Tag Archives: management of anxiety

The Power Of Doubt


I have gotten into a bit of a funk since a recent David Suzuki article: Caribou science denial cripples conservation efforts (20180628). It underlines the power of doubt for me. The story links to a research article From Climate to Caribou: How Manufactured Uncertainty is Impacting Wildlife Management and discusses the many agencies (well beyond wildlife management, starting with tobacco and psycho-pharmaceuticals) that “employ a ‘multi-pronged strategy of denial’: deny the problem exists, deny its key causes, and claim that resolving the problem is too costly.”

What it raises for me is: Whom do I trust? And what is the nature of Doubt?

In the last couple of posts, I’ve discussed the nature and limitations of meaning, noting in particular that information is not the same as meaning and that too much information interferes with meaning. And as indicated earlier, one of the major ways we deal with this is to seek corroboration from a trusted group (the TIC process).

Another way we deal with meaning is by doubt, critically assessing the information as to whether or not it is consistent with what we already accept. Skepticism (specifically methodological skepticism) is an approach that subjects all knowledge claims to scrutiny with the goal of sorting out truth from falsehood. In many respects, getting uncomfortable and willing to be uncertain, to not know, to ask questions, to err and to fail, is the best and only way to learn, and move forward. It is so much easier to be certain, and for some, being uncertain is a major source of anxiety — the underlying issue of fundamentalism of any kind.

The Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy notes “Doubt is often defined as a state of indecision or hesitancy with respect to accepting or rejecting a given proposition. Thus, doubt is opposed to belief. But doubt is also contrasted with certainty.” Both aspects, belief and certainty, are fundamental to my concern. Doubt has been a basic structural component of the major ways by which we as a species have valued knowledge, especially in the past 400 years, that of reason (philosophical study) and expiricism (scientific investigation). Doubt was also a major vehicle whereby Socrates sought wisdom, and thus doubt as a useful process has extended throughout our recorded history.

The major difficulty however is that doubt require honesty! The essential problem of dishonesty is that it grossly exaggerates doubt, and thus the deliberate creation of doubt can become a weapon of discouragement. In our current Age of Information (and Duplicity), doubt fails us when our premises are distorted by dishonesty. We become overwhelmed by too much information, at the very least by the inconsistencies inherent in the processing of dishonest information.

I know of no way through this dilemma. I have also found it incredibly difficult to encapsulate this blog — an expression of how doubt impacts.


I will fall back on two people:

  • Voltaire: Doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is absurd!
  • Christian de Quincey, especially his book Radical Knowing where he talks of other ways of knowing beyond rationalism (the way of philosophy) and experientialism (the way of science): that of participatory feeling and direct mystical experience.
    • Both of these other ways are disparaged in our culture of scientific materialism, yet for me, both offer a way of knowing beyond doubt and certainty.
    • I highly recommend the writings of Christian, a philosopher of great integrity and wisdom, and like those who step out of the box, not well recognized.


Living in A Mature Culture, Part 7

Glitzy and exciting, but  urban sprawl has major disadvantages.
Glitzy and exciting, but urban sprawl has major disadvantages.

Daily life in a mature culture — now that we have looked at the possibility of a Victory City, what would daily life actually be like in such a city? As noted, I am proposing that the high-rise buildings would consist of a large number of village-like settings, where people would actually live much of their day-to-day activity.

A reminder: these postings are simply my thoughts on what it would be like to live permanently in a mature culture; I present them mainly to stimulate your thoughts.

