Power, Threat and Meaning

A group of clinical psychologists have recently started a debate about the increasingly frail system of labelling emotional and psychological ‘problems’.   They question, rather helpfully, the tendency to label behaviour and responses as ‘problems’ at all.

EXPERIMENT:  take a bit of paper and identify something current in your life – preferably a minor obstacle – and consider:

‘What happened to you?’ (How has Power operated in or on your life?)
‘How did it affect you?’ (What kind of Threats does this pose?)
What sense did you make of it?’ (What is the Meaning in that situation?). NB This may be more difficult than it first seems. Give yourself time, if needs be; put things down and come back to your results, if needs be).
What did you do, or are your doing to survive?’ (What kinds of Threat Response are you using?)

In addition, the approach picks up part of the SWOT analysis mentioned in the Blog:

‘What are your strengths?’ (What access to Power resources do you have?)

…and asks if these questions help you know:

‘What is your story?’ (and what changes, if any, do you want to make?)

Note some parallel here with the Transactional Analytic questions mentioned in my blog:

What do you want?

How will you get what you want?

What stops you getting what you want?

Who or what do you need, in addition, now, to get what you want?.

The questions, here, have in common the wish for you to ask questions that move things forward, rather than simply label a condition.

Too often health professionals spend time on what is known as ‘assessment’; collecting the ‘facts’ relevant to your life story so you can be ‘treated’.

The questions, here, leave off assessment in the traditional form, and seek to cast light on what you understand about your current circumstances.

Most importantly, it is an approach that invites you to start formulating a way forward, rather than waiting to be ‘told’!

Ways to return to the main blog:

How to give yourself a nudge

Welcome to Find Your Nudge

The Defence Mechanisms

I have been prompted to think about the psychological ‘defence mechanisms’. These come out of Freudian tradition of psychological therapies. A detailed account of some of these mechanisms can be found in several places but have a look on:

https://www.psychologistworld.com/freud/defence-mechanisms-list

The full list is long so I will only sample some of them.

Acting Out: when our energies are diverted into some action to alleviate a strong impulse.

EXPERIMENT: recall a memory of a time when he felt you were acting out of character.  In retrospect, how would you have preferred it to be? How might you have ‘acted in’; that is, used a Body Scan to notice your internal thoughts, feelings and sensations so you could ‘label’ then more authentically.

Avoidance: walking around an obstacle rather than looking it in the eye.

EXPERIMENT: recall a time when when you were angry with some-one important in your life.  With the benefit of hindsight, was there something you might have said and done that would have addressed that feeling more directly?

Conversion and somatisation: when a high emotion stores itself in the body. Babette Rothschild wrote an interesting text about this called The Body Remembers. Her web site is well worth a visit if you are keen on researching.

EXPERIMENT: the Body Scan exists to help you be in touch with internal sensations.  When you do the Body Scan over a period of time, it is likely that you will notice a pattern; a discomforting sensation that persistently appears in one particular part of your body. Can you use meditation and relaxation to relate to the experience differently?

Denial: what better way to put something to one side than to pretend it does not exist. This phenomenon is important in safe experimenting and links very closely to the notion of Discounting, I touch on in my blog. Look to the blog for more on this.
Displacement: involves diverting spare energy into an action with some, or little, relevance to the stress we are experiencing.

EXPERIMENT: consider whether you have been frustrated about a persistent obstacle in your life a lot. How have you responded to that frustration? You may have benefited from it, e.g. by working harder to compensation for an apparent loss or short-coming. Equally, you may resolved in your mind to say  ‘dammit’ and rebelled against the issue by becoming the ‘bad boy’ or bad .girl’.
Dissociation: this is an important behaviour addressed in my blog and too complex to address in passing, here..
Humour: why not laugh it off? I’ll leave you to find the time when you did this as I think you’ll find an example without too much prompting. Emergency service personnel are notorious for ‘black humour’, an understandable protection against the horrors of their daily round.

Idealisation: placing some-one on a pedestal may be easier than looking at a ‘truer’ picture. By the way, have you noticed we can idealise ourselves or, in compensation,  damn ourselves. Anything rather than looking at who we are?!  You may notice how Hollywood makes a virtue of this tendency in some films!

EXPERIMENT: use the image below to write down one or two words  of description for some-one important in your life.  Take a break and return to the descriptions later. Notice ways in which see that other in a rather partial way.  In what way do you miss the ‘true person’, whatever that is?


