Category Archives: Personal Growth

Anger #17 Blocks To Awareness, Part 1

Comment: As human beings, we have multiple ways in which to block ourselves from the work of living effectively, of living peacefully while honoring each other.

MacQuarrie Email Program #17 — Blocks To Awareness, Part 1

Angry#17-PatternsAt various times in the past, I have asked individuals if they are aware of what is happening right now. If pressed, most people will tell me what they are thinking; this is specifically NOT what I am seeking as an answer. I am referring to being attentive to the ongoing sensory experience of the moment.

Since the only time I can do something different is right now, then the more I can be present to the moment, the more opportunity I have for change (on any issue, but especially with issues of anger). From my perspective, one of the ways I know I am present right now is that my sensory data is crisp — visual data is clear, sounds are bright, touch is detailed, et cetera. When the data is fuzzy, I am also certainly into my story of the experience, thus somewhat caught in either the past or the future — I am certainly not fully present to the moment.

So, for the next two emails, we are going to explore the various ways in which people block their own awareness (usually as a result of various traumas in childhood) so as to avoid the pain of present experience. These traumas vary from relatively minor (but repeated) criticisms as a child to the horrendous abuse that sometimes occurs. Note: Everyone avoids! We are pain avoiders.

The major blocks are such that the individual then has difficulty maintaining a healthy balance between self and the environment, both in acute and in chronic behaviors. Such improper boundaries then predispose the individual to additional stress that presents itself in a multitude of way: as addictive behaviors, as aches and pains, as chronic diseases, et cetera.

The principal task in this email is for you to identify your own patterns.

There are essentially four patterns, for each of which I will describe (in broad brush strokes):

  • the acute behavior pattern (what happens when in a conflict),
  • the chronic behavior pattern (the overall behavior outside of conflict), and
  • the primary underlying process (the mind-body process).

Please note: Since these patterns are blocks to awareness, you may have difficulty recognizing yourself; if there is someone you trust, sit with them and reflect together on the descriptions that I offer. (We all block in many ways, and we each have our favorites. Hint — the stronger the pattern, the more difficult it will be for you to recognize yourself. It is a block, remember!)

To work with this information, I suggest you associate into a conflict that you have had, and compare what you were feeling and thinking then with the descriptors I am using here. Especially, pretend-act the conflict out. Feel/think which description, which pattern, seems to fit what you were experiencing in this conflict. Do this with several conflicts that you have had. Most people have a favorite pattern amongst the four, and then use a second pattern as a fallback.

When you have a sense of your own pattern(s), consider the other descriptions, and imagine what the other patterns might be like. When might you be in this pattern? Under what circumstances?

I will describe the patterns in the order I consider as reflecting the ease of self-recognition: Introjection, Retroflection, Projection, and Confluence (please see the diagram at the top).

The setting for the descriptions: any conflict. The conflict can be depicted as an Emotional Triangle (Email #12), the apices being any two people and a situation. As well, it can be represented as the Pointing Finger described in Email #09, the thumb and pointing finger being the third limb. And the behaviors can also illustrate the Pressure Cooker effect described in Email #06.

In blocking awareness, the individual generally makes one component (one apex) most important (MP), and the other two of much less importance. In two of the patterns (left side: Projection and Retroflection), the individual functions as if in a position of strength (a dominator — the so-called Top Dog: Blamer and Computer); in the other two (Introjection and Confluence), the person seems much less powerful (the Underdog: Victim and Distractor) — but appearances can be deceiving (more in a future email on intimacy)! Also, the patterns of Projection and Introjection (top patterns) are both heavily invested in responding to shoulds, whereas Retroflection and Distraction (bottom patterns) are both attempting to avoid emotional experience.

Pattern #1: Introjection. In any conflict, the introjector tends to behave as the Victim, acting sad, expressing self-pity (poor me!); on the surface the victim gives power away to the other, disowning self and the situation. He or she catastrophizes about the future, thus Fearfulness is the dominant character. Essentially all of this occurs because the introjector is caught internally with how he or she should be (I should have done better/different/…). The lid of the pressure cooker is very secure, and when stressed, the introjector tends to become depressed (d’pressure is high) as a way to avoid.

Pattern #2:Retroflection. In conflict, the Retroflector is generally calm, cool, and collected, the neutral analyst of the situation, disowning the feelings of both self and other, a good example of a Computer. Stressed, the Retroflector will stonewall or function from Laziness (“Who cares?”). Further stressed, he or she is a Time Bomb, possibly exploding on others, but more likely exploding on self via a heart attack or suicide. Here the avoided pain (the internal conflict, the should) is turned against self, and shows up as nervous tics, headaches, back pain, et cetera. The Retroflector does to self what he or she would like to do to others.

Pattern #3: Projection: The projector makes the environment responsible for what originates in self, becoming the Blamer or the Tyrant or the Boss, disavowing and disowning one’s own contribution, emphasizing the faults of the other. Since story-making of others is a prime characteristic of projection, gossip is a prime place for the projector to function. Stressed, projectors are frequently explosive, potentially violating others, and usually not amenable to rational considerations. Self-righteousness is the arena of the projector. Avoiding the inner pain that characterizes the introjector, the projector shifts the focus to others, in a pattern of suspicion and blame. As a time bomb, the projector explodes.

