This week I was interviewed for the second time by Michael Carroll on his quirky, funny, and intelligent alternative radio show, The Mikie Show. Mikie constructs the whole show himself and it sounds wonderful. I think I get to say some good stuff, too. Give it a listen. I hope you enjoy. The Mikie Show Episode 20 featuring Glenn Berger

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Why can my son play video-games forever but can’t focus on his homework for a minute? Why do I hate myself whenever I try to write a paper? Why does my daughter do the same dumb things over and over again?

As a psychotherapist, I hear these kinds of questions all the time from parents and young people. The answer that most professionals give is to diagnose the sufferer with ADD, short for Attention Deficit Disorder.

I have a new and different way of thinking about, and dealing with, these problems. I call this model The FOESEA Continuum Method. I have had great success in using this approach to help people with these issues lead productive, successful, and fulfilling lives.

What is the FOESEA continuum? FOESEA is an acronym for the six areas of functioning that can be difficult for people diagnosed with ADD. These six attributes are:

•    Focus                                  the ability to stay on task for sustained periods of time.
•    Organization                    the ability to manage time and space.
•    Executive function       the ability to make the best decisions and learn from experience.
•    Social interaction          the ability to read social cues and get along with others.
•    Esteem regulation         the ability to feel good about yourself most of the time.
•    Affect regulation            the ability to maintain an optimal emotional range.

How is FOESEA different from ADD? One problem with the idea of ADD is that this diagnosis suggests you either have “it” or you don’t have “it.” Most people don’t like to be categorized like this and they are right to feel this way. This is not the way humans work. Instead, in each of the six categories we all lay somewhere along a continuum. Each person is unique and has their individual combination of attributes that make up who they are. A person’s chart might look something like this:

Focus              ————————————————————————  *  —————————–
Org.                 ———————————————————————————-  *  ——————-
Exec. Func.  ——————————————————–  *  ———————————————
Social             ————————  *  —————————————————————————–
Esteem          ——————————————————————  *  ———————————–
Affect            ——————————————————————————————–  *  ———-

In the FOESEA Continuum Method:

•    The therapist and client collaborate in continuous detective work. They gather clues to create an ever-developing, unique profile of that person.

•    Once this unique picture is created, the therapist and client figure out what works and what doesn’t work for that person.

•    Once an individual understands themselves in this way, they can become empowered to get the supports they need to accomplish their goals.

•    The method sets high expectations, knowing that with appropriate help, almost anything is possible.

When a person is seen as unique instead of as a diagnosis, they experience their one-of-a-kind personality as a strength instead of a weakness. Once they are recognized for their special value, they naturally blossom. The FOESEA Continuum Method focusses on an individual’s intelligence, imagination, passion, beauty, goodness and love rather than buying into the view that they have a problem that dooms them. This is the beginning of helping them become the best they can be.

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FAIRY TALES AND THE INNER MALEFICENT

nielsen-scheherazadeIn the Disney version of Sleeping Beauty, at the party that celebrates the birth of the new princess, an evil witch named Maleficent shows up and ruins the whole event. She puts a curse on the infant that destines her to a painful existence. Who is this nefarious character that makes an appearance in many different guises in endless stories?

The truth is, there is a Maleficent who lives in each of us. All of the explorers of the human condition have recognized that we are not a unity. We are not simply the singular “I” that we imagine ourselves to be. We possess multiple sub-personalities. There have been countless names and descriptions for these inner part-selves and how they work. Freud divided us into three, id, ego and super-ego. John Bradshaw named the “inner-child.”  Jung named these parts complexes and archetypes. Fritz Perls described the relationship between the parts by calling it the topdog/underdog game. Eric Berne, in transactional analysis, named three interacting parts, the parent, the adult, and the child. The purveyors of the object-relations school split what they call internal representations into at least four parts, the good and bad self and the good and bad object. Watkins describes ego-states, a family of coherent sub-personalities that live and compete within us. Historically, it has been known as the cosmic battle between good and evil. In cartoons, we see an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other. Whatever name we give it, it is apparent that we are a multiplicity within a singularity, we are many within the one. Our search is for that oneness within our many-ness: like our money says, e pluribus unum, within the many, one.

Freud’s profoundly disturbing discovery is that we are not masters in our own house. Strange as it may seem, these part-selves, sub-personalities, or ego-states, though they exist generally outside of our awareness, have a tremendous influence over our thoughts, feelings, imaginings and behaviors. That person that we think of as “I,” who we believe is in control of our lives, is actually oftentimes not in command of what we do. Despite the fact that this has been well known for well over 2500 years, having been described by Plato, we still have a hard time grasping this fact and accepting it. But the truth is told by fairy tales. Maleficent, the troublemaking fairy, lives inside of us. We know this because we set an intention, but all too often don’t live it through. How many times my clients have said, “I know what I want to do and what I should do, why don’t I do it?”

