Sunday, December 17, 2017

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose

You've no doubt heard the epigram first made public in January 1849 by Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr, founder and editor of Les Guêpes:
Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.
Usually translated as "the more things change, the more they stay the same," plus ça change refers to what happens when we attempt to resolve problems within the paradigm in which they were created. What does this mean in everyday terms? To borrow again from the French:
On ne fait pas d'omelette sans casser des œufs.
Translation: "You can't make an omelet without breaking eggs." I'm tempted to leave you with these powerful metaphors. But, I'll illustrate how plus ça change became the code for a married couple to interrupt an interaction pattern that was frustrating to both of them - to "break the eggs" they'd both been hatching and create a new "omelette."

This had been their pattern: When the husband perceived the wife as "interrupting" in conversation, he would shut down and "pout" (according to the wife). The wife, annoyed that he would blame her instead of speaking up for himself, kept talking while pulling back emotionally. He saw her withdrawing emotionally, wanted to have peace between them, so bypassed his feeling of being ignored and tried to draw physically closer. She felt "schizophrenic" - "He's critical and wants to get closer? Doesn't compute!"

In the past, the pattern had been the opportunity for each to give "feedback" to the other, not realizing that his telling her she interrupted, and her telling him he should speak up if he so desired, fed the plus ça change pattern so that it kept occurring, over and over. When they looked at their interaction systemically and saw how both of them kept it going the way it always had (plus c'est la même chose), they stepped back, let go of blame, and agreed that whoever saw the pattern occurring would simply say, "Plus ça change..."

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Playing a Bigger Game

Remember Games People Play? The relationship games described by Eric Berne are so familiar from our own interactions, it's relatively easy to notice when someone else plays them. In truth, though, if you're in a game, you're a player, too. When we view relationship interactions as systems, we can see how all players contribute to the pattern.
The popular "Why don't you--yes, but" game is described in 50 Psychology Classics as beginning "when someone states a problem in their life, and another person responds by offering constructive suggestions on how to solve it. The subject says 'Yes, but...' and proceeds to find issue with the solutions. In Adult mode we would examine and probably take on board a solution, but this is not the purpose of the exchange. It allows the subject to gain sympathy from others in their inadequacy to meet the situation (Child mode). The problem solvers, in turn, get the opportunity to play wise Parent."
The Parent, Adult, Child references are from Transactional Analysis, popular since the sixties and still highly relevant.

Now look again at the players in "Why don't you--yes, but." Either party can start the game. The problem solver might be in the role of wise Parent, or might be playing parent, period, whether reacting to the other or initiating advice. How many times have you described a situation to a friend, co-worker, or life partner where you wanted a listener or someone to brainstorm with as you talked it through, only to have the other person jump in and tell you what you should do about it?
When you re-read the above example of "yes, but..." notice the assumption that one player (the "Child" in this case) creates the pattern, and the "wise" Parent is the blameless bystander. Looking at our interaction patterns this way promotes blaming and judgment. Yes, we all play games, and yes, sometimes one party is less emotionally healthy than the other, but by definition an interaction takes two people.
Instead of judging the interaction games in your relationships as someone else's fault, notice how a pattern is perpetuated, by either or both of you, and look for inventive ways to interrupt the pattern. If asked for your opinion by someone who's typically responded with "yes, but," for example, say "I'm not sure what the best thing would be for you," or "What have you considered?" or "What do you think might work?"
And, of course, pay close attention to the games you initiate. They wouldn't be games unless both people wanted to play.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Parenting From the Inside Out

Implicit mental models that cast shadows on our own decisions and the stories we tell about our lives can be made explicit through focused self-reflection. We are active shapers of our own construction of reality. (Siegel and Hartzell, Parenting From the Inside Out). 
If you're reading this blog post, you probably want to be a good parent to your young children or perhaps have issues with adult children you'd like to resolve. One way to view these issues is through the lens of attachment theory.

Childhood Attachment
Adult Attachment
Distress when mother leaves
Greets mother when she returns
Comfortable in relationships
Able to seek support from partner
Does not seek mother when she returns
Focuses on environment
Greater sense of autonomy
Tends to cut self off emotionally from partner
Very upset at departure
Explores very little
Fears rejection from partner
Strong desire to maintain closeness

A child's security of attachment is strongly connected to parents' understanding of their own early life experience. Whether you had good parenting, good enough parenting, or even traumatic parenting, making sense of your childhood can lead to healthy relationships with your children. The universal cure-all in any personal growth approach is to develop nonjudgmental self-awareness -- in this case, mindfulness of your own childhood dynamics and consequent worldview.

