DRMacIver's Notebook

Heading towards the ouch

Heading towards the ouch

Here’s an interesting therapeutic technique that I’ve synthesized out of various practices. It’s not exactly a safe practice, but I do think it’s a useful one. I deployed a bit of it earlier in a coaching session (after extensive checking in with the client that this was really what they wanted me to do, including asking “This is going to require me to be an asshole to you. Are you sure you want me to do that?”), but I haven’t quite got a handle on how to facilitate it for someone else yet because I don’t generally do it for other people.

The technique is as follows:

  1. Say something that you don’t want to say (or possibly think it clearly. Saying it out loud is supposed to work better, but I sometimes find the opposite).
  2. Does it hurt? Good. Identify why it hurts.
  3. Take the part that hurts and say something new based on it. If that hurts more, switch to that as your new starting point. If not, stick with the current one.
  4. Keep doing this until you run out of “improvements” or it gets too much and you need to stop.
  5. Use wherever you’ve ended up as a prompt for introspection. Explain why it feels so bad, in depth, what you’re worried about, evaluate whether the statement is actually true, etc.

For example, such a sequence for me might look like:

  1. I should get a real job.
  2. I’m just kidding myself about being able to make writing work as a career.
  3. I’m not going to see it through anyway.
  4. I’ll just quit as soon as it gets too difficult.

I don’t think this is necessarily true (I sure hope it’s not!), but there’s definitely some part of me that believes that, and I can notice a real physical discomfort increasing as I move down the list. I really don’t like the last entry at all.

This is roughly a shadow work / Focusing hybrid. It’s designed to help you uncover emotionally painful beliefs that you’re trying to ignore. Generally these sorts of statements don’t hurt unless some part of you believes on some level that they are true, and this process gets you to a point where you have identified a specific acutely painful belief to interrogate (and ideally do something like coherence therapy to to defuse it, if indeed that belief is false. See e.g. Emotional reactions as legacy code).

It’s also, I think, probably quite a good tool for learning Focusing because of how unsubtle it is. This is not staying with a fuzzy unclear feeling until it makes sense, this is confronting you with exactly what a felt sense dialled up to 11 is like. It’s oddly similar to the strategy I outlined in Start from amazing, in that it dials up the feelings until they can be clearly identified so you know what to look for, rather than leaving you in a fuzzy in between space where you’re not sure if anything is going on there or not.