Identification: a specific case of this is the so-called Stockholm Syndrome – when individuals taken hostage in a bank raid came to side with their kidnappers. Baloo the Bear had this right when, in the Disney film The Jungle Book, he sang the song: I want to be like you. When did you sing the same song, and about whom?!

Intellectualisation: I’m good at this. Let’s explain it all away, rather than feel it! A special case of this is called “mustabation”, when we explain something away with a few rules and commands to ourselves to others.

EXPERIMENT: take some time to listen to a conversation in a group of people – preferably one involving in you. Attend to the language and notice the use of words like ‘should’, ‘must’, ‘ought’ and ‘absolutely’. Later, as you reflect on this conversation, consider how helpful those words are. Are they a ‘cover’ for telling self and others what to believe, rather than helping the other person really think something through.

Projection: or, dump it all one some-one else, especially our nearest and dearest. That is a good way to get rid of bad parts of ourselves! bad

EXPERIMENT: how often have you felt bad about something in your life and dumped any bad feeling inside yourself on some-one else nearby, e.g. accused them of being angry or perverse? What might you have done differently to express yourself more directly or, as they say, authentically?

Rationalisation: or explain it all away. How many experiments are there for that.

Reaction Formation: or go in the opposite direction just to be perverse. That is, when love turns into hate. In the transactional analytic (TA) model there is a useful diagram called the Karpman Triangle that demonstrates just how quickly we can move from one extreme to another when passions run high. Well worth some exploration, if you are interested. Does the triangle help you formulate an experiment in your world?

Repression: a bit like denial, but potentially more accessible. Denial is a high level of discounting whereas repression is maintained by our personal ability to detach from reality – whatever that is.

Regression: flight into the security of yesterday when today feels a bit harsh.

EXPERIMENT: Use the ‘inverted tree’ model  or your road-map. described early on in my blog.

This may help you recall times when -on later life – you floated back to your early years in an attempt to find comfort. The blog EXPERIMENT: finding a Safe Place is, for me, an OK version of this process.
Splitting: or “nothing to do with me, Gov; it was him (or her)”.
Suppression: conscious repression often of a temporary nature; something we can put out of our mind for a while.

Transference: when we take qualities of one person and project – see above – those qualities on to another person and act towards the other as if. The end result is an unreal relationship. There are several forms of transference, including the intensities involved when we fall in love. It is a potential complication in therapy as therapists can be cast into the role of expert, when they are unable to be an expert in you. Tranferential experiences can emerge from real or imagined childhood relationships, such as parent, teacher, or charismatic school friend.  It is knowledge of this phenomenon that led me, in my blog, to caution against the tendency to relate to the idea of some-one rather than their present self.

Bear in mind that the original psycho-analytical model – formulated it is worth remembering well over 100 years ago – was both implicitly and explicitly judgmental. Originally, some of the defence mechanisms were labelled “mature”, that is OK in some ways. Others were vaguely disapproved of and needed ‘treatment’ or, at least, worked through (especially the transferences).

To be an effective experimenter, you will need to approach all of the defence mechanisms with more respect and to appreciate that they are there to do an important job.  Your task is to harness your energy to find ways in which those reactions will help you to do something different.

In what way may these ‘mechanisms’ help you with designing your safe experiments?

 

How to do safe experiments for yourself

Welcome to Find Your Nudge

How to give yourself a nudge

The Evolving Ape.

Recently I was asked: why provide this information for free? Doesn’t your living depend on it?

As an evolving ape, I am beginning to realise that there is an alternative to short-term profiteering from other people’s hardship and distress.

To explain what I getting at here prompts me to comment on my motivation for writing this blog.

For a start, I am writing it for me; I am gathering my thoughts at the tail-end of my career.

That said, I am confident that my story will help me talk to a different kind of ‘client’ or, indeed, a non-client (as well as old clients).  There are people out there who are able to change themselves with minimal professional guidance. I will be happy enough if just one person makes a safe change in the direction of their life without consultation with me or anyone else!

Furthermore, in practical terms, my approach may increase the flow of business to professional therapists. Some people reading this material will do some experimenting and come to the conclusion that some professional advice may help. That is a ‘good thing’ as the first step along the path of change is the recognition that something needs to change. The individual becomes more confident about how, and where, to find the help that will move things on. In the jargon of my professional world, this is termed resource-building!

By becoming more aware of what we need to do, and the obstacles to getting things done, we can identify our own conclusion and act on it. The most successful clients I have ever worked with are those who come to meet me after they have already started to make changes.

