other person who seems to be getting emotionally worked up. You, the listening person, can ask them directly—hey, what are you feeling right now? This is a great approach. You are slowing down the conversation, you are bringing both sides of the conversation into greater awareness of what feelings are erupting. You are also showing the other person that you see them reacting—this is very important, even if the person is angry as heck at you, you are in a sense validating that they have strong feelings at that moment!
A former client shared the following with me. It was during our last session and they wanted to share with me something about what they had learned during their time in therapy. “We stay with feelings and explore our feelings (even when they suck) to better experience those emotions without judgment. We do all of this in order to be okay with ourselves and (accept) our feelings. To get back to feeling okay, with ourselves, our environment, the entire universe.”
Very well said. The idea of experiencing emotions without judgment is good not just for us, but for when we interact with others too
So what can be said when someone is not very good at asking: what is this person feeling right now? I think I have an example.
I may have told this story before, but it is worth repeating in this context. During my practicum in graduate school I was assigned a client who was housebound due to her diagnosis of agoraphobia.
Weekly therapy consisted of home visits. One piece of advice the former and more experienced counselor of this client gave to me was to encourage a kind of reframing of the client’s perspective. In other words, to challenge what can be an extremely limiting and debilitating disorder. A person with agoraphobia—to greatly simplify matters—doesn’t feel safe except at their own home, or sometimes even their own bedroom. Part of the persistent negative self talk (funny isn’t it how that shows up everywhere?) can be worries and fears that when outside of the house, other people are judging them, critiquing them, or otherwise intrusively watching them.
So, the piece of advice I was given was to try to be irreverent with my client’s debilitating condition. Doesn’t sound easy does it? It isn’t but that didn’t stop me. Part of therapy is to challenge our own erroneous or false beliefs and expectations. The client in question didn’t just have agoraphobia, but she was also diagnosed with PTSD. She had experienced many traumas in her life. The idea that she had to be on guard at all times, vigilant, is a common reaction to a person who has been assaulted. That kind of mindset can lead a person to answering the very real question: am I safe here? With a definitive NO, I AM NOT SAFE. And so being home is the only place where that fear is lessened.
This client eventually did improve. And we progressed to the point where I would go to the grocery store with her and was present to help her process her internal negative self talk. The client’s concern about being safe and people watching her every move at the grocery store came up almost immediately. The irreverent question that I began asking her ended up being something along the lines of: What makes you so special? Do you really think all these people at the store are really staring at you? Are you so special that strangers are going out of their way to watch you?
In a way the irreverent questions were a kind of back door approach for the client to evaluate the question for herself: What am I feeling right now? And what she was feeling was fear, and fright and all kinds of things. But she could stop herself from erroneously thinking that the other grocery shoppers were out to get her, or were serious threats to her. The fear remained for her, but it was something she learned to better manage. And that is something we all need to learn how to do well.
Getting back to the question then: What is this (other) person feeling right now?
The question can also show up in couples therapy often. Despite one’s best intentions, a partner may lose sight of what their partner is indeed feeling (right now). Some partners may be unfortunately poorly equipped to ask this question or even guess at the answer.
Asking yourself the question from time to time is good practice. Taking note of whatever seems interesting or important to you. I am feeling happy and excited at the moment. And why is that? I might ask myself. Because my caseload is expanding again, I am on three different insurance panels now, and I am hours away from a mini vacation. Or I just got off the phone with my father and am feeling both sad and angry about a situation I seem to not be able to change. Fair enough. I just did a self-assessment.
Now you try it.
And keep at it.
Next time! More Trump? Maybe?
The Therapy is Dandy’s Guidebook to having a Narcissist for a Parent (and Potential President). Chapter 26.
If my calendar is right, it has been since November of 2014 since I have added a new “chapter” to the guidebook. Happy to be back in it. Sit down and buckle up. We will make up for lost time.
Honestly I did not think this update needed to be written back in 2015 when Trump announced his intention to run for president. There would be so many articles critiquing him, attacking him, just dismissing him as (just) another entitled white male with incredibly thin skin. And there have been hundreds of articles about just all that. Thousands even? But he is still winning despite everything. So here I am, back in the guidebook business.
