Life-Lesson and Soul-Wisdom Therapy
for Inner Growth and Transformation
Abby Rosen, PhD
A Guide to Develop a Stronger Sense of Self,
More Fulfilling Relationships,
and Higher Consciousness
Foreword, by Sidra Stone, PhD, and Hal Stone, PhD
Introduction: An Overview of the Road Map
STAGE ONE: LIFE-LESSON THERAPY
1. Uncovering the Cover-up
In Practice: Getting to Know Your Cover-ups
2. Transforming Soul Holes into Whole Souls
In Practice: Soul Holes into Whole Souls
3. Our Vulnerability Is Our Strength
In Practice: The Checking-In Process
4. Vulnerability Is the Key to Intimacy
In Practice: The Formula for Conscious Communication
5. For Men, Mainly
In Practice: Learning to Recognize Anxiety
6. The Higher Purpose of Relationships
In Practice: Getting to Know Your Primary and Disowned Selves
7. How Behavioral Change and Transformation Happen
In Practice: Behavioral Change and Transformation Experiment
STAGE TWO: SOUL-WISDOM THERAPY
8. Grow a Conscious Self: Know Your Inner Self
In Practice: Misidentification and Self-Identification
9. Communicating with the Source: The Power of Meditation
In Practice: Developing A Meditation Practice
10. Accessing Our Intuition
In Practice: Listening to Our Intuitive Wisdom
11 The Gift of Faith
In Practice: Transpersonal Inspiration and Psychological Mountain Climbing
12 From “Self-Serving” to the Serving Self
In Practice: Finding Right Livelihood
A Summary of the Journey: Life’s Rules of the Road
The Inspiration for the Book and an Inspiration for our Lives
Appendix A – Discovering Ourselves
Appendix B – Subpersonalities
Appendix C – Inner Child Visualization
Appendix D – Anxiety Self Test
Appendix E – Primary and Disowned Selves
Appendix F – Meditation Practices
Appendix G – Resources on Meditation
Fine wine must be aged properly. It cannot be rushed, but must wait, fermenting in the proper way and for the proper amount of time. Only then can we experience that wonderful sense of well-being as we inhale the exquisite aroma and sip the first delicious sip. Although we are not true wine connoisseurs, it was this image that came to us as we thought about Abby Rosen and this fully matured book, LASTING Transformation.
We have known Abby Rosen for a very long time. She brings to the transformational table a long and varied life of fermentation. She has always been a worldly person, grounded in the material realities of living and family and work and business. On the other side, she has been, from early in her life, a woman of spirit; always searching for the deeper meaning, the higher intelligence, and finding ways to access this other dimension of consciousness. She is also a senior Voice Dialogue teacher and facilitator and this has provided an important contribution to the development of her overall philosophy of life and healing and her approach to the transformational process.
It is quite natural for this book to emerge out of Abby’s long experience as a psycho-spiritual therapist and teacher as well as her experience as a woman of the world. It is perfect timing—just the right amount of maturation—in many different ways. From the depths of her unconscious came the message that the wine was ready. The title of the book came to her in a dream and she refers to this experience in the Introduction to the book as a “download from the Universe.” That is how it works for people who have allowed themselves to gradually ripen in these spheres and experiences that combine the worlds of earth and spirit. They don’t need to chase after wisdom any longer; it seems to emerge more and more in the form of “downloads from the Universe.”
The book itself is actually two different books, woven into a single tapestry of earth and spirit. Stage One refers to what Abby calls “Life-Lesson Therapy.” Stage Two refers to “Soul-Wisdom Therapy.” The book is very personal and, at the same time, an objective and practical manual for moving along one’s own transformational path. It seems very important to us that people understand the inseparable nature of learning practically about living life in a physical body on the planet earth while, at the same time, reaching out and embracing the transpersonal selves that thirst for union with spiritual realities. All of us are struggling with these opposites, sometimes more successfully than other times. Living between opposites of all kinds is very hard work and we need all the help we can get, especially when it comes to the challenge of embracing heaven and earth.
So we welcome Abby Rosen’s book and we are pleased that the complex process of fermentation is at an end. It is now time for everyone to taste the fruits of a life well lived and a book well written.
