“Quit clowning around and get real! ”
Let’s look at the difference between understanding and doing.
One of the curses of living in the West is the mistaken idea that, in order for “life” to get better,
“I have to figure everything out: why I am the way I am, how I got this way, who is to “blame,” etc. Then, and only then, can I look at how what I’ve understood effects me. Then, and only then, can I even contemplate doing things differently. Oh. And I also have to figure out everything everyone else is doing, too!”
Because of this, and not to over-simplify, 90% of what I do is to help people to learn to
- say what they are willing to do, and
- do it.
Notice that I do not say, “Figure themselves out.” Because we can’t.
The reason we can’t is that all we are ever doing is telling ourselves stories. Short of videoing our lives (and, interestingly, I’ve done this with clients, and they still see what they want to see, despite video evidence to the contrary…), all we have are our faulty memories, and we lie to ourselves about their validity, all the time.
My point is, we can argue all day about whether any of your beliefs “make sense,” (most fights between couples are precisely about whose version of reality is ‘right,’) and the odds are we’ll never figure it out because the reality is, there is no ‘right.’
On the other hand, if you simply deal with each thing as if it is something to be acted upon, without figuring out much of anything, you’ll soon have a bank of new experiences to draw upon.
The only way out is to catch ourselves as we play our games, own it out loud to a friend, and shift the behaviour from stasis to action.
Most people, refuse to do this. Instead, they pretend to agree with me, while refusing to shift their behaviour… and they do this by coming up with creative excuses. That way, they think they are doing something, without actually doing anything differently.
If this seems to be your process, you, and “your life” are going to stay “stuck” until you actually change something.
Games People Play
To be human is to tell stories. Our brains do many things well, and a few not so well. Our brains name and categorize, which they absolutely need to do.
I just thought of an illustration, having just visited the john. We all know how to use the taps on the sink. We learned that as kids. So, when we walk into a new bathroom, we categorically know how to operate the tap. In other words, imagine how dumbed down life would be if we couldn’t make the leap from “home tap” to “all taps.”
On the other hand, I notice I still hesitate in public washrooms that have taps with no handles; rather they have infrared sensors. There’s a 1 second pause as my brain goes, “Where the hell is the handle? Oh. Yeah. Infrared.”
This is a demonstration that there is an actual thought process… a process of comparison going on, and I haven’t perfectly set a link between handle and handle-less taps.
Now, all of this categorization is well and good in a material world of things — less helpful in our internal and external experience of people and interactions. Nonetheless, we have ingrained patterns.
What happens is that we have experiences with people and do the categorization thing automatically–we assign the behaviour and the person to a “good/bad” category. The problem is, there is a difference between categorizing “all taps” and “all men,” if by “all men” we are referring to the behaviour of your partner. It’s similar to saying “Everyone knows…” as opposed to “Here is what I think.”
We’ve learned many ways of categorizing ourselves, and categorizing our beliefs about others. Some ways were taught to you by mom and dad, some by your peers, and some you just convinced yourself of. Many are quite wacky, and lead to odd places.
I’ve been working with a 17-year-old who is afraid of loose hair (as in, not attached to her body.)
Head hair: On her head, fine. In her brush or on her hand, she freaks out, screams and throws up.
Body hair and pubic hair: either attached or removed while shaving herself, fine. Leg hairs too long, pubic hair on the floor, or in her underwear, she pukes.
What she has taught herself is no stranger than some of the things you have taught yourself. To unlearn it, she has to stop herself before puking and tell herself a different story. (She cleaned her own hair brush, wearing gloves, last week, the first time in her life, and she didn’t get sick. Ah, progress. : )
Many people have “body stories.”
They hate their weight, they find ways to not enjoy sex, or just feel “out of sorts with themselves.” But remember, there is a big difference between, “I am up 15 pounds and hate myself,” and “I’m up 15 pounds and notice I feel logy and am breathing hard, so I’ll exercise and go on a diet and lose the 15 pounds.”
Interestingly, I had a client who, 6 months after starting a new relationship, will slap on 30–50 pounds (she’s done this a dozen times) and wait for the guy to reject her. She used to play the same game with her father. She’d drink, gain weight, do drugs, and wait for dad to hate her. He never did, and she really frustrated herself over that, as “Anyone should be able to see what a disgusting person I am.”
Eventually, (so far 100%) as she acts weirder and weirder, the guy leaves, and she says, “See? If he really loved me he’d be willing to put up with me. I’m unlovable and attract guys who dump me.” She feels smug satisfaction for being right.
Only thing is, she says she wants a relationship. Hmm.
Thus begins our cycle of doing things designed to drive a wedge between people, to “prove” what we don’t want to prove — that we are unlovable.
Many people are reluctant to do real therapy, because at some deep level they know that assumptions are going to be challenged.
To really engage you have to be willing to be seen — and that can feel entirely too too open — you begin to feel things, so of course it’s easy to choose to avoid having that intimate of an experience. And if you add in bodywork, and it’s even more intimate and “juicy.”
There is a strong part in all of us that wants to avoid actually having experiences, while both fantasizing about them and thinking about what “everyone else” is thinking.
I suspect stuck people are really good at coming up with the ways and means to stop themselves from actually checking out their assumptions by refusing to engage in behaviours that might be stretching.
For example, take relating. I might tell a female client:
“You can care about your partner, but can’t care for (take care of) him, unless you want a dysfunctional, co-dependent relationship. Opening yourself up requires communication — telling him what you are doing to block yourself as you are doing it, then looking for a behaviour to counteract what you are doing. So, if you want to pull away, you say, “I want to pull away right now, so I will for 5 minutes, then I want a hug and cuddle,” or whatever. Elegant relating requires showing him you love him while admitting when you make yourself uncomfortable, self-conscious, or ‘stupid’.”
The proactive approach, by its name and nature, requires that you actually do something. (Do I sound like a broken record yet???)
Thus, the last thing you need is “guiding your thoughts in a more positive direction.” You need to guide your actions in a positive direction while accepting yourself as you do the mental criticism bit. It’s about expressing to others that you are blocking yourself, and letting them know what you’ll choose to do about it. Then, you do it!
Attitude is Everything???
Actually, believing that “attitude is everything” keeps you stuck. That’s an aphorism or affirmation. There’s the odd, New Age belief that if I keep telling myself something long enough, I’ll eventually believe it.
It’s all about getting comfortable in your skin, with your skin, and with the feelings and energies that flow within you. The only way I know to do that is to actually experience it.
Land in yourself, shift from understanding to doing, and, as they say on the shampoo bottle, “Wash. Rinse. Repeat.”