On one hand, the last thing I think the world needs is another article about him. It doesn’t stop the rollercoaster he and the United States seem to be on. If anything the attention—negative, condescending or shaming—just seems to keep him going.
So let’s refresh ourselves with some narcissistic traits:
INFLATED SENSE OF SELF
According to this research, narcissists are not necessarily unaware of their grandiose behavior—they may actually revel in it. With that acceptance of their grandiosity is also their belief that other people are less important than they are. So not only would Trump be flattered that there is yet another article being written about him, he would also assume those of you reading such an article are less intelligent, less successful—just less than he believes himself to be.
And this is perhaps why he seems so unflappable to criticism up to this point. His point of view could very well be: oh, these peasants, they just don’t understand. How simple they are. I can’t make myself understood by them. That’s why I surround myself with only the best people.
This speaks to the experience we all may have in trying to address our grievances to a narcissist. They just don’t see other people as on the same page as themselves.
INORDINATELY HIGH SELF ESTEEM:
I don’t need to give an example of this for him, do I? I mean this characteristic probably deserves its own new Oxford dictionary endorsed adjective: trump-like. The guy is only ever talking about how amazing, incredible, how beautiful everything about his life is.
Earlier in the year, I had an exchange online and the issue that came up for me was that Trump is more like a caricature of a narcissist. An uber narcissist. A narcissist in an anime film about real estate developers—he is just so over the top in his character, that unfortunately the perception of the public may turn to assuming that all narcissists have to act and look like a Donald Trump.
You know that is not true. It isn’t even close. But the word narcissism is being linked to Trump the way the New York Times links hipsters and Portland, Oregon
The danger here is having him represent the entire spectrum of Narcissistic Personality Disorder, or even the gray area of narcissistic enough.
Trump can’t be the poster boy for narcissism for the very reason it would give almost every other narcissist alive a way to duck the accusation: What, I am not a narcissist—I am nothing like Donald Trump, you know that!
ENTERTAINS UNREALISTIC FANTASIES ABOUT SUCCESS AND POWER
He likes to tell us he is great at winning. He is also making ridiculous promises. Promises he just keeps repeating with no realistic attempt at explaining. And when that wall (or whatever) doesn’t get built, he will surely have a scapegoat to blame rather than his own unrealistic expectations. All that anger he is going to redirect to whatever he wants to point it at—the muslims, politicians, liberals, the media, Congress, single mothers, whoever.
So why is he winning? Great question. Why am I even trying to answer that question? With apologies to Game of Thrones, I drink and I know things about narcissism.
He is promising an unattainable reality, and speaking in simple, basic repetitive mantras that only a frightened child could believe to be true. He is himself a fiction selling a fiction to a population that is overly frightened and ripe to be manipulated. We live in a frightening, violent, unkind world whatever your race, gender, or affiliation is. And we seem to have hit a wall where it comes to believing that the powers that be can fix things for us. Life is complicated and the answers to those complicated problems involve complicated solutions. But the people on main street don’t feel like they can wait for that. They are hungry, they are poor, and they are tired. So here comes a confident, successful man selling a fiction to a scared, tired, overworked population looking for salvation and peace. And like a child who knows no better, the downtrodden people believe what the narcissist promises. Because the child also believes that they themselves have no power to affect real change.
But you know that’s not true.
All right. It might be a good place to stop for now. More in the next installment. I seem to be back up to posting twice a month.
Thank you for being here.
In the past I have admitted I make many warfare analogies in sessions with clients. If you are a client, you know this to be true. I am a product of my environment, what can I say.
As we all are.
I have lately been coming up with sports analogies for some reason. I am not a big sports guy at all (sorry Portland Timbers), and so I then apologize for using sports analogies. I probably don’t need to apologize for that in session, but I do.
Recently though, something else happened. I made a driving analogy, completely spontaneously, and I think it is probably one of the best I have come up with.
Analogy or maybe allegory. I can’t believe I can’t make up my mind which it is. The internet is not helping this former English Major with what literary device I am using. If you care at all, you tell me.
So let’s get down to it.
I am very aware that in therapy a precipice can emerge when a client gets to a place where they want to know what to do next. It may be a very specific kind of question or a very existential kind of question.