Sidra Stone, PhD and Hal Stone, PhD, Albion, California
Introduction: An Overview of the Road Map
I awoke one morning to neon shimmering letters in front of my eyes. At first, I had no idea what was going on—nothing like this had ever happened to me before. The shimmering letters spelled out L.A.S.T.IN.G Transformation. A few moments elapsed and then it struck me—this was the title for the book I had been working on. It was a download from the Universe! Then, with its inimitable sense of wise humor, I was told that it was an acronym for L ife-Lesson A nd S oul-Wisdom T herapy for In ner G rowth & Transformation.
This book takes the reader on a journey to experience this process of transformation, which can result in powerful change for the better. We will focus on tools that transform those behavioral patterns that create obstacles in our relationships and in our lives.
They say you learn your biggest life lessons
from your most difficult experiences
What a stupid system!
For such an important journey, you would think we would have gotten a road map to show us how to navigate it more easily. LASTING Transformation is such a road map. When life situations cause us stress, there are tools we can use to move into a place of greater awareness, resulting in a more conscious response.
A lifetime is a sacred journey we need to travel mindfully if we are to live lives filled with joy, love, and meaning, connected to ourselves, our Source, and the significant others in our lives. Life’s journey provides us with many opportunities for self-knowledge, self-love, and deep personal transformation. The road map outlined in this book provides the reader with specific guidance for this sacred journey.
Why don’t more people embark on this journey? The main reason is the guidance on how to find the path of self-awareness and transformation is not readily accessible, it is not yet mainstream in our society. One of the goals of this book is to awaken people to the idea that there is a path, and then to give them the tools, resources and guidance necessary to embark on this journey. Another reason that many people don’t take the road less traveled is that it is hard work and the rewards aren’t instantaneous. However, the results we can achieve are exquisitely worth the effort.
Like most transformational journeys, this one has stages:
Stage One: Life-Lesson Therapy focuses on reversing negative patterns of behavior that cause pain and problems in relationships. During this first stage the work centers on strengthening our sense of self and refining our personality, made up of our body, feelings, and mind. These chapters are based on a proven formula for communicating clearly with ourselves and others as we learn our life lessons. In the process, we gain a more profound understanding of how relationships work, and we develop the skills to move from behavioral change to lasting transformation. As we become more self-aware, self-loving, and able to navigate in our relationships in a healthy and conscious way, we enter the next stage of the journey.
Stage Two: Soul-Wisdom Therapy involves learning techniques for listening within, which open us to experience the deeper spiritual realms of consciousness—those that are home to the soul and to that inner source of wisdom within each of us—the Inner Self. This Self-awareness helps us develop soul-wisdom, which leads to a stronger sense of self and a deeper connection with the Inner Self. This, in turn, often evokes a desire to be of service in helping to repair our world.
LASTING Transformation offers a comprehensive approach that leads us on a step-by-step journey through these stages. The twelve chapters that follow are each divided into two parts. The first presents a theoretical framework, interlaced with client examples drawn from my experience as a practicing psychologist. These examples clarify the principles under discussion. Identifying characteristics of each client have been changed to protect their privacy. The first part of each chapter concludes with an “Experiences” subsection relating to the theme of that chapter. These experiences are designed to give us a deeper understanding of the evolution of consciousness by which different people have moved from awareness to behavioral change to transformation.
WOW! This Transformation stuff really works!
The second part of each chapter, “In Practice,” provides personal guidance and exercises that enable us to integrate a deep experience of the principles described in part one. The skills developed in the “In Practice” sections build on those taught in each chapter. All are designed to give us tools that can be life-changing. This is a proven process of therapy, which I have successfully used with many clients to promote self-awareness, personal growth, spiritual awakening, and lasting transformation. For those who don’t have access to counseling, or would like to supplement their counseling, this book will help serve as a valuable resource.
This book is a transpersonal guidebook. The term transpersonal, coined by Abraham Maslow, PhD, and Stanislav Grof, MD, refers to a human being as more than the personality. According to Maslow, we are able to transcend the personality and experience the higher spiritual planes of consciousness beyond the personality. LASTING Transformation gives you the tools to reach these higher planes.
Transpersonal Psychology is the psychological modality that goes beyond traditional and humanistic psychology and incorporates the spiritual dimension of personal growth. This alignment of the mind, body, and spirit creates a sense of wholeness that can result in lasting transformation. In addition, as we work toward such personal wholeness, our relationships tend to expand to include a deep concern for each other and the planet.
Today, more than ever, there is a desperate need to repair our world. In order for society to change, and to minimize conflict by managing how we deal with the stress in our world, we need to transform how we conduct our relationships, not only with ourselves and with each other, but also with our communities, with other societies, and with the planet itself. May this book be a guide for you on your journey toward this lasting transformation.