  • Each “village” would consist of three floors within a high-rise complex, each complex perhaps holding approximately 30 “villages.”
    • As such, there would be a communal living floor sandwiched in two floors of private living/sleeping quarters.
      • Much would be modular, both for efficiency and minimal environmental impact.
    • Most food preparation and eating would be within the communal space, or in more central cafeteria-style buildings within the city.
      • There would be an emphasis that such food be both nutritious and of very high quality (not at all like the typical cafeteria of modern life).
    • Each village would consist of about 200 people, likely about 50 families, interacting with each other. There would be about 125 adults (including late teens), and about 75 younger children.
      • There would be extensive day-care facilities for child care (approximately 25 per village, or 625 per high-rise); essentially the village would raise the children, and children would be able to attend every process of village life.
      • school-aged children (approximately 2000 per high-rise) would attend school in the high-rise common area.
      • late teens would attend some kind of college or university, of which there would be 5 – 10 in the city, with the possibility of outreach to other cities.
    • The “adults” would meet several times per week in small groups, perhaps 10 people each, for personal development. Each week, there would also be a variety of local governance groups planning the needs and development of the village community, and a number of meetings with other groups outside the “village,” planning governance on a broader level.
      • The adults would be engaged in work activity 25 hours per week, 5 hours per day, approximately half of which would be virtual meetings or some kind of activity that could be performed without leaving the local village.
        • Children of all ages would be welcome at all activities.
      • Given that the cultural narrative would be that of a permanent state of sustainability, then perhaps most of adult life would be lived out in these environment.
        • We would no longer live the current cultural model of continuous improvement and discovery (such living is not compatible with being the dominant species of a finite planet).

Your thoughts? Would this be too commune-like? Would this be too sterile? Both Rupert Ross (Dancing With A Ghost) and Louis Herman (Future Primal) have a lot to say about this.

Ross, when reflecting on “primitive” native culture, notes (pp. 103-108):

Each generation’s turn at the wheel might include performances better or worse than the last, but they would be essentially the same performance, with the same set and script and plotting. . . .

We post-industrial societies, in contrast, seem to run a cross-country relay race, passing the baton to a generation that will never set foot upon the ground we have covered . . .

There is a temptation to conclude that such a repetitive existence would be boring in the extreme, that it would feel binding and imprisoning.

I suspect . . .  no such sense of limits. . . . they [native peoples] may have perceived their lives as holding a virtually limitless scope for challenge and accomplishment. . . .  their lives did not center on building things, but upon discerning things. Life’s challenge lay in observing and understanding the workings of the dynamic equilibrium of which they were a part, then acting so as to sustain a harmony within it rather than a mastery over it. One aspired to wisdom in accommodating oneself

. . . they sought that wisdom not only to better ensure survival but also as an end in itself, as something in itself exhilarating.

Herman notes (Kindle location 7130):

Our wilderness origins fashioned our creative self-consciousness, which is both expanded and balanced by following the primal dynamic: face-to-face communication within a caring community of individuals, passionate for living and learning in a mutually enhancing resonance with the natural world. This is the truth quest, and it is our primal inheritance. We can ignore it, or we can cultivate it in all our endeavors and bring it into a creative engagement with the reality we find ourselves caught up in: a civilization rushing to self-destruction while displaying tantalizing possibilities of a more beautiful, joyful way of life.

As a therapist of 25 years’ experience, centered largely in my own emotional growth, I know that exhilaration. Personally, although such “village” life as I am describing would have challenges, it could also be immensely satisfying.

To be continued.

Acedia and Evil

The desire to give up! Caught in despair.
The desire to give up! Caught in despair.

I’ve been reading some of the articles accessible through The Climate Mobilization website, especially those concerning what we are now learning about the risks of global warming, even at our current level. It is so much worse than I thought! And I regard myself as well-informed in this area. For me, the issues are so related to the acedia of our civilization.

Gradually we are shifting. More and more leaders are speaking out for the need for profound change. However, all that leaders can do is lead! It is followers that create the bulk of the change. We need the majority of our culture to speak out.

And there is some evidence that the cultural majority are aware of this need. Recent research suggests that 54% of people in four Western countries acknowledge high risk of our civilization ending, and 24% recognize the risk of human extinction, all in the next 100 years.

Acedia and Evil

In this post I want to finish with the topic of acedia, in particular the nature of evil.