One obstacle to change I have observed are those occasions when we are told what conclusions to draw, and how to behave, based on those conclusions. For example, our families and life partners do this to us with the very best of intentions, but that behaviour can have the unintended consequence of stopping us in our tracks – of only when we are prompted to rebel against what we are told!

There is a lot of difference between information that directs us toward something, and similar comments that simply point out, or guide us. Once we had spiritual teachers directing our behaviour from the pulpit, or its equivalent. Today we are more able to assess information and make judgments for ourselves. Humankind has not been around so very long, but we are still evolving from reactive being into a thinking self and, thereafter, to an increasingly self-directing human being. Sadly, I am aware that this comes at a cost as some people initiate large and unsafe ‘experiments’ that endanger themselves and others around them. For the present, we still need laws to contain those disorganised individuals.

When you find that my material is interfering with your move toward self-direction – and I am sure you will find something when you look closely at my material – please let me know.

I do not want to make that mistake. I will change the content to ensure that you are helped to draw your conclusion and to devise the changes that you want to make.

 

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Welcome to Find Your Nudge

How to give yourself a nudge

How to do safe experiments for yourself

Models informing therapy

There are literally hundreds of approaches to therapy. How can some-one find out what works for them? It is a precarious business as you will need to find out what works for you!

One way of trying to explore this minefield is to explore the processes of change underpinning any one model. In 1977, James Prochaska embarked on a journey through the various systems of therapy. He concluded that theories of psychotherapy can be summarized by ten processes of change and I am reducing this to seven. Apologies to any-one offended by my summary! It’s a lot to cram in and some folk may well not wish to associated with some of the labels I am using!! Remember, I am not writing to as an accurate research review; only as a device to help you find ways to explore your truths. When you can see where I am going wrong, will be the day when your view is becoming clearer by the day! The seven categories I offer are:

  1. Consciousness raising: helping you bring the unconscious in to the conscious. This is found in the ‘traditional’ approaches of psycho-analysis, Freud and Jung and many others. Also, the psycho-social model of Erik Erikson and Jean Piaget, and others, once dominated therapy by covering a range of ideas about how humans grown and develop. It is difficult to offer an helpful link into this vast area of research and study.
  2. Self-liberation: breaking out of your prison created by your past. This can be seen in the radical therapies from the Lesbian, Gay and Bi-sexual and Transgender movement (LGBT), or in the more mainstream material of Dorothy Rowe, and others. I believe the Person-Centred School, emerging from the work of Carl Rogers, would want to see itself operating in this area.
  3. Social liberation: working with others to change the existing social order. Rather a favourite of radical and revolutionary thinking, this approach is well represented by the radical South American RC priest, Paulo Friere. More can be found on:  https://justliving808.files.wordpress.com/2017/08/freire-ch-1-and-2.pdf
  4. Counter-conditioning: involves ‘inoculating’ yourself against past habits by the deliberate alteration of behaviour, attitudes and beliefs. Transactional Analysis is a good example here as it helps us to identify our life Script and amend it. It has informed a lot of what I have included in my material.
  5. Stimulus control: models using affect regulation help you to discriminate what you can control, from experiences and events beyond your own control.  One example, and there are many, include; https://www.emotionregulationtherapy.com/.
  6. Contingency management: summarised as changing behaviour to hope for the best, and prepare for the worst, an approach well represented by Albert Ellis’s Rational Emotive Therapy (RET), and its cousins . See https://www.verywellmind.com/rational-emotive-behavior-therapy-2796000
  7. Dramatic relief: acting decisively to see things differently can be represented by Psychodrama and the work of Jacob Moreno and his followers. For further information, see: https://www.crchealth.com/types-of-therapy/what-is-psychodrama/. Also the work of  recently-deceased Arthur Janov and his ‘Primal Scream’ fits in here. For more information, see: www.primaltherapy.com/what-is-primal-therapy.php.

Notice the use of the term ‘trans-theoretical’ to cover a number of models that want to integrate different approaches – meaning the approach wishes to be above (any one) theory. In some ways, this has been my intention. I share the approach that recommends that we act, as well as think. Too often, however, you may find the action is prescribed by the model. I am asking you to move from the recommendations of others, toward confidently designed safe experiments of your own. This is often overlooked; the ACT Approach does explicitly ask you to find your own direction, but too often, in other models,  the advice is implicit and often sacrificed in the name of self-publicity.

Tap the link here to return to other pages:

Welcome to Find Your Nudge

How to give yourself a nudge

When ‘doing’ isn’t enough.