Some fear when they hear that we have hidden personalities that this means we are crazy and have multiple personality disorder. What we now understand is that this syndrome is merely one extreme end of a long continuum. Only the most wounded of us risk such a complete shattering of personality.

The extreme can illuminate what most of us experience in a far more subtle and integrated way. A schizophrenic may hear disembodied voices that tell the person they are worthless and should die. This does not happen for most of us, but all too many of us, when we dig deep within, discover that there are parts of ourselves that undermine our good intentions by telling us we are worthless and that nothing will work out for us anyway.

These parts of ourselves that sometimes can act against our own apparent self-interest are not evil, or necessarily intend harm. Rather, they serve a protective function. The ways that they protect us may be far outdated and no longer help us, but those parts still think they are aiding us. In this sense, there are no irrational acts. If we can understand the motivation behind the act, we can see the rationality in it, even if they are operating out of wholly false premises. For example, whenever one particular client of mine makes any kind of mistake, he punches himself in the head. Now this is what his father did. His father believed that this was the best way to teach his son not to make mistakes. He did not recognize that what he was doing was completely harmful. He thought he was doing the right thing. Now this client does not want to do this to himself, but feels compelled to. This internalized father behaves autonomously, outside of my client’s control, and he continues to do what he believes is the right thing, even though one day it might kill him.

Very often these parts of ourselves are our own unrealized potentials. Hiding our potential selves is one way of describing what it means to have a lost heart. These unrealized potential aspects not only remain in an unmatured state within us, they corrupt, putrefy or distort through a long period of non-acknowledgment, lack of support and lack of conscious use. They become vitiated. They corrupt because they have gone so long uncultivated. That is what makes their influence negative. They may be enraged, and are protective in the sense that they are seeking revenge on our behalf for a lifetime of neglect and hurt.

The tales reveal this as well. In one fairy tale, a fisherman frees a genie from a lamp. The genie says to the fisherman that he will grant him one wish and that is to choose the method of his death. The fisherman says that is not the way the story is supposed to go. Genies are supposed to give those that free them three wishes of anything they would like. The genie says he would have done that had he not been trapped in the lamp for 10,000 years. After being in there so long, he was too enraged to do anything but destroy.

Oftentimes we battle against these inner demons with our conscious will, but we often lose the battle, because the part of us that we fight with is not invested with sufficient energy to win the battle. We identify with the part that fights, but that is not really our source of greatest strength. All too often, the ogre rules the kingdom.

Fairy tales speak to this outer battle which has become an inner battle. It speaks to those undeveloped parts within ourselves that are hurt and afraid. It speaks to all the lost children within us who feel so all alone. It speaks to those children within grown up bodies who don’t want to come out and grow up, because of the fear that the pain will be too overwhelming if they get abandoned again.

180px-Gustave_Doré_-_Dante_Alighieri_-_Inferno_-_Plate_7_(Beatrice)FAIRY TALES INTRODUCE US TO THE WISE ONE WITHIN

There are also parts of us that are wiser and stronger than we are aware of. In order to counter the power of Maleficent, we need to call on these good powers within us.

One of the most significant collections of tales is the ancient book, “The 1001 Nights.” In this cycle, the Sultan is so troubled by being betrayed by his wife that he plans to marry and then kill a new woman each day. Scheherazade comes up with a plan to save the women of this realm, but in order to do so she needs to put herself into the ultimate peril. She herself will marry the Sultan. She convinces him to let her live each day by telling him a different story for each of 1001 nights.  By telling him these tales, the Sultan becomes cured of his condition. He finds his heart, falls in love with Scheherazade, and eliminates his decree to marry and kill a woman a day. The cycle tells us that in this first recorded course of psychotherapy, the cure was fairy tales.

Scheherazade was an extraordinary woman. She had studied the wisdom of the ancients. She had followed the travels of past pilgrims of the heart. She was a fine poet. She had mastered science and philosophy. She was verse in stories and folk tales. In other words, she had lived the life of self-cultivation that is necessary for finding the lost heart. This gave her true courage in the sense that Paul Tillich described in The Courage to Be.  She did not avoid her destiny, even though she risked death. She was willing to risk all for authentic being.