Pattern #4: Confluence: In the process of confluence, the individual has no boundaries, no separate identity, and uses any form of Distraction so as to avoid contact with others. He or she then appears inappropriate or silly, frequently in a panic, or fully into panic attacks when stressed. Conflict is avoided at all cost. As a time bomb, this is the place of panic attacks.

In the next email, I’ll add more details. And in addition, I’ll give some suggestions that perhaps allow better choices when you recognize yourself as using one or several of these patterns.

Coming next: Blocks To Awareness, Part 2

Anger #16r The Second Eight Emails

Comment: This is the second review email, focusing on the nature of therapy. In essence, therapy is the only modern process that emphasizes the skills of emotional maturity.

MacQuarrie Email Review #2 — The Second Eight Emails

You are now half-way through this email program. How are you doing?

So sad.

I hope you are finding the program to be beneficial.

In the past eight emails, we have covered a lot of ground. In all of them, I have emphasized the development of awareness of what you are actually doing. I operate from the assumption that greater awareness gives you greater choice, and that your other-than-conscious mind will automatically choose more healthy responses — there is more to you than conscious control.

In this, I am attempting to give you relatively simple (but sophisticated) concepts, such as the Sailors On A Ship and Emotional Triangles, as well as inviting you to attend to how you create your reality with the rules. I have also emphasized the importance of how you language your experience to yourself, this being a major place of choice.

It may seem like I am wandering all over the map. And to a certain extent, you are right.

Imagine I’ve given you a roadmap. If you don’t know where you want to go, I can only describe the map to you. I cannot describe how to get “there” because I don’t know where “there” is for you. Eventually when you do know where you want to go, I could be a guide for you to get “there,” even though I have not been there myself — I’m very familiar with the map.

The map provides a lot of information, but it’s just a map — it’s not the territory. If, when you decide where you want to go, and then we work together, that’s called therapy. (What we are doing in these emails is a limited form of therapy, albeit without direct personal contact, and thus strongly dependent by your engagement. If you want more from me, please see my website.)

One of my major mentors Ed Friedman said that there are three things that are important in a therapist.

  1. having a grounding in a theoretical foundation,
  2. having practical experience in guiding others, and
  3. having done one’s own emotional work.

He also clearly believed that #3 was most important. If a therapist has not done his or her own work, all he or she can do is tell the client what they should be doing (the Rules!) — not generally a useful option.

For the client, good therapy is an active process of being in relationship with a second human being, someone who hopefully has a degree of maturity (having done their own emotional work, and having practical experience). The theoretical foundation is actually not of much value in the actual encounter — it mainly gives a way to frame the encounter afterwards, especially if the therapist is himself or herself working with a colleague to review difficult situations (so-called supervision, always useful).

Often it does not matter what theoretical foundation the therapist is using. Most important is the relationship between client and therapist. Thus, these emails are not therapy, although they may well have a powerful impact on your life.

That said, therapy essentially comes in two forms (a good therapist will move back and forth as needed between the two):

  • in one, the deductive therapies, the therapist attempts to instruct the client in how to manage the difficulties. In that sense, the therapist is providing a map, and instructing the client as to where to go. (But, from my perspective, that may not be the best place for the client to go. It is not up to me to choose how the client is to live life.)
    • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), the therapy currently most popular in medical circles, is a deductive therapy. (The reason the deductive therapies are so praised is because they are measurable — modern medicine is so in love with scientific materialism and its need to measure!)
    • The essential problem is that not everything is measurable, and especially consciousness is not measurable.
  • in the second group of therapies, the inductive therapies, the therapist attempts to set the stage for the client to explore (as in exploring a swamp), and then works with the client as difficulties arise (providing shovels, or pointing out quicksand, as examples).
    • The exploration is much more open-ended, and for me, much richer in the possibilities of better outcomes.
    • As a Gestalt Therapist, I am much more in this category (as I would be if I called myself a practitioner of Neurolinguistics Programming or Bowenian Family Systems, two therapies which I also use).

Another useful metaphor here is that the client is trying to get off a merry-go-round, the merry-go-round of life, one that is going far too fast (sound familiar?). We keep hoping that there is someone at the controls who will slow it down (unfortunately, that does not seem to be the case).

I can help you get off the merry-go-round, but there are limitations:

  • I can guide you to be careful. As you jump off, you need to avoid hitting hit a brick wall. Safety is paramount, but risk is essential.
  • I don’t know what you will find when you get off. (It is not for me to tell you how you should live life. I can provide some skills for management of what is found, and I can also continue to assist you when you are off.)

All of the above is a round-about way of saying that I am actually wandering over the map. I am attempting to describe the map, but like any map, there are many features. What I am describing is what I believe are consistent, individual, useful features. And in the end, I hope it will all come together in a way that is useful to you.

Anger #16 More Sloppy Language

Comment: The more common ways in which we display reduced awareness, and also trap ourselves in pain.

MacQuarrie Email Program #16 — More Sloppy Language

Much truth in this!

In Email #15 — Sloppy Language, I suggested that the major language indicator that demonstrates that people are functioning from reduced awareness (and hence more likely to be angry) is the word should. There are a number of other indicators.

There are six more areas that I consider especially important:

1) I don’t know,                 2) I can’t,                           3) I’ll try,

4) maybe,                          5) Why,?           and            6) I wish.

As with the previous email, your task in this email is to pay detailed attention to your language for a few days (you might want to do it for six months). You could, for example, choose one area (of the six to be covered) as a focus for the day. Please use the Checkbox of Change (Email #11) or some other tool to do so. Once a day, pick an example and journal about it. Again, play with the suggestions I am making in this email, and explore what differences occur.

