Karuna Counseling’s Newsletter Articles

February 2, 2012

NEWS FLASH: Scientific Evidence Supports Being Nice To Yourself

Filed under: 2012 Articles,Claire's Articles,Mind-body-spirit Integration — karunacounseling @ 8:11 pm
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By
Claire N. Scott, Ph.D.

I was delighted to see a recent article in a psychology journal that offers scientific evidence that being nice to ourselves is a more skillful way of dealing with our screw-ups than being hard on ourselves.  Most of us fear that if we take the pressure off ourselves, we will screw up even worse.  Not so, says this article.  In fact, it is self-criticism actually increases the likelihood that you’ll screw up even more.  Hard to believe?  Read on.

Being kind to oneself doesn’t come easily to most people.  We tend to be much better at caring for others.  History reveals evidence of humans and other species showing kindness toward one another. Our primate relatives groom one another and care for their young. Fossil evidence has shown that at least a million years ago, early humans cared for others with severe physical deformities. Those social behaviors seem rooted in our brain physiology.  It’s obvious from both psychology and physiology, that we’re intrinsically compassionate beings.  (Gilbert)

Why then the disconnect when it comes to being compassionate toward ourselves?  While we might have no trouble telling a friend who’s messed up not to beat themselves up about it, we have a surprisingly hard time turning that advice toward ourselves.  We are often harder on ourselves than we are on others.  Some people who grew up in supportive homes with understanding parents are more likely to be kind to themselves, but the majority of us are not very compassionate toward ourselves.  Self-compassion is something that actually needs to be taught to most people, especially people who tend to be self-critical,  anxious or depressed.   (Neff)

The reverse is also true, i.e., the kinder a person is to him/herself, the higher the sense of emotional well-being they have.   For example, in a study of women who were HIV positive, it was found that the women with a high degree of compassion for themselves tended to practice safe sex and disclose their HIV status to sexual partners more frequently than the women who showed little compassion for themselves.  The benefits of our being compassionate toward ourselves carry over into our self-care and regard for others.  (Leary)

People who are compassionate to themselves are also more likely to seek medical care if they need it.  The more self-critical a person is, the more unlikely they are to seek care.  In one study of elderly people, those with health problems and a healthy sense of self compassion reported similar levels of happiness and emotional well-being as those of elderly people who had NO health problems.  The researcher suggested: “It’s like self-compassion erases the emotional fallout of some of the problems associated with aging.”  (Leary)

In a study related to eating behavior, female college students were asked to eat doughnuts in what was described as a taste-test experiment.  One group of the women were “conditioned for self-compassion” by statements from the test administrators such as “Everyone eats unhealthily sometimes, and everyone in this study eats this stuff, so there’s no reason to feel  bad about it.”  Another group of women were not “conditioned” with these statements.  After the doughnut test, all the women were asked to participate in a taste test of various candies. The group of women who were “conditioned for self-compassion” ate less candy than the women who were not “conditioned for self-compassion”.  Previous studies have shown that people who are recurrent dieters do tend to overeat unhealthy foods after a “slip.”   One suggested explanation is that dieters are already feeling guilty about the first slip, and that they engage in more ‘emotional eating’ to deal with the pain of the guilt.  This study suggests that self-compassion may limit the distress that leads to later emotional eating binges.  (Leary)

Overweight individuals aren’t the only ones with something to gain from a kinder-to-self approach. A growing body of research suggests that self-compassion offers the same positive benefits of self-esteem — without the negatives.  (The negatives to self-esteem can be seen in people who appear arrogant  and in people whose self-esteem is dependent upon approval or success.)  Self-compassion is a way to develop healthy self-esteem that does not have the negative aspects that the more tenuous kinds of self-esteem can have.  Another benefit of self-compassion vs. self-esteem is that all too often a high sense of self-esteem encourages attempts to weed out all the negatives about oneself in order to become perfect.  Self-compassion is based more on a sense of wholeness, acknowledging that all of us are human and so susceptible to human error and imperfection.   (Neff)

Definition of Self-Compassion

One researcher posits that self-compassion has three main components.  One is to be understanding [toward yourself] rather than self-judgmental. “Most people’s internal dialogue is actually quite harsh,” she says. “The self-kindness part requires reframing your dialogue so that you’re kind and supportive [toward yourself].”  (Neff)

The second component involves framing your personal experience as a typical human experience.  When something goes awry — your car breaks down on the highway, say, or you get passed over for a promotion at work — a common emotional reaction is “Why me?” The sense that things aren’t going the way they should can lead to a sense of isolation, which often leads to depression and anxiety.  The opposite of that reaction is recognizing that all humans experience frustration, disappointment and rejection at some point.  You can let the suffering that being human entails comfort you in your own suffering.  And you can then let the compassion you feel for yourself spread out to all human beings who suffer in the same way you do.  Then, rather than feeling isolated in your suffering, you can actually use compassion to help you feel connected to others.  (Neff)

The third element of self-compassion involves awareness. On one hand, you must be aware of self-criticism in order to curtail it. But mindfulness also requires that you see things as they truly are, instead of exaggerating a situation or adopting a “poor-me” attitude.  A clear perspective is crucial because it will help you understand the difference between healthy self-compassion and unhealthy self-pity.  (Neff)

Research

Self-compassion is a very old Buddhist idea which has only recently begun to be looked at from a research perspective.  Kristin Neff, PhD, a professor of Human Development and Culture at the University of Texas at Austin, is one of the researchers exploring the area. After defining self-compassion from an academic perspective, she developed a scale to measure it and many researchers have used that scale in subsequent studies.  By far most of the findings support the idea that self-compassion is linked to a number of positive mental health outcomes, including increased happiness, optimism and social connectedness. People who score high on self-compassion also tend to suffer less from anxiety, depression, rumination and fear of failure.

Dr. Neff has also developed a training program to teach people to practice self-compassion. She suggests starting on paper.  For example, say you’re upset that you made a big mistake at work. What would your most supportive friend say about the experience? Write down everything this friend might say to you, from his or her point of view. Then read the letter back to yourself — and try to take the words to heart.  To get more exercises for increasing self-compassion, you can go to You Tube and search under Kristin Neff.  She has a variety of training videos available.

Although there is more research that needs to be done, it seems clear that cultivating self-kindness is well worth the effort.  As Paul Gilbert, Ph.D., another researcher says, “If you have a kind, encouraging, supporting part to you, you’ll be OK.  If you have a bully that kicks you every time you fall over, then you’re going to struggle.”

More Good News – There’s No Bad News

What are the downsides of self-compassion? None have been found so far — and not for lack of trying.  Initially another researcher, Mark Leary, Ph.D. suspected as I did that self-compassion might be linked to self-indulgence. If you’re too nice to yourself, he theorized, you can let yourself off the hook no matter what you’ve done wrong.   To his surprise, he found just the opposite. People high in self-compassion take more responsibility for the bad things that happen to them than those who do not have high self compassion.  One reason low-compassion people might deny responsibility for bad things is that they have a mistaken sense of responsibility – they expect too much of themselves and then feel horribly bad if they’re not perfect.  People high in self-compassion, however, can admit their mistakes without all that self-flagellation.

Perhaps an amendment to the Golden Rule might be “Treat yourself as kindly as you would want others to treat you.”

***

Information in the above article was taken from the Monitor of Psychology, published by the American Psychological Association, Vol. 42, No. 7, July 2011, p. 42.  Science Watch:  “Golden Rule Redux” by Kristen Weir.