Practical relaxation and meditation

I mention relaxation, controlled breathing and body scans throughout my blog. A question was raised about how it all fitws together and here are my thoughts on that

…. however, possibly attending a class in your area would be the best introduction. For the present, meanwhile, consider these experiments.

ATTEND TO YOUR POSTURE

sit upright, look straight ahead,place your hands on knees or upper leg; keep your feet firmly on floor.

THINK ABOUT YOUR BREATHING

breathe only through your nose, with your mouth closed. Breathe in slowly to the count of around three; in through the nose and out through mouth. Evenly in and out.

USE THE BODY SCAN

slowly allow your attention to travel from the top of your head to the smallest pinkie on your toes. Notice what thoughts, feelings and sensations you observe as your focus moves down your body (it can be up, if you prefer)?

As it helps, note any Subjective Unit of Discomfort (SUD) level (0-10) associated with a particular thought, feeling or sensation.

FOCUS

your attention on a specific thought, feeling or sensation. You may need to make choices as a body scan will produce more than one result. Consider address each choice in an organised way. To help you focus, consider these further experiments:

  • use external objects – fix your eyes on an object above you and to one side.
  • use internal information – ‘just notice’ the disturbance(s) of thought, feeling or sensation from the body scan.

ATTENTION

use your internal dialogue to acknowledge any disturbance of thought, feeling or sensation.

use any other self-talk or diversionary strategies, as you wish. This may include

  • affirmation work. “Even though I am feeling [name the feeling you observe] I can deeply and completely accept myself”.
  • use of your breathing to attend to any unwanted tension in your muscles and body.
  • using the out-breath to let go of the unwanted tension, allowing your body to relax down, little by little, at the same time.

EYES

as your eyes become tired, having ‘played’ with images created around the fixed object, allow your eyes to close in your own time and meditate on any image created within your ‘inner eye’.

THIS PROCESS CAN CONTINUE FOR A FEW MINUTES OR FOR PARTS OF AN HOUR, AS YOU WISH, OR AS TIME ALLOWS.

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How to give yourself a nudge

Control breathing to keep calm. Is it really that simple!

My blog does emphasis the value of simple breathing exercises to calm ourselves. These exercises work for many people as they focus attention on our physiology – the workings of our bodies – and less on intricate psychological processes. Physiology seems to reach more of us than psychology!

However, thinking about breathing is a simple beginning. I’d ask you to think about controlled breathing – however you do it – as a gateway to many other important safe experiments. Controlled breathing is one step to take in affect regulation (to provide the official title for the process of soothing ourselves). On the subject of affect regulation there is a ton of research you can read, and, by way of a health warning, it is not very digestible. Affect regulation refers to the ability to maintain or increase positive feelings and well-being states and to minimise or regulate stress feelings and defensive states.

The idea of affect regulation is very old as it arises from the earlier, traditional psychological models. A living expert in this field is Allan Schore and he has two books of over 300 pages devoted to the topic. It is an important subject – infants and children have to learn how to control their responses to the world and carers are generally charged with helping that process. Some are more or less capable here. Therapy often exists to support and repair damage done in early years. Unfortunately, rather like the acquisition of language, it is less easy to put things right in later years.

To compound the problem, affect regulation rather depends on a deep understanding of human neuro-science. On this subject, Schore is well worth studying along with Louis Cozolino (The Neuroscience of Psychotherapy). For a more readable introduction to  the topic, have a look at Sebastian Seung’s Connectome.  A useful text that looks wider has Peter Fonagy as a lead writer (Affect Regulation, Mentalisation and the Development of the Self). Just a few glances at one or more of these texts will reinforce the idea that controlled breathing does, indeed, simply scratch the surface of ways to calm ourselves.

…. but you could be forgiven for the passing thought that therapy and therapists have a talent for complicating the picture and created a mystery around the change process. My own blog is less concerned with the under-pinning of affect regulation and more on practical ways in which you can enhance your own skills – on a daily basis.

For an interesting introduction to a brief affect regulation therapy, take a look at:

http://www.affectregulationtherapy.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/About-brief-Affect-Regulation-Therapy.pdf

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How to give yourself a nudge

Welcome to Find Your Nudge

 

 

Do you need some change?

I have been asked how the ‘safe experiment’ model fits into our understanding of how we change.

This is a good point as some of the theory around change explains why we have to persist with some experiments and learn from results that leave us discomforted – those small defeats, I mention.

Effective change appears to require some initial inspiration, growing motivation, an effective strategy that transforms into the ‘do-able thing’.