As noted also, I have long maintained that if an individual will give meticulous attention to his or her language for six months, that individual will dramatically change his or her life for the better. By meticulous attention, I mean that the individual will listen closely to both his or her spoken and internal language, changing the necessary wording to more accurate statements (examples below). Warning: changing your language will radically change your life — amongst many other aspects, you may find you need to change many of your friends.

I don’t know: As applied to the external world, there are many things I don’t know, and there are a lot of things about which I know only a little. However, most of the time when I say “I don’t know,” I am referring to my inner thoughts or experience (e.g., “I don’t know what I am going to do today”) — and when “I don’t know,” I often stop thinking about the subject.

If I don’t know what is happening to me, no one else does either! And no one else can determine what is happening to me — it is my responsibility to know myself! If I want power-strength-wisdom-freedom, it is also essential that I know myself! I know of no other way to obtain these, but to find out. So, when you hear yourself answer “I don’t know,” you need to pay attention to the (possibly) hidden truth of the underlying answer.

I can’t: With rare exceptions, the word “can’t” is a misnomer; what I am really saying is that, if I were to do the action (which I most likely can), then I would … (be afraid, be hurt, be angry, lose money, et cetera), and I don’t want this outcome.

I “won’t” is a more accurate word for this choice. Sometimes the word “can’t” is accurate. I can’t live on a planet in another star system — we don’t have the technology for me to get there and still be alive. In contrast, I can live on the planet Mars; we do have the technology, but I do not wish to spend my life attempting to make this possible (therefore I won’t).

I’ll try: “I’ll try” is also a misnomer in that it frequently becomes an excuse for ‘not doing,’ not making a commitment (that I will keep!). If I have never done something before, my attempt is an experiment ,and still a doing; I may not succeed at my expectation, and yet I will gain valuable feedback in my attempt. If I have done the task before, even without success, I know what to expect (perhaps how difficult the task is).

‘Trying’ (without proper preparation and action) is an excuse. As noted by Yoda in Star Wars: There is no try!

Maybe: Maybe — do I want to? My energy goes to what I want, not what I should (which activates that part of me that says “I don’t want to!”) “Maybe” as applied to my inner world simply means I am too lazy to take the time to know myself! And I also disconnect from my own authentic experience, my truth-testing. If I give attention to my actual experience, I can know myself!

Again, I pay attention to the hidden truth. “Maybe” as applied to the external world means I am too lazy, perhaps not willing to take time to know myself, or more commonly not willing to be engaged in commitment. Neither lead to effectiveness in my life.

So — I have choice! I need to choose! I should choose!! Maybe!! I don’t know if I can!! I can’t!! But I’ll try.

Why?: “Why?” can be a very important question; the answer may allow me to change my actions to obtain a better outcome. But many times, it is a trap — it can be an endless question, as young children often demonstrate. In addition, the answer that one receives is often an excuse. Excuses are not useful in getting better outcomes — such excuses rarely offer practical options for getting what I want; they rarely address my needs.

I have also known people who were so caught in “why?” that they would not move forward in their lives until they found the answer that they wanted, an endless question. I remember one person who repeatedly asked “Why do I abuse my children the way I do?” The answer was obvious: he (the individual could have been ‘she’) was simply copying the pattern he learned from his father. When I told him this, he recognized it as true — but he could not really hear the answer (it would require that he change), and he continued to treat his children the same way as was his pattern, still asking “why?” —sad, and stuck.

The authentic answer to “why?” is not in the answer, but in: “When will I be satisfied with the answer?” If, when I ask, the answer I receive is practical and addresses my needs, I will usually be satisfied. If the answer is not practical and/or does not address my needs, then I need to ask a more practical question, usually preceded by “how” or “what.” Personally, when I ask “Why?,” and after the second asking I have not received a practical answer, I stop asking. I then move on to seek more effective resolution in some other fashion.

I wish: There is a major difference between wishes and goals. Wishes are exciting, generally vague, and usually I can tell you why I don’t have “it” in my life, perhaps with excuses or explanations. I may also regret, or somehow create, a negative experience from this.

Goals are planned directions, planned in that I know what I want and how to get it, what I have to do and when. The RPMs of goals are realistic, practical, measurable and specific (Email #1)! When I am living a goal, it is likely that I am also excited and looking forward, able to celebrate when I am finished (or having reached a significant milestone on the path). I can also change direction when necessary.

A basic question is: To what extent do I live my life as wishes compared to goals? Both are useful at times.

  • Question: Given all the sloppy language in your life, your own and that of others, how do you wish to live your life? You have choice.

Coming next: Blocks To Awareness

Anger #15 Sloppy Language

Comment: I have long maintained that one of the major ways in which you can change your life for the better is to give meticulous attention to your language for six months. The results will be dramatic! You will automatically correct many of the major difficulties you encounter.

MacQuarrie Email Program #15 — Sloppy Language

I’ve suggested in a variety of ways that the primary skill of dealing with anger (and life) is being aware of what is happening right now, in the present. [Please note: the word present is a triple entendre; it refers to now, here, and a gift to be opened. Question: Are you a gift to be opened?]

CrabTrapAt various times in the past, I have asked individuals if they are aware of what is happening right now. If pressed, most people will tell me what they are thinking; this is specifically NOT what I am seeking as an answer. I am referring to being attentive to the ongoing sensory experience of the moment. From my perspective, one of the ways I know I am present right now is that my sensory data is crisp — visual data is clear, sounds are bright, touch is detailed, et cetera.

