How neuroscience can help your recovery

How neuroscience can help your recovery

A vast majority of the collective is traumatized. It’s our secret, unrecognised, epidemic. Trauma extends far beyond the ‘big’ events. At its core is disconnection from the true self. It presents as depression, as deep lonliness, and anxiety.  All of us have healing to do. All of us are guiding each other home – back to the mind, body, spiritual connection we had at birth. “Broken” is the illusion created by trauma. Wholeness is the truth.

Dr Nicole LePera

girl in blue sleeveless dress

Fighting with your ‘self’ is not the best way

One of the most important differences that neuroscience is helping us with is the idea that there is a better way to recover than fighting with yourself.  Never have we been in such a position to understand our inner workings. All the research results we have point towards working with yourself rather than against yourself as the best way forwards.

Traditional, medical based approaches tend to encourage fighting with yourself as a way of recovering through strength and determination. But this is a fight that most people lose, for two reasons. Firstly it is your core self (from your mind) that is figthing your brain. But your brain does not like to be pushed around.  Remember that your brain is programmed to take over at moments of threat. Secondly, your brain is only doing what you have trained it to do. Don’t attack the brain for working really well!

Neuroscience research has shown that hating your addictive nature is for most people counter-productive. This may be a new idea to you and so I want you to take some time to consider it. Remember that we have all been a little brainwashed by the idea of ‘spiritual diseases’ and the Demon drink. What makes it more confusing is that there are some people who have acheived a recovery doing just that! Well, it may have worked for them, but working with yourself is much more liklely to succeed.

Having ‘parts’ of you is normal!

One of the biggest challenges to the medical approach is the idea that having parts of you is normal. We have been taught for many years that anything like the idea of ‘voices’ or having ‘parts’ of our personality means that we are ‘mentally ill’. How many times have you heard people joke about people coming to ‘take you away’ if there was anything as simple as hearing you talking to yourself. 

Have you ever said “I’m in two minds about that”. Or “I don’t know what came over me”. These are normal signs of the idea that you have both a brain and a mind and that they work separately from each other. Just think about your imagination for a moment, hasn’t it offered you solutions to problems that you did not think of through deductive reasoning? It’s like magic! Another bit of evidence of the complexity of the human condition that we should accept as normal. The trick is to use this idea to produce inner harmony as part of your recovery rather than go on hating parts of yourself and remaining in conflict.

brown eggs on white tray

We now know that this experience is completely normal. For most people this can involve very useful conversations and progress for us. The main thing to consider if you have any doubts, is where any ‘voices’ come from. If you experience them from outside of yourself, hearing them as you would hear anyone else talking to you, then this is something to investigate with a psychiatrist rather than talking therapy, as it is a sign of an issue with the brain itself. But if the voices are heard within the mind as influences or strategies, then you are talking about a perfectly normal experience. And one that can bring enormous benefits for you in your journey of recovery.  

doctor holding red stethoscope

Anxiety and Depression are not diseases that need medicine

The medical approach always starts with the same idea “what’s wrong with you?” Think of anxiety and depression more like warning signs that there is something in your life that needs attention. Dr Caroline Leaf says these feelings are real but not in need of a medical label. Something needs attention, there is a challenge that is not being faced.  I can’t tell you the number of times someone has come into my counselling room and told me that there is something wrong with them because they are depressed or anxious. But after some discussion I have told them that their depression/anxiety is evidence of their sanity! In other words it’s normal given their situation. If they were not depressed there would be something wrong! 

Addictions, particularly substance based addictions, come about mainly because we develop ways of avoiding feelings. Over the years a belief develops that painful feelings are firstly to be avoided, then that they are dangerous and finally, that they will kill you. This belief continues to strengthen over time and has to be challenged and courageously faced by anyone serious about wanting to recover. Once you begin to think of yourself as working well rather than needing to be fixed, you can start to work with yourself more. Understanding that you have trained your brain to intervene at these times. Taking the time to get to know your self and how your brain intervenes when it perceives a threat to you is a much better way of developing your recovery journey.

Trauma is at the heart of the issue

Whenever we experience harmful or toxic behaviour, particularly in our childhood, our brain stores the experience as something to be watched for. Think of it like a third option that the brain has when given information from our senses. The first two options are, one, throw it away! Not all information is valuable! Your brain decides that what you had for breakfast three weeks ago on Tuesday is not vital and can be discarded. The second option is when the brain decides that the information is useful and passes it back to the memory (into the Hippocampus). This can then be retrieved later. So the third option is rare but when it happens, it is stored permenantly (in the Amygdala) until you change it! That is why it’s so important that you learn to work with yourself. If you fight these parts, it’s like having a go at someone for trying their best to help you! Remember, your brain is working well, you need to acknowledge this and appreciate it!

men's white dress shirt

There is another important aspect of trauma that you need to understandand is one of the reasons it may have confused you up to now. Remember that it is your younger self that was traumatised, not your mature grown up self. This is important because it means that the threat your brain is reacting to and protecting you from may not be threatening to you as an adult! So you don’t recognise it because it was only threatening to you as a child. This is one of the many ways that trauma can be confusing to us. Common sense does not usually get you there. Especially when that common sense is based upon the medical model.

gray concrete tomb stone during daytime

Trauma is much more common than we think

In the First World War or ‘great war’ as it is known, the phenomenon of ‘shell shock’ was noticed. Soldiers returning from war would stare vacantly for long periods and not speak. I have a memory of my Uncle Johnny who fought in the war, but no memory of his voice. I never heard him speak. Before we understood this better, we tended to think of trauma as being down to the size of the explosion. Now we know that it’s not the size, but how the experience affects us that is the important factor. Clearly this leads to the idea that all sorts of things can cause trauma, not just explosions. The other important factor is that little children are much easier to traumatise than adults. They have little or no knowledge of the way the world works and can be made to believe things very easily. Their brains are not fully formed and their security can be threatened by the smallest things.

This means that there it’s highly likely that you have been traumatised as a youngster. For some of you, this will be obvious and you will have a memory of some bad experience. For others, you will not neccesarily remember anything. This is generally because the event does not seem threatening to you now or that you were very young when it happened. The good news is that neuroscience shows us that we do not have to go down the medical (psychotherapy) route and understand all the causes and conditions. We simply need to talk around these things and show our brain that this ‘threat’ is no longer dangerous. This is called rewiring.

You have all the resources that you need

Wouldn’t it be great if you didnt need to go and get anything in order to achieve your recovery? Well the good news is that you already have all the resources you need. Up to now you have probably been telling yourself that you are going crazy. Or some form of this, bad mad or sad as we used to say in the rehab business. Well you may be all of those things, but you do not need to get rid of them in order to recover. You are not crazy, you just need to understand yourself better.

The resources you need you already have. Think of these as the resources of your true self! They are generally understood as calmness, clarity, creativity, curiousity, confidence, courageousness, connectedness and compassion. Many thousands of people have been tested across age, gender, culture, religous beliefs and sexual preference and the results are always the same. We all have these resources! They are natural and available to you, but not when your brain perceives there to be a threat!