Uncovering the Cover-Up
What the caterpillar calls the end of the world, the master calls a butterfly.
— Richard Bach, Illusions
Michael grew up with an alcoholic father who would become enraged when he was drunk. If one of his children tried to hide his alcohol or take it away, he would kick that child out of the house. At one point he actually fired a gun at one of Michael’s brothers, missing his head by just a few inches. Michael learned to protect himself by covering up his feelings so that he wouldn’t be vulnerable. Instead of feeling hurt by his father’s rage, he shut down that part of himself. To regain control, whenever Michael would experience feelings like fear, hurt, anxiety, sadness, loss of control, or being personally threatened in any way, he would get angry. After all, he had learned to protect himself from a master teacher, his father. These defense mechanisms—of shutting down emotionally whenever he felt exposed and raging at others, both of which he learned to do growing up with his father—became destructive to Michael’s relationships as an adult. His anger and need for control would intensify whenever he felt vulnerable. This was responsible, in large part, for the failure of his three marriages. Ironically, the cover-up that Michael created to protect himself was itself the cause of his failure to have the kind of love he so yearned for in his life.
The culture we live in and the family we are raised in, often inadvertently teach us a cover-up that can affect our lives, often producing devastating results. What is this cover-up? It is the process of covering over and negating how, at our most essential level, we are vulnerable. If we find that it’s not safe to express our feelings openly or have our needs met early in life, then, like Michael, we develop a system of defense mechanisms to protect, hide, and cover over our hearts.
A baby is totally dependent on its caregivers for survival, nurturance, and love. If a baby’s needs for food, water, protection from the elements, and touch are not met, the baby dies. If the needs for affection, love, support, guidance, and healthy mirroring are not met, a part of the baby’s emotional makeup dies or becomes disowned; that is, healthy emotions are covered over with an unhealthy expression of feelings to make sure the child isn’t hurt even more, or, worse, abandoned. These may include protections like withdrawing or trying to become invisible. A history of hurt from abuse, neglect, or abandonment, which makes a child fearful, lonely, or feel out of control, may cause him or her to go into hiding. If the child doesn’t feel safe, then a process begins in which the core sensitivity is protected by behavioral, emotional, psychological, spiritual, and relational patterns.
Some children develop other unhealthy ways to express their feelings. These antisocial behaviors often protect them, ensuring that they don’t get hurt or abandoned. So, instead of expressing hurt, sadness, anxiety, or any other vulnerable feeling, children like Michael learn to rage, put up walls, be tough, oppositional, or sarcastic. Some of us put others down to make ourselves feel better, becoming critical, controlling, and domineering. Abuse of alcohol and drugs is also a defense mechanism often used to numb painful feelings.
As children, some of us protect ourselves and gain approval by doing what we think others want us to do. We might have been acknowledged and praised whenever we exhibited behavior that pleased others by “being good.” However, this can also be an unhealthy expression of feelings, because as you will see in the Client Experience that ends the first part of this chapter, the behaviors that we develop to cover up our core sensitivity can themselves create painful wounds. If we grew up in dysfunctional families, these mechanisms may have helped us survive as children, but not without lasting negative consequences.
In many instances, the role models we had in our early years taught us these ways of relating to people. If we didn’t like how our role models acted, or we were hurt by their actions, we may have developed patterns of behavior that were just the opposite of those we saw. However, as we grow into adulthood, these mechanisms become the habitual ways we relate to the world; oftentimes, we are unaware of the damaging effects of our actions and how these patterns limit our choices and our relationships. These patterns tend to get in the way of meeting our authentic needs because they don’t reflect our true needs. In therapy, I can tell how traumatic an upbringing clients have had by how strong their defenses are. How healthy people are generally depends on how accessible their core sensitivity is.
Uncovering the Cover-up: Learning Our Life Lessons
As Michael experienced, many of the behavior patterns we develop as children to protect us from hurt may end up causing us the very pain they were set up to avoid once we reach adulthood. For instance, perhaps when we were young we built a wall around ourselves to protect us from our parents’ constant battles as their marriage disintegrated. Years later, our spouse claims we’re remote and don’t express our feelings. The Wall that protected us as a child is now keeping out the very love that we want. With the past exerting such a strong hold on the present, it’s no wonder that 60 percent of American marriages end in divorce.