Furthermore, one of the primary ways in which my awareness is demonstrated, to myself and to others, is in how I language my experience. Consider: Fish swim in water. (Weird statement for an email on anger.) Well, if fish could think like human beings, they probably don’t think much about water (unless it is very polluted). Yet water determines their very existence.

Consider: Human beings swim in language. I suggest that if you will pay meticulous attention to your language for six months, you will dramatically improve your life in many unexpected ways.

Task: In this and the next email, I’m going to ask you to pay detailed attention to your language for a few days (you might want to do it for six months). Please use the Checkbox of Change (Email #11) or some other tool to do so. Once a day, pick an example and journal about it. Play with the suggestions I am making in this email, and explore what differences occur.

Consider: The most important word related to awareness (and anger) is the word should. Before reading on, please make a quick list of the many things you should do today, or in the next week. (If you get past twenty, please stop.) How do you feel about this list?

Why are they shoulds? What happens if you change them to want to’s?

On the positive side, shoulds are the rules of social boundaries. They contain information — the rules of the social network. But they are an investment in the third limb of an emotional triangle (me, society, and the task), and are usually dysfunctional. I mentioned in the last email that, as children, we swallowed the rules of the family, and if healthy, we digested them, coming to our own acceptance of the rules we want to follow. But if undigested (and from childhood to now is a long period of time for something to be undigested), the rules contaminate us. Consider: The Rules are shoulds (especially the undigested rules)! They always represent an internal conflict.

One of my major mentors, Ed Friedman, used to tell a story about how to catch crabs in the Atlantic ocean; he claimed the story was true, although I have never been able to verify it from independent sources (hints, yes, but verification, no). Anyway, imagine a big box, maybe 6’*6’*3’, with a chicken wire bottom, and no top. Attach some ropes and a float. The fisherman rows it out to where he thinks the crabs will be, puts a lot of bait in the box, and pushes it over the side to sit on the floor of the ocean in maybe 10-12’ depth of water; then he (or she) comes back the next day. Meanwhile, crabs smell the bait, climb in, and soon there are 20 or so crabs munching away. When the bait is all gone, they are trapped.

But how? There is no top, and they climbed in without difficulty, so why can they not simply climb back out. Because they will not let each other leave! Crabs are social animals. When they are in the box, they somehow recognize themselves as a group, and will not let others leave (on the ocean floor, there are normally no walls, and hence no confinement to leaving). If a crab attempts to leave the crab trap, the others will pull it back into the box; if a crab insists on leaving, the others will kill it — they will tear off its claws. So when the fisherman comes back 24 hours later, here are 20 crabs, 2 dead, 18 alive. Off to market!

Human beings are social animals also. The word should, and its euphemisms, (must, have to, et cetera), is our crab trap. And we will kill to protect this word, to keep others in line. You only need remember the wars of the 20th century to recognize how much we will kill!

angry15b-noshouldsSo, what can you do about shoulds. What do I do? (The following are suggestions for you.)

  • First of all, I digest them! I identify the social rules that are being expressed within the should, and decide to what extent I want this rule to be part of my life. Under what circumstances will I choose to act according to this rule? Or not?
  • Second, when I hear myself give voice (externally or internally) to should, I bring the conflict into awareness. I respond to myself with: Will I or Won’t I? What is the worst that will happen? (WIWI) What is the worst if I do? What is the worst if I don’t?
    • I don’t bother with the nuances — they just cloud the issue. If I can live with the worst, the nuances don’t matter — life will unfold.
    • If I can live with both ends of the spectrum, I simply choose whichever seems like the most fun.
  • Sometimes, I don’t like either option. What then?
    • If there is no time pressure for me to respond, I engage with the issues while in meditation. Often my other-than-conscious mind will present fascinating options.
    • If there is time pressure, I play with the energy. I choose to respond to life, so I may as well have as much fun as possible. To what extent can I be in a state of wonder concerning the issues? Again, when in a state of wonder, my other-than-conscious mind will present me with fascinating options.

[Sidebar: On my blog The Human Side of Global Warming, I have a number of posts on both shoulds and other types of sloppy language.]

Coming next: More Sloppy Language

Anger #14 The Rules

angry14-rulesComment: If you understand the rules, you will know when to follow them, and when to break them — a very powerful tool at your disposal.

MacQuarrie Email Program #14 — The Rules

Question: Why do you get angry? Please sit with this question for a few minutes, and give serious attention to the question. Why do you get angry?

The task for this email is to write down some examples of when you have had specific emotions, and then to examine the underlying mechanisms. Specifically, and without reading further, briefly write down one or two examples of when you have been: 1) angry, 2) guilty, 3) resentful, 4) embarrassed, and 5) ashamed. For each example, write down the belief that contributed to the emotional experience. Question: What are the common features of the experiences?

Now, work your way through the rest of this email, and check out whether (or not) my explanations fit the above experiences. Other instructions follow.


I said in Email #1 What is Anger? that emotions are “energy to which I give meaning and direction.” Emotions describe what is happening in your body; feelings describe what is happening in your relationships. From my perspective, the above energetic words (anger, guilt, …, all of which are emotions or feelings) are anger words, and the meaning is that someone has broken the rules. In each experience, you are pushing against something — the rules.

