Sunday, May 18, 2014

The Gentle Art of Self-Control, Lesson 4: Get to Know Your Inner Helpers

You’ve started to put your sentiments into words. What you’ve experienced may not seem all that profound to you so far. But you’ve actually opened the door to a new dimension of personal growth. In this lesson we’ll show you how to take it even further!
My client, Jack, was getting better at catching emotionally loaded thoughts and putting them into words. Here’s a text I got from him one day:
I am feeling some pull to look at pornography. Feeling felt like I wanted some recreation and something to distract me from all that must get done. Also, feeling anxiety about a test I took. I feel like I didn't do well. Also the feeling at looking at things I've seen before has come into play.
A few minutes later he added:
Then there’s also the feeling that nothing is real.
Catching desire in the act and stepping back from it enough to say, “I am feeling a pull” is quite different from only feeling the pull and leaving it unstated. We’ve already removed ourselves one step from the experience of the feeling and we’re not quite so swept up by it.
Those who study consciousness contend that having unhelpful (unwanted, immature, or even downright destructive) thoughts in and of itself is not a problem. The problems come about when we fuse with those thoughts. Fusing with a thought means buying into it fully.
Being fused with a sentiment means we’re looking at life through the lens of that sentiment. When we “take our glasses off” and look at that sentiment, we have defused from it.
The part of the brain that wants a porn fix doesn’t say, “I am feeling the pull to look at porn” the way Jack did. In fact it doesn’t even speak to us in words, but if we had to put into words its message, it would be something like, “Go find porn now. It’s exactly what you need. Don’t even think about passing up this opportunity.” For Jack to text me in that state of mind was no small accomplishment. He had had to unhook from the thought enough to be able to realize that it was a mere thought, not a clear, truthful appraisal of reality at the time that was imperative for him to act upon. Instead of staying fused, he had defused.
He not only caught the sentiment in the act, he stated it. By expressing that thought (and other accompanying thoughts) in words, Jack took defusion to a new level. Multiplying its power 4x. Texting those words to me acted as another force multiplier, as my friend George Collins puts it.
Profiling Your Helpers
Once our thoughts are out in the open, we can use that increased awareness to explore the energy that’s driving our destructive habits.
Instead of viewing your desires as threats, view them as information. You don’t have to succumb, but you don’t have to constantly struggle against them, either. Instead, take time to explore them. Attune to the energy inside of you where the unwanted desire originates. Even if you don’t like an urge, it’s good to be sympathetic with the energy that’s driving it. Our cravings are not imperative, but there not baseless and worthless, either. They’re informative.
Derick Cuthbert taught that every one of us is a storehouse—even a powerhouse—of desires and energies, which may be used for good or ill. In order for us to use this great potential for our own and others’ benefit, we need to harness it.
If we’ve been in the habit of struggling against temptation, it will be a profound and liberating shift to start to see as potentially helpful the desires and energies that have been fueling our temptation!
So what energies and desires can we identify in Jack’s text to me? I dialogued with him a bit in an effort to discover.
Recall that in his texts he’d said he was feeling the pull of porn, wanted some recreation and a distraction from everything he had to do, felt some anxiety about not doing well on a test, things that he’d seen before had started popping into his mind, and he had the feeling that nothing’s real.
Mark: Great Job teasing it all apart Jack. Are these the voices? Escapist: “Don’t stay on task. You should forget about all you have to do and go do something fun.” Critic: “You know you bombed that test.” Librarian: “There’s such a vast archive of pornographic images here in your brain. I can give you a slide show anytime. Like how about this? Or this one? Oh yeah, remember that? You could find something like that again if you’ll just enter this search term…” Tell Bonnie about this committee of mindsets that’s working on you.
Jack: Yeah, I think those sum it up. I’ll tell Bonnie about them, too. The “Nothing’s real” voice is getting stronger.
Mark: Oh yeah, I forgot about the “nothing’s real” feeling. Which helper is that? Phantom? Try putting it into words.
Jack: Phantom: “Since everything’s fuzzy right now it wouldn’t be a real choice to look at real pornography, it would just be this halfhearted, hazy little detached thing you could do over here with no real consequences. Looking is okay. The only thing that matters is that release.”