Major sources cited in the article were:

Fain, Jean, Ph.D. (2010)  The Self-Compassion Diet.

Gilbert, Paul, PhD, (2009) The Compassionate Mind.

Leary, Mary, Ph.D. (2007) Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (Vol. 92, No. 5).

Leary, Mark, Ph.D.(2007)  The Curse of the Self: Self-Awareness, Egotism, and the Quality of Human Life.

Leary, Mark, PhD., and Adams, Claire (2007).  Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology (Vol. 26, No. 10),

Kristin Neff, Ph.D. (2003).  Self and Identity (Vol. 2, No. 2–3)

Neff, Kristin, Ph.D.  Self-Compassion: Stop Beating Yourself Up and Leave Insecurity Behind” (2011).

Neff, Kristin, Ph.D. (2009) Human Development  (Vol. 52, No. 4).

October 31, 2010

Limitations

By Claire N. Scott, Ph.D.

One of my father’s favorite sayings was:  “You can do anything if you just put your mind to it.” My father practiced what he preached.  Raised in poverty and having only an eighth grade education, he rose to become a successful businessman, lived in an upscale neighborhood and put his three children through college.  My father’s advice and example has served me well.  It has led me to set my sights high, work hard and not give up easily.

Unfortunately, it’s also fostered some not so admirable traits.  On the negative side I developed perfectionistic expectations of myself and over-inflated ideas about my capabilities.  It also created a drivenness that still makes it hard for me to relax.   I saw failures as catastrophic and shameful – and my fault.   On the one hand I had a lot of self-confidence, but I also had a deep-seated hidden fear that I was either lazy or inadequate, or both.  Early on I began to careen between episodes of obsessive drivenness and exhausted self-indulgent collapse.    This lurching and the shame that went with it ultimately led me into therapy.

In therapy I learned to face the fact that I could NOT do anything I put my mind to, but accepting this did not come easily.  To this day I still have to remind myself that it’s okay to have strengths and weaknesses.  I still struggle with finding the balance between what’s reasonable to expect of myself and what’s not.  I love my can-do attitude and I’ve accomplished much.  But I’ve also failed at things, and I’ve found it’s important to be able to acknowledge and accept when I can’t do something as well – and even more that there’s no shame in that.  I tell my clients (and remind myself) that my brilliance is all tangled up with my mistakes.  What a freedom it is to finally believe that!

I’m certainly not the only one who got some version of the perfectionistic drivenness scripting.  We’re faced with a lot of injunctions in this culture about pushing through our limitations:  sayings like reach for the stars, never say never, difficult things take a long time — impossible things take a little longer, energy and persistence conquer all things.  The idea of giving up or saying I can’t is severely frowned upon in this culture.

THE  OPPOSITE  EXTREME

One can also learn to deal with difficulties from the opposite extreme.  We can err on side of denial or minimization of our limitations – or alternatively we can err on side of wallowing in our limitations, using them to excuse our stuckness or lack of effort.  We all have known someone who lets their problems overwhelm them, who gives up at the first sign of trouble, who blames others for their struggles or can’t see that they are handicapping themselves.  Chances are we’ve even been one of “those people” at some point in our lives.  People who say “yes, but” and then recite the reasons that any effort on their part won’t work.  People who won’t start for fear of failing.  People with good intentions who procrastinate or wait for motivation to fall from the sky.  People who, consciously or unconsciously, set themselves up for failure with their self-defeating, negative attitudes.

One explanation for such self-defeating behaviors is learned helplessness, i.e., learning that one shouldn’t even attempt to gain control over or deal with a challenge because the situation is hopeless and they’re helpless to change it.  A good example is a training technique used to control elephants.  A young elephant is chained to an immovable object by a thick, unbreakable chain.  The young elephant tries and tries to get itself loose, to no avail.  After a while the elephant will quit trying.  Eventually the elephant, even when grown and possessing incredible strength, can be held captive by a thin rope tied around its ankle and anchored to a small stake in the ground.  The elephant was “scripted” to understand that its efforts were futile.

Obviously there is a continuum between these two extremes of “You can do anything if you put your mind to it” and giving up before you even try.  Is there an ideal place to exist on the continuum?  Perhaps theoretically, but in reality most of us probably waffle a bit between the two depending on the circumstances and other variables involved.

And other variables there are aplenty, particularly if we mean those variables which act upon us (as opposed to those upon which we act).   Although we are loathe to admit it, the truth is that we are controlled by internal and external forces far more than we can exert control over them.  We prefer to focus on that which we can control and ignore or minimize that which we cannot control.  Pema Chodron talks about the dangers of such denial in her book When Things Fall Apart.  She explains that we are mistaken in our tenaciously held belief that there is any solid ground upon which to stand anywhere.  She points out that we are in fact always building our lives on shifting sands, always in the midst of change, and that we must learn to embrace this impermanence, this lack of security, this “groundlessness” that is the unalterable state of our being.

Teilhard de Chardin, the French philosopher, is eloquent (if frightening) in his description of all the various aspects of human existence which result in groundlessness.  He speaks of the various limitations and “diminishments” as “little deaths” that assail us from within and without:  “…bits of ill fortune that block our way, hem us in, force us to deviate from our path … an obstacle that breaks us, the invisible microbe that kills the body, the little word that infects the mind, all the incidents and accidents of varying importance and varying kinds, the tragic interferences (upsets, shocks, severances, deaths)” that come between us and what we want. There are “natural failings, physical defects, intellectual or moral weaknesses, as a result of which the field of our activities, of our enjoyment, of our vision, has been pitilessly limited since birth.  Others lie in wait for later on:  as brutally as an accident or as stealthily as an illness.  All of us one day or another will come to realize if we have not already done so, that one or other of these sources of disintegration has lodged itself in the very heart of our lives…  And [when it acts upon us] then we impotently stand by and watch collapse, rebellion and inner tyranny.”  (p.81-82)

BALANCE

Learning how to deal with the reality of limitations in a healthy way is not an easy job.  As we have seen there are dangers in dealing with limitations from either extreme – denial or collapse.  It is difficult to find the balance between the two:  a healthy sense of confidence and a willingness to try balanced by a realistic understanding of the limitations and diminishments we all face.  Rudyard Kipling’s poem If (included in this newsletter) offers some wise words on maintaining one’s balance among all sorts of triumphs and trials.

Pema Chodron also has much to say on how to live happily in the midst of our groundlessness.  She says that things routinely fall apart and that to attempt to escape this is folly.

We think that the point is to pass the test or to overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don’t really get solved.  They come together and they fall apart.  Then they come together again and fall apart again.  It’s just like that.  The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen:  room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy.

When we think that something is going to bring us pleasure, we don’t know what’s really going to happen.  When we think something is going to give us misery, we don’t know.  Letting there be room for not knowing is the most important thing of all.  We try to do what we think is going to help.  But we don’t know.  We never know if we’re going to fall flat or sit up tall.  When there’s a big disappointment we don’t know if that’s the end of the story.  It may be just the beginning of a great adventure.  (p. 11-12)

In an interesting article by the Quaker author John Yungblut, he espouses the idea of “hallowing one’s diminishments” – meaning to make holy one’s diminishments.  He was referring to a creative, intentional attitude toward one’s limitations rather than merely a negative resignation to a cruel fate.   The first step to such a hallowing for him was a “deep-going acceptance.”  He said, “I practiced imaging acceptance of the diminishments as if they were the gift of a companion to accompany me on my way to the great diminishment, death.  … In this case, cooperating with the process in terms of maintaining a friendly attitude toward it would be a way of hallowing the diminishments.”  Hallowing can be thought of as the intentional holding of a limitation or diminishment in a sensibility that neither denies the affliction nor abhors it.   It’s a way of letting go of the emphasis on what has been lost and embracing instead the something new that has replaced it.