[A sidebar that will become important later. In each example, you are likely pushing against the third limb of the emotional triangle (external or internal) that characterizes the situation.]

But what are the rules? In each example that you wrote down, you can possibly identify what specifically you were angry about in that specific example. However, I want to go deeper; I want to explore the general characteristics of the rules that were being broken.

How do you know the rules? How did you learn the rules? What are the rules?

Imagine you are a two-year-old, playing with mommy or daddy. As a two-year-old, you are now in the Why?Why?Why? stage, repeatedly asking Why. for every experience, and when answered, returning with another Why?. Essentially you are attempting to make sense of your world, and to learn the rules of how to interact with others, specifically your parents (or your other major caretakers).

If mommy or daddy are in a good mood, they answer you, and perhaps chuckle at your persistence in asking Why. But what happens if they are not in a good mood (“a bad day at the office,” et cetera, as we all have). Then it gets tricky. Mommy and daddy are likely to be impatient, if not irritated, and at the extreme, highly critical, or worse. (The closer to worse, the more the following becomes important.)

You are a two-year-old. You are vitally dependent on mommy and daddy for security, and as a human being, you are also a pain avoider. You need to avoid mommy and daddy being critical! But how? The simplest way is to stop asking Why. But then what? How do you learn the rules?

And anyway, you are a spontaneous two-year-old; asking Why is deeply engrained. To cope with this, you bury the need to ask below consciousness, so that you indeed stop asking — you stop thinking about the rules. So, Rule #1: Don’t think about the rules!

But you still need to learn the rules! Therefore, in order not to break rule #1, you make up a second rule. Rule #2: Everybody has the same rules!

Everybody has the same rules, don’t they? It makes sense to the two-year-old. He or she looks around the family and sees that everybody is acting out the same rules, more or less, so “Everybody has the same rules!” In the family, it works.

But what happens when baby grows up, and finds a new somebody so as to form a new family, or when baby meets people from other families? Well, they have the same rules, don’t they?

No! But in order to really grasp this, baby has to break Rule #1 and think about the rules. Tricky!

But this is fundamentally how we function. And the more pain we have had in childhood, the harder for us to think, especially to think about the rules. Because it lead us into our pain. It is far easier to avoid awareness, and thus avoid pain. (Somewhat! It creates another kind of pain!)

So, now on to the emotions I asked about: anger, guilt, embarrassment, resentment, shame.

When angry, you are relatively conscious of what rules has been broken. Relatively!

Next, imagine the following conversation. Sailor #1 (S1) does something, or wants to do something. Sailor #2 (S2) says “Don’t do that!” S1: “Why?” S2: “You’re breaking the rules.” S1: “What rules?” S2: “Don’t ask! You’re breaking the rules again!” There is no exit from this — an exit requires that the rules be broken, which breaks the rules. Crazy, eh! This conflict between S1 and S2 is called guilt.

If instead, I imagine that you are going to criticize me (S1), I then displace S2 onto you, and again there is no exit. This conflict is called embarrassment.

As well, if you break the rules (my rules), I cannot tell you that you are breaking the rules. That would break the rules! And besides, you know you broke the rules — we have the same rules, don’t we? But I can’t ask — that breaks the rules! This conflict is called resentment.

And if in all this, I make myself bad for breaking the rules, I call the experience shame.


The exit from all of these states is to name the rules! Make them conscious, and make a clean choice as to whether or not you wish to live your life based on this rule. If you want this, make a clean choice as to whether or not you will break the rule on this occasion. It is a choice.

I maintain than anger, guilt, embarrassment, resentment, and shame are useful for ten minutes. In ten minutes, I can identify that I am in the state, that I have broken a rule, and that I can make a choice about the rule. It takes practice. With time, it becomes easier, almost automatic.

[A sidebar. Imagine that you have swallowed the rules, and they are sitting in your gut, undigested. And you don’t want to think about them. What then would you do with them? This is called introjection, one of the primary blocks of awareness. Otherwise, the fermenting mass can contaminate your body (retroflection), it can contaminate your mind (confluence), or you can vomit them out onto someone else (projection). Or you can digest them! It’s a choice. Incidentally, it was my experience in my own work that on occasion I actually needed to vomit.]

Coming next: Sloppy Language

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

Anger #12 Emotional Triangles

The basic emotional triangle.
The most important diagram of my life.

Comment: As noted, this is the most useful concept I have encountered, in over twenty-five years of researching emotional issues.

MacQuarrie Email Program #12 — Emotional Triangles

The concept of emotional triangles, what I also call the Three Laws of Relationships, is the most important concept that I have encountered in my personal growth work. The laws seem simple, but they are also incredibly subtle in how they operate.

Before describing them, I want to describe what I call the Three Laws of Experience, again very simple but very subtle. (Usually these laws do not show up in obvious fashion, but they are often in the background, so watch for them.) These laws supplement the Laws of Relationships.

  1. All human beings want positive experience (love, respect, acceptance, et cetera).
  2. It is easier to get negative experience (conflict, pain, et cetera) than it is to get positive.
  3. Negative experience is better than no experience.

Consider: if you put two kids alone in a room with fifty toys on the floor, what is predictable? They will fight over one toy, right! Why? The mechanism is hidden in the Laws of Experience.