In 2010, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, approximately 20.9 million American adults, or about 9.5 percent of the U.S. population age 18 and older, felt depressed and disconnected. Approximately 40 million American adults, ages 18 and older, or about 18.1 percent of people in this age group in a given year, have an anxiety disorder. One of the major causes behind these sobering statistics is the disconnection from, and cover-up of, our true thoughts and feelings.
Stage One of this book is about learning our life lessons—the lessons that our life experiences are showing us that we need to learn. When we find ourselves engaging in one failed relationship after another, or expressing ourselves in ways that wind up hurting ourselves, or others, we need to change those negative behavior patterns. If we recognize that these life experiences are here to teach us, and then change our behaviors accordingly, we are learning our life lessons.
Consider Michael’s case: If he learned to acknowledge how terrifying it was to grow up with an abusive, alcoholic father who would rage at him, and allowed himself to feel the hurt, fear, and sadness, he wouldn’t need to push away, or push down, those painful feelings when they arise. Nor would he respond by raging at others. Michael could then see his negative behavior patterns for what they are—defense mechanisms that worked to protect him when he was growing up—and learn to recognize that the feelings underneath his urge to rage are one of the cover-ups he needed to protect his core sensitivity.
Then for the first time, Michael would be more able to express his authentic self and learn that as an adult, it’s not only safe to express the feelings in his heart, but doing so might actually help him get his needs met and feel closer and more connected to the important people in his life. It’s essential to first feel secure, before it is possible to feel safe enough to express our feelings.
The Original Sin was the Original Life Lesson
The original cover-up began with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. In the Biblical story, God asked Adam: “Did you eat from the tree from which I commanded you not to eat?” Instead of speaking the truth, Adam became fearful and defensive and blamed his actions on Eve: “The woman that you gave to be with me , she gave me what I ate from the tree.” Did Eve do any better? She blamed her mistake on the snake. Did they get what they want? No. They were expelled from the garden, cursed with pain.
My interpretation of the Garden of Eden story is that the God who created Adam and Eve was fully cognizant of their humanity, including their potential to make mistakes. The purpose of their mistake was to provide an opportunity for learning, change, and growth. When confronted with their behavior, Adam and Eve were given the chance to learn an important life lesson and to evolve. Instead, their insistence on covering up their vulnerability by lying and blaming each other caused them—and all their descendants—devastating grief and suffering. The eating of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge is often referred to as humanity’s “original sin.” But perhaps creating the cover-up of their fear and vulnerability, rather than learning their life lesson and evolving, is the original sin from Genesis.
It’s YOUR fault! No, it’s YOUR fault!
Sadly, learning to create the cover-up has become our legacy. Rather than hide from feeling exposed, we need to learn our life lessons and risk expressing to each other our true feelings, thoughts, and needs. That is the “original lesson” that Adam and Eve were supposed to learn. It is a lesson each of us will be given the opportunity to learn over and over again in our lifetime. The cover-up, while expeditious in the short term, can only lead to long-term pain and suffering. The following tools for transformation will help us identify and separate from our cover-ups, and get to know, value, protect, and share our core sensitivities and vulnerabilities.
Voice Dialogue: A Powerful Tool for Transforming the Cover-up
The most effective modality for transformation I have found, one I use both personally and professionally in my practice as a psychologist, is called Voice Dialogue—The Psychology of Selves . This innovative approach was developed in the 1980s by Drs. Hal and Sidra Stone, who are licensed clinical psychologists, master therapists, teachers, and inspired consciousness facilitators. Voice Dialogue, Relationships, and the Psychology of Selves is Hal and Sidra’s psycho-spiritual approach to consciousness. It’s an experiential modality compatible with many theoretical orientations, has its roots in Jungian and Gestalt psychology, and offers a model of consciousness that is both powerful and innovative.
Voice Dialogue is a powerful method for entering into direct communication with a person’s inner family of selves—what Hal and Sidra call subpersonalities. Each self has a different energy and way of looking at the world, as well as its own impulses, desires, and ways of protecting the vulnerable Inner Child. Each self also has rules of behavior, feelings, perceptions, reactions, and a history all its own. The terms subpersonality, self, and primary self are used interchangeably throughout the manuscript.
