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The Counsellor gets counselled!

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Only a few years ago I would never have undergone counselling or therapy. My RED  vMEME’s pride would never have let me submit myself to be helped by someone who couldn’t possibly be as knowledgeable or skilled as me.

When a close member of my family elected to go to someone else for counselling rather than come to me, I was mortified. What did it say about me that I couldn’t give them what they needed? I knew the argument that prior relationship dynamics could cloud the judgement of both the counsellor and the client…but, to me, that argument paled into insignificance compared to the vast knowledge and skills I could deploy.

In fact that counsellor did a good job and the family member was a lot less troubled afterwards. Yet the counsellor, from what I could make out, knew nothing about the Gravesian approach and didn’t exactly espouse NLP.

My wife Caroline had suggested for several years that counselling might benefit me but I had always demurred, convinced that there wasn’t really much wrong with me. I could acknowledge intellectually that I had problems because everyone has problems. To paraphrase Ichak Adizes (1999), the only people without problems are dead people!  But to own emotionally the fact I had problems was something else. As countless psychologists and sociologists have noted – eg: Angela Phillips (1993) – boys in the Western world are socialised to be independent and assertive; to admit you need help with your emotions is the most wimpy form of weakness. Real men don’t cry.

Besides, I was very much of the proverbial view: Physician, heal thyself.

Dealing with the temperamental
Perhaps the tipping point came in September 2013 on holiday in Lanzarote. Staying in Playa Blanca’s luxurious Princess Yaiza hotel, I came close to ruining what should have been one of our best holidays ever by verbally abusing Caroline during a row that got out of control. In the aftermath, in my shame, I was finally forced to admit that I have a vile temper. I’m rarely physically violent, haven’t been in a proper fight since the early 1980s and have never hit a woman…but I can be brutal and scathing verbally if I ‘lose it’. The hurt I caused Caroline that evening when I lost it consequently caused me to reflect deeply and to realise that I am much higher in the temperamental dimension of Psychoticism than I would previously have cared to admit.

Fortunately Caroline loves me deeply and forgave me…and the rest of our holiday did indeed live up to expectations. But, when I got home I was determined to do something about my temper.

STOPI designed the ‘stop sign’ pictured left. I had first used this Behaviourist idea when working with a group of over-impulsive children. Since the limbic system (crudely, emotion) is a lot faster than the frontal cortex (crudely, thinking) in triggering the motor cortex to action, the idea of the stop sign suddenly appearing in your consciousness is to delay the impulsive limbic-generated action just long enough for the frontal cortex to catch up and give the person a choice as to whether to continue the action. I had taught the children to visualise the stop sign rising up in their vision just as they were about to do something they hadn’t thought through.

I’ve found the technique has worked well for me – though I have to refresh the connection periodically. As with all such connections, the conditioning wears off and becomes ‘extinct’ unless there is periodic refreshing.

As a result of training myself with the stop sign, I have found I handle disagreements much less aggressively and the quality of our marriage has increased accordingly.

Having admitted I had issues and pretty much mastered the worst excesses of my sub-cognitive temperament, the next question was: what would I do about the issues at a cognitive level?

Dealing with Dad
As I documented in Lose a Cat, lose a Father, my father Ted Rice died in July 2011. It was later that year that I suddenly found myself in tears one Sunday lunchtime, blubbering  to Caroline: “All I ever wanted was for him to say I was okay, to like what I do. And now I’ll never be able to get that from him!”

It was as though something in my Unconscious had leaked out. If I hadn’t already sort-of realised, I knew from then on that my father was an unresolved key issue in my life.

So earlier this year, before the pre-exams avalanche of A-level students wanting tuition hit me, I spent some 6 weeks in counselling. I had finally decided to swallow my pride and seek help from someone who couldn’t possibly be as good as me. Bradford-based Michelle Bradley knew nothing about the Gravesian approach and not much about NLP, coming from Psychodynamic and Humanistic perspectives and using Transactional Analysis as her main tool, with a touch of CBT. If she found it intimidating at all, having someone as arrogant as me in her consulting room, she never let on.