 

blue and green peacock feather

Try this little experiment now. As you are reading this, ask yourself how you are feeling. Can you identify any or all of these eight resources? You may not have access to all of them but you will probably feel the presence of most. This is because you are in your core self. In other words, your brain is trusting you to handle this situation. If you can identify with things like calmness and confidence, clarity and connectedness, then take a moment to imagine this with me. Imagine if you could stay in this state all week, no matter what happened! If you could find a way to remain in your core state all the time you would be recovered! This is because you would be following the beliefs and aims of your core self, which is to not drink or act out on your addiction. It’s that simple. The work is to understand and learn to manage yourself in this way.

Remember, it’s a matter of getting your brain to trust you in situations that you have trained it are dangerous. There are certain techniques for this that are very simple, just the fact that you have read this has already started the process of rewiring. If you want to consider this approach to recovery further, call for a free consultation. 07764996223. You can bring your questions and you will get enought time to consider if you feel you can work with me in this approach. Here is a link to an interview with a client who had spent a small fortune on traditional approaches prior to coming into the A2R treatment. Thanks for taking the time to read this. 

Validation

Validation

In this piece you will learn what validation is and how it can be problematic when your source of validation is external rather than internal. I will then talk about the connection between validation and recovery as part of self leadership. Let’s go!

Definition

I want you to think of validation as a form of acceptance, a way of knowing who you are which helps you know how you are. The Dictionary defines the form of validation we are concerned with as; 

recognition or affirmation that a person or their feelings or opinions are valid or worthwhile. 

 In this approach to recovery I use the metaphor of a ‘Captain’ and I say that you are the Captain of the good ship ‘you’. But it is worth remembering that you are also the ship, the crew and the cargo! When you are not recognised as valid or worthwhile, it’s like sending a message to your brain that “I’m the Captain but the cargo is not worth much”. Just imagine the effect of this message over several years, or decades! 

What this often means is that you may have tried very hard to achieve your recovery but didn’t realise that you had one hand tied behind your back the whole time! Without a well developed understanding of, and method of validation, progress in your recovery will always be an uphill struggle.

External Validation

So where does your validation come from? Often the bulk of our validation comes from outside of ourselves. It takes the form of what job you do, what achievements you have, how successful you have been, or how much people give you feedback that they appreciate your qualities. Now this is not necessarily bad in itself because your achievements may be great and people may well genuinely appreciate them. 

The problems start to mount up when external validation is the only form you are getting, or when the validation is something you feel you have to have, even if you feel you do not deserve it. This is made worse if you are manipulating it out of people or are stretching the truth in order to get it! So what is the main drawback of this form of validation? 

The main drawback is that it can hold you to ransom, you can be blackmailed through it. Think about it, if you need the approval and good opinion of others in order to build your character and worth, then you will probably live in fear of them removing their approval. Likewise, you may find yourself bending over backwards just to keep them happy. You can see how bad it might get, and I know that some of you are identifying with this as you read it.

Validation is often more noticeable by its absence. In other words you don’t often recognise it when it is still provided. Think about going to work. You may be loving your job or you may be resentful and hate it, either way you are receiving validation every moment you are there just by taking on that role. As soon as you acknowledge that this is your role and how to do it, validation is supplied. It’s the same when you tell someone what you do, or when you talk about your hobby or your passion. You aren’t usually doing it to be validated, which is why you don’t always recognise it.

Internal Validation

The recovery journey can be described and defined in many ways. As the journey from indirect to direct communication. As the journey from private to public. As the journey from the dead world to the living world. It can also be described as the journey from external to internal validation! So what does internal validation look like?

Unlike external validation it does not come from what your job is or what you do, your hobbies or your achievements. It comes from an understanding and a belief that you have worth. It is built on the application of embodied principles. In other words it’s not about what others think of you, it’s more about what kind of person you want to be and are willing to work at being. 

So this brings us to the big difference that often occurs between external and internal validation. External validation can be bought, manipulated or just based on doing things. Internal validation cannot. In fact, people around you may not always appreciate the effect your internal validation is having. You can upset the very people that were externally validating you by being more honest and authentic. When we practice principles like honesty and authenticity, humility and generosity, we have to commit to managing these relationships while we are developing our character and this can be one of the biggest challenges of making this part of the journey into recovery.

Using validation in your recovery

Do you find that there are certain times of the day when you always feel worse than others? Are there times when you know it will be difficult to get through it without your ‘support’? It is at these times when you may be switching from external to internal validation. If your internal validation is poor then this transition will be very difficult. It will sometimes feel like you just became a different person. It is at these times that the fridge may call your name! Or the pornography channel, or the gambling web site. This is not a random event, it is to do with how you feel about yourself.

It may be experienced as an acute discomfort that has no real explanation, you just know that it is often at this time when it starts. It’s no accident that this acute discomfort most often happens at around 9pm. It’s at this time that you are most often left to your own devices. It’s often when you are left on your own, if your family has gone to bed. Or it can be a day off, or a weekend with nothing to do. I have worked with people who simply feel that they cannot be on their own, it’s like they disappear when there is no one telling them who they are. You may also recognise the idea of ‘relationship hopping’ in yourself.

I don’t know if you have ever read the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous. I remember realising that all the examples they give of people returning to drink happen when the person was left to their own devices. When they had finished their work. When they were no longer being externally validated! 

So now that you know this you may feel that you understand yourself a little better. Think of these times as opportunities to work with yourself better. Remember that you (and life) trained you to be this way and you can retrain yourself to be different! We learn through difficulties and so I want you to consider facing this challenge. If you have times of day like this please do not fight yourself or hate yourself because of it. Think of it as training and develop a new training program. 

Congratulate and celebrate

Working to produce a harmonised self as opposed to a conflicted self takes time but it is quite a simple process. Think of this difficult feeling as a younger part of you that needs help. Offer that help by first accepting the part as it is. Try to avoid talking with yourself as needing to change, rather accept that this is the way the part feels. The idea is to train the part to trust you by assuring them that you are able and willing to handle this situation. 

How often do you congratulate yourself for doing something well? How often do you celebrate your success with your partner? I want you to know that these processes are so good for your internal validation! Tell yourself many times each day how you are pleased with what you did and how well you did it. Remember, no fantasy! Always use an actual event, it can be as simple as washing up the dishes. When you do this you are sending a message to your brain that you want more of this and your brain will rewire around these ideas.

Self Leadership in recovery

So internally validating is improving your relationship with yourself. And improving your relationship with yourself is the beginning of self leadership. When you realise that you are a ship and its Captain, and that the ship and its cargo are valuable, you are leading yourself into a better future. You are setting a course for a recovered lifestyle. Thanks for taking the time to read this. I wish you all the best in your journey.