Scheherazade is what Jung would call an anima figure. This is that great source of wisdom and power that lives deep within each of us. If we can get past the limitations imposed on us by our own woundedness, we will find her, and the great riches she offers. She is our Beatrice, our guide out of hell and into paradise. We need this wisdom figure if we are to counter Maleficent. In the tale “The Sparrow with the Slit Tongue,” after the man journeys in a dark forest, he comes upon a garden. In the garden is a beautiful house. In the house is a magical princess. This house in the garden in the center of the wood is our heart. This is the home of the divine within. As The Upanishads tells us, the heart is the home of Atman, the great source of all.

The stories tell us that if we are to overcome impossible obstacles we need supernatural help. In order to access our “inner Scheherazade,” we need to do what she did. We need to live a life of self-cultivation. We must study the world’s wisdom, be creative, become knowledgable, and immerse ourselves in tales. By taking this outer journey of studying the collective wisdom of human kind in its multifarious variations, we call on the power of the magical princess. With her aid we can overcome our shame, and render our demons powerless.

The life of self-cultivation described by the stories combines this outward journey with the inward one. We need to feed ourselves with everything we can from the outside to awaken our inner guide, and then we turn inward and hope for communication. The way to discover the answer to our problems is to enter ourselves the way we enter the story. We look inside, and with patience we wait. If we listen carefully, something eventually bubbles up to the surface. This is the way to find a pathway to our heart. The stories tell us that the inner guide will give us all we need, if we are willing to do the work of finding her. She is the guide to our innermost being, where the world and our nature are one.

To understand ourselves is to understand everything.

Obama Nazi communistObama claims to want to help Americans by improving health care. He states that he wants to create a system where health care would be available to the 50 million people in this country who don’t have it, and reduce costs for the rest of us. He says that he wants to insure the long term viability of Medicare and Medicaid. He wants to provide more preventative care so that we live healthier, longer lives, reducing the need to manage debilitating diseases like diabetes. He makes the case that all of this would improve our long-term economic outlook. Now what could be wrong with all of that? Well, then, why has he provoked such anger with this plan?

I believe the most significant reason is a strange phenomenon that I have recognized through doing couple’s counseling, which I call “couple trap number two.” Here is how it works. One of the partners has a long standing need that has gone unmet. Let’s say the wife wants her husband to say “I love you.” For years, she has railed in pain and frustration about how he never says those words. Utilizing my techniques, the husband finally softens, and says the magic words, “I love you.” Now we would expect that the wife, having finally gotten what she wanted, would be grateful, thrilled, excited. Oh, no. As soon as he speaks, I start counting backwards from 10. By the time I get to 7, almost without fail, the wife gets furious. She says, “You didn’t say it the right way! You didn’t mean it! You’ll never say it again!” and the like. The husband gets angry and says, “You think I’ll ever say that again? You’ve got another thing coming!” It is as if I tipped a see-saw out of balance, and within a few seconds everything goes right back to where it had begun. The status quo is reestablished. The wife returns to complaining, the husband to withholding. Why do people get mad when they finally get what they want?

When we are emotionally hurt enough times, we not only learn that we shouldn’t trust the world, but we also come to believe that there is something fundamentally wrong with ourselves. The feeling that goes along with this belief is shame. This feeling and belief may be so pervasive that we are barely aware of it.

Let’s say we are a child and have an alcoholic father who treats us cruelly when he gets drunk. We know we can’t fight him, and so we simply hide the terrible humiliation we feel. This humiliation festers within us. This results in us feeling like there must be something wrong with us. That is why Dad treats us so bad.

Finally, after 8 years, mom gets rid of this guy and marries someone who is sober and really nice. This new guy wants to do good things for us. He makes big promises. The promise of getting what we want brings up not having had our needs met in the past. All the buried anger that we have kept inside comes bubbling up to the surface. We feel the kindling of hope within that we are finally going to be treated well and get what we need. This hope brings up fear. If we allow ourselves to want, we risk being disappointed again. We must reject this hope and tell ourselves it is all a lie. It will never come true! Our dad always made promises he never kept. Why would it be different now? We get angry at ourselves for being such a fool.  Since we have become convinced that we are bad, we know that we don’t deserve good treatment anyway. When someone offers us something positive, we can’t take it in, because it doesn’t conform to our negative view of ourselves. Why would Obama really want to do anything good for me? It’s all a sham! Irrespective of the treatment we may have received from our cruel father, we are also loyal to him. To accept this new, loving treatment is also to betray our rotten father. Out of loyalty, we would rather suffer than change.

