If there is a soul, what is that really? The term “soul” is usually monopolized by religions and implies an existence after death. In psychology, we use the word “Self”, that what we identify with as a whole. But are they different from each other, or do they mean one and the same?
The psychotherapeutic school of thought Internal Family Systems therapy is shining a new light on this question. The theory surmises that we all consist of a number of parts, as in “a part of me wants this” and “a part of me wants that”. Some of these parts carry a lot of feeling, and others are very detached and intellectual. Some see the world for what is is, and others want it to be different.
Very often, several of these parts are in conflict. That is what gets us into trouble. One part knows that it’s dangerous to eat that extra slice of pizza, but the other needs some comfort food and will try to overpower the first one. Then there’s another part that judges you for even being weak, and off we go into a merry-go-round of internal struggle.
And we go on and carry that internal tension into the world and cause more conflict with others who we then blame for whatever we can in order to get rid of the pain.
So it is important to sort out all the conflict we carry around inside to avoid misplacing it onto other people.
Many times, there are lots of parts involved in an epic internal battle for control and in an attempt to avoid pain. IFS theory, which was created by the psychologist Richard Schwartz, states as one of its goal to get all the parts to coexist in harmony with each other. If they all rally behind you, they play like an orchestra in tune with its conductor.
So there is the big question, who then conducts the cacophony of parts? It is the Self who is behind it all. The Self as it is is already calm and peaceful, deliberate and …
Here’s what’s wrong with the seemingly endless and yet so fascinating lists of things that are either good for you or bad for you: They give me anxiety. Here’s this list about the 7 most compelling books I should read. And then there’s the one with the 10 most delicious dessert recipes without sugar. Even news organization now publish a daily list of “5 things to know for your new day”, covering everything from winter weather to the fighting in Ukraine.
Every day I am bombarded with – probably even quite useful – information about all the things I am supposed to do better. The problem is: it’s too much.
Don’t get me wrong: I too am frequently drawn to articles headlined “5 Ways To Increase your Mental Strength” or “6 Breathing Techniques That Help You Fall Asleep”. I have read many fine articles by equally fine writers that contain helpful information about anything from healthy foods to why smiling is good for you. I even wrote an article some years ago about “5 Dating Tips for Introverts”.
The problem is: it doesn’t stick. I love reading what I could do to lose those five pounds or to make my brain stop forgetting random pieces of information. I go down the lists, thinking: yep, I know that already. Oh, that’s actually interesting. Wait, I haven’t thought of that one before.
But as soon as I click on another article I have already forgotten what 5-item-list I just read. The lists are a great seduction to lure us into the kind of bite-size infotainment that makes us believe we learn something new. But the brain doesn’t learn from reading 50 different things in as short a time as possible. It learns by repeating the same things over and over.
Some people say it takes 17 repetitions – for example to learn a new word in a foreign language, or get the hang of a new habit. Bestselling author Malcolm Gladwell talks about 10,000 hours of practice to attain mastery, and how even geniuses like the Beatles had to practice in order to become …
Last night was one of those nights again. I woke up in the wee hours of the morning – maybe it was 3am, maybe it was 5am, I don’t know. I felt sad and uncomfortable. Something wasn’t right. What was it this time? Sometimes I wake up at night and I worry that I don’t have enough friends. Other times I am afraid I won’t have enough money in the long run to live the life I want to live.
Last night I felt concerned about one of the clients in my care who had arrived at an impasse. Was there something I hadn’t done for her? Was she mad about an intervention I had made? Did I not live up to my responsibilities?
As usual I started doing what I learned works best in these situations. I start to comfort that part of me that is afraid. I tell myself that everything will be all right. Like a child on my lap that is inconsolable, I tell myself that it’s ok. That there’s nothing to worry about.
It usually helps. Most of the time, I fall back asleep.
In the past I tried to push away the fears. As soon as I realized that I was anguished, I would repress the fear. No, it’s insubstantial. Nope, I don’t want to think about that. No way is this something I want to deal with right now
It backfired. Every time I dismissed my own fears, they would come back with a vengeance. I kept waking up, having the same concerns. Or I wouldn’t be able to fall back asleep. I felt worn out, tossing from side to side, starved for warmth and attention – from myself.
Until I finally started to realize that I have to actually do what I tell my clients: walk towards the fear. Look at it. Embrace it. Rock it side to side. Don’t repress it. It will get worse.
Millions and millions of people lie awake at night, worrying about their loved ones, about their mortality, about their future. You are not alone. Whenever your mind is in the grip …
Breath is the source of life. Ancient yogis have built much of their wisdom on how to utilize breathing not just as a spiritual practice, but also a means to enhance physical and emotional well being.
“Take a deep breath” has become a ubiquitous formula to meet many challenges: it’s a popular – and effective – go-to remedy to calm yourself down, to handle the anticipation of bad news or to get ready and take a dive. Breathing techniques are a common tool to contain pain, most frequently in child birth. But what may seem to some like new age advice to avoid more heavy duty solutions is actually based on hard science.