Mark: Okay, so Phantom’s doing his sales job on you. “Your life is like a movie you’re watching. You’re not really living it, you’re detached from it. And think of the excitement! The payoff is very real, and it far outweighs any of those barely visible costs that you can hardly imagine right now.”
Jack: Yeah, that’s what it was like. Thanks. It does help to put them into categories and name them.
That exchange occurred between 1:06 and 1:28 on a Thursday afternoon. At 5:49 p.m. I checked in with Jack again:
Mark: Is the committee still nagging at you?
Jack: Nope, they all shut up once we took roll.
Twenty minutes later he texted again: Thanks!!
This kind of work reminds me of what the bomb squad does. They bring in their x-ray machine to look at the explosive device. Once you can see more clearly all the parts that make it up, it’s easier to disarm the thing.
My dialogue with Jack gives you an idea of what it’s like to start to profile the protagonists inside your mind. Over time, you can call roll again when you’re tempted or when you’re in another state of mind that doesn’t serve you very well. Sometimes the same helpers come back again and again. Rather than get frustrated with these mindsets, remember that they’re trying to help you in their own way.
A man I really trust once taught me that urges and cravings are usually springing from deep and unmet needs. Rather than get down on ourselves for even having those desires, we need to look deeply into our own lives or the lives of others to identify the root causes of our failures and shortcomings.
Try thinking of unwieldy desires and energies as “helpers” who are doing their best, although certainly at times are quite misguided. We can appreciate the help they’re trying to give, while at the same time remembering that they don’t always guide us toward the options that are best for us because they’re not fully informed. And since they don’t see the big picture the way we can, we certainly shouldn’t let them take the driver’s seat of our lives.
Seen Any of These Helpers Lurking in Your Mind?
As you explore your sentiments when you’re in mindsets that don’t serve you well, you’ll become familiar with your own helpers. You’ll start to identify some dominant ones that come around all the time and some secondary ones that only visit periodically. To get you started, here are some fairly common ones that my clients and I have discovered lurking in their minds:
Shell-less Snail: “You feel so raw, exposed, apprehensive. You need to find something to make you feel better.”
Castaway: “No one cares about you. You’re on your own in life, suffering and neglected. It doesn’t really matter if you give in.”
Fortune Teller: “It’s always going to be this bad.”
Soother: “You can feel good again so quickly; relief is waiting for you.”
Tom Sawyer: “Throw off your responsibilities and play hooky from life.”
Salesman: “You really want that, it would feel so good.”
Ed McMahon: “Are you really going to slam the door when a million dollar opportunity like this shows up?”
Lester the Luster: “Sex is the best thing in the world, nothing else compares!”
Riveter: “Oh my! Wow! You can’t turn away from that!”
Dopamine-Deprived Screamer: “Don’t you dare make me go without gratification! I’m miserable without that release!”
Jason Bourne: [Silent. May be inactive and go unnoticed for years, but when there’s an opportunity to act out, stealthily gets to work again with a vengeance.]
Dreamy: “In another life, can’t you just picture yourself with that person? You should find out if they might be attracted to you!”
Pressure Cooker: “These urges will just keep building until you finally give in.”
Critic: “You blew it. You failed. You should be so much better than you are.”
Idealist: “Life would be wonderful if only you could manage to… [do whatever it is you’re failing to do at the time.]”
Comparer: “Look at the great things so and so is doing. What’s wrong with you?”
Scolder: “It’s so lame you can’t get on the ball and manage your life better!”
Bullwhip: “Look at this mess you’ve made. Come on, pull yourself together!”
John Henry: “You can do it, but only if you push harder than ever!”
Plow Horse: “Don’t think, don’t feel, just keep plugging along, doing your duty.”
Brooder: “Your life stinks. Nothing’s going right. You’re miserable.”
Worn-Out Warrior: “You’ve tried and tried, but you’ve got no more to give.”
Lookout: “Unwanted thoughts keep coming over the horizon!”
Frantic Dutch Boy: “Can’t keep up to stop all these thoughts and urges and cravings and temptations.”
Catch Your Helpers in the Act—and Talk Back to Them
When you catch an urge or feel a surge of emotion, see if you can state the sentiment and then repeat it back in "you" form (make it a statement said to you instead of by you). Attribute that thought to a part of your mind that commonly has those type of energies or desires and give that part a name. Once you identify which helper is active at a given time, you can then dialogue a bit with it.
Irene had committed to watching her calorie intake. But halfway through an afternoon of hassling with tax documents, “I started to wonder if those were the leftover donuts I could hear, beckoning me all the way from the break room.” She was gung-ho, now she was starting to waver.

