Testimonials from Lillian's Clients
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EVERY AMBIGUOUS EROTIC DISCOURSE UNAMBIGUOUSLY CONTAINS BUT ONE MEANING, THE SECOND ONE(OTHERWISE IT WOULD HAVE HAD GOT NO SENSE)
What is the second one? How many times did you read this sentence? How difficult was it to articulate the words in parentheses?
Where is this third leg coming from? How many times have you traced the line with your eyes to try and figure that out? When did you give up or just settle on some conclusion about this image?
Is this a vase, or two identical profiles? We might settle on the vase, we might settle on the identical profiles. We might even settle that it’s both. But the point here is, is that we are not comfortable leaving it unsettled. It has to be something.
“We tend to see patterns where none exist and embrace certainty when none is justified” (Psychology Today, December 2015)
This above quote, simply put, alludes to the human brain’s programming to make sense of the world, and especially, to make sense of that which has none. Some say that our brain is a machine, a meaning making machine, a sense making machine. We have a filing system much like a computer, where files and sub files of knowledge and experience, can be, and are retrieved upon demand, carrying manuals upon manuals of explanations, how to’s, and tools needed to navigate through the unfamiliar experience before us. Sometimes our mind’s programming encourages us to be intrigued by a new experience, sometimes repelled by the unknown.
In the Psychology Today article containing the above quote, the author reviews two recently released books that cover newsworthy events, chronicling the “perils of ambiguity”. In one hostage taking case, a veteran agent managed to negotiate the release of 20 people, 18 of them children, from a Davidian sect leader holding over 70 people hostage. When the sect leader changed his mind on surrendering himself, the sudden change in plan created a state of panic. Despite evidence in the ensuing days that he might surrender himself, the other agents became furious with the change of mind, and convinced the US Attorney General that only one option was left. The veteran agent who had made the hostage deal was reassigned. The remaining agents gassed the building with the sect leader and hostages inside, resulting in the leader setting fire to the building, killing all 70 people. The conclusions made based on one note of ambiguity, the leader changing his mind on surrendering himself, contributed to a cascade of distrust, anger, and panic which proved tragically fatal.
This is an extreme and dramatic example of what our brains do with incoming information from the external world. We only have so much capacity to take in information consciously, however, conscious and unconscious information is stored into our filing subsystems for future reference. Further, all the information, absorbed consciously or unconsciously, goes through a process called “deletion”, “distortion”, and “generalization”. That is to say, we (our brains) delete, distort, and generalize information. So in the above case, the remaining agents may have deleted all the information that could have lead to a conclusion that the sect leader was negotiable or scared. They may have distorted his change of mind into an act of manipulation and hostility. Finally, they might have generalized all the information into “all hostage takers are killers”. When faced with ambiguity, these agents called on “already” stored information to make a decision without checking its validity. Acting on missing, distorted, and generalized information clouded their judgement, and tipped their decisions in favour of clear and familiar police action as opposed to a less understood negotiation strategy, that of the veteran agent.
A less dramatic, but nonetheless real experience might be the case of Mary. Mary had a pretty good childhood. She knew her parents loved her. Out of concern for her, Mary’s mother was intent on ensuring Mary not repeat her mistakes. As a result, she was over involved in Mary’s life, always wanting to know what Mary was thinking, how she was feeling, and what she was doing, so she could correct her. Mary’s mother would often tell Mary that what she was thinking or feeling was wrong, and that she needed to feel or think something else. When Mary, a sensitive child, had a strong emotional reaction to an incident, her mother would immediately jump in, and tell her that she was being “too sensitive”. She would say she didn’t need to feel “hurt” for example, and insist that she did not properly understand the situation. Mary’s mother thought she could change her sensitivity, so Mary would not have a “tough life” like her.