In one of the Carlos Castaneda books, the shamanic master Don Juan expresses a similar attitude.  He said we should all live as though “Sister Death” stood slightly behind us and to the left, our constant companion as we journey through life.  Rather than avoid or deny her reality, we should consult her about the choices we make throughout our lives.

Another well known author who echoes this sentiment is Ram Dass in his book Still Here.  You may remember Ram Dass because of his famous (and infamous) departure from the Harvard faculty, with his colleague Timothy Leary, in the 1960’s.  He wrote a book, Be Here Now, which was immensely popular at the time.  His more recent book Still Here was written in 2002 after he had suffered a stroke.  He became a semi-invalid after his stroke, confined to a wheelchair.  He could no longer walk or drive his sports car or play golf or surf.  He acknowledges going through an initial stage of self-pity about being the victim of such a horrible debilitating occurrence.  Ultimately, however, he grew to feel he had been blessed by his stroke.  He referred to it as having been “stroked by God.” He said, “… Now I’m learning to take my healing into my own hands.  Healing is not the same as curing, after all; healing does not mean going back to the way things were before, but rather allowing what is now to move us closer to God.” (p.5)   Although limited in ways he used to value so highly, he has learned to value the person he is now and value life as it presents itself today.

It isn’t always easy to recognize when one needs to slow down and let go or when one needs to step up and try harder.  If we are going to find a good balance and enjoy our lives as much as possible, we need to both accept limitations and reach for the stars.  We have to honor our “can’t do” attitude as well as our “can do” attitude.  Perhaps the most famous and often used words to express this sentiment are found in the Serenity Prayer:

God, grant me the serenity

To accept the things I cannot change;

The courage to change the things I can;

And the wisdom to know the difference.

There are no easy answers to the question of limitations.  I wonder what your experiences with limitations have been like.  When was it healthy for you to push past your limitations and go after your goals?  When was it better to acknowledge your limitations, quit beating your head against a brick wall and learn to accept?  If you’d like to respond to this article and share your own story, please send me an email.  Perhaps we can explore this issue more and publish some of your stories (anonymously of course) in a future article.   ClaireScott@KarunaCounseling.com.

Bibliography

Castaneda, Carlos.  The Teachings of Don Juan:  A Yaqui Way of Knowledge.  Berkeley, CA:  University of California Press, 1968.

Chodron, Pema.  When Things Fall Apart.  Boston:  Shambala, 2002.

Dass, Ram.  Still Here:  Embracing Aging, Changing, and Dying.  New York:  Buckley Publishling Group, 2000.

De Chardin, Teilhard.  The Divine Milieu.  English translation London:  William Collins Sons & Do., LTD, 1960. Originally published in French as Le Milieu Divin.  Paris:  Editions du Seuil, 1957.

Peterson, Christopher; Maier, Steven; and Seligman, Martin.  Learned Helplessness.  New York:  Knopf, 1995.

The Serenity Prayer is the common name for an originally untitled prayer by theologian Reinhold Niebuhr.  This prayer has been adopted by Alcoholics Anonymous and other twelve step programs.

Yungblut, John.  On Hallowing One’s Diminishments.  Wallingford,PA :  Pendle Hill Publications.  1990.

September 1, 2009

Heaven and Hell and the Evolution of Human Consciousness in One Short Article

 

 

 

Yin Yang

by

Claire N. Scott, Ph.D.

The mind is its own place, and in itself
can make a heaven of hell and a hell of heaven.

 

This is a quote from John Milton’s Paradise Lost. I use it at the beginning of my auto-biographical statement on our Karuna website.

To tell the truth, I’ve had concerns about it ever since I posted it because it can be perceived as harsh and blaming depending on how you look at it.  For example, the quote can be taken to imply that if you’re in pain about something, it’s only because of how you’re looking at it – if you’d just look at it differently, it could be heaven instead of hell.  But is that true in every situation?  Shakespeare suggests it is in his line: “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” But what about the death of a loved one, or a crippling accident caused by a drunk driver, or physical assault?  Doesn’t the sentiment in the quotes seem like “blaming the victim” in those incidences?

Given these issues, I’d like to talk about why I chose that particular quote and what it means to me.  My primary intention in choosing the quote was to emphasize (1) the importance of perception on reality, and (2) the importance of the meaning we ascribe to the events of our lives, and (3) to highlight how powerful our thinking is in terms what it can create.

Most people are familiar with the two images below that emphasize how perception can change with perspective.

vase face young old

In the image on the left, can you see the chalice?  Can you also see two faces looking at each other?  The chalice appears in white against a black background.  The two faces appear in black against a white background.

In the image on the right, can you see the young, attractive woman?  Can you also see the old lady?  To see the old lady, focus on the young woman’s necklace and let it become the old woman’s mouth. Let the young woman’s ear becomes the old woman’s eye.  Can you see it now?

Try going back and forth quickly between the two versions in each picture. Can you get to the point where you can see both images equally at the same time?  (Do you have a headache yet?)  Most people have trouble with being able to see both images at once.  They can shift back and forth very quickly, but it’s difficult for the mind to hold both images at the same time.

Let’s bring this concept of differing perspectives to the mental level.  Think about a time a friend of yours let you down – say, they didn’t return your phone call in a timely manner, or forgot an appointment with you.  What meaning did you give that event?  Some possibilities are:

1.     “What a jerk. How rude. Some people have no manners.”  In other words, you blame the other person.

2.     “Oh no, did I something that offended her.  I bet she’s upset with me.”  In this case, you blame yourself.

3.     Ambivalence. You vacillate back and forth between who’s to blame.  “I can’t believe she forgot me like this. How rude. But maybe I’m expecting too much.  Everybody forgets once in a while.  But she really should keep up with things better – especially if they matter to her.  I wouldn’t do this to her.  She really is so rude.”  (This can go on for days, weeks, months, and in some cases even a lifetime.  Like going back and forth between the images above, it will probably give you a headache.)

4.     “I wonder if ____ got my message.  Maybe she’s just busy.  I’ll call her again in a day or so if I don’t hear from her.”  Here you attribute a neutral meaning to the event so neither one of you has to be the bad guy.

Consider what feelings might come as a result of each thought.  If you tend to think more like #1, you’re going to spend a lot of time angry, self-righteous, and critical of others.  If you think more like #2, you’re going to spend a lot of time worrying, blaming yourself, and reinforcing your negative self-image.  If your particular flavor of hell is ambivalence, #3, you’re likely to drive yourself crazy going round and round in circles.  An unenviable by-product of 3 is that you’re also likely to drive everyone around you crazy as you try to get 100 reality checks from other people to decide who to blame.  If you think more like #4, you’re going to spend a lot of time getting on with your life with feelings of peace and equanimity because there’s nothing to blame anyone for – what a heavenly mindset.

So what about you?  Do you tend to create more of hell or heaven with your thoughts?

full empty question rainbow

I could now go on to tell you about how our childhoods set us for this kind of dualistic thinking.  I could explain how the fear of being wrong/bad leads to the defense mechanisms that make us want to project the blame.  I could explain how ambivalence, though often agonizing, is actually a step in the right direction because ‘staying in the tension of the question’ at least keeps the mind open. The mind tends to close once we think we have the answer.