Siegel and Hartzell introduced the concept of mind-sight, the ability to perceive the minds of others as well as our own. Resolving issues with your children means mindfulness about your own personality and mind-sight about your child's personality. Research further indicates that intention, when followed by changes in behavior, can change how our brains function. I'm particularly heartened to know this can be done backwards. No matter how old you or your children are, you can re-live your own childhood and your child's, affecting brain chemistry in a way that heals long-held wounds. 

All personality styles have strengths and challenges as parents, whether you had a secure or insecure attachment when growing up. Barbara Whiteside, in "Seeing Your Child" (September 2009 Enneagram Monthly), gave the example of an Enneagram style Three mother who "had a very easy time with her style Seven daughter because they both had assertive energy and enjoyed lots of activity (but) struggled in understanding her style Four daughter. . . ."

Many of you with grown children will believe you could have done a better job as a young parent. However, thinking If only I'd known then what I know now will be wishful thinking unless what you know is based on deep self-reflection about your own personality style along with mind-sight about your child's, especially if very different. This is a potent exercise recommended by Siegel and Hartzell:
  1. Think of an experience from your childhood when your reality was denied. How did you feel?
  2. Think of a time when you and your child had a different reaction to the same experience. Now try to see the events from your child's point of view.
When my daughter's personality was barely forming, I naively assumed she would be like me. This was long before I learned about the Enneagram, and I had little capability as a young style Nine mother to be present to a style Eight daughter. My poem "Swamp Magic" likens my daughter as a baby to a tadpole, sleeping face-down with knees bent outward, "still swimming in the amnion," ending with these lines:
What could we talk about?
I was brought up to behave,
bewildered by a frog princess
who could be heard for miles.
A ring-tongued, Mohawked 
Tarot reader, a hefty bike babe,
she teaches me computer skills,
and I accommodate the real.
As do all families, we had good times and bad times over the years, but I tended to forget the bad times and reacted defensively when my daughter's recollections were different from mine. then she decided I'd never see the world through her eyes and we became politely estranged. I labeled this as her problem until I finally dropped my defenses and invited her to join me with a mother/daughter therapist duo. Only then did I develop retrospective mind-sight about my daughter.

Among many insights was accepting the reality of myself as an unaware young mother. I could see I'd shown little of the healthy style Nine mother (I encourage her differences from me and we co-create a playful environment), was mostly average (I see myself as nobody special but see my child as idealized. . . not the actual person), and to some degree unhealthy (She needs my full presence and she doesn't have it). Because of my young self's lack of awareness, my remoteness and blindness to the significant differences between us, I truly did not know who my daughter was.

When we first started therapy together, I knew no words would convince her I could be authentically present to her worldview, and I'd only gain her trust by hearing and acknowledging what her childhood was like for her, not what I wanted it to be. During our second session, she was beginning to accept that maybe I'd changed. Then, in a long phone conversation outside therapy she said, true to her personality style, "It's clear you've worked your ass off, Mom." 

Affirming that both of us had matured significantly, we joked about the Work Your Ass Off School of Coaching, a playfulness long missing from our relationship. I hope my story, and Parenting From the Inside Out, will help you get your own you-know-what in gear.
Making sense of life can free parents from patterns of the past that have imprisoned them in the present. By deepening our ability to understand our own emotional experience, we are better able to relate empathically with our children and promote their self-understanding and healthy development (Siegel & Hartzell, Parenting From the Inside Out).   
Also, see Barbara Whiteside's Enneagram Tips for Parents.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Owning Up*

As follow-up to exploring how both partners in a relationship contribute to interaction patterns ("Hands Off"), the following exercises will be most useful if both partners complete and discuss them.