 

silver French-door refrigerator

It’s at this time you might hear the fridge calling your name

Reverse addiction – The role it plays in the addiction cycle

Reverse addiction – The role it plays in the addiction cycle

In this article you are going to learn about the way addiction develops in a person. How it always starts in the form of ‘reverse’ or ‘mirrored’ addiction. And why some people stay in the reverse position, whilst others develop into addicts. And why we all have the potential to ‘flip’ from one to the other. Why is this important to know? Let me answer this big question straight away. The reason this is so important is that once you understand the nature of your affliction and the reason why we sometimes ‘flip’ from one extreme to the other you will have the beginnings of a method of self management. Imagine being able to manage yourself better when your partner is in early recovery! When you are in early recovery! When things challenge you and you notice yourself behaving very differently from normal. This will help you whether you consider yourself to be an addict or a reverse addict because you will have a coherent picture to work with. And won’t that make a change!

We all start as reverse addicts

Once again the main difficulty in grasping this idea is our ability to get away from the medical model. In a ‘disease model’ you would, of course, be one thing or the other. You may have been to meetings or attended therapy and been told you are an addict, or you are co-dependent. Once you move on from this way of looking at things you will be free to understand yourself  as having the ‘potential’ to be both. Think of how you are as more of a reaction to who you are with. If your are with a self centred so called ‘narcissistic‘ person you will have more of a tendency to flip to the reverse side of your behaviour and attitudes. Whereas if you are with a more compliant, vulnerable person you may have more of a tendency to flip to the addict side. More on this later, for now let’s look at the assertion itself and the way you can benefit from this understanding.

To understand the reasoning behind this assertion we have to look at the general effect of dysfunction in the family, especially on the children. Whatever type of dysfunction there is in the family it has the same general effect on the children, it places them in a position of responsibility they are not ready to deal with. It has the effect of pushing or dragging the child into the adult arena. Often the sense of responsibility is produced by the parent not taking responsibility for something. Having seen this lack the child then gets the idea that they have to do something about this. If the adult is not producing a meal for the children, the oldest child may take it upon themselves to make it. If the adult is not awake when it is time for the childrens school then they will take it upon themselves to dress and prepare the other kids. More seriously, if the adult is abusing the chldren physically they will take it upon themselves to protect their siblings. This is also true of drunken behaviour and drugged behaviour. As well as experiencing this dysfunction as their ‘normal’ they will make every effort to maintain normality within the family.

At the same time let’s not forget that children tend to blame themselves rather than their parents for things going wrong. It’s just too threatening for a young child to believe that there is something seriously wrong with their parents! So it must be their fault. This belief can transfer all the way into adult life causing many to not include their parents dysfunction in their efforts to make sense of their past. 

“Whenever there is dysfunction in the family it has the same general effect on the children”

Let’s also remember that the children cannot leave, they must find ways of surviving their childhood. So the first step toward reverse addiction for our young developing child is to become aware of things going wrong in the family and to attempt to take responsibility for fixing them. As I said, this is true for the whole spectrum of dysfunction. All the way from mild personality traits in the parents, all the way up to serious abuse. Okay, so now let’s look at the effects of this situation on the child. What follows are a few of the serious legacies for the child as they grow up.

Imitation

Okay, so if all that’s true, what is the effect of this premature responsibility? There are several effects, the first is something that lots of people take into their adult lives with them. This is the effect of ‘pretending’ to be an adult. As a young child when this dysfunction occurs they do not have the maturity or experience to deal with this new found responsibility, but they have seen adults and the way they look and act. So, later on, their adult life often involves lots of imitation rather than genuine maturity. This often shows up in professional life, particularly positions of responsibility such as management roles. It is the idea that the job requires a strong ‘role playing performance’ as well as the idea that this is done separately from the family and social life of the person that invites this form of ‘imitation’. It will tend to show up whenever you are given any responsibility over others. In some cases it can form such a strong part of your behaviour (especially if you spend a lot of time at work) that you can actually mistake it for who you really are!

But it’s not you! It is a form of imitation based upon your need to take responsibility as a child. It is often the basis of ‘workaholism’ and certain forms of OCD behaviour. There is a lot of coaching now on how to be more genuine and vulnerable at work. If you can use these principles you will find ways of bringing the ‘imitated self’ back into proportion.  

Anxiety

The next effect is anxiety. The child has no experience to cope with this level of responsibility. So it always includes massive amounts of anxiety. This level of anxiety is experienced as normal when lived with over many years. So don’t expect it to be obvious to you when starting your recovery. Like a lot of us you may have to spend time raising your sensitivity to your feelings over time. Like all of these effects the impact on you is greater because you are at a stage of life where your brain is still developing and so your reactions are not sophisticated, they do not include much life experience and so you don’t question the anxiety or its origins. You just live with it and survive it. 

Imagine being given a job that you didn’t apply for, with no interview, job description, induction or training. Now add that people you care about could be seriously harmed if you don’t get it right! Now make yourself seven or eight years old. I think you are getting the picture.

Lack of self care

The next effect is the overbalancing towards care for others and away from self care. This is both the start of reverse addiction and the reason why we start with reverse addiction. Therefore lack of self care is one of the main components of all forms of addiction and one of the best ways of identifying it in yourself. Again this behaviour is ‘normalised’ as, under pressure to take responsibility for others, the reverse addict thinks less and less about themselves.

This overbalanced sense of responsibility can become a full time job very early on in life. As the child grows into an adult they often develop a belief that it is somehow wrong to look after themselves, or to consider themselves before others at any time, or in any way. These beliefs and practices have the dual effect of developing a tendency towards low self worth, along with an attraction for people who are on the opposite end of that spectrum, that’s right, addicts! It is part of the relational dynamics that you can’t put yourself first whilst putting someone else first. In a healthy balanced individual who you put first is an ongoing dynamic self determined choice, but in the addict it is fixed and one of the ways we understand losing the power of choice.

Vulnerability

This idea of vulnerability is another of the main effects of dysfunction in the family. When someone brought up this way becomes an adult, who do you think they are going to be attracted to? That’s correct. Someone who is overbalanced in the opposite direction. Someone who thinks about themselves and concerns themselves only with what they want. Someone in this position, brought up this way, is going to be attracted to selfish people. Are you recognising yourself yet? This is what you have become vulnerable to.

If you have been involved in one of these unhealthy relationships you will remember that they start out looking and feeling just perfect. Why is this? It’s because, like healthy relationships, both parties are getting exactly what they want. The problem is that, unlike healthy realtionships, the participants do not want healthy things! So what is it they both want? For the relationship to be centred on the addict! So the addict, who because of their ‘narcissistic tendency’ is often the ‘life and soul’ of the party now has someone who will treat them as ‘special and different’. Which is what they desperately hope they are. The reverse addict now has someone they can hide behind and take care of, which is what they have been trained to do.

 

“So what is it they both want? For the relationship to be centred on the addict!”

 

“So what is it they both want? For the relationship to be centred on the addict!”