A  LARGER PERSPECTIVE

I’d rather talk about this issue from a larger perspective, i.e., how the penchant to engage in more hellish than heavenly thinking is not totally our fault.  We are, after all, also a product of our evolutionary stage of existence.  The physical plane of existence into which we (humans) were born forced us, for the sake of our survival, to make dualistic distinctions between danger and safety, friend and enemy, life-enhancing and life-threatening.  This plane of existence also had opposites to which we had to accommodate ourselves:  day and night, summer and winter, wet and dry, hot and cold.  Dualistic thinking was necessary to cope successfully with life on this plane of existence.  Our tendency to see things dualistically has keep us safe and well for millennia  — even lending itself to the invention of the computer which employs a binary operating system of zeros and ones much like our own dualistic mind.

Our dualistic thinking is such a part of our current state of being/thinking that we hardly notice it.  Black/white, good/bad, right/wrong, success/failure, smart/dumb, ugly/pretty, top/bottom, pleasure/pain, true/false, win/lose.  Our level of consciousness, evolutionarily-speaking, has been fraught with dualistic distinctions.  This plays out in small things and large.  Either the friend in the example above is bad, or I’m bad.  Either she is at fault or I am.  If we alter our thinking at all it is likely to vacillate back and forth between the two.

Dualistic thinking can be found at the global level, too, often in ways that no longer serve us well on our island home.  Christians good, Muslims bad.  Straight people good, gay people bad.  This political party good, that one bad.  This skin color good; that one bad.  This kind of thinking can often lead to a literal hell on earth – divisiveness, judgment, disconnection, separation, conflict.

Does a higher, more “heavenly” level of consciousness exist, and if so, how might we participate in actively ushering it in?

PROACTIVE  EVOLUTIONARY  THINKING

or

UPGRADE  YOUR  OPERATING  SYSTEM

 

You probably know that a dog’s ability to hear and smell exceeds that of a human.  You probably also know that there are ranges on the light spectrum (e.g., ultraviolet) that the human eye cannot see.  Did you also know that the human eye can only perceive ¼ of what it sees?

What if there are levels of consciousness that we can’t apprehend yet either – levels that exist outside the bandwidth we can recognize?  Or said a better way, levels of consciousness that lie as undeveloped potential inside us.  Many of the great avatars of the past stressed the importance of transforming our minds, transcending the usual dualistic mindset of the times.  Consider Buddha’s non-attachment to outcome, Jesus’ “love your enemies”, Gandhi’s passive resistance.  Perhaps avatars were so misunderstood in the past because their level of consciousness exceeded the current level of human consciousness.

Kabir, a well-know 14th century Indian philosopher, poet and songwriter, suggested that:

We have subtle subconscious faculties we are not using.  Beyond the limited analytic intellect is a vast realm of mind that includes psychic and extrasensory abilities; intuition; wisdom; a sense of unity; aesthetic, qualitative and creative faculties; and image-forming and symbolic capacities.  Though these faculties are many, we give them a single name with some justification, because they are operating best when they are in concert.  They comprise a mind, moreover, in spontaneous connection with the cosmic mind, the total mind we call “heart.”  (Quoted in Bourgeault, p. 36; italics mine.)

Buddha believed that our usual human approach to thinking led to “dukkha” — meaning suffering, struggling, chronic dissatisfaction and just plain misery.  Many “new thought” Christians and students of mystical Christianity consider “sin,” as it originally translates from the Greek, to mean missing the mark or missing the point.  Eckhart Tolle suggests that “to sin is to miss the point of human existence.  It means to live unskillfully, blindly, and thus to suffer and cause suffering.” (Tolle, p. 9)

Some teachers from the wisdom school of Christianity assert that heaven is not a place you go to after you die, but rather a state of transformed consciousness.  They suggest that Jesus’ phrase “the kingdom of heaven” is his own favorite way of describing a state which today we would call a non-dual or unitive consciousness.  Contemporary mystic, ex-monk and public policy attorney Jim Marion suggests that it is “not a place you go, but a place you come from — a whole new way of looking at the world, a transformed awareness that literally turns this world into a different place” – into heaven.  (Quoted in Bourgeault, p. 30.)

Ken Wilber, who is one of the most widely read and influential American philosophers of our time, postulates nine levels of consciousness.  Consider this quote from him:

Are the mystics and sages insane? Because they all tell variations on the same story, don’t they?  The story of awakening one morning and discovering you are one with the All, in a timeless and eternal and infinite fashion. Yes, maybe they are crazy, these divine fools. Maybe they are mumbling idiots in the face of the Abyss…. But then, I wonder. Maybe the evolutionary sequence really is from matter to body to mind to soul to spirit, each transcending and including, each with a greater depth and greater consciousness and wider embrace. And in the highest reaches of evolution, maybe, just maybe, an individual’s consciousness does indeed touch infinity—a total embrace of the entire Kosmos—a Kosmic consciousness that is Spirit awakened to its own true nature. It’s at least plausible. And tell me: is that story, sung by mystics and sages the world over, any crazier than the scientific materialism story, which is that the entire sequence is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying absolutely nothing? Listen very carefully: just which of those two stories actually sounds totally insane?  Wilber, A Brief History of Everything, p. 42-3.

One way to try to advance our level of consciousness beyond the dualistic stage is to learn to consider the nature of our reality from a different perspective.  To some this means trying to eliminate all forms of negative thinking – to insist on the triumph of good over evil.  But consider this response to that approach by Cynthia Bourgeault.  A student had asked how God could allow human atrocities.  Bourgeault replied:

Can’t you see that judging only makes it worse. By trying to stop the black – to make it all white, all good; by saying that this we can accept and this we must reject, you keep empowering that cycle of polarization that creates the problem in the first place…. (T)he orientation that cleaves to the light by trying to deny or reject the shadow…only ends up empowering the shadow and deepening it.  The resolution doesn’t lie in collapsing the tension of opposites by canceling one of them out.  Something has to go deeper, something that can hold them both.  (Bourgeault, p. 123; italics mine.)

So what will help with this evolution of consciousness besides not participating in dualistic distinctions?  My favorite choice of the moment is meditation.  Why?  Because it lets us experience how our “monkey mind” jumps around all over the place without our permission.  Because it teaches the observation of mental events (thoughts) as opposed to identification with them. Because it teaches us enough mental discipline to realize we can become the container for our thoughts rather than the victim of them.  Because it teaches us how to practice staying in the moment which is the only place reality can happen.

In his bestselling book A New Earth:  Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose, Eckart Tolle asserts that humanity is on the cusp of an evolutionary shift in consciousness:

What is arising now is not a new belief system, a new religion, spiritual ideology, or mythology. We are coming to the end not only of mythologies but also of ideologies and belief systems.  The change goes deeper than the content of your mind, deeper than your thoughts.  In fact, at the heart of the new consciousness lies the transcendence of thought, the newfound ability of rising above thought, of realizing a dimension within yourself that is infinitely more vast than thought. You then no longer derive your identity, your sense of who you are, from the incessant stream of thinking that in the old consciousness you take to be yourself. (Tolle, p. 21-22)

But who are you then, if you are not who you thought yourself to be – not that voice in your head, not your thoughts?  You can learn to become the one who sees the thoughts, the one who has awareness over and above thoughts.  You become the space in which thoughts happen.  You are, indeed, the vehicle through which Life is lived.

