Jay’ was a a 17-year-old American girl whose father was in the American forces stationed in the US. Her parents had separated 4 or 5 years earlier when her mother had started a relationship with someone else.
After the split Jay lived with her father; but often stayed with her mother and her partner when he was away on duty. However, it wasn’t long before Jay started ‘going off the rails’. When she was 14, she was excluded from the school on the military base due to appalling behaviour. Attempts to have her ‘home schooled’ were only partly successful. Alcohol and drug abuse and sexual promiscuity were all part of the syndrome of self-destruction which emerged over the next 2-3 years.
Jay came to me for therapy because she was concerned her relationship with her current boyfriend was falling apart, largely due to her own inability to handle her emotions.
I found Jay quite a challenge – primarily because she was both fairly inarticulate and in many ways very niaive. Although she had had a difficult life, it had been a relatively-sheltered one – living in the military community on several US bases around the world. I estimated her emotional intelligence to be about the norm for a 14-year-old.
Initially I found it hard to meta-model Jay because she lacked the linguistic concepts to express herself sufficiently. Consequently I had to presume more and be more directive in the exploratory part of the therapeutic process.
As with so many of my clients, I found that much of the ‘damage’ to Jay had been done in her pre-pubescent years.
Her parents’ marriage had been shakey for years and they had argued frequently in front of her – sometimes violently. There had been a couple of short separations and both had had affairs. This lack of security clearly unsettled Jay’s PURPLE vMEME. Who did she belong to that she could feel safe with?
Like many children she tended to assume that her parent’s marital problems were somehow to do with her and that somehow she wasn’t good enough for them. Not only was Jay’s PURPLE unsettled but her RED vMEME seemed malformed, characterised by low self-esteem and self-worth. It seemed strong enough in its displays of assertion, however, but they were primarily centred on reacting against disapproval. (Clearly this had had a lot to do with the disruptive behaviour which had led to her being excluded from school.)
One thing which I think that helped to create rapport between Jay and myself was my reaction to her confessions of periodic impulsive sexual promiscuity. Clearly Jay expected disapproval; but I didn’t disapprove. (At least not openly!) Instead I searched for the underpinning drivers and came to the conclusion that Jay had a high level of the temperamental dimension of Psychoticism for a woman – her sheer impulsiveness and high sex drive being the clues. Allied with RED’s craving for excitement, these had led Jay into one-night stands from time to time, some of which her boyfriend had found out about and, as a result, threatened to end the relationship.
Since she desperately wanted to keep her boyfriend, Jay agreed with me that the consequences of her infidelities were not acceptable and, therefore, she needed to change. However, her RED clearly didn’t want to sacrifice what was seen as a route to the pleasures of sexual excitement. So I put it to her that she needed a 2-pronged strategy:-
- To seek means of making sex with her boyfriend more exciting – such as trying out different positions and techniques and/or making love in different places – (though being careful not to get themselves arrested if it was outdoors!)
- To understand the compulsive nature of Psychoticism and set up anchors which would enable her to stop and reality-check when she started to feel herself getting carried away. Jay accepted these 2 points and I used Classical Conditioning to set up some basic anchors to get her started on managing her Psychoticism.
Being helped to manage her unhelpful disposition and encouraged to find ways to express herself positively, rather than receiving disapproval, made Jay much more receptive both to me as a therapist and the therapy as a process.
Childhood hurts and insecurities
The next stage was to deal with her damaged PURPLE and RED vMEMES.
With a little cautious prompting, Jay eventually crystallised her core belief about herself as: “I’m not good enough”.
However, try as she might, Jay could not identify who had instilled the first formation of this belief in her.
Accordingly, I used the concept of an unknown person as the first implanter of “I’m not good enough” when conducting Penny Parks’ Mistaken Belief Visualisation (1994) with her. Again, Jay’s linguistic and conceptual limitations meant that I had to adapt the exercise significantly – not least in using the room they were in now as the only place in which Jay could feel safe!
We were partway through the action of giving the unhealthy belief back to the unknown person when Jay suddenly started from her light trance, shouted out: “It was my fucking mother! Fuck!” – and then burst into floods of tears.
Over the next quarter of an hour, Jay alternated between sobbing inconsolably and telling me about things her mother had done and said to her – memories she had repressed for years.
After this cathartic release, Jay was able to continue with the Mistaken Belief Visualisation and created a new belief of “I can do it!” for herself.
At the end of the exercise, she was clearly shaken and still quite tearful; but a genuine smile glowed on her lips in place of the uptight sneer with which she had first greeted me.
A growth in cognitive development?
Psychology as a science has yet to understand fully how cognitive and emotional development affect each other in an individual’s psyche. But the emotional release Jay underwent through the Mistaken Belief Visualisation also seemed to stimulate some changes in cognitive functioning.
For the next half-hour, to my surprise, I found himself on the receiving end of a stream of questions about how to treat her mother from now on, Jay’s education and career options, handling her relationship with her boyfriend, who was pressurising her to become a military man’s wife, and his over-critical parents who had told him in front of her that she wasn’t good enough for him, etc. At the end of this discussion, Jay declared herself less worried about her relationship with her boyfriend and more willing to assert herself with him and stand up for what she wanted. Clearly a growth in self-esteem!
I gave her a set of affirmations to perform on a daily basis to stimulate healthy RED and grow more self-esteem. As she left, happy and smiling, Jay complained of a headache. I suggested to her, that the head aching might be the result of the restructuring of some neural networks as a result of the therapy – an indication of how deep and powerful the changes were that she had begun.