So, when we are presented with a man who is offering us a positive change that will improve our lives, instead of responding with joy, many of us respond with fear and anger. Underneath that fear and anger is shame. This means that all too many of us have been continuously hurt and disappointed both in our personal lives and in our political lives. Seeing the possibility of good makes us feel things we would rather bury: our humiliations, our hurt, and our disappointment. Rather than feel those things we reject in anger. Since on a deep level all too many of us loath ourselves, we would rather destroy ourselves with obesity than accept the help that Obama’s new plan would provide. We find all the good reasons in the world why it just won’t work. When we have been so badly hurt in the past, our reaction to something good is to reject it. When people get angry at Obama, it is like the old story of the tiger who has been beaten in the circus. When the poor animal was finally offered food and kindness he attacked the giver.

If we want to gain people’s trust when they have been so wounded and feel so badly about themselves, like the tiger, we must approach them very gingerly. Until they can heal their shame their likely reaction will be to snap.

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tmba_wtaraNewtA driving motivator in the work that I do is to cultivate my thinking. Psychotherapy often emphasizes working on our  emotions or changing our thoughts. But I believe more emphasis should be placed on fulfilling our potential for expansive, comprehensive, logical thought — or wisdom. Wisdom is one of the potentials of the heart; it is part of what the universe intends us to be; it is part of our natural blueprint, an archetype of our human nature; what Aristotle called our entelechy.

The main reason that we don’t fulfill our potentials is that we are wounded in our upbringing and in life. We are not only wounded by our parents, but we are wounded by the pernicious influences of our culture and the existent power structures of our society, which aim to keep us in muddled mind, so that we do not challenge the status quo.

The need to overcome these wounds and develop my capacity for wisdom became strikingly clear to me when the Bush administration began selling the Iraq war. I saw then the need for all of us to think clearly about that decision because people’s lives were at stake. In order to challenge the clever, manipulative arguments made by the right wing, I knew I had to think well. I returned to my studies of the wise who have come before us with a renewed vigor. Unfortunately, my fears about this were realized. All too many people were bamboozled by the right’s arguments, and we began an unnecessary, tragic war. Only a few public voices showed wisdom at the time. Obama’s was one of them. That is one powerful reason why he is president today. The terrible results of that war only provides more evidence of the importance of cultivating wisdom, so that we can all do our part in countering the bullshit we are all too often being sold.

So, here’s the present situation that requires our deep consideration and effective thinking. Members of the right wing have combed every last word of Supreme Court nominee, Sonia Sotomayor, to undermine this historic and important nomination.  Out of a public lifetime and 4,000 judicial decision they have found 32 words they can attack.  Rush Limbaugh, Newt Gingrich and the Fox Network pundits of the right have accused her, of “reverse racism” for saying “I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experience would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life,” The argument they use against her is to claim that if a white male candidate had said this, he would be forced to withdraw his nomination.  Well, if presumed racist statements are disqualifying, now we know that at least Rush, Newt and Glenn Beck will never be on the Supreme Court!

So let us think carefully about what Sotomayor said. First of all, it is important to read her words in context. Here is the full speech. I heartily disagree with President Obama who said that she chose words poorly. I think this is a beautiful speech, and the sentence in context expresses a profound sentiment.

What Limbaugh and Gingrich indicate in their comments is that they have not fully penetrated the problems of prejuidice. Anyone who has explored this question in depth has come to recognize that we are all biased in our views of others. We all carry unexamined assumptions. It doesn’t matter what side of the political spectrum you are on. All of us, white, black, latino, priviledged or not, are limited by our human condition and by the wounds we have suffered.  All we can do is to devote ourselves to becoming increasingly aware of our limiting presuppositions, and do all that we can to transcend them. That is the work of a committed lifetime.

Sotomayor implies in her speech that coming from a wounding, underpriviledged background, where one is the victim of excessive prejuidice is no guarantee of wisdom. We can see this everywhere we look. There is no group that does not have its venal members, or when in power does not abuse it. White men do not hold the exclusive capacity to make unwise decisions. Even a black woman is capable of participating in war crimes by falsely promoting an unjust war and rationalizing torture: see Condoleeza Rice. Sotomayor also agrees that white men are capable of being wise. So priviledge or prejuidice are not sufficient factors in determining our capacity for wise decision making.

What Sotomayor is saying is that we each have a choice of what to do with our wounding experiences. They can give us an excuse to become bitter and destructive, or they can inspire us to work toward becoming more compassionate and therefore, more wise. We can use our experience to hurt others, or we can aspire to be like the Bodhisattva of Compassion, that is, to be on the road to awakening. In order to be like the bodhisattvas, our compassion emerges from the inside of our suffering. We use our suffering to identify with the suffering of others. Our suffering provides us with an opportunity to have a deeper, richer compassion that can, if we cultivate it effectively, lead to better, wiser decisions. The experience of being a member of a group that in our culture suffers the effects of discrimination offers such an opportunity. She is saying that she hopes to use that opportunity for the good, rather than the bad.