Voice Dialogue allows us to separate from these primary ways of behaving in our lives and develop the ability to choose more conscious behaviors. By hearing the needs of the Inner Child, we can learn to express them and make choices that enable our child to feel protected, nurtured, and loved. This enhances our appreciation of ourselves and strengthens our ability to grow, create, and feel more powerful and loving. The goal of Voice Dialogue work is to develop an Aware Ego process that can function apart from what is called the “primary self system,” or subpersonalities, with which we have been identified all along.
As we become more conscious of our inner experience, and the different subpersonalities that normally run our life, our operating ego becomes more aware and becomes an Aware Ego. As such, it is able to separate from the system of dysfunctional ideas, attitudes, and feelings that control our way of being in the world. For the first time, we are able to make real and healthy choices about our behavior, rather than acting out of habits that no longer serve us. Hal and Sidra describe this process in an article entitled “Discovering Ourselves,” which is reprinted in Appendix A. “Voice Dialogue is about separating from the many selves that make up the human psyche and creating this Aware Ego Process . . . We feel that the Aware Ego is an evolutionary step forward. . . . It enables us to follow—safely—our unique paths.”
Michael, whose story opened this chapter, needed to develop an Aware Ego that would become conscious of his urge to rage. From an Aware Ego perspective, he could then separate from his “Rager” subpersonality and instead choose to share the vulnerable feelings underneath that subpersonality, which he learned early in life were not safe to share. As an adult, Michael’s Aware Ego would help to guide him into the loving, healthy relationships, which he yearned for, but never experienced growing up with a raging father.
To hear the voice of our core sensitivity, also called the vulnerable Inner Child, and to know what is in our hearts, we need to quiet the many other voices, or subpersonalities, within us that are clamoring to be heard. We do this by first becoming aware of the voices that keep the mind racing, ruminating, and focused outward. Then we begin to separate from them, by realizing that they are just extraneous voices; they do not speak the truth. These voices are simply reading the script they were trained and conditioned to read. They were created to defend against any attacks on our vulnerability; however, as adults these very defense mechanisms, or primary selves, are what set us up for pain and failure.
Our Primary Selves: The Major Players in the Cover-up
Our primary selves, also referred to as subpersonalities or defense mechanisms, are responsible for our survival in what can often feel like a chaotic world. For that reason alone they need to be respected and embraced. They protected our hearts and cared for our vulnerable Inner Child and, in many instances have allowed us to survive into adulthood. A list of many of the different subpersonalities appears in Appendix B. Let’s explore some of the more “vocal” subpersonalities, also known as the “Heavyweights,” which are common in many people’s experiences.
The first self that develops is the Rulemaker. Its job is to figure out, early in life, what the rules are in our particular family and/or environment. To play by the rules, other primary selves, or Heavyweights, develop to support whatever the Rulemaker has figured out is needed to ensure the survival of the little child.
Four strong subpersonalities, the Inner Critic, the Judge, the Pusher and the Perfectionist, often travel together and are called the Heavyweights. Once we identify the energies of the different subpersonalities, we can uncover our cover-ups and see more clearly what purpose they serve in our lives. We can embrace them for how they have been trying to protect us, and then explore what the authentic self is experiencing under the cover-ups. This develops the Aware Ego Process, which is the goal of this approach.
The Heavyweights are most commonly the ones we need to be aware of and honor for the good job they’ve done protecting our Inner Child. In order to get past these primary selves who act as guards, we need to first communicate with them, so they know we’re on their side. We all want what is best for our Inner Child. As we come to know ourselves better by learning the lessons from the experiences that created these subpersonalities, we’re able to manage them more effectively and create heathier options for how to act in future situations. As our responses to become clearer and more in alignment with our authentic self, we’re able to heal the places in our hearts that have been wounded by these life experiences.
It’s amazing how well this system works, because once we learn our life lessons, the dynamics that caused the need for the cover-ups often change, and miraculously, we find we no longer have to deal with those irritating issues or difficult dynamics in our lives. As a client who is building a house embraces her Perfectionist and understands why she developed this subpersonality, she is able to separate from this primary self. This allows the decision-making for building the house to be less stressful, her experience of the process becomes more enjoyable, and her physical being feels healthier. Behavioral change begins just by honoring and embracing the many selves that make up our personality.
The Inner Critic and the Judge
The heaviest of the Heavyweights is the Inner Critic. The job of this subpersonality is to keep us safe by criticizing us before others do. The Critic comes out when we’re feeling anxious—it tries to get us to change our behavior, so we don’t get hurt or abandoned. It says things like, “You’re never going to amount to anything” or “You’re too fat, stupid, ugly,” or it looks like the following:
You're an idiot! You'll Never get it right! Did you HAVE to say that?
