Anger #13 Who Are My Sailors?

Comment: If emotional triangles are the most important and useful concept I have encountered, the concept of Sailors has been the second.

MacQuarrie Email Program #13 — Who Are My Sailors?

I closed the last email with the request that you review Email #05 The Role of The Other-Than-Conscious Mind wherein I first described Sailors On A Ship. I also suggested the possibility that there are also internal emotional triangles within you — triangles between your sailors concerning the internal issues with which you personally struggle.

To repeat the metaphor of Sailors On A Ship:

Sailors in mutiny
The internal mutiny by which we live.

The human mind is very much like a ship where the sailors have mutinied, and locked the Captain … in the cabin [brig]. Each sailor believes himself free to steer the ship as he pleases. First one sailor and then another takes over the helm, while the ship travels on a random and erratic course . . . these sailors cannot agree on a goal and, even if they could, they do not know how to navigate the ship to reach it. . . . The task of the individual is to quell this mutiny, and release the Captain . . .  Only then is he free to choose a goal, and steer a direct course to reach it.

This metaphor is said to be from Plato’s Republic (a somewhat loose interpretation from my perspective) — my primary source comes from Lori Gordon’s Passage to Intimacy: Key Concepts and Skills . . . wherein she devotes three full chapters to identifying these sailors. I recommend the book for those who want more detail than I provide in this email. [Gordon’s work is the most practical example of which I know concerning the general description of subpersonalities — yet every therapy I know describes the existence something like sailors.]

There are several tasks to be done as part of this email, but essentially they all revolve around identifying and characterizing your sailors. Please remember in using the metaphor of Sailors that it is a metaphor — it both describes imaginary characters and at the same time something very practical in usage. What you are seeking is common reproducible emotional states. For example, how are you consistently different when you are at work compared with when you are at home? Can you flesh out one or two consistent sets of characteristics to which you might give a name like “this is my parent state,” or “this is my boss state,” et cetera. These are the sailors.

Exploration #1. Consider the following questions; write down your answers in detail. Who are you (what are you like, what do you believe, how do you behave) when:

  • you are nurturing a child or caring for someone who is ill?
  • critical of someone who has made a stupid mistake?
  • thoughtfully planning a project or fixing a broken machine?
  • needing to get your own way when others object?
  • excited by a wonderful playful opportunity?

Give each of these “sailors” names, and flesh out each of them as if they are real people, independent from each other. In addition to the specific states of the questions, when else do these people exist within you? What else triggers them to show up?  How old do they feel? Do they have specific locations within your body? Collect as many details as possible, so that you can learn to recognize when they are prominent within you.

These questions describe the five ego states (or sailors) that are commonly explored in a therapy called Transactional Analysis (TA), a very useful therapy popular in the 70s and 80s.TA was the first theoretical model to which I was expose in my own therapy. In TA, these sailors are named Nurturing Parent, Critical Parent, Adult, Adapted Child, and Natural Child. However, you can give them any names that assist you in recognizing them when they are acting within you.

Exploration #2. Here is a second way to start identifying your sailors. In Email #10 The John James Game Plan, you identified three examples of being in conflict, caught with your anger. Question: What happened within you that you got caught? What was that conflict within you? There were external circumstances and people, but as well there was something happening within you. This conflict will be representable by sailors struggling with each other.

Give them names; explore their characteristics as follows.

Arrange a number of chairs (2-4 chairs) around you, and sit in one of the chairs. In your imagination, associate back into each of the conflicts in turn (see Email #09 The Pointing Finger). Notice what you are feeling, what you are saying to yourself, what you are seeing in your internal visual. Notice the familiar character of each state.

Compared to your state when relaxed (whom we could call sailor A), who is doing the feeling (who is sailor X)? If you are talking to yourself, who is doing the talking (sailor Y) and perhaps who is listening (sailor Z)? As you identify each “sailor,” shift from chair to chair, so that each sailor has a specific chair. When ready, explore each sailor using questions similar to the ones you considered in the first exploration above.

The sailors you identify in the second exploration may be the same or different from the sailors of exploration #1. In general, My experience is that most people have somewhere around six to ten common sailors within them.

When you have finished exploring these conflict situations, and have identified a number of sailors, notice how the sailors talk to each other. Notice the voice tone each one commonly uses. Notice the beliefs of each sailor. As above, write down all the characteristics that you find so as to have a detailed study of each sailor.

As a final exploration (#3), have an extended conversation between any two or three sailors that you have found in any of these exercises. Imagine a conflict within you. What do they say to each other? How do each of you act. You can do it sitting in chairs, or standing/moving about the room. But act it out, with movement! Don’t just think it out! There is always vastly more information available in the action than there is in passive sitting.

Now: stand outside this conversation as if you are observing it from a neutral perspective. Associate into the state we named above as Sailor A, your relaxed state. From this calm perspective, what can you say about this conflict? What do you see? What do you hear? What emotional triangles are present (the internal triangles)? Who is powerful in this conflict? Who is powerful in a subtle way, perhaps in a sneaky way?

And consider this question: In this conflict, is anyone else present? Is there a sailor (or two) present, but sort of hiding in the background? If so, who is this sailor?

Continue to explore. These are the crew members of your ship, and almost certainly there are a few mutineers present. Who are they? And tentatively, who might the Captain be? [Over time as you explore further, the Captain will gradually emerge.]

Coming next: Blocks of Awareness

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