And the response from the counselor can be anything but specific. What do you think you should do next, is a gem many of you might have heard. I agree with you, that one leaves a lot to be desired.
This, I think, is the intersection between the two perspectives of therapeutic work: content and process. The question—what should I do next—is very much content. What is the next step up this difficult mountain of self-actualization? When a question like that gets asked in therapy, I would bet money most of us professionals would respond with something about process.
What I actually said to my client at an intersection like this was something along the lines of: If you didn’t have this point of view that you needed to know what to do next, what would you be doing or feeling instead?
What do you think? Do you see what I am trying to do there?
At the end of the session I came back to this statement, and I said: look, I can understand that a lot of what I have said to you today may sound like I am asking you to take your hands off the steering wheel. I am not asking that. I am suggesting you let up on the gas—just a little bit.
Better? Better than sports analogies any way.
If the steering wheel is our intellect, our thoughts, beliefs, behaviors and cognitions, then the gas pedal is representative of our emotions, our drives, our impulses—of which many of these are to avoid pain or to avoid experiencing fear.
We want to let up on the gas so that you can see the scenery—your environment—more clearly. That’s the awareness part. Things are a blur when you are driving past them at 90 miles an hour. Things and people in our life are a blur when we are full of intense emotions. Anger, fear, rage, sadness, they all distort what we see in our environment.
Everyone shows up to therapy with a tendency to either focus entirely on the steering wheel or on the gas pedal. We may be this way because it is what we have learned in life we are good at. It may often times be the easiest of the two aspects of therapy for us. Men who are glued to that fucking steering wheel don’t want to let go, believe me. But they are amazed when you remind them they have the gas pedal too. And on the other side of the spectrum, you have people potentially terrified of putting their hands on the steering wheel at all because their life has taught them that the safest thing to do is to slam on the brakes and just not move anywhere.
Steering wheel and gas pedal. Thoughts and feelings. We as humans have control, use, and difficulties with both. They are totally different but very connected to each other things. And we have to learn to appreciate how they do different things for us. That’s it.
So, back to the original idea of a client who gets to a place where they want to know what to do next.
What do they do next? The question is a steering wheel kind of question, isn’t it? The answer is a gas pedal kind of answer. If you want to know what to do next, maybe its because you need to slow the hell down. And appreciate the view—and then maybe what you need to do next will be clear to you. Or speed up perhaps. Where the hell do you think you are going anyway? It’s your mind. It’s your trip. The point is to enjoy both. You can’t do that if you don’t know how to slow down, or you never even try to get the car out of the driveway…
Lastly, the question: What do I do next? Is in its own way a question about, How do I change? Change is multidimensional. There is what you do and how you do it. The steering wheel and the gas pedal. Also, change is the interaction of how you do it effecting what you do. How fast or how slow you drive effects the kinds of steering decisions you are going to be faced with.
I hope this is helpful. I just hope it is better than my lame sports analogy (can’t bring myself to share those).
For next time: I think it is high time for The Therapy is Dandy Guidebook to having a Narcissist for a Parent to return for a special update. That’s right, the Donald Trump edition is way past due. I have been sitting on this one for about 9 months now, and I better share it soon and maybe do a few of them. There is just too much not to talk about. It’s going to be very painful…
That’s basically today’s suggestion. I mean it. Maybe not literally, but at least for you and those you trust to know what is on your hypothetical-if-not-real-therapy t-shirt. I have had bad ideas when it comes to t-shirts in the past, but I don’t think this one is so bad.
Last time there was a lot of talk about negative self talk and the vulnerability we try to hide from. So putting our biggest vulnerability on a t-shirt is a sign that you are no longer willing to accept your own mind’s perceived status quo. It’s strange, I admit, but also totally fearless. Bruce Lee would be, I imagine, proud of us.
I can’t take credit for the origin of this idea. A fellow counselor in Portland shared the idea in what seemed to be a rather spontaneous suggestion. So, thank you for that.
The message on our t-shirt—metaphorical, literal, or otherwise, is the vulnerable belief, fear, worry that when triggered, we feel our most vulnerable. And then from that vulnerability we react defensively, emotionally, critically, angrily, to whoever it was that triggered our vulnerability.