 

The problems come later when the addicts needs, along with their often disastrous decisions, leads to the breakdown of this perfect arrangement. The reverse addict gets sick of having to provide for them, lie for them, pay for them and look after them. The addict gets angry and threatened by this partner who is now reneging on the deal! They are no longer treating them as special and different! They are criticising! They have become cold! At this point the relationship often breaks up but both parties tend to hook up with partners of a similar backgrounds once again. It is only after recovery begins that the attraction cycle changes. 

Why aren’t we all reverse addicts then?

Good question! There is a very good reason why some of us refuse to stay in this position. It is to do with the type of brain we have. Some of us have a weakness for alcohol or other mood or state changing drugs. If we have this vulnerability then the effect of taking them brings on a sense of complete freedom from this overblown and inappropriate weight of responsibility. This magical effect is not something everyone experiences but those that do find what appears to be the perfect solution to this burden of worrying about everyone else. They find something that effectively swaps their concern for everyone for a concern only for themselves! How does this work?

Often around the age of twelve to fifteen a number of things happen to the child. The first thing is that they grow up a bit. This offers them a broader view of their experience and, as a result, they are motivated to change things. Secondly they often discover alcohol or drugs. Depending on the type of brain they have this will often help them to experience the unburdening of responsibility that was always out of proportion. In other words they will often feel ‘normal’. But to them this may feel miraculous since they have no other way of achaiving this normal state.

At this point the addict has escaped into selfishness and has found a way to unburden themselves, they have ‘flipped’. There are also fringe benefits to the fliiping, such as the removal of the anxiety that goes with the position of reverse addict. The feeling that they are special and different will often develop at this time. They will often promise themselves that they will never return to the pitiful state of anxious worry now that they have found their answer. They have effectively swapped a world of concern for everyone into a world of concern for themslves, much simpler!

Addiction and reverse addiction as potentials – not illnesses

One of the many advantages of working with this model is that we are liberated from the constraints of the medical model. If we approach the addiction issue from a medical perspective we are diagnosed and, as a result, labelled. From that position it doesn’t make sense to think of someone ‘flipping’ from one condition to another. After all, we have been diagnosed! We have all the symptoms! It makes sense! Of course it does, and I am not arguing that these things do not exist, or that they do not make sense. I am simply saying that it can be more useful to think of them as potentials rather than illnesses. It’s a different perspective that allows for the idea of flipping. This diagram helps explain the three positions in the form of a gauge. Think of this gauge as an indicator of concern, with the perfect balanced position in the middle and the extreme positions of selfishness left and selflessness on the right.  

In this first graphic the needle is set to the addict position. In other words you can see that it is over balanced towards the ‘self’ or ‘selfish’ side. What this means is that the person is currently exhibiting ‘self-centred’ attitudes which will often lead to conflict with others. Especially those in a more balanced position.

In this second graphic the needle is set to the ‘reverse’ addict position. It shows the needle pointing way over to the extreme left. This means that the person is currently exhibiting extreme ‘other centred’ behaviour and attitudes. This position when maintained in a relationship over time can lead to serious self harm as the person rarely considers themselves as needing care.

In the final graphic the needle is pointing straight upwards. This indicates the balanced position that we are all heading for. You can see that the needle pointing  upwards indicates balance. This is a balance between care for self and care for others. Notice that in order for both of the two previous extremes to come into the balanced positions they have to go in opposite directions from each other.

The addict is basically driven by the idea

“everything will work out if I get what I want”

Although this is a very simple drawing, it offers us a useful picture of the way extremes work as well as the way the needle can point in different directions as ‘potentials’. Let me offer you a simple picture of the two philosophies The addict is basically driven by the idea “everything will work out if I get what I want”. The reverse addict is driven by the idea that “everything will work out if everybody else gets what they want”.

The reverse addict is driven by the idea that

“everything will work out if everybody else gets what they want”

Flipping – what does this look like?

As I have pointed out previously, no one starts out this way. Everyone starts out balanced, like in the final graphic above. Through dysfunctional experience they are pushed to the extreme position of reverse addict by the constant repetition of this dysfunction. They are later, often around the early teenage years (and if they have the vulnerability) flipped to the addict potential. Otherwise they remain in the reverse position with all the vulnerability that that brings.

If they have flipped to the addict side there follows two main forms of flipping that can occur as time passes. The first is more gentle and can take place whilst the addict lifestyle is still active. To understand this we must develop the systemic view and move away from the medical model. This is because the systemic approach views things relationally and this form of flipping depends upon the relationship we are in. My experience was fairly typical and I experienced this form of flipping many times. As long as I was at home with my Wife (who was always in the ‘reverse’ position) I acted very selfishly and stayed in the addict or selfish position. Occasionally I would be around people who were more selfish in their outlook and I would notice myself becoming very worried about their welfare and start to look after them! As soon as I returned home I would ‘flip’ straight back into selfish mode. This confused me for years!

The second, and more serious, form of flipping takes place in early recovery. This is something I have seen in all authentic recoveries and cannot be avoided. But it can be understood and managed. Every client I work with gets the same warning from me. I tell them that at some point they will start to become ‘too well’ for their families. I warn them to watch out for this because it always happens, and it must be managed like any other part of their recovery. 

I tell them that at some point they will start to become ‘too well’ for their families

When families drop off their loved one at the Rehab gates they often say things like “we just want our son back” or something along those lines. What they usually don’t understand is that recovery from addiction is not like a medical recovery. It does not restore people to what they were before, it transforms people into who they really are! This is quite a different animal. Families discover this later when their loved one not only stops drinking or using drugs, but continues to develop into someone they do not recognise! It is when this recovery begins to challenge the way the family has been operating for years that this can become a problem. And it is at this point that the family often try to ‘reign in’ the recovery by saying things like “why don’t you just have a drink at weekends”? Remember, the addict has been making the family look good for years! If you are in early recovery, watch out for this yourself.

Effects of early recovery on the family

So, let’s track our newly recovered addict, they are doing well and staying ‘clean’. Their partner, who has been looking after them for years sees the improvement and something strange starts to happen. They start to develop selfish thoughts and behaviour! This is the beginning of their flip from the reverse side. Remember. It’s a potential, both sides have both potentials! This type of phenomenon is well known in other forms of mental health recoveries, it’s almost like the family sees this improvement as permission to have their own crisis. For instance, it’s not that uncommon for one family members recovery to instigate anothers decent into addiction! This is another one of the common effects on the family system of one member of the family recovering! 

Another effect on the family is connected with the way we ‘train’ people to know who we are. Training is an important factor in human relationships and is strongly connected with the idea of security. Security is naturally very important to us and one of the ways we help ourselves feel secure is to believe that we know those around us well. So when someone begins the transformational process of recovery it can threaten peoples security which can have all sorts of effects, including the one mentioned above. Someone in the reverse position who is not yet ready to begin their own recovery will often bring forms of pressure to bear on the recovering addict to not change too much! So I always include this in my work with addicted people. I ask them to remember what a shock it might be to their family to have to see this new person who they do not know!