Suggested reading:

Bourgeault, Cynthia.  The Wisdom Jesus:  Transforming Heart and Mind – a New Perspective on Christ and His Message. Boston:  Shambala Publications, 2008.

Hollis, James.  What Matters Most:  Living a More Considered Life.  New York:  Gotham Books, 2009.

Ladinsky, Daniel, Ed.  Love Poems from God:  Twelve Sacred Voices from the East and West.  New York:  Penguin Compass, 2002.

Marion, Jim.  Putting on the Mind of Christ:  The Inner World of Christian Spirituality.  Charlottesville, VA:  Hampton Roads, 2000.

Muktananda, Swami.  Play of Consciousness:  A Spiritual Autobiography.  South Fallsburg, NY:  SYDA Foundation, 1978, 2000.

Tolle, Eckhart.  A New Earth:  Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose.  New York:  Plume, 2005.

Wilber, Ken.  No Boundary:  Eastern and Western Approaches to Personal Growth.  Boston:  Shambala Publications 1979, 2001.

Wilber, Ken.  Integral Spirituality: A Startling New Role for Religion in the Modern and Postmodern World.  Boston:  Shambala, 2006.

Williams, Mark; Teasdale, John; Zindel, Segal & Kabat-Zinn, Jon.  The Mindful Way through Depressions:  Freeing Yourself from Chronic Unhappiness.  New York:  Guilford Press, 2007.

Yogananda, Paramahansa.  The Autobiography of a Yogi.  Los Angeles: Self-Realization Fellowship, 1946, 2000.

November 9, 2008

YEAR-END REFLECTION QUESTIONS

Filed under: 2008 Articles,Claire's Articles,Mind-body-spirit Integration — karunacounseling @ 5:37 pm
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by Claire N. Scott, Ph.D.

As we come to the end of the year, it is a good opportunity to take time out to reflect on the year just past, remembering all the things it held for us. The following questions are offered as a way to facilitate that reflection — and perhaps stimulate your thinking to ask yourself questions of your own.

As with any psychological exercise, I would add this caution. If you find yourself feeling unduly overwhelmed or distressed by your answers to any of these questions, it might be helpful to talk about your thoughts and feelings with a friend or family member who can give you support. If you feel you need to talk with a professional, there are several options available to you: you are welcome to contact one of the therapists at Karuna (404) 321-4307; or you may prefer to talk with a clergy person; or your personal physician; or you could contact your local county mental health center.

With that caution having been said, I hope you’ll find this exercise beneficial and even have some fun with it — maybe stir up some good memories, get things into a different perspective, and perhaps learn some interesting things about yourself in the process.

What was my greatest accomplishment(s) this year?

What was the biggest disappointment of the year?

What was the highlight of the year — what gave me the greatest joy this year?

What was the most frustrating situation of the year?

What was the best surprise?

What was the biggest relief?

What was my worst blunder?

What are the moments I wouldn’t want to have missed?

What, if anything, do I wish I had done differently?

Who was the most interesting new person in my life?

What was the most difficult thing I had to do this year?

What was my worst experience?

What was the most unusual experience of the year?

What person/book/experience/movie, etc. had a big impact on me? Why?

What was the area of greatest growth for me?

What area(s) need the most growth/development in the future?

What am I most thankful for?

Who were the people who were most important to me this year?

What was a kindness extended to me that meant a lot to me?

What was a kindness I extended to someone else that meant a lot to me?

What do I want to invite into my life in the upcoming year?

(Try this exercise instead of New Year’s Resolutions. The answers to this question can be used to create a graphic representation of what you want to invite into your life during the upcoming year , e.g., a collage of pictures, a drawing, a list of key words — which can then be displayed somewhere you would see it occasionally to remind yourself what it is you **really** want.)

November 3, 2008

Questions for Reflection at the End of the Year

by

Claire N. Scott, Ph.D. 

As 2008 is nearing its end, it is a good opportunity to take time out to reflect on the year just past, remembering and considering all the things it held for us.  The questions that follow are offered as a way to facilitate that reflection — and perhaps to stimulate your own thinking about questions you want to ask yourself.  An article similar to this was first published in our Karuna Newsletter several years ago, and it seemed a good time to revise and repeat it as we come to the end of such an eventful year.  In the previous version all the questions had a personal, psychological flavor.  That is mostly true again this year, but I’ve also added a few questions related to how external world happenings may have impacted you personally.  The world seems to get smaller every year.  We are more aware than ever of how events and decisions on the other side of this island home can impact the air we breathe, the food we eat, the cost of gas, and our sense of security. 

Some of the following questions are designed to help you recall good memories, interesting events and people.  Some are just for fun.  Some might put things into a different perspective for you.  Some questions might trigger insights or help you learn some interesting things about yourself.  And some are designed to be thought-provoking and even challenging.  In the last regard, I feel compelled to add a small caution:  if you find yourself feeling unduly distressed or overwhelmed by your answers to any of these questions, it might be best to put the questions aside and talk about your thoughts and feelings with a friend or family member who can give you support. If you feel you need to talk with a professional, you are welcome to contact one of the therapists here at Karuna (404) 321-4307, or you may prefer to talk with a clergy person.  If you don’t have other resources, you could also contact your local county mental health center. 

Mostly I hope you enjoy this process, and find it useful.  I’ve been doing it for several years and I enjoy going back and seeing what was going on in my life and in myself in previous years.  You may not get through all these questions in one sitting.  Take you time.  Notice the questions you want to skip or the ones that stop you.  Hold it all in compassion – no judgments.  It’s good to take time out to reflect on your life, no matter what the answers.

 

                          

 

What was my greatest accomplishment(s) this year?

What was my biggest blunder of the year?

What gave me the greatest joy this year?

What was the biggest disappointment?

What was the best surprise?

What are the moments I wouldn’t want to have missed?

What, if anything, do I wish I had done differently?

Who was the most interesting new person in my life?

What was the most difficult thing I had to do this year?

What was the worst experience of the year?

What was the most unusual experience?

What book or movie had a big impact on me? Why?

What was my coolest new purchase of the year?

What was the biggest waste of money?

What newsworthy event(s) had the biggest impact on me personally (e.g., the presidential race, global warming, Iraqi war, Olympics, gasoline crunch, plight of refugees, green issues, etc.), and why?

Do I experience the world differently than I did a year or two ago?  In what ways? 

What do those differences mean for me personally?  Have they or will they change how I live and the choices I make?

Who were the people who were most important to me this year?

What was the area of greatest personal growth for me?

What area(s) need the most growth/development in the future?

What am I most thankful for?

What kindness was extended to me that meant a lot to me?

What was a kindness I extended to someone else that meant a lot to me?

What do I want to invite into my life in the upcoming year? (See exercise below.)

Consider trying this exercise as an alternative to making New Year’s Resolutions.  Ask yourself the above question and use your answers to create a collage of some sort.  It can include pictures, drawings, photographs, words – anything that represents what you want to invite into your life during the upcoming year. 

What you create can then be displayed where you will see it occasionally to remind yourself what it is you really want.  I once heard that given as a definition of self-discipline.  I’ll make it big so you can use it in your collage if you like.

SELF-DISCIPLINE IS REMEMBERING WHAT YOU

 REALLY WANT!

P.S.  I was supposed to have a book to go with this article, and there probably are some good ones, but the truth is some friends and I came up with this idea at a party one night and it has gone through several revisions and variations since then.  

May 20, 2008

Loving Considerations

by Claire N. Scott, Ph.D.

