My Work as a Psychotherapist
Problem areas that I look to help with include Anxiety, Depression, Confusion; Couple, Marital or Family Conflict; Stress, Work Dilemmas, Lack of Personal Freedom, Trouble finding Meaning in Life, Spiritual or Energetic Disharmonies...
My time as a psychotherapist has also included working to help people with career, relationship, existential or emotional stress; single incident and complex, family of origin post traumatic stress disorder; physical, emotional, sexual and spiritual abuse. After over 40 years I have to say there is little that I have not had some experience with - what any person seeing me might bring to a session.
What do I see as the pivotal point for assisting any of us to learn to change? I find that one of our most harmful, self deceptive myths is in the way a lot of us have been taught to believe that we each live mainly as one central personality, a "self" that is largely in charge of our lives (or at least struggles to be so). The reality is far more complex. We have many subpersonalities, scripted Personas - who can even be in profound conflict with each other.
Unfortunately, all too frequently at least some of these "Autopilot" type (automatic, reactive style) aspects or "sides" of ourselves (that we see as Who We Are without questioning them too much) are caught in life long patterns: habits of thought, feeling or action that can really be considered addictions - particularly given how destructive they can be... Just think of our Global Culture's habits of Consuming, Exploiting, Warring and so forth.
Inevitably these Autopilot patterns include some mix of four overall styles: 1) an active seeking to Dominate, 2) a passive descent into Victimhood (being unable to accept Power and Worth, 3) a passive caring for Self or own's Group more than Others or 4) the reverse of #3, an active caring for Others more than Self or one's own Group. I term these respectively 1) Pushing, 2) Negating, 3) Dreaming and 4) Bridging. Real balance is when all of these styles within us are learning from all the others. I will be elaborating how it is these four styles emerge (and can evolve) in a book I hope to publish by spring 2016, to be called Our Way Off Autopilot.
It's complex because overall, this set of Autopilot realities is actually an Ecosystem. It functions at the group/societal/collective level, as well as within each of us individually. It is like a human malware program which jumps back and forth between self and social reality, compromising our overall Balance. For instance, an Autopilot type Pushy Sociopath can be a country's personal dictator or warlord - but it can also be embodied in an unethical, ruthlessly Capitalistic Corporation - which is "legally", supposedly a Person as well!
Here's another way for me to explain this. Consider how it is we can each seek (more mindfully - or perhaps more desperately!) to possess - or else to avoid possessing - a balanced place for ourselves in the world. Companies, countries, couples (and obviously key Celebrity type individuals [Mmmm, say Charlie Sheen (?) et al ] as well as you and I): we are All also trying to Obtain What We Want, yes? When such Pushiness fails (as it inevitably does!) we feel Negated. Then our only other options may seem to be to try and Bridge (again inevitably ineffectually) or Dream (addictively). Living through any of these Autopilot self programs or scripts, we fail to realize that - for real balance - we need the completeness in us, what indigenous peoples call the Four Directions... Here it's a Rehabilitating of these four Autopilot styles so that they are learning to work to Include each other - instead of their usual Competing.
To paraphrase the Buddha: The cause of all suffering is our unawareness.
Whatever the emotional, situational, relationship or psychological problem: overt or subtle, seemingly simple, long term or a supposedly unsolvable dilemma, issue or situation - I believe that something can be done through a certain type of 'personal stance': a looking to re-discover balance for oneself on a daily, moment to moment basis. The Dalai Lama calls this happiness. Others have called it many other names: Flow, Wui Wei, Mindfulness... It feels like being caring towards both oneself as well as others yet living calmly in the moment. You're not following a script for that, however, (as we sometimes need to realize we've been doing!) This is even possible when there seems to be no workable (external) solution...
I believe this because I have seen this work over the years: that our perspective or stance towards ourselves and others as well as towards both the overall situation and it's possibilities makes a Big difference. For instance, one day you can easily Survive the dilemma of talking to a particularly annoying person and another day it just does not feel possible - that's the difference I'm referring to. It is not one "Attitude", it's an availability of internal resources: firm where it needs to be as well as flexible when that's needed.