Nonetheless, it's possible for one of you to significantly change your relationship if you think through and write down your responses to the following:
First, What is characteristic of you in regard to intimacy? (a) Think of a recent situation with your partner where your characteristic behavior played out. Run through it mentally from the beginning. (b) Now think of another situation. And another. (c) What do these three situations have in common? What do you notice about yourself and intimacy?
Second, identify ten things that annoy you about your partner. For each, explore: (a) What is your reaction to your partner's behavior? (b) How do you provoke that behavior?
Next, describe five painful situations that have occurred in your relationship: (a) What were the consequences for you? (b) What was your responsibility in each situation?(c) What keeps the situation alive for you (what is the pay-off in the present)? Examples are illusion of control, getting a charge from the anger, not having to face your own fear of intimacy, etc.
Finally, describe ten positive characteristics of your partner and the effect of each on your relationship. Reflect on how you might integrate more gratitude into your relationship and into your life.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

The Enneagram: A Compelling Vision

Susan Olesek's TED talk on behalf of the Enneagram Prison Project (EPP), Both Sides of the Bars, is the most compelling Enneagram presentation I've ever seen, for her own transparency, for her clarity and vision, for her compelling examples, for her intelligent presentation, and most of all for the power of her presence. This is the finest example of how life-changing the Enneagram can be in the hands of someone on an authentic spiritual journey.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Loop the Loop

What do I mean by a "systems approach" to relationships? An analogy is our natural environment, where we easily understand two key principles. 
A stable environment tends to maintain stability (homeostasis). For example, when sunlight is plentiful and atmospheric temperature climbs, phytoplankton on the ocean's surface thrive and produce more dimethyl sulfide (DMS); the DMS molecules in turn increase cloud condensation, and the increasing number of clouds lowers the temperature of the atmosphere. 

Changes in one part of the environment will affect others parts. Think of what happened with the introduction of kudzu, jokingly referred to as "the vine that ate the South." Kudzu was brought to the U.S. from China in an effort to control erosion, but these non-native vines spread rapidly and killed many trees by shading them with leaves.
Those who introduced kudzu to a non-native environment were using what's referred to as "single-loop learning": Hey, this plant grows quickly and would stabilize some ground that's eroding. Let's try it! "Double-loop learning" would have been to consider that basic assumption in light of a bigger picture, the environment into which the kudzu would grow, whether or not it would have natural boundaries or constraints similar to those in its natural environment.

You can use the same principles in your relationships:
What do you do that continues to maintain homeostasis, even when you don't like the results? If your spouse expects you to manage the finances, for example, and you'd rather not, do you grouse as you balance the checkbook, or do you step back and ask Wait a minute, why does this keep happening even though I complain? Clearly my grousing isn't changing anything.

What have you introduced into a key relationship, thinking it would have a positive result, only to find it made things worse? For example, one of the Love Languages is "acts of service." I have a client who wanted more intimacy with her partner, and kept doing little things for him that showed her love. Instead, he withdrew more and more, interpreting these acts as implicit criticism that he couldn't do those things for himself. His Love Language is "words." All she needed to do was tell him what she loves about him, but until they stepped back and examined their assumptions about "love," her attempts to fix the problem were only making it worse.

What's Good Enough?

Several of my clients have been looking at their marriages lately, for a variety of reasons. One couple -- while their marriage is already more than good enough -- wanted some fine-tuning and gave rave reviews of a workshop I recommended with Drs. John and Julie Gottman in Seattle, "The Art and Science of Love." 

With a client who wants to refresh her marriage, we began exploring "what's good enough?" I learned about this concept from Carolyn Bartlett, who uses it in
The Enneagram Field Guide. Initially coined by psychoanalyst D.W. Winnicott, "good enough" describes a nurturing relationship that provides the basic safety, love, mirroring, and containment needed by a developing child. It's also a template for effective therapy. And we can easily extend it to effective partnering in adult relationships.

Interestingly, healthy "containment" is not restrictive. Quite the opposite: the term refers to an emotional, mental, and spiritual space where both partners are available, expansive, and secure; where both feel calm and safe; where each can experience and express perspectives and emotions -- with the expectation of support and comfort, and without fear of judgment or rejection.

Clearly, this definition of "good enough" does not mean compromising or lowering standards. It simply recognizes the fact that no human being and no partnership of any kind is or has to be perfect. And it inspires open communication to make sure each partner's needs are being met.

In "Bad Relationships: Change your Role and the Rules of Engagement," Dr. Tara J. Palmatier quotes Gottman's "Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse:" criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling. Palmatier suggests two scenarios that can have "mutually satisfying, long-term relationship outcomes" (the remaining eight are "either 'get out now' or 'live a life of resignation' outcomes"). In response to your concerns, your partner could:

  1. Hear what you say, be accountable, respect your feelings, and actively try to change.
  2. Hear what you say, be accountable, respect your feelings, communicate which of your behaviors are contributing to the situation, and you both actively try to change.
From a systemic view, I prefer the second scenario, and suggest that you also (1) look together at how the pattern operates that you've created together, and (2) agree on an interesting and inventive way to interrupt the pattern. Michelle Weiner-Davis addresses this in Divorce Busting, especially Chapter 6: "Breaking the Habit: Interrupting Destructive Patterns."