In The Hope: A Guide To Sacred Activism, Andrew Harvey tells the story of a major agribusiness CEO who knew exactly what destruction he was causing to the lives of thousands of people, but proceeded anyway simply for the sense of power that it gave him. When I reflect on modern tragedies such as

  • the duplicity of British Petroleum in the 2010 Gulf environmental disaster,
  • ExxonMobil being aware of the impact of fossil fuel on global warming in the 1970s, and deliberately hiding this information (presumably for profit to the company),
  • the Koch brothers’ massive manipulation of the American political system,
  • and many other political-economic-environmental disasters of recent years,

I cannot but consider these actions as evil — the active antagonism of what life offers, the hiding for political-economic power. Such actions must be identified, and stopped, but there is the danger of focusing on these issues, rather than looking at the system (the Cultural Lie, including myself as part to this system) which allows such actions to develop.

The Banality of Acedia and Evil

I also know from Hannah Arendt’s work on the banality of evil and Milgram’s work on obedience to authority, that the possibility of evil is a fundamental human characteristic. I consider evil as the end-point of the spectrum of acedia, as shown in the accompanying diagram. The manifestations of acedia (self-righteousness, laziness, fearfulness) are not evil per se, but they set the stage for evil, especially the acceptance of evil acts by others, wherein acedia displays as an attitude of “it doesn’t matter,” “who cares?,” or “it can’t be helped.”


Yet the fundamental difficulty of evil is the attempt to eliminate evil — it sets a false dichotomy of us against them, and if only we eliminate them, things will be fine. When we as individuals fail to recognize how our silence and/or tokenism in the Climate Lie perpetuates the system, we support the evil of actions such as above.

As a culture, we have enjoyed the benefits of technology, and have been unwilling to recognize or pay the costs. We live gross inequality, with massive world poverty (amidst conclaves of richness), extensive hunger (especially starvation of  children), mistreatment of minorities (especially women in underdeveloped countries), waste and pollution (our garbage accumulates), amongst other inequities. We live the acedia cycle, especially in our lack of charity in resolving these issues. We have extensive “charitable organizations,” yet as a culture we lack the charity to resolve these  difficulties.

So what to do? Most of the power is held by those who are creating the inequality, mainly the leaders of the multi-national corporations. (Likely only a small minority of these corporations — I presume most are honorable, but we must find a way through so as to disempower those that create the most disruption of equitable society. And in any event, I am not interested in created the us versus them dilemma.)

The Need for Civil Disobedience

Gier (2006), in Three Principles of Civil Disobedience: Thoreau, Gandhi, and  King, notes that effective civil disobedience requires that:

  • one maintain respect for the rule of law even while disobeying the specific law perceived as unjust;
  • one should plead guilty to any violation of the law; and
  • one should attempt to convert the opponent by demonstrating the justice of one’s

I believe that civil disobedience is the only route that we can take. To engage in evil to combat evil will not lead to a mature culture. We have made attempts, such as the Occupy movement, but they need to continue.

Are we worthy of being a mature culture? I hope so.

Slowly maturing. A number of items have impressed me recently.


Two recent news items have crossed my desk that have impressed me that our culture is slowly maturing. (I’ve never doubted this; my questions invariably relate to whether or not we will mature enough to survive the next 100 years of cultural chaos.)

The first came to me via an email from Avaaz; it quoted a statement by Pavel Poc, Vice-Chair of the EU Parliament’s Environment Committee, and key leader of the glyphosate fight: “Looking to where we were in the beginning of this year and where we are now, Avaaz is indisputably the driving force of the fight for glyphosate discontinuance.” (My caution here is my usual one— I do not have external validation of this report. Overall I trust it, but I do not have external evidence to corroborate it. I do however have a video clip of Pavel Poc that I found most useful: Glyphosate: Yes or No?.)

It is essential, I believe, that the voices of large numbers of people must be heard, especially when the voices of multi-national corporations are so strong, and sometimes so dishonest. I believe this to be so even when some scientific reports claim innocence; we are also in an era when scientific research is frequently manipulative and deceptive. I wish this were not so, but my wishing does not make it so.

Thus, I am heartened to see that the polling performed by such as Avaaz has had an impact. I also wish it had more.

The second news item was that “The Stanford Rape Victim Controlled The Public Narrative Without Giving Up Her Privacy.” (ThinkProgress, June 8, 2016). This is, for me, a major step forward in our society. The status of this woman can be corroborated (it is in the public record of the legal system) — but it is not in the public record of the media blitz that is so invasive. Separated from the injustices that possibly surround this situation, this prevention of invasion is refreshing.

