This article will introduce you to a new psycho-therapeutic model. The purpose of the model is to identify which of three emotional energetic states a person is in and then respond in the appropriate manner. The other benefit of this model is that it gives individuals a new emotional vocabulary.
This model has been developed by combining aspects of Reology and Network Spinal Analysis. Reology is a linguistic model that helps people realize and remember that they are continuously making up meaning of all that they experience. When people realize this they become empowered and less attached to prior ways of making meaning—their stories.
Network Spinal Analysis, developed by Donny Epstein, is a method for freeing up bound and unbound energy in the nervous system. This helps people reduce their defense physiology, which leads to higher energy states and greater resilience.
The 3 Emotional Energetic States
The key to this model is recognizing the three different emotional energetic states and learning how to work with them. The three states are the Pond, River, and Ocean. Although these names—which are metaphors—may seem unusual in a therapeutic setting, part of the purpose is to avoid labeling people as depressed, anxious, manic, compulsive, dissociated . . . or any of the myriad labels used in our profession.
By using the metaphors of Pond, River, Ocean (PRO), we eliminate all judgment that typically accompanies therapeutic labels. The point to the PRO model is that there is nothing good or bad about these terms or emotional states. They are distinct, but not better or worse. The ultimate goal is to help people identify which state they are in and how to move fluidly from one state to another.
The Pond is an emotional energy state of feeling stuck and helpless. When in this state people try to avoid the depths of their feelings because they imagine that they will suffer more if they allow themselves to feel. To avoid their feelings they disconnect from certain aspects of themselves. They distract themselves from their pain and suffering. Or, they inappropriately express their pain and suffering in ways that cause more of the same.
The solution to being in the Pond is to be in the Pond. In other words, we must help the person acknowledge how they feel—but in a particular way. When an individual takes the time to fully acknowledge that they are in the Pond, they will move fairly quickly out of the Pond. We can help people in the Pond by having them use the following linguistic structure to express their feelings, because this allows them to recognize that their feelings are temporary.
Sometimes I feel miserable.
Sometimes I feel so disconnected.
Sometimes I don’t know what to do.
The River is an emotional energy state of feeling energized, taking action, and moving toward a destination. When in this state people are actualizing their values—the things they care about. They’re proactive and they associate with other people who share their passions. They are outcome oriented. Nevertheless, they still have feelings—some positive, some negative.
When people are in the River the key is to help them express their feelings in such a way that they recognize themselves as the locus of control in their lives. In other words, they understand that they alone are responsible for how they feel. And if a person blames other people for how he or she feels, the one doing the blaming is likely to slip back into the Pond . So, when in the River, we can best help people express their feelings by teaching them to use the following linguistic structure (known as ReSpeak):
I delight myself.
I frustrate myself.
I disappoint myself.
I make myself happy or unhappy.
And when in the River, if someone is not talking about their feelings, but rather speaking about problems or life challenges, encourage them to find the opportunity, learning or gift in the situation. For example, when dealing with a difficult life circumstance coach them to ask the following kind of questions:
How can I resolve this situation?
How do I make the best of this relationship?
What meaning do I choose to make of what’s happening around me?
The Ocean is an emotional energy state of expansiveness. When in this state people expand beyond their personal concerns, needs, or desires. They shift from an orientation of “doing” to one of “being.” One might think it is desirable to be in this state all the time, but there is a time for “doing” and a time for “being.” Often, when people are stuck in the Pond, all they want to do is get to the Ocean. But it’s imperative to help them become comfortable spending time in the River. Moving directly from the Pond to the Ocean might be equated with spiritual by-passing, or forgiving people prematurely. These are ways that people make themselves comfortable, but at the expense of their own personal growth.
When people are in the Ocean they are typically in a state of gratitude, appreciation and humor. They are more comfortable with the paradoxes that life presents because they no longer use the dualistic frame that things are “good” or “bad.” The speech patterns we hear when people are in the Ocean sound like the following:
How can I express my gratitude in all of my actions?
What are the gifts I bring to this situation or relationship?
How can I best make a contribution?
This model requires people to shift their language patterns depending on what emotional energetic state they’re in. When someone is in the River and we ask them, “How did so and so make you feel?” we are unintentionally inviting them into the Pond by suggesting that other people determine how they feel. When someone is in the Pond and we ask them, prematurely, to take responsibility for themselves, we are not giving sufficient attention to their feelings of helplessness.
This model is useful in psychotherapy, but also useful as a tool for parenting and as a leadership tool. In parenting situations this model helps children begin to identify—in a fun way—their emotional state. It also provides parents with guidance in terms of what questions to ask their children depending on what state their child is in.
In leadership, this model is helpful because good leaders need to be able to identify the emotional state of their employees and deliver messages in different ways so that it is easier for the employee to hear. Most leaders discourage employees or managers from being in the Pond, but what they don’t realize is that this forces hurt feelings and misunderstandings to go underground—only to reemerge when least expected.
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