Forget everything you thought you knew about change

Greg was a college professor who loved mental gymnastics but wasn't very comfortable with emotions. He especially dreaded extended family holidays because his wife Suzanne thought his relatives were cold and arrogant, and invariably a member of his family would say something that upset her during their visit. She would then go into what he called "a dramatic meltdown." Greg's response? He didn't want to talk about it with Suzanne; he wanted to hide. This upset her even more, which increased his desire to withdraw. Greg wanted Suzanne to stop reacting "so emotionally." She wanted him to "quit being so intellectual and support her."

I asked Greg to think of a way to go with the pattern instead of trying to avoid it; he suggested to Suzanne that they find a private space and take ten minutes every hour, when with his family, so she could vent and he would take her feelings seriously.
Greg loved the idea of expecting and planning time for Suzanne to blow off steam, because he wouldn't be distracted wondering when or how it might happen. Suzanne responded positively because he was acknowledging her right to her feelings about his family.

As it turned out, they didn't need to take ten minutes every hour. Just knowing they could do it was freeing. "That outing," Greg later said, "turned out to be our very best family visit. While we hoped to be able to make it through two days, we actually stayed three days extra."

More in Out of the Box Self-Coaching Workbook.

Hands Off

Often when we experience relationship problems we conclude it's the other person who's "touchy," "unreliable," "critical," etc. Operating from this premise, you may unwittingly attempt solutions that reinforce or even exaggerate the perceived problem.

Let's say Anne and Bill have a family business and Anne, a perfectionist, thinks Bill gives employees too much autonomy. 

Anne presses Bill to be more hands-on, questioning him frequently and in detail. Bill doesn't keep her posted on the ways he is hands-on because "She'll just nit-pick anyway." This confirms Anne's belief that Bill isn't paying enough attention to details, which leads her to follow up more frequently. Bill responds by retreating even more, leading Anne to check in even more, and so on. 

Instead, they could reframe the situation as an interaction problem:
  • Problems that occur between people are situational difficulties -- both are doing something to maintain the problem.
  • It's normal and appropriate to resist attempts by another to "fix" us; such so-called resistance is more usefully labeled as a source of energy when released for positive purposes.
  • It may seem paradoxical, but going with the other person's energy is much more likely to make a difference than lecturing, advising, or scolding.
This approach requires relationship partners to develop the ability to:
  1. focus on observable behaviors in the interaction (vs. only the behavior of the other person),
  2. do something to alter the interaction (as opposed to trying to change the other person).
A particularly interesting application of this concept relies on the paradox of going with a behavior in order to change it. Following this premise, Anne could release the positive potential of Bill's management style by saying something such as "I respect your value of trusting our employees to do their jobs well. Let's talk about how we can help them be more autonomous." This is a win-win situation:
  • If Bill "resists" Anne's suggestion, he becomes more "hands-on," increasing his oversight of employees and eliminating her basis for criticism.
  • If they work out standards that ensure employees do their jobs without frequent follow-up, again there is no longer a basis for Anne's complaint.
For more about this approach, read The Tactics of Change, by Fisch, Weakland, and Segal.

"How," not "Why," is the Question

To more fully understand the couple in the Plus ça change blog entry, it helps to know that people with the husband's personality -- referred to as "style Nine" in the Enneagram personality system -- tend to go along with others' ideas, yet feel unspoken resentment when they stifle their own agenda. At the same time, they are peacemakers and want to be reassured that even their unexpressed annoyance has not created a disruption.

Thus the husband wanted to snuggle up to his wife, who was very aware of his "pouting" and didn't feel so inclined.

Those of the wife's personality -- referred to as "style Eight" in the Enneagram -- typically have plenty of ideas but often succumb temporarily to their enthusiasms and/or forget to include their partners. This couple might have been drawn together initially because of their mutual comfort with the wife providing structure, then both began to feel some pain from that same dynamic.

What's fascinating about this couple is that we did not spend time exploring their personality styles so they could understand why they were having difficulty. Instead, I asked questions to help them look closely at what each of them did and said, so they could see how they were unwittingly feeding their interactive pattern. This works in the same way as interrupting a personal pattern. You look carefully at how the pattern operates, then find a way to playfully interrupt it, so it loses its "juice."