Deep, slow breathing has been proven to increase oxygen flow in the bloodstream, which in turn triggers the relaxation response. What is usually meant is abdominal breathing, where the inhale is focused on the abdominal area rather than the chest and shoulders.
A recent article in the Wall Street Journal praised the benefits of deep breathing and its potential benefits for multiple conditions, starting with stress reduction and anxiety, and improving physical conditions like inflammation, high blood pressure, headaches, irritable bowel syndrome, heart health and the entire immune system.
Most techniques focus on deep breathing versus shallow breathing. Shallow breathing is usually associated with stress – the fight or flight trigger. Howard Kent, founder of the Yoga for Health organization and author of the book Yoga Made Easy, states that, “One of the most common problems in our society is shallow breathing. The process that we call hyperventilation can be a response to many challenges: emotional, environmental, and physical. As a result of these challenges, there is a tendency to take small breaths — a sign of unease with life — using only a small upper part of the lungs.”
Taking the time to redirect the attention to the automatic and effortless dynamic of the breath is a soothing and easy way to calm yourself in a self directed manner. No experts or pharmaceutical help necessary.
Another set of breathing exercises come via the …
After one and a half years, I am retiring my blog about introverts, shy people and all kinds of Gentle Selves, and turn to the new and exciting field of the science of consciousness. It has been an honor to serve all readers who shared my interest, and I want to encourage all the check out my new blog Mind Matters – Neuroscience and Consciousness.
Woman behind shutter image available from Shutterstock.
Introverts and shy people all over rejoice: there is nothing wrong with you. There is nothing wrong with needing space and quiet, and preferring a low key dinner with a good friend to a loud and extravagant party.
There is nothing wrong with needing time to retreat from the world and recharge your internal batteries, or to feel overwhelmed by too much pressure or too much information.
I’m a latecomer to Susan Cain’s book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. It’s been out for a while, but that doesn’t make its message any less important.
One major point she makes is that introverts are thinkers and creators. “The glory of the disposition that stops to consider stimuli rather than rushing to engage with them is its long association with intellectual and artistic achievement”, science journalist Winifred Gallagher is quoted. He concludes that neither Einstein’s theory of relativity nor John Milton’s Paradise Lost was “dashed off by a party animal.”
Susan Cain adds more great achievements by venerable introverts: Isaac Newton’s theory of gravity, Chopin’s nocturnes, Charles Schulz’s Charlie Brown. Even techno revolutionaries like Google founder Sergey Brin or Facebook creator Marc Zuckerberg are included. The list goes on to include Al Gore, Warren Buffett, Rosa Parks and Mahatma Gandhi.
Many of us turn to the mind. We are called cerebral, innovative, brooding, creative. But also spiritual, psychologically minded, curious about the inner workings of all things. Endlessly fascinated by the wonders of nature, and inspired by the journey of discovery.
Of course, not all introverts end up famous. Many of us struggle with feelings of loneliness, fear of conflict, depression and low self esteem.
Many times, our negative self image goes back to the messages we received from our families and our culture. Extroverted children are deemed preferable to quiet ones by lots of parents, for fear that their kids will end up as outsiders or loners. The angst they are putting on their children ends up creating just that: youngers who feel bad about themselves …
Many people who come to enter codependent relationships with their teachers are–consciously or unconsciously–seeking to empower themselves by associating with a powerful figure. They project all the qualities they feel are lacking in themselves onto the teacher: perseverance, wisdom, enlightenment, strength, and so on. They become fixated on the belief that they can only develop these qualities the closer they are to the teacher.
Making the teacher their therapist, lover, or main confidante in their lives is seen as healing themselves from their sense of lack and inadequacy. Power is highly seductive in these constellations and easily becomes eroticized. The teacher is seen as the one who has the upper hand in all matters. But it is important to remind ourselves that she or he is not.
In her excellent article “Boundary Violations and the Abuse of Power,” psychoanalyst Andrea Celenza interprets the power relationship between analyst and analysand (which is applicable to the relationship between teacher and student) as rooted in three important basic conditions. She speaks of “the seductiveness of the analyst’s power,” which is derived from its setting: Here the seeker who wants something, there the teacher who has something to give.
It is the most fundamental power play a person can get into, because it mirrors the parental relationships. Secondly, there is the metaphorical nature of the power derived by the analytic/spiritual role, which is “to hold and penetrate.” And finally “power is sexy because it always was, i.e., because this is the way love was experienced in its first instantiation. We are born into a power relation, directing our first loving feelings toward those who have a temporal advantage, to those (parents or a parent) who have come before, so to speak. To be in a relationship with a person more powerful than oneself activates memories and expectations of love relationships structured around a power imbalance, of which the parent-child experience is the prototype.”
Empowerment is the key task of every teacher, if he or she is to work successfully with a student. But …
Love and care are at the heart of every functioning spiritual student-teacher relationship. It is almost never equally mutual or even palpable in overt ways, and it may never be acknowledged. It can come in many different forms and includes struggles and resistance. But the intensity of every significant bond that is forged in this arena implies by its nature the presence of affection and love.