Michelle did a superb job. As she readily acknowledges, I worked hard at and in between our sessions. Having finally made the commitment, I was determined to deal with Dad. Through some expert probing questioning and then asking me to reflect on the meaning of my answers, Michelle led me to uncover things I only half-remembered and hadn’t really appreciated the significance of.

For example…

  • Dad getting me into the garage with a flip chart stand when I was 14, to tutor me in Maths because my progress in that subject wasn’t good enough
  • Dad rubbishing my liking for West Coast rock bands like Crosby Stills & Nash and Jefferson Airplane and forcing me to have his Classical Music lessons so I could learn to appreciate ‘proper music’
  • Dad insisting I have a short back & sides haircut because my desire to grow my hair long was wrong
  • Dad demeaning my career choice of teacher when he wanted me to be a scientist like him

Interestingly, when Michelle asked me about my mother Betty – who had died in 2000 – I could remember remarkably little in comparison to how much I recalled of Dad. I came to realise that I had downgraded her in importance because my father had consistently demeaned her in front of me. His BLUE gave him a rigid view of what was the right thing to do and my mother frequently failed to live up to those expectations. One thing that really infuriated Dad was that Mum was uninterested in the news. Dad thought everyone should take the trouble to make sure they were fully informed…whereas my Mum’s PURPLE was more interested in the village gossip. In a RED/BLUE vMEME harmonic, Dad took to vilifying Mum over such things. Thus, Mum became less a significant influence in my selfplex – with less importance resulting, it seems, in fewer easily-accessible memories.

Through the sessions with Michelle, I gradually came to realise that I had constructed an elaborate selfplex defence mechanism where my father was concerned. I held the belief (schema) that my father loved me totally even though he disapproved of so much of what I felt, thought and did. (He even asserted that Psychology was not a ‘proper science’!) This defence mechanism enabled me to avoid the painful acknowledgement that much of my father’s love was, in fact, conditional. Not all of it by any means…in some ways he was a wonderful father and I treasure his memory…but a significant portion of his love was assigned to what I achieved rather than who I was. For example, he was thrilled when I became Head of Department at Woodhouse Grove School in 2011 but decidedly underwhelmed by the fact the department was Psychology!

One of the consequences of my father’s conditional love was a semi-conscious fear of failure. Any doubt expressed about my competence (in any matter) was enough to get my hackles raised. I couldn’t even take Caroline’s chiding that I was clumsy and had a tendency to walk into things without it becoming a big issue for me! Right through the past 12 years of teaching Psychology and Sociology, I had semi-secretly nurtured the dread that someone would discover I was really a terrible teacher – that I was a fraud! – even though many of my students achieved As and Bs.

Dealing with the drive to be someone
An inverted consequence of this fear of failure was the intense drive to be a ‘success’ – such a success even my father couldn’t deny it. But my RED insisted I did it my way.

Frazetta warriorInterestingly, in my early 20s when I was going through a phase of being fascinated with science fantasy, I had found myself particularly drawn to one of Frank Frazetta’s paintings. This depicted a warrior in a dramatic pose atop a mountain peak in a thunderstorm, lightning striking his raised sword while shadowy godlike figures look on from amidst the clouds. The painting was titled ‘The Calling’ or ‘The Mission’ – or something along those lines. The painting resonated with me: I wanted a calling, a mission.

When, in 2004, I realised Integrated SocioPsychology could be developed from aligning and integrating the behavioural sciences around the Gravesian and other key models, I felt I had found my calling. Huge amounts of time and effort and a significant amount of money went into workshops, this website and, of course, the book ‘Knowing Me, Knowing You’. I was going to be a guru; I was going to make a ‘difference’ – I was going to change the world. My role model was Spiral Dynamics co-developer Don Beck. I harboured the ambition to be like him and make a major difference, as he had done in South Africa.

The intensity of the drive to be successful at my ‘mission’ was overwhelming. Pretty much everything – even my marriage at times – was subverted to this drive.