     It’s February: the month of Valentines’ Day, Cupid, love poems, flowers, and candy.  It’s a month of joyful celebration for some, bleak disappointment for others, and outright fury for a few.  I tend to run across the disappointed and angry folks more than the joyful celebrators.  That’s probably because people in the throes of love and romance aren’t usually the ones in therapy.

 

                                                                   

                                                                                            

              If you’ve read Irvin Yalom’s book Love’s Executioner, you’ll know what I mean.  He begins that book by saying:

 

“I do not like to work with patients who are in love.  Perhaps it is because of envy – I too crave enchantment.  Perhaps it is because love and psychotherapy are fundamentally incompatible.  The good therapist fights darkness and seeks illumination, while romantic love is sustained by mystery and crumbles upon inspection.  I hate to be love’s executioner.”

 

              He’s talking of course about the infatuated, obsessive, head-over-heels kind of love — the kind that makes you forget your name (and sometimes your morals), the kind that strips you of rational sense and any conception of balance.  That wonderful, knock-your-socks off, glorious kind of “love” that can make you believe you’d be content forever if you could just spend every moment in the presence of your beloved.

 

Please imagine song lyric playing in the background:

   I can’t live if living is without you.

         

                          

              It’s true that there is nothing quite like that “in love” feeling.  It is ecstatic and all-consuming.  It’s the love that inspires the rapturous sentiments in songs and promises eternal devotion.  It is unbelievably wonderful while it lasts.  But, alas, as most of us have probably learned by now, it doesn’t last.  None of us really wants to hear that, but most of us know it’s true.  The bubble has to burst; the honeymoon doesn’t last forever. 

              The ending of the romantic crazy-in-love phase often feels more like a kick in the stomach than a mere bubble bursting.  It often happens quite abruptly and tends to occur right at the time when things seemed to be going the best.  All of a sudden there’s a shift and things seems to turn sour and painful overnight.  What happened to the person who was so all about you?  Where’s the person who couldn’t wait to make you happy just a few short hours ago?  Now they’re acting like they don’t care.  Angry words are exchanged; tears and recriminations replace smiles and tender words.  There may be a period of hit-and-miss repair attempts, brief respites and reconnections, but often within a few weeks, if not days, you’re feeling heartbroken, disillusioned, and wondering how you could have been so blind.

 

 

 Song lyric:  Love is just a lie, made to make you blue. 

Love hurts.

 

              If couples are willing to stick it out and work on the relationship, this can be a developmental stage in the relationship – a rocky passage that can lead to greater closeness, honesty and clear vision.  But it does take hard work.  More often the relationship ends once the fun is over, and after a brief period of mourning, the bereaved is looking for another romance that will surely work out better than the last one.  One glimpse at the Hollywood tabloids can verify this.  

 

 Song lyric: You’re gonna have to face it:

   You’re addicted to love.

 

 

              Why is this the fate of so many relationships?  How is love lost so easily, especially when it seemed so perfect, so right?  One of the main reasons is identified by that old adage “Love is blind.”  Indeed, especially in the initial stages, what you “fall in love with” is not really the other person (usually you barely know them).  What you actually fall in love with is the projection of an image of an ideal partner that exists in your own mind.  Something in the other person “hooks” our attraction, and naturally enough the other person is putting their best foot forward.  But we are not truly seeing the reality of the other person; what we are seeing is the projection of our own hopes and ideals and dreams onto that person.  This reminds me of an old joke about two guys walking down the street.  They see a beautiful woman approaching and one of them comments about how gorgeous she is.  The other guy says “yeah, but just remember:  she’s probably somebody’s worst nightmare.”  No matter how good the initial impression, we’re not seeing all there is to be seen.        

 

 Song lyric: 
Like a moth to a flame, burned by the fire, my love is blind.

 

              So knowing that we’re seeing the other through rose-colored glasses, what can we do to help make things a little more realistic – to be sure we’re getting an accurate view of the other person?  First and foremost it’s important just to be aware that you can’t possibly really know a person in a few days or weeks or even months.  SLOW DOWN.  Enjoy the feelings you’re having, but don’t make the mistake of thinking these feelings are facts or that they will last forever.  Give yourself time to let the new wear off — time to see the person in different situations, with a lot of different people.  There’s an old adage about being with someone through all the seasons before you decide if they’re the one for you.  There’s a lot of wisdom in that.  Give yourself a chance to see how the person behaves under stress, in a crisis, when they’re angry.  See how he treats his parents, friends, and service people.  Learn how she talks about her past significant other and how she explains their break-up.  Become an anthropologist of the other person – learn about their history and values and sense of self.  What makes them laugh and what makes them cringe?  What are their politics and personal idiosyncrasies?

 

              So how do you know whether the relationship has potential or if it’s a disaster waiting to happen?  Is the person you’re infatuated with someone who would make a good life partner?  What should you be looking for?  What are the indicators that you’re on the right tract, that you have chosen wisely, and that this person may actually be a good match for you?  Below I’ll list seven concrete guidelines that can help you answer these questions and negotiate the confusing emotional waters of a relationship.  By the way, as you think about how your potential partner fares in these seven areas, please give some thought to how you fare as well.

 

1.  Self-esteem.  While infatuation and falling in love are wonderful feelings, no one can really begin to sustain a workable relationship with someone else until that person likes him/herself pretty well.  I’m not talking about ‘baggage.’  We all come with personal baggage that we take into a relationship.  The important question here is whether, on the whole, one likes and accepts who they are, warts and all.  If you’re partner doesn’t feel that way about him/herself, it likely means that they will need you to make them feel loved and lovable.  That’s a lot of pressure on both people – on your partner to perform and on you to be constantly happy with him/her.  Nathaniel Branden in his book The Psychology of Romantic Love, says,  

 

“The first love affair we must consummate successfully is with ourselves; only then are we ready for a relationship with another.  A person who feels unworthy and unlovable is not ready for romantic love.”

 

                                                          

2.  Integrity.  All too often we judge based on personality.  Are they fun?  Do they make us smile?  Are they good conversationalists – know the right things to say?  Traits like that might make a person enjoyable, but it is integrity that will determine whether or not a person is trustworthy.  In terms of creating a long-term relationship, trust is more important than love.  A lack of integrity and trustworthiness will kill the intimacy and passion in a relationship, love or no love.

 

3.  Accountability.  We all make mistakes, no exceptions.  We forget to call, have insensitive moments, get self-absorbed, even screw up royally sometimes.  Perfection is impossible and not the issue here. The issue is can she say she’s sorry and mean it?  Can he say my bad – I screwed up – I don’t know what I was thinking?  If they can’t, run the other way.  As my clients hear me say a lot, accountability is HUGE in a relationship.  The absence of accountability often signals arrogance, narcissism and a lack of humility.  Even dogs do accountability.

 

 

 

4.  Responsibility and maturity.  Carefree, exuberant, free-spirit types are great fun as playmates and flings.  Partner with one for the long haul, however, and you can end up feeling saddled with a child you have to take care of.  Ask yourself if your potential partner can live like an adult, i.e., support themselves, hold down a job, keep commitments, and keep a clean living space.  Pretty basic I know, but all too often we’re attracted to the bad boy/bad girl types.

