4 – Self management
My work in this field took a huge leap forwards when I took on board the complex nature of being a human being! I often remind my clients that when we say ‘I’ we are using a complex statement! So the core principle here is something like ‘you are always working with what is between your ears’! To start using our daily experiences and challenges to grow into our recovery we need to understand what is happening during difficult moments and the relationship between our brain and our mind.
So I want you to consider the idea of differences. Internal differences. Can you accept or even consider the idea that there are parts of you that do not see things the same way you do? That do not have the same beliefs that you do?
There is no more difficult moment for my clients than when they are recounting some ‘crazy’ thing they did or said. Describing it as something they are ashamed of or how it was ‘just not like me’ can be one of the most challenging things for people in early recovery. But once they understand the way their brain works when threatened they have a coherent method to work with.
Before my clients enter treatment their options are limited. They can either attempt to fight these compulsions (conflict) or attempt to deny their existence (fragment). Only when they enter treatment and understand why these things are happening can they accept themselves (harmonise). Let’s take these options one at a time so you can check out if this is what you have been doing.
When we take the fighting option we are led into conflict, but it’s okay because it’s conflict for a good reason, right? There are so many articles and books about how to win and how to be strong and how to fight that you may think of it as an obvious thing to do. So you try to banish the negative thoughts or to aggressively replace them with ‘positive affirmations’.
Sound like you? Let me ask you something, did it work? The fact that you are reading this is pretty good evidence that it didn’t. Let me tell you something. If you want these inner negative voices to get stronger, keep exercising them. It’s your resistance to them that is making them stronger. You need to harmonise not argue.
But these books are talking about our relationships with others not ourselves. Then we might think it works for the relationship with our self just the same. You see I fully agree that conflict and it’s resolution is the key to personal growth (on the outside). Please click this link for my take on this. But our relationship with ourselves needs a different approach.
So in relationships with other people difficulties are good. The problem is that things are very different on the inside. When it comes to yourself conflict is not the way forwards. I always remind my clients that “Your mind runs your life…. on licence from your brain”. So when you are dealing with a part you are dealing with a child. But a child that is much stronger than you! Overpowering it is not an option!
Our brain protects us
Now this understanding doesn’t mean that we should just allow all kinds of hateful and demeaning language to go on in our heads. It doesn’t mean that we should stop trying to control ourselves in challenging situations. It means that we should understand that we have parts of us that are trying to protect us and do not necessarily think the same way that we do about things. For instance you as an adult may genuinely want to stop drinking but a younger self does not!
You see there is a very good reason why the mind and brain relate in this way. The brain is much better at helping you survive genuine danger! It is faster and more ruthless in it’s decision making. And it does not waste time philosophising or meditating, being mindful or even things like hunger or desire. It makes the decision that you are in danger and simply shuts your mind down and takes over, at lightning speed! Once the danger is passed, you are given your licence back and can start making decisions again.
Once we get the idea that we have younger parts, and that these parts do not have the same maturity wisdom or experience that we do we can start to approach these things from a more effective angle.
Whilst it’s true that nothing works for everybody, we can also say that everything seems to work for a while! Even the worst ideas can appear good in the short term. Denial fits into this category because it would be everybody’s short term pick. Just pretend it didn’t happen! Just convince yourself it isn’t true! For as long as it works it’s the perfect solution since there’s no effort, no cost and no time wasting on solutions. If you have felt the effects of long term denial then you know what I’m talking about. For this article I want to show you the damaging effects of fragmentation.
Denial in addiction is like trying to pretend that an embarrassing relative actually does not belong in your family. As long as you are convincing yourself and others that you don’t know this person you don’t have to feel the shame of what they do. But you are tearing yourself apart.
The start of integration
I help my clients to be grateful for what the ‘part’ is trying to do. I help them to understand that when they were very young they had limited knowledge of how to handle a dangerous situation and so they could not expect much in the way of growth. These were what I call survival strategies and their only aim is to keep you breathing! My clients learn that they are no longer in a war zone and so the survival strategies are no longer appropriate. What they need now are flourishing strategies!
So you will take a very different approach once you acknowledge the part of you that is trying to help you and to start to work with it. I call this ‘integration’. Here are three things we say about our ‘parts’
1 They are created by trauma
2 They are triggered by threat
3 They are always trying to help you survive
So why is it they screw things up with what they have me saying or doing? “I behave like a madman sometimes”. “I say I’ll never do it again and then there I am, at it again”. These are very typical things to hear in my line of work. Let’s apply this new understanding of our ‘parts’ to these stories and see what happens.
Inner harmony begins to be created once you assume that anything you do that is out of proportion with the situation is being decided by a ‘part’. In other words you start from the assumption that your ‘adult’ is not only able to handle things in a measured and grounded way but that your adult will always make the best decisions based on the circumstances. Inner harmonising develops when you accept the three things above and work with your younger part to deal with whatever your brain is perceiving as a threat.
When someone is introduced to these ideas they can be a little difficult to take in. When someone is struggling to take it in I ask them which football team they support. I tell them that I support another team and ask them if it seems crazy to have two different opinions in the room? Of course there is no problem and so I go on to ask if we can still talk and get on? Again no problem.
Sometimes I ask them if they always believed what they now believe. “If we went back in time to when you were ten, would you have the same beliefs or understanding you have now”? Of course they would not, and this helps them to make sense of what is going on between their ears.
Understanding your parts
Your ‘parts’ screw things up because when your brain perceives a strong enough threat your mind is ‘shut down’ and a much younger part of you is pushed out there to deal with whatever is going wrong. Imagine a six year old having to come up with a solution to your ‘grown up problems’. Here are three things I want you to know about the way your younger parts think
1 It is always about now (they don’t think about the future)
2 It is always naive (they do not think about the health consequences or any other consequences)
3 It is always radical (If one adult proves untrustworthy, don’t trust any of em)
Look for these things in your ‘triggered states’.
Integrating your ‘parts’ is part of your recovery journey
In a process I call ‘self-parenting’ or ‘self-management’ you will learn not to fight with your parts who are only trying to help. Nor will you deny your role in things when a part takes over. Rather you will learn to parent yourself as part of your growth into recovery. I go into more detail in the links to podcasts below but I will say a little about how this is done here.
The actual trauma that created this particular ‘part’ may not be known to you or be very obvious to you. Remember that trauma is how something affects you, not something we can measure by the size of any particular event. But even if you can’t remember anything it can still help to have a picture of yourself at a certain age (photos work well). A nickname can also help since the first move towards integration is to develop a little separation (ironic I know).
Now ask yourself “when things got hard for me at that age, what could I have really done with from my parents but didn’t get”? This gives you a starting point for self parenting. When feeling ‘triggered’ by anything you can now apply this parenting from your adult self and integration of your ‘part’ begins.
I will leave a link to a three episode series I’ve done on ‘inner child work’ that will go into more detail on this approach.
Finally, if you are interested in learning more about this approach or running a group based on these ideas, please watch the video below