I also say “possibly surround” — I am aware of some of the controversies, but again the limitation for me is to find ways of validation. It is such an insane world — a vast amount of information available, without a vast amount of knowledge to be gleaned (in this context, I consider knowledge as being the meaning I give to information), and frequently without much wisdom to be gained (wisdom here being the ability to make effective judgments).

This was originally posted to my Facebook on 20160609.

Sloppy Language, Part 2

Changing your language will change your life!
Changing your language will change your life!

To recap, this is my second post on sloppy language. Bottom line: if you will be meticulous with your language for six months, you will change your life, for the better. But remember: The truth will set you free, but first it will make you miserable.

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 a better outcome. They 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 (could have been ‘she’) was simply copying the pattern he learned from his father. He could not hear the answer when I told him, 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 IM need to ask a more practical question, usually preceded by “how” or “what.” 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! 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.

Given all the sloppy language in your life, your own and that of others, how do you wish to live your life?

Originally posted to Facebook 20160614

Sloppy Thinking, Part 1

Changing your language will change your life!
Changing your language will change your life!

Thinking about the nature of shoulds has prompted me to write also about what I call sloppy language. 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.

My relationships with others are based on: 1) being authentic (showing the other who I am), and 2) keeping my commitments (doing what I say I will do). Being attentive to my language allows me to keep these values.

There are seven areas that are especially important. 1) I should, 2) I don’t know, 3) I can’t, 4) I’ll try, 5) maybe, 6) Why? and 7) I wish. Again, I will split the content because of length.

I should: I have dealt with I should in the previous posts.

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, and when “I don’t know,” I 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,” 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, etc.) 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 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 (I won’t).

I’ll try: “I’ll try” is also a misnomer in that it frequently becomes an excuse for ‘not doing,’ of 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 still 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 also I disconnect from my own authentic experience, my truth-testing. If I give attention to my actual experience, I can know myself! Again, pay attention to the hidden truth. “Maybe” as applied to the external world again 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.

Originally posted to Facebook 20160613

To be continued.

“You should,” Part 4 (Management)

You indeed could! Or not.
You indeed could! Or not.

This is the fourth of four posts on the nature and management of shoulds. (Note: because Facebook does not easily allow paragraph markers, I am choosing to begin my paragraphs with … to make it easier to read — at least it is easy for me!)

To recap. Shoulds are the rules of social boundaries. They are an investment in the third limb of an emotional triangle, and are usually dysfunctional. They do however contain information — the rules of the social network.

The management of shoulds is a measure of maturity. To quote a poem I developed years ago:

No one is perfect; we all fall down.

The measure of maturity is how we arise,

And how we help others when they fall down.

So, how do I manage shoulds?

First of all, I attempt to digest them; I attempt to grasp the social rules that are being expressed by the should. By digest, I mean that I explore to what extent this information is of value to me. To what extent do I wish to live by this rule? Under what circumstances would I choose to act according to this rule? Or not?

Having done this, I am in position to choose how I wish to act when I next hear this should, either from someone else or from one of my own sailors. Simply put, I initiate what I call WIWI — Will I or Won’t I? What is the worst that will happen? What is the worst if I do? What is the worst if I don’t? I don’t waste time with all the nuances; they simply clutter my thinking. 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.

Suppose I do not like either option — what then? I play. Not only is play fun, but it is the most sophisticated skill set I have (it took me ten years to learn how to play). Imagine someone (or a sailor) has told me I should do something that I do not wish to do. I will then choose to do something that is somehow appropriate to the emotional dynamics, yet is also a weird response, surprising to the other (and often to myself as well). The key is that I must create for myself a state of wonder (“I wonder what they will do with this? . . . Wow! What will they do?”). If I know they will react or be angry or be frustrated, it is not playful! When I am in a state of wonder, I am not anxious about what the other will do, and I am not invested in the third limb of this triangle.