Put one child in a room with 50 toys. The child will play quietly for a while, and then will “bug” the parents — “I’m bored! Come play with me.” Right? The child wants more energy (attention or experience). The parents will then play with the child (positive) or criticize the child (negative: such the child becomes quiet — negative is better than none). Add a second child — more energy; the two children will play together. But sooner or later, one child will want to do one thing, and the second something else. The two kids will not know how to negotiate a resolution, and rather than separate (no energy), they will fight (negative is better than none).

angry12b-emotionaltrianglesThe Laws of Relationships

Now, emotional triangles. A triangle is a geometric figure, with three sides and three apices. An emotional triangle is any two people and a third person or issue (the apices); the relationships between any two are the sides. An important concept is what is called the 3rd limb, a relative term for the relationship opposite any given person. In the first diagram above, I show my 3rd limb; your 3rd limb is the relationship between me and the issue.

Furthermore, human beings exist always within a network of thousands of overlapping emotional triangles, a system. Each of the dots of the accompanying diagram belongs to many triangles. And any system is, by definition, designed to remain stable, until a big enough change shifts its equilibrium, to a new semi-stable position. Note: big change needed!

The Three Laws of Relationships (with corollaries) state, for every triangle of the system:

  1. I can only change that to which I am connected (myself, and my direct relationships).
    • But if I get anxious about what others are doing (my 3rd limb), I likely attempt to change them. The results of my attempts are neither predictable nor guaranteed.
    • What is guaranteed is that, the more I persist, the more others will resist my attempts, and the more pain I will encounter.
  2. If I change, others must change.
    • They have no choice — we are connected. The stable response time of the system is approximately three months. Systems require time for change to occur.
    • If my change is significant (big!) to the system, others will not like it (even if my change adds health to the system), and they will in some way attempt to sabotage.
  3. Change requires I stay connected.
    • My life energy impacts others, and I must stay connected to allow my change to impact over time. Can I stay non-anxious while I stay connected?

For now, just pay attention to the three primary laws (1-2-3): I can only change that to which I am directly connected; if I change, others must change; and change requires I stay connected. They sound simple, don’t they? Yet they are an operational definition of the Serenity Prayer.

SerenityIf you are not aware of it, the Serenity Prayer is one of the most popular poems of the entire world, often used in 12-step addiction programs. I first heard it when I was about 28 — I liked it, but quite frankly I didn’t know what to do with it. What the concept of emotional triangles has done for me is to give me a way of living the serenity prayer (a so-called operational definition!).

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.

(The popular version, not quite the way Niebuhr wrote it, but essentially the same.) As mentioned above, there are many subtle aspects to emotional triangles, and I will be covering some of them in future emails.

Now, your task for this email. Take a piece of paper and write down two lists:

  • the many people that you encounter on a daily basis (both personal and work) , and
  • the many issues you deal with on a daily basis (organizing kids, problems at home or work, plans for the future, et cetera), both your own issues and those of others.

Now circle those you consider most important, people and issues. Especially circle those aspects where you encounter anger, your own or that of others towards you.

Using the items you have circled, make a diagram similar to the second diagram above (a system of overlapping triangles). Preferably make the diagram on a full page, with color, and mark in red those relationships wherein there is anger. Post it on your wall.

A general statement for you to consider: Anger is always about the 3rd limb. (There may be exceptions, but they are not common.) My anger always references that I am angry about something that belongs to the limb about which I do not have direct control. Management of anger always requires living into the Serenity Prayer.

Now, what do you personally need so as to live into what you can change, rather than focusing on what you cannot change. If necessary, refer back to Email #09 The Pointing Finger.

I’ll explore how to deal with other people’s anger in a later email.

Finally, remember Email #05 The Role of The Other-Than-Conscious Mind where I described Sailors On A Ship. Consider the possibility that there are many triangles within you — triangles between your sailors concerning the internal issues with which you personally struggle.

Coming next: Who Are My Sailors?

Anger #11 The Checkbox of Change

Comment: The task suggested seems simple, yet it is profoundly powerful in initiating change. The other-than-conscious body-mind wants to be healthy, and will do so if allowed!

MacQuarrie Email Program #11 — The Checkbox of Change

As awareness is tracked, relief occurs.

The activity of the last email, the John James Game Plan, is very useful for exploring patterns, but in general, is less useful for creating change — this is simply because other-than-conscious actions are difficult to change.

This activity, the Checkbox of Change, expands your awareness and options.

Consider any simple behavior that you would like to change. Take a piece of paper and write about it. Be very specific. Identify how you will know when you are doing the behavior: what is the body sensation or sensory information that you will use to recognize the behavior.

For this activity, you will also need to have some way of briefly recording day-to-day events as they occur. As you think about this task, consider how you can achieve it. My suggestions are:

  • carry a small notebook and pen or pencil, or
  • get an app such as Dragon Dictation on your smart phone.

For starters, pick a behaviour that has little emotional significance for you. I’ll use my desire to go to the bathroom as an example. Everybody has this need, and everybody knows when they need to do so — but how do they know when. For me, I get a brief (but distinct) sensation of fullness low in my abdomen, just where my bladder lies. As soon as I get that sensation, I say to myself “Oh, where is the bathroom,” and then I go to the bathroom to urinate.

For this current example, what I would want to monitor is the specific brief sensation low in my abdomen. When I get that sensation (the checkmark sensation), I take the notebook out of my pocket, find my pen/pencil, and write down a simple checkmark (nothing more). I then put the notebook and pen/pencil back in my pocket, and go looking for the bathroom. (Alternatively, I take out my smart phone, activate Dragon Dictation, and speak “Checkmark” or some such phrase. Then I put my smart phone away, and seek the bathroom.)