Through the sessions with Michelle, I realised how even this drive was related to my desire to live up to expectations. For example, it would bug me if there were problems with the website and I couldn’t update it when I had previously stated I would or I was struggling to find the time to write a Blog post while the topic was still ‘hot’. Then, other commitments would get deprioritised so I could work on the ‘mission’. There was a lot of what Albert Ellis (1955) termed musturbation – I must do these things or I could not be a success.

How much this thinking came from BLUE and ORANGE rather than 2nd Tier thinking was brought home to me by a rather quirky incident that happened in between counselling sessions. Caroline’s granddaughter Alba was staying with us and I became really irritated because Alba didn’t live up to some expectations I had as to how a 20-month-old toddler should behave – expectations that I later learned from Caroline were totally unrealistic.

When I played this incident back to Michelle, she asked me why I was imposing my rigid expectations on Alba – and then: where had such a rigid view of the world come from? I then realised they, of course, came from my father. In discussion with Michelle, it became increasingly obvious how driven my father was with similar schemas about success which he had passed onto me. From what I can remember of my father’s father, it is more than likely his BLUE facilitated such memes.

Thus, I was a victim and powerful example of intergenerational memetic transmission.

Dealing with Basmati
In the midst of all these revelations about my father’s effects on me, there occurred one of the most painful decisions I have ever had to make.

BasmatiBaz, for short – was proving himself decidedly unsuitable to be in a house increasingly frequented by a young toddler.

Cute kitten Baz singing with me, late 2011

Cute kitten Baz singing with me, late 2011

The cute little kitten we had acquired the same day my father’s ashes had been interred had grown up into an impulsive biter. In spite of being neutered, he was very much an alpha male. Me he usually acknowledged as his superior and would be incredibly affectionate, seeking me out and wrapping his tail around my arm while encouraging me to stroke him. The mere female Caroline he treated with disdain; someone to demand treats from and otherwise completely ignore. The worst thing, though, was his impulsive and unpredictable biting – rarely hard enough to hurt but startling and upsetting. Truth to tell, I wondered if Baz had a touch of Psychoticism, he was so impulsive. The long and tall of it was we couldn’t trust him to be anywhere near Alba.

In February we gave him to Allerton Cat Rescue for rehoming. For me, it was truly traumatic.

Having been on my own most of my adult life and never having had human children, my succession of cats have served to fill that PURPLE need for companionship and affiliation. Effectively, they were my children and I was their ‘Daddy’. With Artemis, the cat I had for 19 years and who died a few months before my father, there was a remarkably close mutual bond. To some considerable extent, she replicated this with Caroline when she came into my life. Though Baz was very different in temperament, I felt a similar bond with him. So the decision to rehome him was dreadful. I cried off and on for weeks and temporarily abandoned the counselling, feeling I couldn’t cope.

How are the mighty fallen! What a comedown for the would-be guru!

The sadness at times was overwhelming. I’ve never thought of myself as thinking in TURQUOISE but I think in that time I had a little glimpse of the ‘cosmic sadness’ Abraham Maslow (1971) considered to be integral to the Transcender. I kept visualising a spacecraft in the vastness of outer space and with it a sense of infinite and unbearable sadness – sadness that is limitless and will never end and will forever be a part of me. Eventually I internalised a little of that sadness and know now that I can never let go of that sadness. The sadness is in me; I am the sadness.

Dealing with now
How much the ‘sadness experience’ over Baz and the revelations about my father interacted in my selfplex is probably unfathomable…but I emerged from those experiences changed in several respects.

For one thing I no longer feel driven by a singular mission: the development of Integrated SocioPsychology. Yes, the Gravesian approach and Integrated SocioPsychology remain profoundly important to me and, yes, I still work for their impact in creating a better world. However, I no longer feel desperate to be a guru; and, if the website’s not always up to date, well, who cares…?!

Now I have several other missions…

  • Having a happy and fulfilling life in which I love me for who I am
  • Having a happy marriage that is mutually fulfilling for both of us
  • Appreciating friends and family more
  • Learning to play bass guitar and being good enough to play in a band by the time I’m 65
  • Getting away from the computer (sometimes!) and just enjoying being out and about

For all my prevarication, the counselling with Michelle was an invigorating experience, opening up doors to a more multifaceted life.