The second thing that being playful does is that it pushes the emotional energy of the should back to the other; they must then deal with their own anxiety, anxiety that lead to the should in the first place. The difficulty here is that the other may not like my response, and may choose to escalate the pressure. So I need to be prepared — how will I respond if they do? So I do not choose to be playful when the danger is quite real! Remember — we will kill to protect the rules.

Note well: I tend not to play in cooperative situations — play jars relationships. Here, I would rather negotiate a resolution with the other, presuming cooperation. Sometimes, I will still play, but only to lighten the relationship.

Ok, enough on shoulds. I trust that you the reader can now grasp how complex the subject is.

Originally posted to Facebook 20160612

Please also see my comments on sloppy language.

“You should,” Part 3 (Emotional Triangles)

You indeed could! Or not.
You indeed could! Or not.

This is the third of four posts on the nature and management of shoulds.

From Ed Friedman I also learned of the incredible importance of emotional triangles — the laws of relationships; this information changed my life. Essentially, shoulds invest energy in the third limb of the triangle, an investment that is generally dysfunctional (unless other people want the investment).

For those who are unfamiliar with my work, an emotional triangle is the triangular relationship between any two people and a third person or issue, e.g., me and you, me and an issue (or person), you and the same issue. Since there are many people in my life, and many issues (sometimes many issues with the same person), there are many (thousands) of emotional triangles in my life (and in the life of every person). I do not live in isolation, and I am always subject to the influence of these triangles! It is the system within which I live, and systems are designed to remain the same — shoulds are one of the ways in which this occurs.


It is also important to recognize emotional triangles can also exist (and frequently do) between the sailors within me. These internal triangles have the same rules, but are not as apparent usually. Management is also the same.

There are three laws associated with emotional triangles, with corollaries, applicable to every triangle. Imagine you and I and an issue (a sample triangle — the laws are the same for every triangle).

  1. I can only change myself. I can change my relationship with you, I can change my relationship with the issue, but I cannot change you and your relationship to the issue. This latter is called my third limb, the limb to which I do not belong; it is a relative term in that your third limb is the relationship between me and the issue. But what happens if I am anxious about you and your relationship, my third limb? These are the corollaries.
    1. When I attempt to change my third limb, the results of my efforts are not predictable. In spite of how much I think I know you, you are not predictable. You will only change when you want to do so, not when I want you to do so (these might be the same, but often not). Much of human activity involves investment in the third limb, but is cooperative and seems as though it is predictable. For example, in work environments, the boss is invariably seeking to change the third limb — but here, the employee is willing to cooperate so as to get paid!
    2. What is predictable is that, when you don’t want to change, the more I insist that you change, the more I will get the opposite of what I want. You will resist me.
    3. Under these circumstances, any pain in the triangle between us will move in my direction. Needless to say, not a recipe for success.
  2. If I change, you must change. We are connected! But, under these circumstances, you may be anxious about my changes. This will be especially true if my change is significant to the system in which I live. Corollaries:
    1. Suppose you are anxious about my change. In your anxiety, you will attempt to change your third limb, me and my relationship to the issue. This is called sabotage. It will occur, and in fact, I can know that my change is effective by the degree to which sabotage occurs. I generally tell people that changing myself is only 30% of the work of change; dealing with the sabotage is 70% of the work.
    2. Sabotage will occur even when my change is ultimately healthy for the system. Expect it; be prepared for it! Systems strive to remain stable, and therefore resist change.
  3. Change requires that I stay connected. Corollary:
    1. It takes about three months for change to work its way through the system. Rats — I have to stay and deal with the sabotage. It would be so nice if I could leave and come back when the change is complete. Tough!

As simple as these laws are, they are incredibly subtle in their usage. They also provide an active way by which to live the Serenity Prayer. The third limb refers to what I cannot change, the second law to what I can, and the boundary to the difference between these two areas. I first learned of the Serenity Prayer when I was 30; I did not learn how to use it until I learned of Emotional Triangles.


A major aspect of the management of shoulds is, thus, to really grasp the significance of these laws.

Originally posted to Facebook 20160611

To be continued.

“You should,” Part 2 (The Crab Trap)

You indeed could! Or not.
You indeed could! Or not.