The Inner Critic is speaking when you hear the constant inner “should” or more critical and shame producing, “you shouldn’t haves.” There’s even a New Age Inner Critic that says, “You should meditate more” or “The treadmill is great, but don’t forget about doing Hatha Yoga.” You see, the Inner Critic reads all the same books you do; so don’t let it fool you. It may sound more conscious, but it’s still critical.
Hal and Sidra like to say that underlying every Critic is a walking anxiety attack. The Critic is afraid we’re going to fail and we won’t be loved and accepted. It starts out in life protecting our vulnerability; however, it gets carried away and winds up working above and beyond the call of duty. Often, the Inner Critic assimilates the negative messages we get from our parents and other authority figures when we were young, then perpetuates these destructive messages without bothering to examine their validity when we’re adults.
The Inner Critic is the cause of low self-esteem, self-doubt, guilt, shame, fear of failure, and depression. For most of us, we live life unaware of our Critic. It’s been such a constant companion since childhood that we think “this is me.” What a boon to our personal growth to recognize this critical voice as merely one part of us—not all of us—and not a judgment of truth “from Above”! Then we could deal with the underlying fears and make clear, self-loving choices from the perspective of an Aware Ego.
This process can be used to reality-test the input from the Critic when it’s pointing out a possible mistake, access the underlying anxiety that’s fueling the Critic, and learn the lessons that our mistakes are here to teach us. At the beginning of a Critic attack, become aware of the Critic’s energy, separate from it, kiss the Critic on the forehead and say, “Don’t worry, I’ve got it under control. We’re not perfect, but that’s OK. We’re not supposed to be.”
I’ve devoted so much space to the Inner Critic because it normally takes up so much inner space! Hal and Sidra wrote an entire book devoted to this primary self, Embracing Your Inner Critic . While the Critic focuses on criticizing us, the Judge criticizes others to get them to change their behavior when that behavior makes us anxious.
Another primary self common in our culture is the Perfectionist. It sets standards we learn as we grow up to bring us attention and love. These standards are often unrealistic and can never fully be met since no one is perfect. The Perfectionist was set up to protect the Inner Child from being criticized, unloved and abandoned. It often succeeds in getting the child attention, affirmation and acknowledgement. The Perfectionist makes sure whatever we do is good enough to gain approval from others. However, if the Perfectionist continues to be strong in adulthood, given the futility and the impossibility of perfection, it often brings with it physical illness, frustration and depression.
I am working with a client who’s building a new home. With a very strong Perfectionist subpersonality, trying to make all the millions of decisions that go into building a house “perfectly” is a nightmare! She’s developed fibromyalgia, lost too much weight, is in a constant state of panic, and is seriously depressed. This is a difficult situation, as this client never learned how to separate from her Perfectionist, who feels strongly that she needs to live with, and in the house that is being built. The process of separating from a primary self can take up to two year, so in service to this client’s physical and mental health, my client is learning it’s OK to make a deal with the Perfectionist that she focuses on a few of the rooms that the Perfectionist can make perfect and my client can hang out and relax in the rest of the house, which won’t have to be quite so “perfect.”
The Pusher’s job is to gain approval for what we accomplish. It keeps us learning, striving, and achieving. The Pusher is the one that makes up our to-do lists, tries to get all the jobs done, and never lets us rest, as there is always more to do. The Pusher can also prevent us from having the time to quiet the mind and connect with, and experience our Inner Child, as well as the higher energies of our soul-wisdom, which are explored in Stage Two: Soul-Wisdom Therapy . As Hal and Sidra put it so beautifully in their first book, Embracing Ourselves, “To recognize soul, one has to stop long enough to discover that there is one.”
Another primary self is the Pleaser, who develops to protect the Inner Child by making sure everyone is happy and life is harmonious. The Pleaser takes care of everyone else’s Inner Child to the detriment of her own, which is a part of the cover-up. By focusing on everyone else, the Pleaser keeps us from focusing on our own needs.
The Overachiever subpersonality develops as a way being affirmed, loved and acknowledged. Overachievers are great at doing and feeling what they think they should, but are less able to connect with their true needs and desires. The Overachiever, as a primary self, protects us from the fear of not being loved or of abandonment.
