2012-03-27

Know Thyself. Know Thyselves.

"Know thyself," said Socrates. And to know it is to love it. Much that we might want to call evil comes from failure of compassion for all the parts of the self -- which, fractal-like, recapitulates as failure of compassion for all the parts of family, tribe, society.

Psychologist Richard Schwartz describes how he began to work with clients through their peronae.
“I had one client, Diane, ask the pessimistic voice she was describing why it always told her she was hopeless. The voice responded that it said she was hopeless so that she wouldn't take any risks and get hurt; it was trying to protect her. This seemed like a promising interaction. If this pessimist really had benign intent, then Diane might be able to negotiate a different role for it. But Diane wasn't interested in negotiating. She was angry at this voice and kept telling it to just leave her alone. I asked her why she was so rude to the pessimist and she went on a long diatribe, describing how that voice had made every step she took in life a major hurdle. It then occurred to me that I wasn't talking to Diane, but to another part of her – [a part she had spoken of before] that pushed her to achieve and that constantly fought with the pessimist who told her it was hopeless. [Her Pusher was mad at, and fighting with her Pessimist, and at that moment, I was talking to the Pusher.] I asked Diane to focus on the [pushing] voice, and ask it to stop interfering in her negotiations with the pessimist. To my amazement, [the Pusher] agreed to 'step back,' and Diane immediately shifted out of the anger she'd felt so strongly seconds before. When I asked Diane how she felt toward the pessimist now, it seemed like a different person answered. In a calm, caring voice, she said she was grateful to it for trying to protect her, and felt sorry that it had to work so hard. Her face and posture had also changed, reflecting the soft compassion in her voice. From that point on, negotiations with the inner pessimist were easy.”
In another case, Dr. Schwartz is working with Margie, an anorexic. He asks one persona to “step back” to allow attending to another persona. He asks “Margie where she finds that voice of anorexia in her body and how she feels toward it. She closes her eyes and says it's in her stomach, and she's angry at it. She says that it tells her that it's going to kill her and that there's nothing she can do about it. . . . "

Dr. Schwartz says, "It makes sense that you're angry with the eating disorder part, because its avowed purpose is to screw up your life or even kill you. But right now, we just want to get to know it a little better, and it's hard to do that when you're so angry with it. We're not going to give it more power by doing that – just get to know more about why it wants to kill you. So see if the part of you that's so angry with it is willing to trust you and me for a few minutes. See if it's willing to relax to maybe watch as we try to get to know the eating disorder part."

Margie says okay. Schwartz asks how she feels toward the eating disorder now. Margie she says she's tired of battling with it. Schwartz asks that part to relax and step back too, and then another part that was very confused by the disorder. Each time, Schwartz asks "how do you feel toward the eating disorder now?"

Finally, Margie says in a compassionate voice, "Like, I want to help it." (Richard Schwartz, "The Larger Self" -- click here.)

As we become able to attend to, to hear, to be with a persona, then we're better able to stop being that persona – and we also stop being any persona that needed to fight that persona. What we step into when we step back is the true self.

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Part 2 of "Evil"
Next: Part 3: "Breaking Old Ground"
Previous: Part 1: "Tragedy. Spring. Fractals."