Unfortunately, the nature of this love is often not understood. Students come to love their teachers for their compassion and wisdom, but will add transferential expectations of the past that distort their image of the teacher.
Teachers frequently underestimate the depth and nature of their students’ love, contribute to an unnecessary and inappropriate eroticization, and cause more suffering. The students end up feeling betrayed and exploited, and the damage done is difficult to heal.
The most harmful reason for teacher-student relationships gone awry is probably enacted sexual misconduct. Most of the time, such affairs involve a male teacher and a female student, although it does happen in different gender constellations as well. The psychological dynamics at work are idealization, regression, and psychological merger fantasies in both student and teacher.
One prevalent desire for many students, male or female, whether they have affairs with their teachers or not, is the wish to be special to the teacher.
A close relationship with an idealized authority figure makes the student special by affiliation. It almost doesn’t matter whether the relationship is physically sexual, non-physically eroticized, chronically flirtatious, or emotionally intimate on both sides. “When a woman makes any kind of compromise with inappropriate sexual expression from a man, she yields control over her own intimate boundaries and begins a dangerous collaboration that can lead to her victimization,” writes psychiatrist Peter Rutter in his book Sex in the Forbidden Zone.
He stresses that inappropriate conduct almost always precludes victimization, because it is typically the man who is in power: He has control over her psychological and spiritual well being. “The mere presence of sexual innuendo from a man who has …
In my previous post, I discussed the pitfalls of idealization and just how easy it is to put a seemingly highly evolved person on a pedestal. What often comes with idealization is a certain degree of regression, which means that the admirer goes back to a psychologically less mature place and looks up to the spiritual teacher from an almost childlike place. This is what puts the person in authority in such a powerful place.
Spiritual leaders, and people in the healing professions, must become especially familiar with how idealization and regression works in the minds of the vulnerable, and make every effort to show them their whole personality–“warts and all.”
The way to go about showing one’s true face as a teacher (or any other person in authority) is to slowly introduce the students to one’s less favorable sides, and to stop responding to, or even reject, their declarations of love and adoration.
Of course, it’s convenient to leave them in a state of admiration–the more flattery there is, the easier it is to actually buy into it. Who among us doesn’t want to believe just how great we are when met with flattery and adoration? But it won’t serve anybody in the long run. The more realistic the teacher can be about his or her own capabilities, the more realistic the student sees the world altogether.
This is how students move out of those vulnerable states of regression and childlike attachment, and progress towards a more mature way of relating to others that includes obstacles and conflict resolution rather than avoids it.
When this gradual erosion of idealization and infantile longings doesn’t take place and is disturbed or cut off by a traumatic rupture in the relationship, the student is in danger of continuing to search for the perfect teacher, or relationship, that will give what is expected. Even when there is not a big bang but just a disappointed, lukewarm drifting apart, the disillusionment can leave a mark.
A persistent hunger for love and validation may remain, which includes an inability or unwillingness to deal with the more frustrating realities of life. “We shrink rather than open our hearts when we become our teachers’ clones, puppets or wannabees,” writes Scott Edelstein in his book Sex and the Spiritual Teacher. “There is the delusion that someone who is wise, enlightened or spiritually advanced is …
The story of spiritual relationships going bad has been repeating itself in many ways in virtually every religion. We think about the sex abuse scandals in the Catholic church. Violent outbursts in cults like the Branch Davidians. And bitter disillusionment when a spiritual leader we turn to ends up not having our best interest at heart.
Eastern religions in America have not been spared. There have been sex scandals in Yoga centers all over the country, where self proclaimed gurus betrayed the trust of their students and exploited their position for their own personal or financial gain.
Buddhism in America too has had its controversies. This is what my new book Buddha Betrayed wants to explore. Teachers in Zen as well as other Buddhist schools of thought have been accused of sexual misconduct and boundary violations, mostly between male teachers and their female students.
Initially it involved teachers from India, Japan and other Asian countries who came to America, unfamiliar with the social conduct and flat hierarchical structures of this country, who ended up exploiting their students’ trust and their position of power. But there were many others who followed in their footsteps, and the psychological damage done can be traumatic.
My book is trying to explore what kind of pitfalls religious seekers must become aware of in their own minds, when they engage in a relationship with a spiritual teacher.
Perhaps the most prevalent and potentially harmful phenomenon is idealization. Often just the uniform of such a person – the robe, the foreign name, the shaved head – instills respect and awe. We want to believe that this teacher, who may have done spiritual work for many decades, has fully overcome all their shortcomings and imperfections and is now a fully mature and transcended being.
We expect them to have their live together. We want them to be kind and understanding at all times, and firm and decisive when needed. We want them to have psychological insight and give us spiritual guidance. In short, we want them to be perfect.
But the truth is that they are not. Spiritual teachers have developed …