A simple task (the Checkbox of Change) — that is all I do, but it interrupts the pattern briefly to make the checkmark. And I do that every time during the day that I have the body sensation of fullness. At the end of the day, I might have six checkmarks, more or less.

Task #1: Think of a simple pattern that you could monitor ,and do this checkbox activity for a few days so as to practice the routine.

Task #2: Now make the task more complicated. Pick an activity, a difficulty, that has some emotional significance for you. For me, I might use my pattern of criticism of others, a pattern that I generally hide from others, but it goes on via my internal speaking to myself. When I do, I also notice that my facial tone becomes slightly tight, again a sensation that I easily recognize.

I could monitor either my internal voice being critical, or my facial tone. The task is simply to make a checkmark any time during the day that these sensations occur. At the end of the day, I might have two checkmarks, or I might have twenty. It doesn’t matter.

Task #3: At the end of the day, or at least several times during the week, identify one checkmark, and complete the John James Game Plan (Email #10) for that specific checkmark.

Nothing more. There is no need to plan alternative actions.

Simple, yes. Complex, also yes!

Fritz Perls, the originator of Gestalt Therapy said that awareness in and of itself is therapeutic.

This activity is one of developing awareness. As you do so, especially as you briefly interrupt the other-than-conscious pattern, you will automatically find better outcomes for yourself.

Suppose the difficulty that you pick is very troublesome to you. It is likely that the behavior you chose as the checkmark sensation is very close to the end of the pattern, the outcome that you do not desire. It may seem as if there is no possibility of interrupting the pattern. It will seem this way especially if the process happens very quickly, in seconds or less.

Fair game. Simply do your best to record checkmarks, even if it is after the outcome that you wish to avoid. Simply put down a checkmark as you are able, and do the JJGP a few times a week.

As you monitor the specific sensation, you will also begin to notice that there was also some other specific sensation that occurred just before the checkmark sensation. When you are confident that you can monitor the original checkmark sensation, switch your attention to monitoring the sensation that precedes it, making this new sensation the checkmark sensation.

Continue to do this as you become aware of earlier and earlier sensations, making each in turn the new checkmark sensation. As you do so, you will find that your ability to interrupt the undesirable outcome improves in major ways. Whereas in the original situation, you may have easily become confused, or angry, or whatever outcome that was troublesome, you will now find that there are many different tools you can bring to the difficulty, obtaining better outcomes in many different ways.

It takes work; it takes time, but you can be in charge of your patterns, instead of feeling out-of-control and overwhelmed. You can have a better life, and better relationships with both yourself and with others.

Coming next: Emotional Triangles.

Anger #10 The John James Game Plan

Finding our way will be difficult!

Comment: In order to make effective changes, data is needed. This task from Transactional Analysis is one of the more effective ways of obtaining data concerning patterns of behavior.

MacQuarrie Email Program #10 — The John James Game Plan

The John James Game Plan is a set of questions that can be applied to any emotional issue. Such questions provide the data necessary to allow further change, so that the patterns can be identified and alternative actions chosen. (It is named after one of the lead therapists in the field of Transactional Analysis (TA). TA was very popular in 60s to 80s; it was the first therapy where I was introduced to the concept of Sailors On A Ship.)

Be aware that the possibility of change requires specific details to be described (when, where, what, how, et cetera). When generalities are explored (he/she always …), you might be able to explain the issue, but there is much less opportunity for change; you are much less likely to get a different outcome. Change exists in the details.

Your task for this session is to apply the questions below to at least three examples, and explore your responses. What are the consistent features that allow you to predict the outcome (even though you do not like the outcome)?

For each example (#1, #2, #3) —

  • What was the difficulty?
    • Give the difficulty a name. This allows you to come back to it. Especially if you give the same name to a variety of examples, there will be consistent predictable features.
  • What happened first?
    • What was the first clue that the difficulty was about to occur? When I took up downhill skiing 40 years ago, the instructor said “Put your energy into the first turn, and then enjoy the rest of the run.” The first turn determined the rest of the run!
  • What happened next?
    • What was the second clue (especially the response of the other person, or yourself if they initiated the first turn)?
  • What happened next?
    • By this time, the final outcome is usually predictable.
  • How did it end?
    • Details again — this is the most obvious predictability, but there will be others.
  • How did you feel at the end?
    • What emotion, what sensations? Where in your body?
  • Where was the focus of your emotion?
    • How do you know? Where in your body according to The Pointing Finger!
  • How was the emotion (or feeling) familiar?
    • What is the earliest memory you have of this specific emotion (i.e., these sensations, not just the general emotion)?
  • What did you do with this emotional energy?
    • How long did you hold on to the energy? How did you discharge it?
  • What was the positive intention of your emotional energy?
    • If you want to change this situation, it is usually essential that you find replacement ways to maintain the same positive intention.

I suggest that you do this exercise with at least three examples, especially three examples that already seem similar. You are seeking the predictable features where you can initiate change, so as to get a different outcome for yourself and the other.

If you are keeping a journal, I suggest you set up a section in which you continue to explore issues over an extended period of time. If you do so, you are guaranteed to encounter predictable features, and you maximize the possibility of bringing change to your life.

As you encounter predictable features, consider what else you could do so as to have a different outcome. Especially consider question #10 of the pattern — it is essential that you acknowledge and maintain the positive intention of the pattern you wish to change.