In past blogs, and in Gestalt therapy, I have used the term introject. An introject is a belief, idea, or process that we have about ourselves that can have a negative affect on our behavior. Introjects come from our environment, from what people may have said about us, maybe by how we were punished, or praised, or just observed. We can pick up introjects from anywhere really. But influential people and close relationships are the usual suspects involved. We can have many, many introjects, just like vulnerabilities. The introject is what goes on the t-shirt. The word vulnerability is just clearer and more of an obvious concept. I can’t imagine an honest person admitting to having no vulnerabilities whatsoever. Unless I was talking to Superman. But most people would just shake their head at you if you asked them what their introjects were.
Because we may have many if not dozens of vulnerabilities, try to distill yours down to a central theme. There could be a lot of similar sounding branches of the same vulnerability tree.
Examples of what your t-shirt might have on it. Feel free to email me with what you come up with, and I will add it to this list.
Am I important?
Am I good enough?
Does anyone love me?
Am I loveable?
Everything is my fault.
I am broken/lazy/bad/etc.
I have a secret.
I can’t fail.
What if I fail?
What if I am wrong?
I feel empty.
I am empty.
I gave up.
No one cares.
Do I matter?
No one listens to me.
I have to make others happy.
I am afraid.
I don’t know what I am doing.
I am trapped.
I destroy things/people/happiness.
Obviously there is potential for a lot of our messages to be very close to others, just derivations of the primary message. That’s okay. It is your message, remember. No one can tell you that you are wrong.
What we secretly believe and experience as our vulnerability may in fact surprise the heck out of those we share it with. That speaks volumes to how well or effective we might be at hiding that particular vulnerability. It also speaks to the nature of vulnerability. What we are secretly afraid of being vulnerable about, no one else thinks we are that thing. So, that kind of unexpected reveal is really a very important thing to find out!
Go forth and be brave. Just admitting our vulnerabilities to ourselves is all we need to do first.
Next time, we are going driving. Honest.
I haven’t had an opportunity to talk about Bruce Lee for a while and it occurred to me last time that all this talk about interrupting negative self talk also had me thinking about intercepting them, as in The Way of the Intercepting Fist, aka Jeet Kune Do.
So, let’s interrupt and intercept together! It will be like church, but without all the boring parts. And Bruce Lee is way more charismatic than, well, most people.
Today’s question is: if we get to the place where we interrupt and intercept all those critical, negative self talk messages in the interiority of our minds, what would happen next?
Let me try to ask that question in another way.
What if the negative self talk and critical bs that we throw at ourselves is really only the distracting ruse from the real villain in the movie that is your life?
Let me clarify one more time.
What if the negative self talk is the maladaptive way in which we avoid the real (if only perceived as) danger to ourselves?
Sound promising? I agree.
The real danger, well what is it?
Consider the many things we have been talking about. And I mean since I began this blog. Our fight/flight/freeze response to stress. How shame manifests regarding our failures and perceived weaknesses. Our need for attachment and validation from family and friends and loved ones. Our anger and our frustration when we are denied the latter and held hostage by the former.
What if on some wacky illogical emotional fulcrum, our negative self talk is less damaging to us than the real villain in this story?
What if we do all these terrible things to ourselves to avoid feeling vulnerable?
For a four syllable word vulnerable does have a lot of oomph. But for my money it doesn’t have nearly enough.
I want to suggest that vulnerable is one of the most important words for all of us to consider. Our relationship to it, our experience(s) of it, our beliefs and actions about ours but also others, has a tremendous impact on our mental health, our lives, and our pursuit of happiness.
We as a people have built actual walls in the past to keep out the undesirables, to stave off our (again, perceived) vulnerability to those undesirables. And that idea of building walls to keep undesirables out hasn’t really lost its appeal, unfortunately for voters in the 2016 presidential election. Our negative self talk are the walls we erect within our own interiority to avoid feeling that most terrible of terrible things: our own sense of vulnerability.
In this way of thinking about vulnerability, it is crucial to understand that what we are intercepting, what we are interrupting, is our own personal history regarding the unbearable experience of feeling vulnerable.
That’s something worth fighting, isn’t it?