Mary subsequently grew up to not trust her feelings or her intuition. She also decided that the world was not a safe place to talk about her feelings. Having developmentally appropriate, however young and simplistic thinking, she began to question her own reality because she believed her mother’s version of the truth. Since she was being “too sensitive” in her reactions, she concluded something was wrong with her. Mary learned in her teen years to hide her feelings from others. She was afraid she might be told again that her feelings were wrong which she interpreted as something wrong with “her”. She let herself experience her deep feelings only when she was alone. She began to form beliefs, thoughts, opinions, conclusions about herself and the world without the help of anyone who might guide her through, and normalize them or normalize her. She believed “ I am too sensitive”. She believed that “no one will understand me”, and “I am all alone”. She deleted, distorted, and generalized all the information that she saw, heard, or felt. She did not notice the 16 year old boy who loved her sensitivity, the teacher that wanted to know and understand her more, the fact that most people gravitated to the wisdom that emanated from her lovely sensitivity, because her belief system wouldn’t allow that new and unfamiliar information to fit. It was a square peg, and she the round hole.
Mary came to counselling at a time when she began to seriously question her 22 year relationship with her partner. She talked of “feeling alone”, “not understood”, and drowning in her intense feelings. Her believed reality allowed for, if not demanded, a choice in a partner that was primarily self-absorbed, and so afraid of true intimacy that he drowned his own feelings in alcohol. Mary was ready for a change. She learned that her beliefs about herself and the world were created ones through the mind’s eye of a very young child. As she stepped into the undefined self before she had accepted her mother’s ideas as absolute truth, she found a new freedom. In this open space she began to see her kind sensitivity as something that people were attracted to, that randomly, people would talk to her, and that others began to understand themselves through connection to her and her life story. Because Mary revisited incidences in her past to see what she distorted, deleted, or generalized, with a new perspective of openness, she came to new discoveries and a new refreshing story about herself and the world.
Ambiguity – is an experience of a something that is inexplicable or unknown in reference to our past personal experiences. We need to make sense of it. And we use our own “created” inner world data to do what we do to manage the information, delete, distort and generalize. But is it the truth? It is certainly our truth, however, if that truth hurts us and/or others, perhaps we can revisit that experience, notice information we did not, align our beliefs with who we truly are, and not the story we created about ourselves with missing, distorted or generalized information.
By Lillian Benrubi MSW, RSW
What are your past and current models for what it means to be a woman in today’s day and age? Do the past and current models align or conflict? Do you own all the behaviours, thoughts, opinions and judgements you have of what it means to be a woman, or have they been passed down to you? Have you created your own inner representation in reaction to what has been modeled or out of empowered choice from all the possibilities available?
If our life experience permits, the above comic, taking about 10 seconds to read, can be fully assimilated and understood in almost the same amount of time. The reason: It visually articulates a common emotional experience of women in the first world political climate. We may in fact have had role models of strong, independent self-sufficient women on one end of the spectrum, models of dependent, reserved, and shy models on the other end, as well as all those models in between. Truth is, we have all observed various models, have witnessed benefits to and the appropriateness of all the aligned behaviours. Sometimes they conflict. It is here, in this conflict, that our neurology, the part of our brain that is responsible for sending and receiving messages, sometimes triggers the fight, flight or freeze response, interrupting or outright arresting our journey to our goals. Our survival instinct, in response to an actual or perceived threat, that is the perceived conflicting messages to action, is to do one of three things; run, fight or freeze. Either one may be effective in removing the threat, but may sabotage our commitment, our overall goal. I will explain.
MASLOW'S HEIRARCHY OF NEEDS
Above, you see the renowned pyramid of Maslow’s Heirarchy of Needs. If you notice, at the bottom of the triangle are our physiological needs, the foundation to all other needs. The understanding behind this model is that each sector of needs must be met in order to fully and effectively move to the next. If we do not have the basic needs of food, water or sleep (Physiology), taking on our long term savings and investments (Safety) might seem rather irrelevant. Further, if we cannot secure an income (Safety) to cover such things as food, shelter and clothing, developing confidence in our achievements (Esteem) might be something available to us in our future but not a current concern. So what does this all mean? We have needs!! In order for us to fully actualize, that is to reach our full potential in any given lifetime, we must meet our needs, one level at a time.