(Although the outcome you obtained with this difficulty may not have been desirable, all human behavior is always done with a positive intention. For example, if one person physically hits another person, the first person is usually afraid, and is attempting to shift from feeling powerless to feeling powerful. The action of hitting another person is almost never appropriate, nor is the intention to have power over another person appropriate — but the desire to feel powerful is positive. In this example, the means of achieving power is inappropriate.)

Imagine yourself in the situation provided by the example. How else might you be able to feel powerful? It might surprise you to know, as one possibility, that being able to admit that one is afraid and feels powerless can be a stance of great personal power.

Now step back into your own difficulty, and imagine doing new actions, behaviors that would still preserve your positive intention. How would the ending be different?

Plan at least three different actions that would give different (and desired) outcomes. recreate the difficulty in your imagination, and act out the process with the new behaviors. Feel the difference in your body as you achieve better results, albeit in our imagination.

Write these new actions and outcomes down on separate pieces of paper, and keep them in your back pocket. When you encounter the difficulty again, pause and take at least one of the pieces of paper out of your pocket, and review it.

Because you are attempting to bring conscious choice to other-than-conscious patterns, do not get stuck thinking that this activity will work all the time. It may, but it takes considerable practice to change other-than-conscious patterns.

The next email will give further suggestions for changing outcomes.

Coming next: Gathering more data — the Checkbox of Change.

Anger #09 The Pointing Finger

Comment: The skill described in this email is subtle, but powerful — it allows you to identify where you have power, and where you do not.

MacQuarrie Email Program #09 — The Pointing Finger

The Pointing Finger
Every issue contains these three components.

Hi again.

In these next eight emails, we are going to focus more on actual skills, skills that will allow you to gather data about your issues, and begin to make changes in how you respond. Be aware of two things:

  • the skills I will be offering will be applicable to any emotional issue, not just anger. (I hope it is apparent by now that anger is simply an emotion, like any other emotion — one that many people have difficulty with, but no different in mechanism from sadness, fear, joy, et cetera.)
  • depending on mechanism, you can make many changes in yourself. Alternatively, it may be helpful to work with a skilled therapist — often an outside observer can see much that is not apparent to yourself (partly this is because we are all past masters of avoiding our own deepest issues).

This activity, The Pointing Finger, is a way to explore any issue, a way that emphasizes where and how you have power. It is part of a larger context, called Emotional Triangles, which we will explore in more detail later (Email #12).

Your task: do the activity of this email.

Think about any memory when you were very angry with another person about a specific situation — make it very specific, a single situation (when, where, what, et cetera — the specific details).

Imagine first of all, that you are standing outside yourself watching yourself in this memory. As you do so, notice what sensations you feel in your body. (When I first did this kind of exercise, I was totally unaware of my body! If such is your experience, simply recognize it, and carry on as best you can — your skill will improve, especially if you continue to practice the Awareness activity of Email #03. Be patient!)

Take a piece of paper, and briefly write down your sensations. This process of standing outside watching yourself is called being dissociated. It is a very common way in which people experience their memories.

Give your body a shake — to let go of the experience (from your body, not just your mind).

Now step into your body, and experience the memory as if you are right there, right now. Notice how the sensations change. (Write them down again.) This is an associated position.

I am willing to bet that the sensations of the associated position are much more intense. Again, give your body a shake, and go back to the dissociated position.

Now I want you to step again into the memory in three different ways. When you do, notice your body sensations, write them down, give your body a shake, and go back to being dissociated.

  • step in, and notice how angry you are at the other person. Really focus on that person.
  • step in, and notice how angry you are about the situation, how it should not be.
  • step in, and notice your own body as you become aware of the other and the situation.

As you study your sensations in each of these exploratory positions, I imagine that your sensations are different in each case, perhaps in subtle ways, perhaps in very dramatic ways. Just explore; don’t simply take my word that they should be different.

In my particular case, when I do this exercise, this is what I find:

  • when I focus on the other, my body sensations are mainly in my face. My face feels tight and hot, as if I am piercing the other with my looks.
  • when I focus on the situation, my sensations move back, as if they are inside the back of my face, much less intense.
  • when I focus on myself, my sensations move down somewhat into my neck and upper chest, and now as well as anger, I fell somewhat sad.

These sensations of mine are quite consistent over a variety of conflicts.

Your experience will almost certainly be different from mine.

Do this activity with a number of people and situations over the next few days. Explore whether or not there is a consistent pattern to your body sensations, that is consistent sensations for each of the three positions. As note, in my case, there is.

So what is important here?

Consider this:

  • Your experience changes depending on where you focus.
  • You cannot change the other person.
  • Nor can you likely change the situation very much.

But you can change yourself! That is where your personal power lies.

The basic emotional triangle.
The most important diagram of my life.

If you imagine this activity as your hand pointing at the other, in the typical pose of your index finger doing the pointing and your thumb in the air, there are also three fingers pointing back at you. These three fingers are to remind you to ask yourself:

  • where is my focus? On the other? On the situation? On myself?
  • how am I contributing to this issue?
  • what else could I be doing? What would allow me to live my own personal power, authentically caring to resolve this conflict?

(As a hint for later, this pointing finger is also an emotional triangle: any two people, and a third person or issue. The relationship between the second and third components is called the third limb, and it is always a place of powerlessness, and potential stuckness.)

An important adage:

The more something bothers me, the more I have to learn about myself.

Coming next: Gathering data — the John James Game Plan.