A Partnership Model

An Enneagram style Six leader and her team met to define a leadership model reflecting their values as supporters of abused women. They made explicit the characteristics of a traditional power-based system, contrasted with their own vision of an equality-based system -- a true partnership:

Power-Based Systems
(control behavior)*
Don't share feelings 
Don't take a stand
Don't accept criticism
Don't listen to others
Don't depend on others
Don't admit mistakes
Cover up skill deficiencies 
    (or fear of them)
Break promises/agreements
Withhold information
Equality-Based Systems
(resilience, harmony, meaning)
Be self-disclosing 
State opinions openly
Share accountability for problems
Acknowledge what others say, feel
Give importance to all agendas
Admit mistakes, fears, not knowing
Be consistent, honor agreements
Give time to process: 
   - Descriptive feedback
   - "I" statements

*"Control is a form of addition, used to deny our fears."
See also Riane Eisler's Partnership Politics ("The partnership and domination systems not only give us names for different ways of relating but also explain what lies behind these differences.")

A Parallel Universe

I have great zeal for helping my clients learn how to interact more effectively instead of vying for power and control. But frankly, we often don't see how our own behavior plays a role in the difficulties that arise in relationships.

Instead, we tend to blame others for their behavior.
We lose sight of the fact that the very act of "blaming" makes us players in the power game. In The Fifth Discipline Peter Senge describes how the underlying structure of a human system "causes its own behavior."

We have the power to alter these structures and create new patterns, but our interaction systems are subtle: we usually don't see the structures at play. In particular we don't see how our own behavior helps maintain the status quo in relationships.

Changing such patterns requires a complete change in context -- we must step into a parallel universe of human interaction where the old, unexamined rules no longer compel us to act in certain ways, where we ask new questions:
  • "What's behind this other person's behavior?"
  • "What am I doing that keeps this dysfunctional pattern of interaction repeating itself?"
  • "What could the pay-off possibly be for me to have things remain the same?"
  • "How might either of us do something different?"

Romancing the Shadow

Most intimate relationships have some version of this story: one partner (or both) turns the other into a parental figure. . . We call this downward negative spiral the roller-coaster ride because the lovers get on at the same place, seem to spin out of control, but end up getting off at the same placeand nothing has really changed. (p. 158, Romancing the Shadow by Connie Zweig, Ph.D. and Steve Wolf, Ph.D.)

Whatever their other reasons to seek coaching, more than half my clients have relationship issueswhether married or single. I'm not a therapist or credentialed in relationship coaching, so stick mostly to helping them look at personality styles and subtype dynamics in their relationships.

However, Romancing the Shadow is full of practical advice for Jungian shadow work personally and in relationships of all kinds (as well as at work and in mid-life). So I'm culling out a few gems on how we bring parental complexes to our relationships.

First, I'll admit I can see I married my father, thinking I'd found his opposite. Dad, a style Eight on the Enneagram, was a military officer and stern disciplinarian, with whom I always felt a distance. I remember agonizing rides while he drove me places in early high school, where neither of us could think of a word to say to the other. Dad wore his toughness on the outside, so when I met my first husband I was immediately taken by his quiet demeanor and intelligence. A style Five, I now believe (he's long deceased), he was sweetly romantic while we were courting, and we talked at length about ideas, but that personality style's tendency to hoard emotions began before long to feel very much like interacting with my father. 

Unfortunately I was young and naive, hadn't studied psychology yet, and was years away from learning the Enneagram, so in my eyes he was "the problem," having no notion that projections of my own shadow were keeping me from seeing that relationship as an opportunity for consciousness.

In their analysis of one couple, Zweig and Wolf suggest "The couple's parental complexes are shadow-boxing with each other. . . they can put on the brakes only by taking responsibility for their own feelings, romancing their projections, and moving out of the past into present time." 

The solution, of course, lies in waking up, first acknowledging that no one person is "the problem;" both people contribute their part to feed the self-fulfilling downward spiral. Then being alert for cues that one's own shadow has been hooked andinstead of reacting as usualdoing something different: describing what's happening inside you and asking for space or support or conversation to help you move through it in a way that doesn't perpetuate the cycle. 

I don't take these suggestions lightly, nor do I expect you to do so. But what relationship have you ever had that was easy, day after day, year after year? You know the pain of compromise, you know the depression of defeat. Romancing the Shadow will help you engage in the disquieting task of shadow work, and find true relationship in the process.
Seeing itmeeting the shadowis the important first step. Learning to live with itromancing the shadowis a lifelong challenge.