Linda came into the therapy session complaining of bouts of depression, which she had experienced most of her life. Her motivation for coming to therapy was to overcome her depression. She described this experience as feeling no energy to achieve. At these times she felt like throwing everything in the closet or sweeping everything under the rug, not being responsible for anything. She called this aspect of herself the “Secret Slob.” When asked to describe how she normally experiences herself, she said, “Very responsible, accomplishment-oriented, checkbook balanced to the penny.” She called this way of being the “Overachiever,” and said she had been that way all her life.
When she explored what benefits the Secret Slob gave her, she realized that only when she felt depressed did she allow herself to take a rest from the drive for achievement and the pressures of responsibility. In fact, she felt as if the Secret Slob gave her a vacation from the pressures of her life. Using the Voice Dialogue approach, we talked to the Overachiever, who described her belief that she always had to be perfect and an achiever. Then we talked to the Secret Slob. Linda realized the Secret Slob deserved an award, because it offered her the opportunity to take a rest in the only way possible, given the Overachiever’s belief system.
In the weeks since that session, Linda has been allowing herself to stop and nourish herself without having to do it “secretly.” Her bouts of depression have been rare and very short-lived. Linda started viewing the Secret Slob as a friend. Whenever the Secret Slob was around, Linda began to recognize that she needed to take a rest from the Overachiever, and she did. A month after the session, Linda stated that both aspects of herself had become much more balanced, and she felt she had learned an important life lesson.
Eckardt Tolle wisely sums up the process of uncovering our cover-ups in The Power of Now:
Until there is surrender, unconscious role-playing constitutes a large part of human interaction. In surrender, you no longer need ego defenses and false masks. You become very simple, very real. “That’s dangerous,” says the ego, “You’ll get hurt. You’ll become vulnerable.” What the ego doesn’t know, of course, is that only through the letting go of resistance, through becoming “vulnerable,” can you discover your true and essential invulnerability. (p. 216)
The Guest House
This being human is a guest house
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
Still, treat each guest honorably.
S/he may be clearing you out for some
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them all at the door laughing,
and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
—Rumi, The Book of Love: Poems of Ecstasy and Longing (p. 179)
A Client’s Experience with
Uncovering the Cover-Up
I spent my early years as the smallest member of a volatile household, and learned in the cradle to have no needs of my own. Not asking for anything meant not drawing dangerous attention to myself. Expressing no needs kept me safe. After my parents’ divorce, when I was ten, I supplemented that defense mechanism with a compelling need to serve all those around me; my sad mother, older sisters, adolescent boyfriends—anyone I determined was in need. I arrived, therefore, at adulthood without any sense of who I was. I carried an inner emptiness so vast that without someone else—or something else—to fill me, I feared I would cease to exist at all.
So the woman I was entered marriage intuitively in touch with other people’s emotions and ready to serve with an almost knee-jerk intensity. I was empathetic and quick to help. Beneath that I was lonely, angry, sad, and afraid.
My husband, who was raised in a military household, was also taught to have no needs of his own, but found his cover-up in achievement: Being successful ensured his survival. If he never failed, he never lost, he never hurt. The covering up of his vulnerability as a boy brought great rewards, but it led him to enter adulthood a super-achiever . . . completely out of touch with his emotions. He had covered his vulnerability so successfully that he appeared to have none. That made him safe to me, and safety was paramount.
The price of safety, however, is frequently numbness. The cover-ups that ensured our early survival had brought together two people who could not feel or expose their vulnerabilities. As a result, we found it difficult to feel any deep connection to each other. It’s hard to find a hidden heart and even harder to expose it. Without that exposure, love is an intellectual agreement. Hearts that don’t touch can’t ignite.
Not long ago I found a black-and-white photograph of my husband at the age of sixteen. He had just said good-bye to the girl he loved, knowing he would never see her again. His father had been transferred to a new job overseas. In the photo, the face of this young man was so full of grief and longing that his pain was palpable. I saw in that photo the boy who still lived within the man I had married—the boy whose uncovered heart could break; who suffered loss and fear, just as I did. In the sudden pressure behind my eyes and the catch in my breath, I felt the passion and depth with which I could love the man that boy had become. I put the photo down; hoping he had not seen how moved I felt. My first instinct was to hide my own vulnerability, even as I responded to his.
It wasn’t until years later when I began therapy that I realized that my husband’s cover-up of his vulnerability with strength, and my needing to serve others without expressing my own needs, had conspired to sabotage our marriage. I made a commitment to take the risk to express my own needs. Deciding to drop my cover-up is an ongoing process. We peer around the mask and let the other person in, but it takes an enormous desire to change and strength of will. Dropping the cover-up is an expression of faith. It’s a decision you have to make in the moment, again and again.