Limbaugh, Gingrich and their ilk reveal a thinly veiled prejuidice in their claims. Underlying their statements is an assumption that if people of color get into power they will use this power to somehow hurt white people. This is clear, basic racism. Sotomayor is saying that she aspires to use her experience to make wise decisions that will benefit all people.

The danger in the sophistry of the right wing is that these incendiary views are accepted without critical evaluation by those who do not think so clearly. When I was campaigning for Obama I spoke to a woman in Pennsylvania who told me that Obama was a Muslim, that if he got elected the world would end, and that he would definitely be killed. By stoking this kind of thinking in order to promote a political agenda of bringing the right back in power, the right bear a terrible responsibility.

If any serious human being truly wants to do something about racism, they know that they must begin with themselves.

Yesterday, one of my clients was expressing his regret at the opportunities he missed 20 years ago when he was 17 years old. He said that he wished that he could go back to that time and speak to his teenage self from his perch as the wise 37-year-old. I asked him what he would say.

He said, “Don’t be afraid! Sing! Dance! Kiss the girl!”

I imagine we all have such regrets. As my Dad used to say, “Too soon old, too late shmart.” The adolescent has no way of having any kind of perspective. But with age we begin to experience the epic sweep of life, and we can apply our learning from our past to our present.

So I asked my client, “When you are 57, 20 years from now, and you look back at the 37-year-old, what will you regret then? If that 57-year-old could speak to you now, what wisdom would he offer?”

If you could receive advice from the person you will be in 20 years, what advice would he or she offer you right now?

Disney’s version of Sleeping Beauty begins with the celebration of the birth of the princess to the king and queen. The party is disturbed by the arrival of the evil fairy, perfectly named Maleficent. She expresses chagrin at not having been invited to the party and says that she, too, has a gift for the child. She says that when the girl is 16, she will prick her finger on a spinning wheel and die.

One good fairy still has a gift to give, and though she cannot fully undo the curse, she modifies it, so that the girl will only fall into an enchanted slumber if she pricks her finger.

In order to protect the young girl, she is hidden away in a small cottage in the middle of the dark forest and her identity is kept secret from her. There she lives with three good fairies. On her 16th birthday, despite all the protections of the good fairies, she pricks her finger and falls into eternal slumber. With her spell, the entire kingdom also becomes frozen.

Like Sleeping Beauty, we are all threatened by malevolent forces growing up, and in order to protect ourselves, we put the best of ourselves into hiding. We do this so successfully, we are not even aware of what we are missing. Like Mencius says,

“When people’s dogs and chicks are lost, they go out and look for them, but when people’s hearts, or original nature, are lost, they do not go out and look for them.”

When we hide the best of ourselves we have a lost heart.

There is a Maleficent within each of us that wants to keep us in this condition of enchantment.

This character who lives in our inner world has been called by many names. The great German writer Goethe called this force the “backside phantom.” The author Rick Carson called him the gremlin. Maleficent is that inner personality who comes in to ruin the party. She undermines our efforts. This inner demon tells us that we are never going to succeed anyway so why bother. Just at the moment that we are about to change Maleficent does something to make sure that we don’t.

I have nothing but awe and admiration for the power and influence of this inner character. More often than not, this force wins the day. It waits for the person to leave my office, and before they get out of the elevator, Maleficent is back in control again.

What is this force? Where does it come from? And what do we do about it? This may be the most difficult problem that people who are trying to find their hearts face.

Some will say that we cannot get rid of it. One possibility is that it is like the giant in the fairy tales. This giant symbolizes the hurt part of ourselves that has gone undeveloped because it has lived so long in hiding. It is like a big baby whose needs were never met and so is acting out of frustration. This view would suggest that we need to love Maleficent so that it can grow and mature. The problem isn’t that this part lives within us; the problem is that we have a poor relationship to it. If we treat Maleficent lovingly, it won’t undermine our plans.

But the fairy tales we read suggest something different. In Sleeping Beauty, the evil fairy needs to be killed. This is the usual solution (What a world! What a world!).

Maybe the answer is both. Maybe we have to love Maleficent and kill her. Then the problem becomes, how do we do this?

I’d love to hear your experiences with Maleficent, your views on where she comes from, and what to do about her.