Taking for granted, at least in our sector of the world with current social welfare structures in place, let us assume that our basic physiological needs can be met. In my professional experience, the second and third stages of safety and love/belonging are still needs some struggle with. This doesn’t mean that higher needs are not being pursued, however, some say that they have been trying to meet those needs/goals for far longer than they wish to acknowledge, and feel stuck at that stage. So they come for therapy and/or coaching to get “unstuck”.
As reviewed in my September newsletter, safety and security needs are fundamental to the foundation for pursuits involving independence and self-sufficiency. As the comic above exemplifies, our current thinking is that we must be independent and self-sufficient, and that success in this pursuit involves denying ourselves the equally fundamental need to be “pampered”, or allowing others to help us, nurture us, and give to us, which creates healthy attachments, and meets the need for safety and security. So you see, being vulnerable enough to allow ourselves to be pampered by others, creates healthy attachments, which sends messages to our brain and body that we are safe and secure, and then we can independently and self-sufficiently pursue all our other needs for self esteem, confidence, problem solving, creativity and ultimately being “at the cause of” our lives, instead of “at the effect of” our lives. We actually get to create the very lives we dreamt about. How cool is that?
However, if we have competing messages, that is “its not safe to be dependent, to need, to be vulnerable, to let others help us” and “I can have peace of mind, financial security, a thriving career, a healthy relationship” (which require safe dependency, vulnerability in expressing our needs and having them met), then we stay stuck in the pursuit, instead of reaching our goals, reaching achievement. We become frustrated, angry, feeling disempowered, which erodes our self-esteem, our confidence, and our motivation. Can we really be creative under these circumstances?
The first step in unravelling this ‘seemingly’ complex state of affairs, is to begin with deconstructing or exploring the competing messages, limiting decisions and beliefs about ourselves and our intimate world, as well as understanding the motivation and purpose/benefits to staying “stuck’. As contradictory as this sounds, there are in fact benefits to staying stuck. When we understand the purpose of the part of our brain that actually works in our favor, the part that keeps us safe, then we understand its motivation. Subsequently, we find alternate ways to meet the safety need that then propel us towards our goals.
In summary, and simply put, the most powerful part of our brain is programmed to keep our bodies and our minds safe (otherwise we cannot exist). When we have messages, “responsibility is a scary thing, i can really screw up here”, that conflict with our goals “I want to be an independent, successful entrepreneur” or “I am afraid people won’t like me” with “I want to write a book so I can send my message out to the world”, and finally, as the comic up top illustrates, “I need someone to take care of me” with “People will judge me as needy, dependent and weak”, then we ourselves are in conflict, we retreat to safety, we stay stuck, we beat ourselves up for it, and ultimately, dreams stay dreams.
If you find yourself moving through the same revolving door, and would like to leave it behind; see yourself moving through the corridor, step by step, safely and excitedly toward your goals and dreams, I can provide you with the safe space to discuss what's getting in the way, the tools and exercises that will have you smiling your way through, and ultimately, reaching your goal.
My contact information is at the front and top of this newsletter. I would be more than happy to talk to you on the phone to discuss your questions and thoughts.
Attachment and the Unconscious Mind
“We’ve been programmed by evolution to single out a few specific individuals in our lives and make them precious to us. We’ve been bred to be dependent on a significant other. The need starts in the womb and ends when we die”. – Levine and Heller
John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth, founders of the Attachment Theory, proposed that genetic selection favored people who attached themselves to a significant other because it increased their chances of survival. Those that went it alone, more often became prey.
“The more effectively dependent people are on one another, the more independent and daring they become”. – The Dependency Paradox.