But what about the addict? In early recovery through various forms of guilt, shame and other motivations, they often start to flip into more of the reverse side, learning to empathise with and consider others. As mentioned above this can take more extreme forms when the partner of the addict actually develops their own addiction and the recovered addict goes into reverse to look after them! This is not as uncommon as you might think.

Achieving balance – which way is up?

Revisiting the simple diagram above might help you understand the way you need to develop. Look at the two unbalanced positions and ask yourself this. In what direction must each go in order to recover? In order to reach a more balanced place each must go in the opposite direction to the other. This is one reason why I call them reversed or mirrored. They are mirrors of each other and this is why they are so opposite in outlook.

Do you notice something about these positions? You may have noticed that in order to become more balanced and recovered, the addict must become LESS selfish, be more concerned with others. To do this they must develop understanding of and practice things like humility and honesty, vulnerability and authenticity. All very good and it looks great. People tend to congratulate and support addicts recovery. But what about the reverse addict? To recover and shift towards the balanced position they must become MORE selfish! They must think less about others and more about themselves. This does not look so good and can make recovery from the reverse position just as complicated and difficult as the addicts. I often say to families and couples that they will do much better once they accept that everyone in the family has to recover together, and that the non-addicted family members can sometimes have the harder time developing that recovery. It takes a lot of experience and understanding to congratulate someone for becoming more selfish!

In Conclusion

So where does all this leave us? Place yourself in this story and ask yourself what needs to happen next. If you are an addict in early recovery, look out for the flipping towards the reverse position. Just like other issues you escaped with drugs and alcohol this issue is not resolved because you stopped using drugs, but needs to be addressed as part of your recovery. Understand that you escaped into selfishness! But what you escaped from now needs to be dealt with properly, because it has not gone away, you simply aneathasised yourself against it. So commit to your recovery and resolve these issues permanently with sound recovery principles and personal growth, not by some unhealthy practices but with genuine recovery.

If you are a reverse addict, maybe in a relationship with an addict in early recovery, maybe still smarting from the way the last relationship ended? Place yourself in this story and ask yourself “what needs to happen now”? Understand that you need a recovery every bit as much as your addicted partners do. If they are in early recovery, look out for your own flipping towards the selfish side and modify your behaviour so as to include genuine recovery principles. Understand that your boundaries need to firm up and that you may have a natural attraction to people who manipulate and use others. Don’t be fooled any longer by the idea that the nicer you are to people the more you will attract caring people towards you. Being overly giving and helpful does not attract nice people, it attracts people who are manipulative and abusive. So head for balance in your helpfulness and your caring.

If you identify with any of these positions and want to know more please email me for further information

info@davecoopercounselling.org.uk

Domestic abuse – Where the addict is made

Domestic abuse – Where the addict is made

Recently I watched a programme on the BBC which had been made from the experiences of one of our most famous footballers, Ian Wright. Although domestic abuse is not my area of expertise there is no doubt in my mind that the trauma of domestic abuse produces lots of dependence and addiction issues. I was fascinated to see several aspects of the film resonating with my approach and my experience. Because of this I thought I would write something around the programme, to firstly encourage you to watch the film yourself if you are thinking about your own recovery, and, secondly, to say a few things about where I thought it came closest to my approach to recovery from addiction.

The best way to read this post may be to view the programme alongside your reading. I have provided time references on the left of the text. Here is a link to the show.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m000vt7g/ian-wright-home-truths 

I was mainly drawn to this programme after a client mentioned it saying “he sees a Consultant Psychiatrist. She talks like you”. I am always fascinated to see where the medical colleagues are using some of the same ideas that I base my work on. These ideas are largely coming from the neuroscience research being done with the latest technology. We have an ability to study the brain now that they could have only dreamed about years ago and so much of what was pure observation is now being confirmed by digital analysis. This has led to me using the ‘parts’ model more and more in my work with addiction and, as a result, having greater and greater success in my efforts to help people to recover. But in this programme I also discovered more of a link from addiction back to the type of mental, physical, emotional and spiritual abuse that takes place in families. I hope you can also get something out of this programme and my thoughts on it.

Domestic Abuse – where the addict is made

1:00 From the beginning of the programme we see the effects of domestic violent abuse. Psychological, physical and emotional abuse that was not spotted or attended to by the authorities. Most trauma therapists are now agreed that addiction is mainly caused by this sort of experience. In 90% of all domestic abuse cases there is a child present. The programme attempts to explore the effects of this abuse later in life, particularly through Ians’ own experiences.

14:48 One of the effects Ian talks about is the psychological abuse he experienced through his Mother saying she should have terminated him. Talking about his older Brother, he remembers him covering Ians ears so he wouldn’t hear the violence being perpetrated on their Mum. When she was being hit by their Step-Dad she would be saying ‘sorry’. These mixed messages and the fear generated by someone who weilds total power over you leave a legacy of fear and anger that emerge later in life when you find yourself in a position of power over others. This often results in you perpetrating your own abuse and Ian says he is desperate for that not to happen. It is this courage that fuels the programme.

Parts

23:25 At one point Ian visits a Consultant Psychiatrist Dr Nuria Gené-Cos who specialises in domestic abuse. There are several sections of film where it becomes obvious that Ian is suffering from trauma reactions. The Doctor confirms this. As a therapist and recovery coach I find this very encouraging. Here is someone from the field of psychiatry that is clearly approaching trauma and it’s consequences from a ‘parts’ perspective.

Working with your parts

24:20 Here we see the difference between the ‘medical’ or traditional model and the ‘parts’ approach. Ian describes his experience as a ‘saint and a devil’ sitting on his shoulder and how this is like a fight between his affection for his Mum and his memory of all the bad things she did. The Dr  first classifies this as a typpical trauma reaction. Next she addresses the seriousness of this by telling him that the betrayal of the Mother is the worst that can happen. She then goes on to begin explaining the ‘parts’ approach. She says that the continued betrayal “creates a different personality”.

26:20 This is the first mention of “the child part of you”. It is here the Dr asks “how old is the angry part of you”? Ian answer “9 or 10”. She adds “a child cannot run your life”. This is the section of the film where we are in the priveliged position of observing the Dr actually working with Ian. As a therapist I recognise that moment where the conversation changes from the abstract to the particular and her focus sharpens as she talks over him when he is about to go into his well worn ‘script’. She shows a lot of her experience in moments like these and wins his confidence and trust by her tone and her patience. We can notice things like when she chooses to be silent and wait for his processing and when she decides to speak and add to the position. Ian asks “so the angry part of me is a nine year old”? The Dr replies “That’s what it is”.

27:00 This is where the Dr tells Ian that he can do this ‘inside’. She begins to describe the child part as brave, reminding him that this part helped him to survive! Here she tells Ian to give the love the nine year old is still looking for. That he can do it now, as an adult. By calling him this ‘little one’ she helps Ian to develop a caring relationship with his younger self, replacing the angry, confused, regretful attitude. This is the beginning of developing the ‘harmonised self’ as opposed to the ‘conflicted self’.

