Spending time trying to figure out why things are as they are changes nothing. Changing behaviour is the only way to change what’s happening for you, right now
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So, I’m endlessly grateful for your questions and comments on these posts. And your e‑mails. Lately, I’ve been answering questions about therapy, and have decided to re-write the home page of The Phoenix Centre site to reflect what I do—and especially what I do differently.
Of course, there’s Bodywork.
One of the big differences in what I do involves using Bodywork as an adjunct to talk therapy.
I “discovered” Bodywork at The Haven in 1996, and have been using it ever since, as a method for getting clients into their bodies and aware of the messages and blockages. I’ve written a lot of blog posts about Bodywork, and might even do some more.
Streams of Therapy
Therapy itself comes in lots of streams, or flavours. There is, of course, a developmental history—from Freud to the present day. I’m not going to spend a lot of time on the differences, but one focus might be thought of as “reflective,” and the other “active.”
Reflective therapy is “why” therapy
This approach to therapy goes back to Freud, and suggests that if only we probe the past, we will eventually peel off enough layers to be able to understand how we became the people we are today. Psychoanalysis, the Freudian version of therapy, is built upon this approach.
Active therapy asks, “What now?”
All active therapies (Gestalt work, Cognitive-Behavioural, Humanistic, Transpersonal, etc.) look to one’s “this moment experience.” We examine how well what I am doing right now is working—am I getting the results I want?
I see myself operating in this latter category.
So, last week’s article had the following question in one of the comments:
“My question: in working with my therapist does it do any good, therefore, talking about the times I experienced disconnection as a boy, since there is no cure, only making choices each time a mood arises? Could talking about the past in fact just keep me stuck instead of freeing me?”
We in the West are obsessed with figuring things out. Western science makes it’s living telling us how things work, and typically this is done by breaking things down. Analyzing.
Buddhists find this a bit amusing
They’ll say, “Go over to that car there, and break it down—show us “car-ness.’ ” And of course, it becomes immediately clear that there is no such thing. While we can say unequivocally that cars are made up of myriad parts, the car is only a car as a process. A movement. A here and now-ness.
Same with us. We are not our minds, our brains, our hearts, our guts, although all of those things are part of an ongoing process. We are not our feelings, our urges. We are not our sexuality, not our passion. We “have” all of these things, like a car has a dashboard, seats, and an engine. None of those things, however, define us.
Nor does our past
I know I’m kind of beating the car analogy, but think: my car has a history. It’s constituent parts were stitched together in a factory somewhere, and it was trucked to Waterloo, where it sat on a lot for a year. Then, we bought it. We’ve had it 5 years. It’s been lots of places, and has had regular service.
Does any of this define my car? Of course not. My car is as it is today as a result of what “it’s been through,” but is not any one thing. It’s the sum total of all of it’s experiences, plus “how it is” today.
What happened in the past is simply information
Last winter I wrote about my new, All Weather tires. Still wonderful, btw. Nice not ever having to change tires. But what I wrote about was picking Dar up at the door of a hotel, and nicking the granite curb. In seconds, I had a flat tire.
Now, there is no deep and hidden meaning to this, other than that I was reminded not to hit curbs. Having a flat tire once also did not change my car one iota.
This is so for everything that happens to us. Events in our past do shape who and where we are–they just don’t mean anything. Or better, they mean what I think that they mean.
Back to therapy
If you have endless time and money, I suppose you could enter analysis, and dig and dig. You’d remember stuff, and have all kinds of “Aha!” moments. And you go back, and dig and dig, and you’d have another “Aha!” moment that contradicts the first, and you think, “Now I’m really getting to the core of things!” And you do this for years.
At any point, I believe, we have the “story I tell myself about me and my life.” Each “Aha” shifts the story… “Now I get it! I’m the way I am because my mother hated me!” Then, “No, I’m the way I am because my father was abusive, cold, and distant!” “Wait a minute! I’m the way I am because (wo)men have always manipulated and used me!”
Hopefully, you see this, and recognize it in your own life. How you see yourself is 100% your invention. You are who you appear to yourself to be—and that’s all about the stories you tell yourself.
It’s one reason why holidays can be such “fun”
Ever go home for the holidays, get into reminiscing, and describe some pivotal event in your past? And a sibling or parent says, “That’s not what happened!” or better, “That’s not how I remember it!” Get it? Re-member it. Put it (the thoughts and explanations, not the original experience…) back together.
You see it your way, others see it their way, and everyone is simply telling stories.
Here’s an authentic therapeutic insight
“Wow! I am where I am because of how I have defined myself, and I define myself through the stories I tell myself!” In the question from our reader, above, his “story” is that he has been “disconnected” since he was a boy. This is neither true, nor false. It’s simply the story, and the word, he uses to describe his past experiences and feelings.
The word he uses actually describes 2 things — a physical experience, and a mental formation
Physical Experience—I don’t know what he feels, so I played with what “disconnection” might feel like, for me. We’ve all experienced feeling alienated, betrayed, disconnected from others, of course. I’d use the words “cold and distant, and shut down” to describe the physical sensations.
The mental formation is what I concoct to a) label the feeling(s) and b) to explain (or justify) the sensations. So, rather than leaving things at “feeling cold, shut down, and distant,” I might say, “I’m disconnected. This person is rejecting me, hates me, I did something wrong.” (This is actually where I go with these sensations…)
So far, so good. Then, we pile it on. “This always happens to me. No one has ever loved me!” (Been there, done that…)
This is called being human.
The goal of active therapy is to notice that this is what we do, to have a breath, to feel the feelings, to notice the stories, and to let them go. THEN, to ask, “What do I need to do right now?”
Reflective therapy, in the questioner’s experience, above, lets him add more stores to support the experience he does not want. “Can you find more examples of being isolated?” simply adds false validity to the present experience.
The label is non-helpful for change in the here and now
Disconnected is a label, a shorthand for a group of selected stories. Now, clearly, no one is always disconnected, rejected, etc. When I go there, I am discounting all of the times (98% of the time!) when I am connected and loved. I am taking the 2%, building upon it, stacking story upon story, and saying, “See! This is how I am!”
And I am right, because that it all I choose to see
I filtered out all of the other experiences, to prove what I do not want to prove.
As I just wrote, the way out is to short-circuit the story-telling, the stacking-upon, story upon story. In therapy, the questioner could turn his attention to reporting all the times, when feeling isolated, he asked for contact.
Just another story, but one heading in the direction he wants to go.
This week, see how often you tell yourself stories designed to keep you stuck in your beliefs. To keep you feeling sorry for yourself, and stuck in the same old rut.
Have a breath, and then ask for what you really want. Push yourself past your boundaries and restrictions, be specific, and explore other stories and experiences. In the here and now.