This is complex to convey. Attitude - as taught in most of our societies - has often actually been Judgement, Defensiveness, Bigotry or any of a myriad of other out of balance perspectives, thus entrenching interpersonal and systemic abuse. Our societies sanction this dominance. The forcing/conditioning of Attitudes of indulgence, violence, dissociation or victimization towards oneself and others is probably one of The Biggest Problems underlying our world's and our individual pain...
It has been the Parent's, Boss' or Corporation's attitude of "Just Do It" or "Suck it Up" or "Take that Smirk off your face" and alllllll the other variations of these scripts that have created havoc in our lives. (I was even told in school that I was NEVERRR to Repeat Letters or Capitalize Unnecessarily!) We were not supposed to carry the Assertive, Rebellious part of our young fresh selves into Adult Life. Of course we can also have carried it Too Much - so much so that our rebellion has then dominated our adult lives... We've often ended up therefore with either a reactive Autopilot stance of CONFORMING or a reactive Autopilot stance of NON-CONFORMING. Either way we are not in a balanced, conscious relationship with ourselves or with our world.
So how could some kind of change to how we approach our lives or ourselves help all this?
For an Extreme Example: Let's imagine I am standing caught, cemented knee deep into a hard flat concrete roadway with no person in sight(!) An automated steamroller is headed towards me and will inescapably crush me to death in the next minute(!) I submit to you that I STILL have choices - choices in my attitude (how I handle myself in the moment) - in this case whether I die screaming and desperate or die with as much dignity and composure as I am able to muster in the circumstances... :>)
I use that "lovely example" above to make this key point: it is the choice of our personal Attitudinal stance - of how to Be With Ourselves (and thus with Others) - that makes a key difference in how we will experience life. Consider: I could have used the complete reverse type of example... For example, say I'm sitting in my "Here and Now" in an ideally prepared situation - wherever, whenever that might be and whether I understand that or not... It's been arranged by my higher self, my knowing intuition - set up for me to understand myself and my world more through This HereNow. All I need do, for example, is go through the painful breakup with this person I've believed is "perfect for me" in order to realize what I had not yet noticed about the relationship - which then allows me to grow in awareness and perspective. Yet I can't pay attention - and get that next piece of self understanding. I'm preoccupied - caught "on Autopilot" by what some aspect, some subpersonality of mine is focused on - say the next external source of consumption, possession or dominance addiction...
This is a crucial "filter" for All your interactions with your world. It is also something you can actually shift: your relationship with self . Often we are being controlled by a script or subpersonality that has an Attitude (!) - but that aspect of self is Not the Whole of Us! In most cases that persona's attitude to life has been scripted: conditioned and trained by previous experience. Yes, there are certainly also impacting genetic differences, as well as present metabolic/body chemistry state differences. If you have just had a lot of coffee (or alcohol) or else you are still recovering from sleeping pills or other medications your attitude is at least partially then driven by those influences. All the same, our genetics are not yet (!) controllable and whether you have had an Upper (like coffee) or a Downer (like a tranquilizer) will still have been at least somewhat chosen through the type of relationship to self you are currently experiencing... So for workable change, the Autopilot type Scripts in these personas, moods, and sides of ourselves are indeed crucial.
If you choose to investigate these automatic, attitudinal scripts - as they exist within your actions and reactions - you will likely find they developed as impulsive defences or offences you had in original early life conflicts. They started as attempts to Try and Stay Okay in various difficult situations. The trouble is that 10, 20 or 30 years later we are still using these computer program type scripts - now as Personas, subpersonalities - on an "Autopiloted" (i.e. conditioned) basis. These subtly scripted style responses and attitudes will then impact what way others will respond to us... It is these out of balance subpersonalities, then, these worries, needs, addictions and depressions which are impeding our connection with Flow, Balance, Mindfulness - with true happiness.
Balanced Attitude: The blessing you give yourself and the world.