The subpersonalities this client developed when she was young were the Pleaser and the Caretaker who are often “kissing cousins,” meaning they generally appear together. The husband, by contrast, developed a strong Achiever when he was young to protect his vulnerability.
In Practice: Get to Know Your Primary Selves
Try the following exercise. You might want to write out your answers here or in a journal. Journaling helps you develop awareness. By recording what you are thinking and feeling, you free your mind to release the previous thought, knowing that what’s important has been written down. This also allows the mind to focus on the next thought or feeling. Journaling facilitates a clearer experience by enabling you to peel off layer after layer of thoughts and feelings until you get to your deeper awareness. Now ask yourself the following questions:
1. What is your particular way of protecting your Inner Child? Some examples include: By controlling situations, by pleasing others, or by getting angry.
2. What is your defense mechanism of choice? Describe this primary self. What is its perspective on your life? How would you describe it as a personality (its feelings, its body posture, its general way of thinking)?
Many people either withdraw to protect themselves or get angry, pushing other people away. As you think about your defense mechanisms, do this in the spirit of self-exploration, not self-condemnation . These protective mechanisms served many of you well as you were growing up; for others, these mechanisms may have created deep wounds, yet as a young child, you knew no other way. Even though they may no longer be effective, you’re still using them, because that is what you know. So be gentle and kind with yourself, as this way of reacting has been part of you for many years. Begin to be conscious of these behaviors. Behavioral change happens just by becoming more aware. You don’t change by being criticized or by being critical of yourself. What we get from criticism is only lower self-esteem. Awareness, which leads to behavioral change, is the beginning of transformation.
3. Ask this subpersonality the following questions: What is its job?
4. Who trained this primary self to do its job?
5. When is it most likely to come out?
6. When did it first come into your life?
7. How did it protect you when you were younger?
8. Give this self a name (for example, Pleaser, Rager, Controller, Wall, etc.). Become aware of and write about the energy of this subpersonality.
9. Consider how you currently use this same primary self in different relationships or situations.
10. Does this subpersonality still work well to protect you today, or do you wind up getting hurt, feeling criticized, or being abandoned when this self comes out in your life?
Value this subpersonality for the job it did to help you survive when you were younger. We develop these defense mechanisms to protect our Inner Child when we‘re young. For some, these subpersonalities may have helped us get acknowledgment and praise, or, at least not get criticized or punished, whenever we exhibited these behaviors. For others who were brought up with harsh criticism, the rebellious or oppositional behaviors that developed helped us survive by fighting back.
The power struggles that were put in play by criticism, or aggressive or authoritative parenting, also leave scars, because the subpersonalities that developed in response don’t get us affirmed and protected; they lead to punishment and more criticism. However, while rebelliousness is a normal reaction to criticism, the results leave in their wake destructive dynamics.
Even if we develop defense mechanisms that lead to being acknowledged and praised as we’re growing up, these same defense mechanisms often inflict the very pain they were set up to avoid once we reach adulthood. Therefore, it’s important to learn to embrace, separate from, and transform our defense mechanisms into a more honest expression of who we are and what we are feeling.
11. Which other subpersonalities do you identify with most closely?
You can go back and do this same exercise with these and other protective mechanisms. Allow each self to be heard. Try to appreciate your mind’s attempt of your to create an inner resiliency when you needed these mechanisms for protection. Now however, you have the opportunity to reassess how your selves are working for you, and to identify all the healthy ways to express, value, and take care of your authentic self.
Questions for Getting to Know a Subpersonality
After listening to what is going on for a client, I’ll ask to talk to a subpersonality we’ve been discussing. !en I’ll have them move to a diðerent seat and take a moment to connect to the energy of that subpersonality. I then have a conversation with this subpersonality using some of the questions above in the “In Practice” exercise and the questions below. You can do this for yourself to better understand a subpersonality that has been operating in your life.
Ask the following questions:
Tell me about yourself:
What happened in her/his life that made you come in?
What would her/his life be like if you weren’t in the picture?
How are you feeling about the job you are doing?
If waking time was 100 percent, how much of the time are you out in his/her life?
If you were running the show, what would you like to see happen? What do you say to her/him, so s/he knows you are there?
Is there anything else you want to share with me?
Can we give you a name?
Thanks for talking with me.