This is the moment where the Dr is aligning herself most to the ‘parts’ model. It’s here that she starts Ian on the journey towards becoming his own primary care giver.  Notice how what she says separates Ian the adult from Ian the child. What she says constructs Ian as an adult with access to the nine year old who she constructs as still being present and looking for the love that Ian can give him. It is this ‘self-parenting’ that is one of the major components of this approach. Once we understand that there is no one better suited to do this parenting than us! Once we realise that there is no ‘time-line’ in the part of the brain that stores these experiences, and so the child is still there, still looking for what they didn’t get. Still available for relationship, and still playing a part in our lives, we can begin the work of healing and constructing the harmonised self.

27:30 Here she adds the principle of self care “You are okay now, not in danger now” Showing the difference between the brain and the mind. When the Dr says this she is making a distinction for Ian between the past and the present. She is aligning him with his mind (the front room) and not his brain (the back room) and introducing the idea of the ‘core’ or ‘adult’ self. 

28:20 Here Ian confirms that understanding that he has a nine year old that he needs to take care of is going to represent a “massive breakthrough for me”. Later he describes his nine year old as ‘an analogy’ which is a typical response of people when first introduced to this approach. He gets the idea but is still interpreting it from a traditional ‘blended’ perspective. After a few sessions my clients start to line up with the idea that we are not talking about analogies, this child part is real. As real as the adult that is your present self.

57:15 Here Ian says “if I could talk to that nine year old me, the one who was scared and lonely. I would say you will get through this. You are strong and you are worth something”. Again this is typical of people who have not yet developed this approach fully. It takes time to migrate to this model and its way of thinking because it is a ‘paradigm shift’ in the way you think about yourself. Once you learn to unblend your language, once you learn how consistent you and your parts are you can talk to that nine year old because he is still here. The more we think of these parts as real people the better this works.

Being your own primary care giver

56:03 The need for empathy as a part of recovery. Naomi helps Ian to see things from his Mums position. Empathy is such a large part of our relationship building. When Naomi explores Ians Mums experience she broadens the story out. Thereby placing Ian’s experience in a larger story. We are all sons and daughters of someone and we are all subject to our past, but it does not have to dictate our future. To the extent that we can see the humanity of our abuser we can then develop more understanding of our own experience. The more we see someone elses suffering, the more we understand why they did the things they did.

The need for pastoral care

31:30 Ian also includes his school experiences and learns about how much things have changed. He learns about the way that disregulated behaviour would be spotted and attended to straight away.

32:20 Here Ian meets Mr Anthony Alexander who is the Pastoral Care worker in the school. Ian talks about the way things have changed over the years and how impotrtant it is for the community that this work with children who witness abuse in their homes are offered support.

38:18 Here Ian meets some of the workers that support families in crisis. The programme he looks at is called ‘safecore’. It offers perpetrators of abuse (who are often victims themselves) a residential package of care and support that helps the whole family make progress. These programmes are often time limited and can only offer the tools needed. It is the family themselves that must do the work of recovery if things are to change.

Being the jewel in someones life

28:24 Here Ian introduces the jewel in his life, his teacher Mr Pigden. Ian tells us how important this man was in his life. Self worth is added by these relationships. When we appreciate the ones that added to the richness of our lives, the ones that connected us with our worth, our value, we are connected with love. It is this love connection that saves us. It is this connection that resurfaces, sometimes years later. When we are reflecting on the way things went wrong. When we are older and have perspective on things. It is often here that these amazing ‘jewels’ resurface. Like rocks appearing as the tide goes out they are solid when everything else is moving. They are consistent when everything else changes.

34:21 Tribute to Mr Pigden. Here Ian reads the plaque that stands as a tribute to this man. Ian helps us understand the importance of his teachers influence on his life. In the current climate of extreme opinions and disconnection don’t let anyone tell you that real core values have been forgotten. Captain Tom received over thirty million in his ‘just giving’ campaign after setting a target of just £1000. Ians tweet about Mr Pigden has at the time of writing had over four million views. Always remember that what connects us is more important than what separates us.

43:10 Here Ian talks about the value of having people who care about you in your life.

The jewels in my life

My life has included two jewels. I honestly do not know where I would be now without them. My Aunt Sally was someone who provided loving care when no one else did. She was in my life when I lived in Pennington. From birth to around 6years old. Most of my best memories are when I was at her house, It was a small terraced two up two down cottage with an outside toilet and no bathroom. I don’t really know why I was there so often or where my sisters where but it was the atmosphere that I remember the most. So calm, so loving. I could play in the sink with aeroplanes made from clothes pegs! A long way from ipads and childrens Netflix. We did watch Captain Pugwash and Andy Pandy together though. But my favourite memory of all is sitting on her knee while she read to me from a book titled ‘around the world in colour’. It had great illustrations about other cultures and my imagination flourished as she read to me about gauchos and Russian winters, Eskimos and Aborigines.

The Reverend Plant was another jewel in my life. He was a Vicar at the Church were I went to Sunday School. In many ways he was a typical C of E Vicar, even down to the ‘Vicar voice’ and as such, was an easy target as all Pastors must be. I loved football and, as well as the many other things he was doing, he ran a football team. I remember warming our feet in front of his fire after playing football in the cold. He ran a Sunday school were we would have drawing competitions which I really enjoyed. But my best memory of the Rev was just the atmosphere of loving calmness around him, an atmosphere that he created wherever he went and whoever he was with. Very similar to my Aunt Sally it was the atmosphere I loved. I would not have been able to explain that at the time of course. I just knew that it was attractive to me. Little did I know that I would be writing about these things sixty years later as the most important parts of my development. When I want to meditate and relax these days, I spend time in my Aunt Sallys tiny front room, on her knee, being read to. Just being in the presence of someone who finds me delightful.

The role alcohol often takes

16:20 Ian talks to  Charlie Webster who recalled memorising where the floor noises where in their home so she could move around without being heard because this would make ‘him’ angry. This is a typical childs response to abusive parents as it attempts to ‘make him less angry’. She also makes the distinction between physical and psychological abuse which is worse than the beatings. She makes the point that it isn’t the childs fault but rather quotes something from the counsellors book “I couldn’t leave the field of play”. Alcohol is mentioned regularly as the participants recall their experiences.

19:10 Paul mentions something that I experienced myself. He talks about his Dad watching him play football. Paul was the goalkeeper and his Dad would laugh when he didn’t save the ball as well as a consistent shower of abuse during the game. The one time my Dad came to see me play football I scored a hat trick and when I saw them afterwards all he said was “If I was the referee you would have been sent off”.

40:05 Here as part of the safecore programme we learn that both parents have stopped drinking. This sounds like a decision they came to themselves as it is unlikely to be part of the programme they were on. Although it is not highlighted we get the impression that none of the progress that has been made in their communication and understanding of each other would have been possible without abstaining from alcohol.