Such an Integrity to one's attitude is a flexibility, focused towards harmony. In Taoist and other Eastern terms I believe it would be known as an embracing of the enigma called Chi, the mysterious factor which Lao tzu credits (in paraphrase) as "harmonizing the passive, Chaos type forms of Yin with active, Order type elements of Yang". It is Not a further Imposing of anything on yourself or others. This balanced attitude is about you Caring for You, as well as for All Others.
That stance is really like a calming Location within our overall experience of ourselves. It's a particular position you take in your energy body, a location of coherence towards oneself and the world. It's been called lots of different terms. Here, I'll say that it starts as a sense of a Balanced Observer which leads "up" within oneself to what is also called the Higher Self - what I whimsically call the Detached Eenthusiastically Initiating and Oserving Self - i.e. D E I O S location within us. I'd suggest (as did Taoism's Lao tzu) that any final, definitive "Naming of This" is impossible. Still, we can Point Toward it through such terms as Inner Tao, Higher Self or simply as Middle as I am doing in the book I will be publishing on this: Our Way Off Autopilot. This inner calming place can make All The Difference... (See the Dreaming, or else the Resources page for more.) Each of us has some access to it - but the point is - we can get more.
Our flexibility to start being able to do and be all this is available through what some writers and psychologists have termed emotional intelligence: the capacity to be flexible in our emotional reactions. Buddhists and Taoists would call it a meditative approach to life. It's the balanced attitude to take all parts of one's life with equanimity. The times when you have felt a curious mix of balanced yet grounded happiness are instances of this. In Christian terms it might be termed a state of Grace. In practice it's the height of balanced self assertion. When you have access to this balanced place in yourself you know that other peoples realities are supported by your quiet assertiveness: they also feel better through knowing "where you're at". They will know that it is not a problem for them to be putting their needs on the table because they also know you're able to take care of yourself. As you also feel okay with putting your needs out clearly as well, then the two of you (or however many are involved!) can work out what to do next. All this leads towards win - win situations happening more easily.
A lot of people first coming for therapy or attending a workshop on increasing their personal life balance may be expecting something whiz bang, something that the therapist or leader is going to Do To Them. In contrast, in my opinion, anyone looking for help needs to find their own assertive Authorship for their lives. This happens as you Take and/or Find the reality of something like this assertive/proactive stance I've outlined (in your own terms and ways) - but for You... This then gives you a tool for shifting your life and your relationships yourself - not becoming dependent on some external authority who is going to be telling you what to do!
Too many forms of life processing, coaching, spiritual work or therapy can tend to take advantage of this vulnerability - telling the new client or acolyte What to Do... They then have a New Boss or New Parent - who may perhaps mean well, but who do not put the client, patient, acolyte or customer's freedom first - basically because no one can Know another's Truth for them! It's like neglecting the Prime Directive in the Star Trek movies (that one needs to be mindful to not dominate someone as they grow...)
So. I'm "attempting" to show - here on this website or if you were to see me in person - that it is your own expansive self that can become more in charge of your life... Not through that Self actually Dominating You, though! In other words, I do not mean that this being more in charge is being more controlling of other people or yourself. I mean being more in charge of looking to find that Balanced Observer, that Middle place in you... because it Feels Better, calmer, more assertive - more happy. This requires reflective dialogue with yourself and with others, caring for yourself and others, because you and anyone you're in contact with will be better off. And that's what you want, isn't it?
Reflecting onwards: How it is we can Mindfully Live our Lives?
I suspect that this capacity to be reflective is somewhat hard-wired into us. But consider... How often do we give ourselves emotional or interpersonal Space to do that, though?
When reflection is stalled (or not happening in a balanced, spontaneous way) I suggest that it is in those times that there are routines, scripts, needs, fears, beliefs and so forth getting in the Way of that... getting in our way of finding more inner/outer balance.
Expansive Reflecting happens as we most clearly experience who and how we Know ourselves. Reflecting, meditating, contemplating - being within a state of Flow is a start to accessing your Middle - that Detached Enthusiastically Initiating Observing Self.