So she stated the sentiment: “I just thought, 'I should go see if there are any donuts left.' Oh, 'go see.' That's an interesting way of putting it--not necessarily eat one, just gather recon. Which part my mind said, 'You should go see if there are any donuts left'? Let's see: Is that Hunger talking? Not really. Still full enough from lunch. Sweet Tooth maybe? Actually, I think it's Rebel talking: 'You're not going to just keep working, are you? Well okay, but if we can't play hooky, the least you can do is feed me another glazed with sprinkles!’

“So I said, ‘Thanks Rebel, I appreciate you calling attention to the fact that it’s been all work and no play lately. Remember we’re going out of town this weekend for some long awaited R&R. Just hang in there a couple more days!’”

Aaron had avoided porn for a couple of months, but his wife was at her sister's place for the weekend. He walked in to get ready for bed and discovered her iPad on the dresser. Unlike his laptop, it's not password protected. "’Nope,’ I said to myself, and I turn to walk into the bathroom. But then I realize my heart's pounding and I'm breathless. Ahh. Wow! That suddenly: launch sequence initiated. I need to explore that a bit. What was I just thinking? 'I didn't go looking, the opportunity just fell into my lap!' Okay, which one of you in there said, 'You didn't seek it out so, hey, you get a free pass'? Was that Lester the Luster--always hoping and hungry? Not particularly. It's not so much sex itself I'm craving. Just been a long day and I'm still feeling tense. Soother, that's you in there, isn't it, looking for a little tenderness. Or maybe Escapist, craving blissful oblivion. Well, I appreciate the input guys, I really do. But that hasn't worked out so well for me in the past, as you'll recall."

Lyle caught himself checking out a pretty girl as he drove by the high school as class was getting out. “I should get a better look in the rearview mirror,” he thought. Usually he would have either given into that urge and perhaps continued to think about the girl… or berated himself for having the urge: “Seriously? Half your age! What’s wrong with you?!”
This time, instead, he caught that he’d had the thought. He switched it from “I…” to “You should get a better look in the rearview mirror.” Then he started a dialogue. “Hey, who in there said that, telling me to take another look?” He quickly realized, that’s Teenage Brain. He thinks I’m still sixteen. He thinks if I swung the car around and pulled over to flirt with her she just might recognize me from behind the KFC counter [where he used to work as a kid]. If we hit it off she might even eventually go to prom with me. “Well,” he said to Teenage Brain, “Thanks for the suggestion, but no thanks. You may not even know this, but I’m actually 33. And I’m driving right now to pick up my daughter from preschool. Checking out a high school girl in the rear view mirror doesn’t serve me very well. In fact falling to temptations like that have actually really messed up my life.
“I understand that you’re just doing what you think is your job by trying to help me by find someone cute, but I actually found someone long ago. Katy is a beautiful woman, a grown woman, and I’ve committed to be true and faithful to her. Whenever I’ve listened to you, let you take the helm of my life, I end up doing things that really hurt her. She wants to know that I’m faithful in body and mind.
“I know you made life very exciting by always being on the lookout for the next cute girl, but what you don’t understand is that life’s not just about going gaga over someone who’s hot. It’s okay that you don’t understand that. It’s my job to remember the big picture, not yours. I know I need to temper that kind of eager enthusiasm by healthy doses of wisdom and restraint.”
Kelly was riding the stationary bike at the gym one day when he noticed an attractive woman running on the treadmill right in front of him. He turned away only to see another beauty using an elliptical machine to his right. Before learning acceptance based coping strategies he would have ogled and lusted away for awhile… or gritted his teeth and stared blankly into space and hoped against hope that he wouldn’t see anyone else he found attractive or “triggering.”
This time, instead, Kelly couldn’t help but laugh to himself. My mind is sort of like a fishnet, he thought, picking up everything in it’s path. Then he realized, That’s exactly what I do all day. At the refinery all I do is notice. I’m supposed to catch any equipment that’s out of order, any safety rule that’s being ignored. They pay me 80K a year to show up in Fishnet mode. Fishnet feeds my family! He’s one of the most important features of my mind!
“Okay Fishnet,” Kelly said to himself, “You’re there, your strong, and your good at doing your job. But today’s my day off. I’m here to work out. I appreciate that you think you need to keep noticing 24/7, but this is one area where your noticing is just not that helpful. So thanks, but no thanks Fishnet.”
Instead of locking horns with their energies and drives, Irene, Aaron, Lyle and Kelly all acknowledged the benevolent intent of their helpers. But then they proceeded to give their helpers additional information that they hadn’t previously been privy to. They kindly but firmly let them know they wouldn’t be taking the driver’s seat and explained why. This was so different from previous attempts to forcefully wrestle the steering wheel away from these helpers, which only met with resistance and served to heighten the helpers’ strength and determination to get their way. 
Homework Assignment:
Pay particular attention this week during moments of temptation and/or other states of mind that don’t serve you very well. See if you can identify one or more of your inner helpers and what they’re trying to do for you. Take time to profile them, exploring when and why they might have developed in your life.
What function were they trying to play then? Are they convinced that that is a job that still needs to be done? Why?
Come up with a name to address them by. If you can’t think of a fitting name, just call them by the name of a color, such as “Red” or “Gray.”
Dialogue with them, letting them know that you’re starting to understand that they’ve been doing their very best to help you. But then remind them that they’re not fully informed; they don’t see the entire picture the way you can. Let them know that, with their limits, they will no longer be allowed to take the driver’s seat of your life.
Try writing out one or two of the dialogues you have with your helpers to see if that process is as productive for you as it is for many people. 

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