This is the second of four posts on the nature and management of shoulds.

Ed Friedman (as noted in the previous post, Ed was one of my primary mentors) used to tell a story about how to catch crabs in the ocean; he claimed it 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 there will be crabs, puts a lot of bait in it, 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. 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 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, 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!

We should so as to protect the rules. But what are the rules? Here it gets a bit crazy. There are essentially two major rules that we protect. The first is “Don’t think about the rules.” And the second is “Everybody has the same rules.” Weird.

We likely learn both rules before the age of three or four, in the stage of “Why, why, mummy/daddy, why.” Baby is attempting to understand the world, and its rule base. So when baby asks ‘why,’ and mummy/daddy are in good moods, they answer (baby of course then asks ‘why’ again!). Great; baby is happy.

However, when mummy/daddy are not in a good mood, baby will likely be criticized, sometimes severely, but at least with an answer like “because!” with a harsh voice tone. Baby know then that it is not safe to ask — and baby has a very high need for safety. So baby eventually stops asking. But baby also has a high need for energetic experience. This internal conflict between safety and experience eventually means that baby must repress the need to ask ‘why,’ especially when it is not safe (harsh voice tone) to the point of not even thinking about the rules (rule #1: Don’t think about the rules). Otherwise baby would ask about the rules.

But baby is now stuck — can’t ask about the rules, but must figure out the rules in order not to be criticized. The only way to do that is to guess the rule, and assume that everybody follows the same rules (rule #2). This is fine in the family, because likely everybody does follow the same rules, but when baby is older, and finds that perfect partner, the partner of course “has the same rules.” Maybe! But you can’t ask about the rules — that breaks rule #1.

As you can imagine, it gets complicated. Sometimes this is a source of major conflict in the new relationships. And sometimes it is very dangerous, because we will kill to protect the rules (note the frequency of family violations).

So, shoulds are heavy duty words!

Originally posted to Facebook, 20160610

To be continued.

“You should,” Part 1

You indeed could! Or not.
You indeed could! Or not.

A few days ago, I received a request to write about the nature of the word should, must and have to. So . . .

I imagine that this is a very important topic for many people. However, it is such a huge topic that I will split my posting into several, so as to keep the length of each reasonable (likely there will be four posts).

First, the words should, must, and have to all mean roughly the same thing, with different degrees of insistence. They are basically the rules of social boundaries, and as such, are very important for group cohesion. They keep people bonded together. However, as human beings, we are very subject to the pressure of shoulds; they become words of tyranny.

My primary training as a therapist was in Gestalt Therapy, and it is still my basic philosophy. It is from Gestalt that I first was exposed to the concepts of Sailors (for those who do not know me, it is one of the metaphor-concepts that I commonly use — think of as ship where the sailors are in mutiny).

In Gestalt, shoulds are an aspect of the boundary between self and others. If we are to grow effectively as human beings, it is our responsibility to digest them (not just swallow them), so as to become authentic. In Gestalt, there were considered to be four primary disturbances of boundaries: introjection, projection, retroflection, and confluence. Introjection swallows the shoulds of others, but does not digest them — thus, Introjectors (those for whom introjection is the primary defence) live trapped by the rules of others. Projection displaces the shoulds; projectors shift their own internal conflicts onto others, and thus projectors are trapped unaware of their own internal conflicts. Retroflectors turn the rules against themselves, and divert the conflicts into themselves, usually as headaches, gut pain, muscle tension, etc. Those who use confluence fuzz the boundaries and thus are either silly, or somehow unreal, to themselves and others.

Murray Bowen, one of the founders of Family Systems Therapy, developed the concept of self-differentiation, the ability to maintain a sense of self in the presence of others (and thereby resist the pressure of shoulds). He developed a scale (0-100) for this ability, and believed that no individual was consistently able to score higher than 70%. Ed Friedman, one of my major mentors, was an early student of Murray’s; it is from Ed that I learned the concept of emotional triangles (the second metaphor-concept I commonly use — see the third post for triangles — very important in the issue of shoulds).

Originally posted to Facebook, 20160609

To be continued.