 

 

 

5.  Commitment to personal growth.  By this I don’t mean that someone has to be constantly in therapy or reading self-help books.  It’s more about attitude.  Is this a person who is interested in learning what he or she can about themselves, interested in becoming a better person?  Are they aware they might have blind spots or habits that interfere with their functioning, and are they able to listen to feedback from others about these things?  If they aren’t good at being assertive or sensitive or communicative, are they willing to learn?  Someone who’s not willing to look at themselves is likely to become stubborn and boring.  Relationships are pretty much guaranteed to stretch us.  In fact people tend to partner with people who will force them to stretch.  That little truth may be a product of opposites attracting or it might be unconscious forces at work, but more often than not what our partner ends up needing most is the one thing it is hardest for us to give.  If your partner’s not willing to stretch and grow, develop the undeveloped in him/herself, you may end up SOL.

 

6.  Empathy.  Empathy is another one of those things, like trust, that may be more important than love in the long run.  Empathy is the ability to put yourself in another’s shoes and understand their situation, feelings, thoughts and motives like they were your own.  If your potential partner can’t suspend their self considerations long enough to understand what a situation is like for you, it’s probably a good idea to continue your life’s journey without them.  Please notice that I did not say your partner had to agree with you – only that they understand.

 

7.  Shared values.  This guideline is a different from the others in that it is not about personal attributes, but about the fit between two people.  It is probably a good idea if you and your beloved share at least some similar attitudes, values and perspectives on a few of the key ingredients in a relationship.  Consider, for example, the difficulties that can arise if you are a conservative saver of money and your partner is a big spender.  What if she wants children and you don’t?  What if your ideas of what a relationship should look like are very different — if he thinks couples should be joined at the hip and you like your space.  One of you craves excitement and new adventures and the other is a homebody.  Such differences do not necessarily spell doom for a relationship, but they do suggest that one might want to take a long hard look before leaping.

 

 

 

              These are a few things to consider before deciding if you and your partner are ready to make the move from infatuation to a more mature kind of loving and commitment.  Sometimes when I do couples therapy I use the analogy of a doubles tennis team.  If you and your partner are trying to develop into a strong doubles team and one of you has a broken leg, then the broken leg needs to be dealt with before we start trying to work on the team.  There’s nothing shameful about having a broken leg, but it does need attention and time to heal before that person can play tennis.  Although I don’t say this in couples therapy, for purposes of this article — which has to do with things to be considered before the commitment is made — I might add that if your partner has a broken leg, you may want to consider finding yourself another tennis partner. 

  

 

Suggested reading: 

The Psychology of Romantic Love by Nathaniel Branden

Conscious Loving by Gay & Kathlyn Hendricks

Getting the Love You Want by Harville Hendrix

Are You the One for Me? By Barbara DeAngelis

August 18, 2007

Using the Soaps to Explore Your Unconscious

Filed under: 2007 and earlier,Claire's Articles,Dreams & The Unconscious — karunacounseling @ 6:40 pm
Tags: , ,

by Claire N. Scott, Ph.D.

Using soap operas (or movies or books) to learn about the contents of your unconscious mind is not as bizarre an idea as it first may sound. We all probably can appreciate the fact that certain characters or themes are timeless and ageless, like the seemingly eternal appeal of Superman, Tarzan stories, Romeo and Juliet, Cleopatra, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

If we stop to ask why the appeal, I think we may quickly arrive at the psychological theory of Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung and his work on “archetypes.” An archetype can be thought of as a pervasive and enduring idea, character, pattern or theme, which appears universally across many cultures. It is often revealed in art, literature, stories, and myths … and in the popular culture in movies and soaps. Admittedly characters in soaps and movies may be a diluted version of an archetype — perhaps more like a stereotype than an archetype, but the underlying archetype is usually discernible. Some easily recognized archetypes are:

The hero

The martyr

The seductress

The maiden

The mentor

The student

The warrior

The witch or wizard

The hermit

The clown

The healer

The rebel

The villain

The monk (or nun)

The judge

Perhaps you can think of popular characters that capture the energy of these archetypes. One reason movies and books are so compelling is that they portray these archetypes in their various incarnations. Another reason is that archetypal energies live in each of us.

Jung believed that archetypes reside in our unconscious, and that events in our lives pull up or ‘activate’ archetypal energy. Archetypes help us know what to do – how to fight when being a warrior is called for, how to be a free spirit and indulge our wanderlust when that’s what’s calling us, how to put our own needs aside and help others when that’s what’s needed, how to be soft and caring, how to strike out on our own, how to get up and try again when we suffer defeat. Archetypes are also part of why most everyone tends to go through some predictable patterns in their lives, e.g., separation from parents, developing an individual identity, making our own way in the world, learning to meet and deal with challenges, forming relationships, parenting, going through losses, etc. In her book The Hero Within, Carol Pearson suggested that we need to progress through the energy of six different archetypes during our lives in order to be able to come into the “magician” archetype, usually thought of as being the most evolved and well-integrated of the archetypes. The six she explores in her book are the innocent, the orphan, the wanderer, the warrior, the martyr and the magician.

Here are some questions I came up with to help you explore a bit about your archetypal energies.

1. Who is your favorite soap or movie or book character? Describe what you like about him or her.

(If your first answer contains references to a body part, try again and dig a little deeper.)

Your answer to this question might be representative of where you are on your life’s journey and what is important to you at this stage – either in yourself or in others. For example, if your favorite character was chosen from a “romantic interest” perspective (someone you’re attracted to), you might have chosen that person because you would like to form a relationship right now. You might also ask yourself what partnering with a person like that would mean to you. Would you then be complete, cool, important, cherished, safe? The answer to that question might speak to what’s missing in your life, or in you – what your unmet needs are or what you’d like to grow in yourself.

If, to give another example, the character is just entertaining or different, perhaps you need more fun in your life, or perhaps your life feels boring or lackluster to you. Could you need to develop the part of yourself that is able to play and enjoy life? Ask yourself what it is about that energy that appeals to you.

2. What character would you most like to be like? Why?

This question is particularly important because it speaks to what Jung called one’s ‘bright shadow.’ The person you chose is likely to be a manifestation of potential in yourself that you may not have recognized yet. If the characteristics were not in you in some form, you could not appreciate them in the character. The attributes you admire could represent some undeveloped aspect of yourself which you could develop over time.

3. Answering as honestly as you can, what character do you think you are the most like? How are you similar to, and different from, that character?

If your answers to 2 and 3 are the same, then you are ahead of the game. You are as you would like to be right now in your life. If your answers are different, then take a good look at this one. Is it okay with you to be like you are for now? Do you think you are in an understandable place for your age and stage of life? What do you like about being as you are? What would you like to change? Perhaps the #2 character is what you are hoping to grow into. Remember that life is a journey. You won’t always be as you are now. You can and will change.

4. Which character do you like least? Why?

There are two possible ways to interpret your answer to this question. One is from a values perspective, and the other is from a ‘dark shadow’ perspective.

The values perspective goes like this: This character may have offended some deeply held value of yours. For example, if you chose someone who is dishonest and deceitful, your dislike may be simply because those qualities are so abhorrent to you. If this is the case, you can use your reaction to gain insight into what your values are. It may also be worthwhile to examine the ‘dark shadow’ perspective. It could shed additional light on the matter.

The ‘dark shadow’ perspective goes like this: this character may strike a dissonant chord because it is similar to an unattractive part of you that you are not able to see in yourself. You may recall my mentioning the ‘bright shadow’ as our undeveloped potential. The ‘dark shadow’ is our unknown, unowned, and unacknowledged negative side. When we are not aware of our shadow side, bright or dark, we are likely to project it onto others and see the characteristics in them but not in ourselves. In dealing with our dark shadow projection, it takes courage and introspection to realize we actually may be somewhat like the character or person we dislike. You probably have noticed this ability to not see oneself clearly in other people. You may have heard someone complain about another person, and you think to yourself, you’re the one that’s like that, not them.