53:45 Here in another example that involves stopping drinking Naomi talks about how she was abused and did not know how to get out of it. She turned to hard drink, eventually stopping as part of her rehabilitation. Again we see that stopping drinking is often a huge part of any rehabilitation and recovery from domestic abuse. The importance of abstaining from alcohol is not highlighted as before but the importance of it is obvious from the filming and the context.

The value of being cared for

23:00 At one point Ian tells us about his mixed feelings for his Mum. He both totally ‘adored her’ but at times he ‘totally hated her’. This is what makes the abuse from a caregiver so damaging to a young persons development and why people often have such anger problems later in life. We see the same pattern in Ians football career when he was so angry inside the relationship with the thing he loved the most. When we are mistreated by our care givers we ‘blend’ the mistreatment with our concept of love. The two things then become one. This is why we often see people continually engaging in relationships with abusive partners. If your dad hit you as part of loving you, you may only feel that someone really loves you when they hit you. In my counselling practice I have seen young women present their bruises like badges of honour. With a smile on their face they say things like “look what he’s done”. There is an ambivalence in their attitude, like they don’t know if it’s a good thing or a bad thing.

Overwhelming triggering – red mist

43:30 Ian talks about the lasting effect of growing up around anger. Lack of control, an inability to calm down. There are a few comments like “I couldn’t control myself” and “I couldn’t calm down”. These are examples of ‘triggered states’ where the triggering is so overwhelming it takes over everything you feel think say and do. Not everyone’s triggering is being filmed and made so public as was Ians but the shame of what we do in those states always lives on and can make us bury ourselves deeper into our addictions.

44:30 Ian then talks about how much he regrets these things, especially the fact that a lot of good people around him have had to let him go when they couldn’t get through to him.

This is the position so many of my clients are in when they enter treatment. So much damage and regret about the past that they wish had not happened but they couldn’t control. There is nothing more frustrating than the knowledge that you are making things worse by trying to improve things. Drinking alcohol or taking other drugs can seem to work at first, it may help someone control the thing that has been controlling them. But eventually, because it’s an unhealthy strategy it brings problems of its own. These problems come in two forms, firstly there are the indirect problems. These come as a result of the drugs effect on your time keeping, your attendance, your ability to pay for things and to pay back what you owe. All this destroys relationships and trust and can end in prosecution and illegal activity for so many. The direct problems come in the form of cognitive changes including memory loss and blackouts. As well as health problems that can become very serious. But the biggest problem of all is that it stops working! Now you have two problems, the one you started with and the drug problem which means that the cure has now become worse than the disease.

The recovery process – breaking the cycle

44:50 Once domestic violence has happened it needs support to change things. The Hampton Trust is one such place. Ian is visibly moved by several people and their commitment to change in the programme. He makes the case for helping anyone that comes forwards with these issues. Facing the problem often invoves doing the opposite of what our common sense tells us. Our ‘parts’ offer ‘quick fixes’ and don’t consider the future consequences. As the neuroscientists tell us ‘The amygdala can’t tell the time’. This means that what happens in the past is still with us, and that our brains reaction does not consider the consequences for our relationships. This often leads to addictive behaviour that helps the person survive the moment but leads to disastrous consequences that leave the family and friends shaking their heads in disbelief as to why an otherwise intelligent person would do such things. I know what it’s like to be in that trap. I know what it’s like to be caught in a cycle of ever increasing problems. Where everything you do makes it worse. But I broke the cycle. Against all the odds, like so many I found a way to outgrow these childhood difficulties. And so can you.

51:23 Ian talks about breaking the cycle of abuse in his own life. The programme may inspire you to consider your own recovery. Is it time for you to break the cycle in your family? If you think it may be that time for you, please contact me and I will offer you the tools that can make that possible. Thanks for taking the time to read this. 

The observer position

The observer position

The ‘observer’ position 

I want to say something more about one of the key points in this approach. In order to understand, develop and practice my method you must first develop your understanding of what I call the ‘observer position’. Things like a raised awareness of your parts and what triggers them. How and when they were constructed. As well as being able to communicate with them in a way that is ‘age appropriate’ are all things that depend on a good understanding and working knowledge of this ‘observer’ position.  

Did you ever say to yourself “why am I doing this” as you began yet another disastrous course of action? Somehow able to see how bad this is going to be and yet seemingly unable to stop yourself? If you have always thought of yourself as one thing doesn’t this double view seem strange? Who was talking to who at these moments? These questions are very difficult to answer from a traditional perspective. Actually, what you were doing was likely to be ‘observing’ yourself in a triggered moment. So what do we mean by this? And how can it help us to develop our recovery?

Defining the observer – your ‘core’ self 

The first thing to make sure of is that you have an idea of what this ‘real’ or ‘core self’ is. Who is it that is doing the observing? The first challenging idea to get hold of is that everyone, no matter how damaged, abused, has a core or real self. No matter how much of a checkered past you have, there is a core part of you that is unaffected by circumstance. That does not carry the flaws that you may have identified yourself with. If this is the first time you have read about these ideas then this will probably come as a shock to you so just take a minute to digest this. It means that every time you said something to yourself like “I’m such a liar” or “I’m a hopeless addict” or “I’m a waste of time” you were actually talking about a part of you, not the real you. 

The filter 

Your ‘core’ or ‘real’ self is your consciousness, your mind. Because it’s the part of you that makes sense of everything, you could think of it as the filter through which everything must pass. A translating point that makes meaning from everything you experience. You are doing it now as you read this. It is your consciousness in an un-triggered state. I want to promise you that if you could find a way to maintain this state even through difficult moments, you would never drink, use drugs or act out addictively again. Just allow yourself to imagine this now, remaining in your core state and making good decisions, improving relationships, and making progress in your chosen field. Unlike traditional forms of treatment that diagnose you and attempt to make you change and be less like you, this approach is asking you to be more like you!

Parts and self

So if that is your true self then any feeling, thinking belief or attitude you experience is what we call a ‘part’ of you. That counts for anything that differs from your calm clear confident self. So how do we distinguish between you and your parts? I want you to keep this very simple. Think of the space above your eyes as ‘the front room’. This is your mind, where you live, where your consciousness resides. Imagine another room at the back of your head. This is where the part of your brain that reacts to threat lives. So we have a simple picture of two rooms that are communicating with each other. These rooms will eventually develop a better relationship as you practice. 

The front room is generally running your life, making decisions and deciding the next course of action, for the most part. The back room is watching out for threats constantly and reacts like lightning when it sees one. These times are what we call triggered moments or episodes. The best way to think of this is that your mind (front room) is running your life, it is doing so on licence from your brain! This licence can be revoked in a fraction of a second if your brain (the back room) identifies a threat.

Protection is normal

There are two issues we have to understand before we can use this idea effectively. The first one is that the idea of your brain protecting you this way is perfectly normal. You’ve probably heard of fight and flight? So it’s not a mental illness. Okay, but the second thing is that life teaches us that certain things are threatening when they never were or are no longer. Things like these are kept in the back room where there is no timeline, and so they remain fresh as the day they happened, even though you may have forgotten all about them in the front room. This can be a big problem for anyone vulnerable to addiction. So the point is that there are times when a very basic part of your brain is running your life, not you.