I often find, using NLP in my own personal therapy work with clients, that there is a ‘magic moment’ – a clear moment of transition when the old and unwanted condition goes into decline and a new and empowering condition starts to form. There was nothing quite like that with Michelle. Indeed, our last session seemed strangely anti-climatic as I reached the conclusion that I had gone as far as I wanted (for the time being). I felt the need to consolidate and to re-evaluate what my relationship with my father meant to me.

Courtesy of Allerton Cat Rescue

Courtesy of Allerton Cat Rescue

Going straight into an intense period of tutoring a large number of students, however, there was never a time to sit down and think at length about Dad. And now the tutoring has ended for this academic year, I feel no need to re-evaluate the relationship with him. I have changed – in the ways described above – but the changes have been subtle, creeping up on my consciousness until I became aware of the change. (In therapy, it is not uncommon for a change, once initiated to carry on and affect areas of thought and life not originally targeted – as some of my own clients have reported.)

And I feel so much more at peace with myself.

Coda: The Baz story has a happy ending. Earlier this month he was adopted along with a female cat, Minnie, he had befriended at the Rescue. My PURPLE/RED harmonic couldn’t help but go: In the midst of being ripped away from his home and placed in an acutely stressful situation, Baz still manages to get himself a girlfriend?!? That’s my boy!

UPDATE: 13 July 2015
Yesterday I made my annual pilgrimage to St Thomas graveyard in Garstang, to my parents’ marker, to spend a little time there, remembering them and honouring them. It fulfills my PURPLE vMEME’s need to recognise where I came from and who I belonged to. (In a sense ‘belong to’ in an ongoing way: they will always be my parents and I will be their son – even after I am dead.)

This year’s trip was undertaken with a slight feeling of unease. The counselling sessions with Michelle had exposed much more the damage my father had (unwittingly) done to me. Would these revelations affect the way I remembered him? Would I still be able to honour him?

My own therapy work has often exposed the maladaptive schemas clients have learned from their parents when they were young. To tackle this, I frequently use Penny Parks’ Mistaken Belief Visualisation, in which the parent is handed back the negative belief symbolically and a new positive, enabling belief installed. For many, the realisation and handing back have been truly painful, if decidedly therapeutic events. No surprise then that I wondered how the Garstang visit would affect me this year.

To my delight, I found I thought almost as much about my Mum as I did my Dad – and the memories were pleasant, joyful even! I actually found myself thinking: They were great parents! I’m glad THEY were my parents. The errors and the hurts are not forgotten but they are forgiven; they were doing their best, even when they did it wrong. It seems that whatever changes I went through earlier this year have transcended bitterness and resentment. I am at peace…with myself and with my parents.

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2 Responses

  1. Keith E Rice says

    Thanks for your kind words, Eileen.

    Re the stop sign...

    Firstly, I made sure it was very much my language: "Stop Your Crap!" (Sorry, I do have a mouth like a sewer at times!). I also made it highly contextual: "In the name of love!" (I do think that there has been some generalisation as I tend to handle many confrontational situations with a bit more restraint now.)

    I then visualised it rising up from horizontal to vertical - repeatedly for about 5 minutes per day for about 10 days. Some times I would shout "Stop!" as it reached vertical.

    I perhaps should add here that I've learned from CBT to disengage with the situation once I've got that pause...so I can give my emotions time to cool down. After which I can think straight.

    Candace Pert's 'Molecules of Emotion' book - recommended by Jon Freeman - got me to think of neural networks as connecting right through the body and getting inflamed or over-excited at the synapses. So, if they're inflamed, they need to rest and calm down.

    Wouldn't want you to think I'm a completely reformed character, though. 😉 I do road rage really well - though it usually only affects poor Caroline who has to put up with me screaming and swearing!

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  2. Eileen Conn says

    thank you for being able to share such details about yourself. It was a lovely story to read, and so well told. I really resonated with the cat story being in the same kind of life experience with cats, though no cat companion for the last 8 years. You didn't say how you taught yourself to bring up the stop sign to enable the conscious thinking to catch up with the emotional faster reactions. This is such a familar experience for so much human interaction, I'd like to know how you do it...

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