“People are only as needy, as their unmet needs.” –Levine and Heller
In a culture that cheers “rugged individualism”, intimacy, closeness and especially dependency are often scorned, and the above quotes may then seem prehistoric. However, as we see below, historically, and perhaps evolutionarily, we have in fact created and capitalized on strong neurology that supports the quest for dependency, especially safe dependency. Our survival rate as babies or children would diminish greatly without this neurology. Levine and Heller purport that the brain has a biological mechanism called the “attachment system”; that this system is a combination of emotions and behaviours that have us stay safe and protected by remaining close to loved ones. Their three types of systems are “Anxious attachment”, “Avoidant attachment” and “Secure Attachment.
“Protest Behaviour”, the behaviour you see when a young child becomes frantic in his search, when separated from their mother, or cries uncontrollably until contact is re-established, can still be seen in grown-ups. If you haven’t heard from the person you are dating you may become preoccupied with his or her whereabouts, when you haven’t connected with your life partner for some time, you may withhold affection or attention, when your teenager has been keeping you at arm’s length in the process of her individuation, you may become obsessively focused on re-establishing a connection. All these behaviours have one common goal, and that is to bring you closer to your attachment figure. The specific behaviours you use are connected to your “Attachment Style”, anxious or avoidant attachment for example. Neither of these are labeled healthy or unhealthy, nor are they deemed pathological, but simply a system you use to keep yourself safe in the world of intimacy. Understanding your style, and perhaps, their origins and purpose, gives you the understanding for why you and your loved ones do what you do. It also reframes the behaviours from negative to positive; as an attempt to connect or reconnect, and alternately, can demonstrate a fear of connection and intimacy or a need for separation/individuation. Either way, it’s a dance that moves in and out of intimacy, primarily motivated by our biological need to connect, be loved, be safe, also involving our fears that our needs will not be (or have not been) responded to.
From literature on the unconscious mind, the part that occupies perhaps 80% of our brain, the part that is 60% more powerful than our conscious mind, that runs our bodies without us having to think about it, that allows us to focus on new learning while continuing to run our lives in – for the most part – a fluid manner, we learn that its’ primary directive is to keep us safe. If our unconscious mind, the part of our brain that stores memories, known or unknown to the conscious waking mind, senses potential danger, -- physical, emotional, psychological or otherwise, it often is triggered into survival mode, i.e. fight, flight or freeze. If intimacy has been troublesome, dangerous, or even inconsistent, unreliable or undependable for us, then our survival instinct does what it needs to do, to re-establish safety. Some of these actions serve to bring us back to safety and security with little growth, in other words we are safe but circumstances remain the same, some increase the potential for further danger, that is we find ourselves again and again in similar or increasingly dangerous circumstances, some re-establish security with growth, we get what we need with breakthroughs in our circumstances.
When we understand that we are all very much similar in our needs,( we all have a conscious mind that is the linear, goal setter, methodical, rational... and an unconscious mind – the domain of our emotions, the irrational, the safety and security meter, the biological/physical/emotional/psychological regulator), and understand our unique and individual ways of getting our needs met, then there is the groundwork, or a meeting place for us to work on our relationships, be it romantic, blood, or friendship. And furthermore, we can enhance or develop a relationship to ourselves, in the ways we like others to relate to us.... respectfully, kindly, nurturing, responsive, etc.
I always like to say that if our unconscious mind is in fact 80% of our mind, (as it does have to regulate our physiology, while storing years of learning, facts, experiences, thoughts, feelings, beliefs...etc,) then we want to be best friends with that powerful mechanism. When we think about how we might ideally treat a best friend, and reciprocally, how they would ideally treat us, then we may want to extend that same treatment to our unconscious mind. If we listen to it enough, even give it the message that it is valuable enough to be listened to, we might find out what it is trying to tell us about the parts of our lives that are not working as well as we would like them to. Additionally, it might also remind us of the parts that work fantastically.
If intimacy and attachment are issues you are dealing with in your life, and or if it seems that you are feeling, doing, thinking or saying things that you seemingly have no control over, then ask yourself if now is the right time for you to walk below the surface of your life and explore and befriend the beautifully intricate terrain of your inner world.
Testimonials from Lillian's Clients
Pause to read a specific testimonial by pressing the highlighted number underneath.