Taking on board the idea that at these times it was not your core self running your life but was actually your brain trying to protect you from threat is a big deal. Understanding that you have an untainted core, a part of you that is not just a bit calmer, but is pure calm. Not just a bit clearer but is pure clarity. Of course the way you have been viewing yourself in a more traditional negative view fits right into the medical model and has probably had you reading lots of books, doing lots of exercises and maybe taking some pills. Once you start to practice working on the relationship between your parts and your core self you probably won’t be needing those things any more. No need to work on ‘changing’ yourself any more, now you can learn to access what you already have. Changing yourself is a bit like asking a tiger to change to spots instead of stripes! 

The state is where we start

All your parts are consistent. This is an important idea when you consider that you will be coming up against many years of training from the medical model that told you that you were very inconsistent. Of course this is a rational conclusion when you think of yourself as one thing. I want you to think of this recovery approach as swapping one inconsistent self with a set of consistent selves. Each of your parts is extremely consistent. They tend to turn up in the same way and for the same reasons. The difference is that the core self is the ‘untriggered’ part. The ‘you’ that is present when no triggering is happening. In order to know your parts better you need to understand the core ‘state’ of your adult self. This state is described in various ways by different religions, philosophies and therapists but, many years of neuroscience research has identified eight words which characterize and encompass the qualities of the core self. These are the ‘resources’ of the adult self. The good news is that you already have them! You need to learn them and, by understanding them better, you will be able to identify when they are not present.  

 

The resources 

Here are the eight words we use to understand our adult states resources. 

Calm Clear Curious Creative Confident

Courageous Connected Compassionate.

When you are in your adult state you will be able to identify with all of these words. Try first making a list of all eight words and ask yourself if you can identify with all of them in your current state. Notice any that seem to be absent. Now write another list alongside the first. This list should be how it feels when the resources are missing, their opposite if you like. So Calm becomes ‘panicky’ etc. It might look something like this;

Panic Confused Dogmatic Flat

Unconfident Frightened Disconnected Cold

Here is a table that makes these opposites clear.

 
Calm
Panicky
Clear
Confused
Curious
Certain, Dogmatic or having a strong agenda
Creative
Flat or feeling you have no options
Confident 
Unconfident, nervous or anxious
Courageous 
Frightened, maybe a feeling you must stay safe
Connected 
Disconnected from people and life
Compassionate
Cold or having no feeling for others

.

Think of these opposites as the default position (on the left) and the way you often feel (on the right) when you are triggered by something and your brain takes over. So any time you find yourself losing any of these resources because of how someone has spoken to you or dealt with you, or even if you have had a thought yourself that has changed your state, you should assume that you are no longer in your adult state. The thought or observation that you are no longer in your ‘real state’ is made from the observer position.  

If you have found yourself saying things like “I’m hopeless and unreliable” or “I’m too angry to hold down a job” then this practice can help you massively. Since these flaws are not part of your adult self you can learn, as part of your practice, not to ‘act out’ of them but to observe them. The first thing to realise when you start practicing is that your core state is not something to achieve, it’s your default position! This is another massive shift from the traditional approaches. You have probably thought of recovery as something that is almost impossible to achieve, wrong! Something you have to fight for, wrong! Think of your core state as something that happens when the other states ‘step back’ and trust you more.

The practice

The simple way to understand the aims of the ‘observer position’ is to think of ‘re-triggering’ the adult. So when circumstances trigger your brain to protect you, your practice is to get your core self back in the driving seat. This is done not by fighting or demanding things of yourself, but by negotiating with your brain, asking it to trust you more. Think of your core state as a state of trust between the two rooms. When you decided what you wanted for breakfast this morning your brain ‘trusted’ you to make that decision. So triggering is a lack of trust, a way your brain protects you because it does not trust you to stay safe in this particular circumstance.

 Try this experiment now. Think about the last time (or the next time) you experienced this triggered state. Run it as a movie in your head or, if this is too triggering, run it as a movie on a clear space on the wall opposite you. As you watch this movie of yourself in an agitated state, notice how calm the part of you that is doing the observing! Even when you are triggered into an extreme state you can often observe from your ‘core’ state of calm confidence. It is from this position that you can start the negotiations.

 If you feel anything other than calm when you observe your parts behaviour then put the brakes on the negotiation. This is because, occasionally one part can observe (and judge) the other. These are called ‘polarised’ parts and usually take an opposite (and judgemental) position on the part that is triggered. The main thing to notice is always your ‘state’. Itis your calm confident courageous state that tells you that there is a good blend of adult. If you are feeling anything else then assume it’s a part and step back another level and observe the two of them interacting. Once you get the calm centre you can begin the negotiations.

The Family Car 

Think of yourself driving a car. In the car are several others (your parts). You could consider these parts as your ‘inner family’. Your brain is looking a long way down the road and sometimes sees a problem. Saying to itself “if we carry on down this road we are going to be in danger”. Removing you from the driving seat one of the parts takes over and turns down another road (to be safe). This road could involve activities such as drugs or alcohol, gambling or any other form of addiction or dependence. The part does not see the difficulty with this, only that it has protected you from the threat of the road you were on. This is because your parts are younger (sometimes much younger) than you are now. Think about it, if your part is eight years of age then you can only expect the kind of solution an an eight year old would come out with. Your parts do not have your experience, your maturity or your wisdom. Often they do not share your beliefs or your attitudes. Thinking about the age of your part will often give you an idea of how to engage with it. But however you try to engage, always avoid fighting!

Negotiate never demand

If you fight for possession of the steering wheel you will probably lose. Remember your brain thinks it is protecting your life! It’s not going to stop doing that. So your practice is to aim for a negotiated settlement. Always try your best to avoid any fighting or demanding when triggered. Even if you were to win the steering wheel back for a little while it is likely that your brain will eventually overpower you. Trust is the result of a negotiated settlement. Once your brain trusts you with something, it will trust you forever! So this is the best approach for two reasons, the first I have already mentioned, which is that you will probably lose. The second reason is because it is the appropriate approach when someone is trying to help you! It’s a good idea to think about the age of your part before attempting to negotiate. This is because parenting works best of its age appropriate. If you get the sense that your part is a toddler then parent in the way that seems appropriate for that age. If your part seems more like a teenage then negotiation is the way forwards.

Taking responsibility for yourself 

Western culture has for years taught us to expect that a ‘special someone’ is going to be our primary ‘caregiver’. We are encouraged that when we find them they will effectively manage our flaws and vulnerabilities. Of course this idea can also lead us to believing that we are supposed to do that for someone else. This leads to all sorts of problems with our boundaries and, like any other stored belief, will not change until we change it.

Developing the observer position, as well as the practices that follow from it, will encourage you to become your own primary caretaker. The Captain of your ship, the driver in your car. Whether you think of yourself as a Captain with a crew, or a car driver with a family, you will benefit from the practice of ‘observing’ your parts from the core position.