A clue that a dark shadow projection may be going on is the intensity with which you dislike the character. The more intense your reaction, the more likely you are dealing with your own unconscious material. A caution: this information is not meant to induce shame. It is meant as information to help you take a deeper look at yourself. Remember, that which is unconscious has more power over us. The more we can bring the unconscious to consciousness, the more power we can exert over it.

Interest in archetypes has been around for a long time, but it seems to have come into popular vogue again with Caroline Myss’s book Sacred Contracts, published in 2001. She devoted an entire book to discovering the archetypes active within you, and gives some excellent strategies for exploring how those archetypes work for, and sometimes against, you. If you are interested in this topic, I recommend that book. Be prepared to spend some serious and intense time journaling and talking to yourself.

Another useful book for therapists and clients alike is Rent Two Films and Let’s Talk in the Morning by Jan and John Hesley. It was published in 1998 so some films are a bit dated, but others, like It’s A Wonderful Life, have become classics. In addition to archetypal characters, films can be useful in depicting modern versions of archetypal themes or journeys. Castaway, for example, is a wonderful ‘rite of passage’ film. For an excellent exploration of that film, see Saying Yes to Change: Essential Wisdom for your Journey by Joan Borysenko and Gordon Dveirin.

September 4, 2006

Can We Talk?

Filed under: 2007 and earlier,Claire's Articles,Relationships & Intimacy — karunacounseling @ 11:46 pm
Tags:

A Primer on Effective Communication

by Claire Scott, PhD

Hopefully by now you’ve memorized my earlier article on communication. That article covered the basics of listening and speaking and can be found in the article archives on this website if you missed it.

Before presenting additional information on communication, it bears repeating that LISTENING remains the key to good communication. Good listening skills create an open, respectful atmosphere between people. Attentive listening conveys acceptance, caring, and an effort to understand another’s perspective and feelings.

This article will provide additional information on other aspects of communication, specifically (1) developing a climate for good communication, (2) intent vs. impact problems, and (3) no-lose problem solving.

DEVELOPING A CLIMATE FOR EFFECTIVE COMMUNICATION

Take a look at the following model about the impact of various behaviors on communication. This information can help you select the ways you want to behave in order to create the kind of climate you want.

These kinds of behaviors:

Produce this kind of climate:

Which results in these kinds of feelings and responses:
Controlling 

Criticizing

Moralizing

Preaching

Yelling

Shaming

Attacking

Punishing

Guilt Inducing

Name calling

Judging

Ordering

Demanding

Interrupting

Analyzing

Labeling

Nagging

Sarcasm

Ridiculing

Listening

Attentiveness

Warmth

Openness

Validation

Affirmation

Clarifying

Rewarding

Showing interest

Good eye contact

Receptivity

Respectfulness

Sharing

Understanding

Trusting

DEFENSIVE 

ACCEPTANCE

Frustration 

Counter-Attack

Pretended compliance

Resentment

Hostility

Dependency

Distancing

Hiding

Denying

Apathy

Depression

Deception

Anger

Passive-Aggression

Aggression

Rebellion

Closing down

Fear

Cooperation

Emotional intimacy

Collaboration

Creativity

Open sharing

Mutuality

Closeness

Autonomy

Participation

Productiveness

Experimentation

Willingness to engage

It seems, given the above, that it should be relatively easy to produce a climate of acceptance and open communication. And yet, the reason most often cited for coming to therapy is problems in interpersonal relationships. And communication is the medium by which most problems in interpersonal relationships are created, and hopefully, solved.

It is important to remember that is it inevitable that any two people will have differences in their needs, wants, values, moods, priorities, and preferences. If you’ve ever lived or worked with others, you know how hard it can be just to arrive at a thermostat setting that suits everyone.

INTENT VS. IMPACT PROBLEMS

So what can one do to cut down on the amount of strife that is often generated when people clash over those differences? One important caveat is to remember that the INTENT you have when you say something can be very different from the IMPACT it has on the receiver of the message. Why is this so? All of us have an internal communication mechanism that works like a filter. Through this filter all messages must pass, whether we are sending or receiving the message. This filter is comprised of our background, our values, our beliefs, our sense of self-esteem, how it was done in our family, our hopes, etc., etc.

If you sense a message you sent was misunderstood, stop and check it out with the other person. If, for example, the other got hurt by something you said, when that was not what you intended, don’t assume he or she is just being difficult. Stop the process and ask: “It seems like what I just said hurt you, and I really didn’t mean to hurt you. What did you hear in what I said?” Slowing down the communication process, and taking time for clarification helps to open the channels of communication. Learning about your own and another person’s filters will help you to understand each other at a deeper level.

The next section is devoted to a problem-solving model that also might be helpful.

“NO-LOSE” PROBLEM SOLVING STEPS

The most common approach to handling conflict is a power struggle in which each person feels he or she must WIN the argument. Each person strives to prove his or her point and convince the other that “I am right about this and you should see it my way.” In such a strategy, someone must be the “loser” of the argument – if one is right, then the other must be wrong. And since no one likes to be wrong or lose, each person tends to argue louder and harder, which only serves to escalate an argument into a fight. No one really wins in this kind of fight, because if you win and leave your partner feeling like the loser, what have you really gained? As the old saying goes, you may win the battle, but chances are you will lose the war.

There is another way! In “no-lose” problem solving (also called “win-win” problem solving), the underlying principle is that each person’s needs, wants, perspective, and opinion, etc., are equally valid. In a mutually respectful relationship, the goal is to resolve differences in a way that leaves each person feeling valued, satisfied, and a “winner”.

There are two main commitments that must be made to accomplish ”no-lose” problem solving:

(a) Both parties agree to participate together in a search for a solution acceptable to both, and

(b) Both parties agree to stay in the problem-solving process until the matter is resolved, regardless of how long it may take (no getting angry and leaving in a huff — if a break seems appropriate, set up another specific time to continue).

Once those two assumptions are met, the method is as follows:

Make sure you have a clear definition of the problem, to which both parties agree. Try to make the problem statement as concrete and specific and non-blaming as possible. E.g., as opposed to ‘the problem is you never help out with household chores’, use language like ‘the problem is getting these specific household chores done.’

Generate possible solutions. Brainstorm about possibilities that might solve the problem — even ones that seem a little crazy!No evaluating or ruling out options allowed at this point. You may want to make a list of these options.

Once brainstorming is over, then evaluate the possible solutions that were generated. Important: Each person involved can rule out any option just by saying “that option doesn’t work for me.” He or she doesn’t have to give a “good-enough” reason or explain why it won’t work – they need only say it won’t work and that option gets crossed off the list. (If all options are ruled out, start over — generate more options, or possibly redefine the problem.)

Pick one of the remaining options that you can both agree to try for a while.

Set a time for a follow-up evaluation to see how the solution is working. If it is not working well, you can go through the process again and try something else.

Implement the option you have selected.

Obviously this approach is not a cure-all, but it can go a long way toward helping relationships get on a good track.

One last closing comment: Good communication is a skill. Any skill takes practice. You will probably feel awkward and stilted while you are getting used to it. But good communication is a skill very much worth working toward, one that pays huge dividends in terms of the quality of your relationships.

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