As I paused for a bit here in typing and "reflected" on, for instance, the writing/building of this website from its first version in 2004 up through all these following years my immediate impulse was that: "I really should thank my wife for her indulging of me" given all the many long hours I've spent, plugged into my computer, putting this together. Call this Reflection Layer One. It was actually part of an Autopilot Script, not too much of a really inclusive form of reflecting. Did you notice?
That first layer reflection above says a lot about my personal Programming - i.e. my personal Autopilot styles. A lot of our scripts include key "contextualizers" in words (or else in tones) that say things like Should, Ought to, Have to, Supposed to and so on (i.e. towards self or others). I once counted, for instance, that both my (British born and raised) parents would use the word "Sorry" every second or third sentence! Okay... so say I delve further, reflect more on "Should Thank my wife". This first layer is me focused on how "I am Wrong, so Sorry for Imposing My Intent for Helping Others. Working all those hours; I have also Harmed her". This is similar to scripts which many of us learn. If I leave it there at such a layer (and fail to reflect more deeply) I will have missed an opportunity to expand my awareness.
This is because in that first reflection layer "I" am separate, disconnected from honouring the complexity of my relationships. Perhaps my wife is glad I've done this. If I Assume her displeasure (without checking that out) I am not flexibly considering all the options, I'm living on a predetermined script, perhaps a multi-layered Autopilot persona who is afraid of her anger or something. Delving to reflect more deeply on "writing this website for all these years" perhaps I'd also find, say, that I've been writing to avoid communicating all this to people directly in person - as I have a script which says I should not believe I have something Really worthwhile to convey. Do you get the flavour of this here? It's when any of us delve more interactively with the possible scripts that we may have going on that we will find more of what motivates us, where our passion, intent or Love for Life is wanting us to go! There are fascinating layers for us to journey through here...
There is a similarity then to the Russian Dolls analogy; where, as we open up one first superficial, surface level of ourselves, we then find another more refined layer - a smaller doll within. These layers of self - receding up/off into the more enigmatic, detached-yet-engaged, more comprehensive aspects of self - are really part of the classic journey into the realm of soul within.
Considering all the pages of this site, other than the pragmatic focus of the contact page, each of the pages of this site has been an attempt to demonstrate that your life and your personal growth through life can be impacted by these Autopilot self routines - those first few layers of the "Russian Dolls". On the other hand you can go further... So as I reflect to a next level here, I know that my Intent for this Reflecting page is to be able to convey some of my sense of the Joy of accessing more freedom for oneself through this process that I'm attempting to demonstrate here! In other words, You can find that expansiveness for yourself as I am finding it for me and attempting to demonstrate that for you. This, my friends, is also how we can pull ourselves through entrenched depression, victimhood, compulsions, addictions or anxiety - by following the layers... Particularly as you look say at the four key Autopilot styles or aspects that I explain halfway down the "Images and Identifying" page here you will see how these overly Passive or Active, overly Self or else Other focused scripts have been keeping us caught, held in the sway of their predetermined expectations...
So although despair, anxiety, conflict, domination, depression and so forth can appear rampant (and like the doom and gloom one may feel about a threatening personal or widespread economic melt down - in how infectious they can seem!) finding more of a sense of inner personal freedom can also become contagious, spreading a balance of reflective optimism <:-)
When you are more Open to the unique self that You Are, balanced in the Middle of the bickering or depressed or otherwise "dysregulated subpersonalities" you are carrying with you (i.e. the Autopilot's four Persona styles) you can feel yourself having more freedom for going in this or that personal direction. You are not being herded along by your controlling Autopilot. You feel more connection with the sense of having an Intent for living in Peace - a capacity for mindfully weighing what option you want to actualize next.
For me this website has been about my chance to "give back". I know, as well, that (through my exploring of all this as I have written it over these years) it has also been a chance to further my own journey... so I thank you for that. I sincerely hope it will also have been of use to you.
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