The results of one do-able thing after another make the change. If its the  preferred change – then you will do more of it. If it is an unexpected or undesirable change, then you will find something a little bit different to experiment with instead.

For a practical example of a change process, specifically relating to the research of James Prochaska and Carlo DiClemente, take a look at:

stepupprogram.org/docs/handouts/STEPUP_Stages_of_Change.pdf

This material is based on important research contained in their text:

Trans-theoretical Stages of Change model (1983).

Those four pages, alone, provide considerable practical suggestions for any number of safe experiments. TRY IT!!

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How to give yourself a nudge.

Welcome to Find Your Nudge.

 

 

What are “negative cognitions”

Several folk have noticed this phrase appearing a lot in my blog. I have been asked what it means in English.

This is a good question as it is a central idea within Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and Eye Movement De-sensitisation and Re-processing (EMDR), indeed, a lot of other therapies. Negative cognitions are phrases we have in our head that usually bad-mouth ourselves and/or other people. In therapy it is best to concentrate on ourselves. Therefore, negative cognitions generally begin with “I”.

Most of these beliefs about ourselves are concerned with basic things – control, responsibility, vulnerability, and getting it [life] wrong.

There are many of them, as you might imagine; indeed, as many as we can all generate together. Some examples include:

 

I am worthless  … inadequate …. shameful ….. not loveable …… not good enough,

I deserve to die. …..  to be miserable ….

I don’t belong …..

Typical negative thoughts around RESPONSIBILITY include:

I should have known better.

and around VULNERABILITY include:

I cannot trust myself  … my judgement ….. trust anyone

and around CONTROL/CHOICE

I am not in control  ….I am powerless …. I am weak …… I am a failure.

 

Compare that with some positive cognitions (or affirmations, as they can be known).

I deserve love.

I am a loving person.

I am worthy.; I am worthwhile.

I deserve good things.

I can trust myself ….. I am safe now …… I can safely show my emotions ….. I am now in control …..I can get what I want.

Any of these phrases sound interesting? Try saying one inside your head. What does it feel like?

Do not be surprised if you feel uncomfortable; that can be expected. Any thoughts on why that might be so? If it is so, what experiment comes to mind to help you on your way?

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Preparing to design safe experiments

Early on in my main blog I included some ideas on how to design a safe experiment. Some people have realised the value of recording as part of the experiment, but they have asked me whether there is a systematic way of collecting information to prepare for all this. Well, as you might imagine, there are many alternatives and your researches may come up with a few. However, here is a simple set of questions to ask yourself before you get into planning:

  1. What do you want to change? this is the most general and, if needs be, most vague idea about your wishes for your future. The Road Map experiment, included in the early part of the main blog,  may well help here.
  2. How might you get want you want? This is a brain-storming exercise (meaning – just write everything and anything down on a bit of paper as it comes out of you head! Only when you’ve exhausted everything possible – however zany – you can then sift through the material to see if some particular things ring a bell).
  3. From all you now know: can you identify a problem that you’d like to solve about your current situation. Consider your life as thoroughly as possible – your physical health and well-being, your emotional health and well being, your present emotional state and the beliefs you possess about yourself and the world you live in. Body Scans, and all the exercises associated with them, can help here.
  4. In particular, identify negative thoughts that appear to be stopping you making changes. What things might be stopping you – in your work, home and your community; what limits do you appear to place on your self?. Beware of blaming others here as blame IS a major stopper. Remain aware of YOU – your body, your sensations, your emotions and beliefs. Be open to unpleasant feelings of shame, jealousy, fear and bitterness.
  5. For some people there may be critical incident(s) in their life that haunt or plague them. This is particularly likely where there has been some abuse or trauma in your personal history. Make a brief, factual note of any incident(s) noting, all the while, how easy it is to be drawn into them. This is one time, at this early stage, where avoidance is OK – on a temporary basis!
  6. From all this information, can you discern one or two specific opinions or beliefs that you  have developed about yourself – who you are. Can you record those thoughts briefly and to the point, e.g. I have failed in life; I am my own worst enemy etc.
  7. Does a single life message emerge from it all; e.g. life isn’t worthwhile, I don’t deserve to succeed.

Bear in are mind, as I have said a few times, these can be unsettling exercises. It would be wise to have available a back-up plan. Some-one to talk to and share with.

Once completed, you may find it possible to return to the main blog and revisit the section on AIMS AND OBJECTIVES. Do use your browser search facility to winkle it out.

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