The Negative of 1

Negative of 1 - (c) 2014 William Kannberg


What’s so wrong about being by myself?  

Some clients speak of being alone as an earned reward.  The freedom of being on their own allows them power to direct their time without the encumbrance of compromise.  I nod and agree.  Being alone brings freedom and self-direction.

I also know that being alone can be a choice that is a not about freedom, but about enclosure and self-destruction.  For those who embrace and support the splendor of being alone, but find themselves looking for answers in therapy, the rest of their story is not so nice.

The real part of their story is the reason for our meeting.  It is the negative of 1.

There is nothing wrong with being alone.  There is a freedom to self-direction without the compromise of others.  But if the state of being alone is the majority of someone’s time it can be detriment and destruction, not freedom.

Often in life we point to the negative and try to repaint it in better light, to embrace it, to encourage others to accept our choice as willing and positive.  But this is a cover, a form of fantasy lock.  We are not designed to thrive as 1, alone.  This state of aloneness, when it represents the majority of our time, is psychologically detrimental and physically destructive.

It is not easy to admit the absence of close friends and confidants in our lives.  When asked to list best friends, allies trusted with secrets, or people in our lives who would come to aid us in crisis, clients who celebrate the power of alone attest they don’t need these relationships, they are better off alone.  This is untrue.

It seems that through some mechanism we do not yet know, our mental and physical health are correlated to the fabric strength of our social interactions.  Remove the social interactions and the health of an individual deteriorates in many circumstances.

Long-term studies of populations demonstrate that those with strong interactions and attachments within communities identify themselves as happier and healthier.  Further, in a study of persons with cancer, those with strong support from social structures, family members, or communities of like-affliction, lived longer and healthier lives.

For clients in a consistent state of aloneness the corrective action is demonstrating that there are others like them, sharing the same displeasure of being alone, and not knowing what to do.  The solution is to find attachment in a community of similar others, whether that be a club, organization, hobby, or activity group.  For clients with addictions, this aloneness is correctable with participation in groups like Alcoholics Anonymous, where attachments are formed with others who previously found themselves alone and suffering.

Being alone is a choice, not an inevitable state.  There is a community and social structure for every person.  Find the one that is right for you.  Make a choice not to be alone.


The Constant and the Variables


Constant and the VariableWhy does this keep happening to me? 

I carefully listen as a client will tell the same story over and again.  The people and locations are variable, but the themes and core of the story are constant.  No matter what the variable, the outcome of the stories does not change.  Many people cannot hear the similarities in these stories because they are not capable of hearing them.  They have programmed themselves to repeat them, to ignore the reality and reason behind their plight.  They want to stop the unpleasant outcome, but not the pattern and experience of living their story.

How do you stop a pattern of repeating hurt?  The answer starts with statistics.

In statistics there are constants and variables.  To understand the effect that one thing has on others, one part of the study must remain the same, the constant.  Variables are applied to the constant to see how it responds to the change.  Is the outcome different when you add a color, an emotional catalyst, chemical, situation, emotion, or life-changing choice?

The part of our brain that controls these events is not able to see bigger pictures of cause and effect.  Its purpose is to repeat a pattern until the outcome expected differs.  It does not matter how often the pattern repeats, it is the hope that the result will change that drives the need for repetition.  This behavior can be visualized by observing a toddler interacting with a toy of shapes and patterns.  This toy is a raised bench with different patterns of holes cut into the surface.  The challenge is to take the three-dimensional shapes and determine where a piece fits into the same shape cut into the surface.  A toddler, not understanding the cause and effect of their shape matching, could repeatedly attempt to put a square piece into a round surface cutout, hoping that the outcome will differ if enough attempts are made.  This behavior is doomed to fail because without a new variable the outcome is the same.  The same behavior can occur with adults who repeat similar patterns in relationships or life-changing choices.  Adults may move to a new town, get a new job, have new friends, but find themselves with problems and unwanted outcomes similar to those in previous towns.

To move past these behaviors and change the outcome, clients have to identify the patterns they repeat, and why the experience of repeating the pattern is important to them.  Unwinding the repeating pattern starts with identifying the constant and the variables.  If a person finds themselves in an abusive relationship in four of the last five cities they have lived, but they point to their bad relationship luck, geography, or inability to find a good partner, I ask what thing is the same in all of their experiences?  Often the response is a description of the bad behaviors of the partners they met.  This is incorrect.  The constant in these experiences is my client.  If no matter where they go, who they meet, or how they act in a new relationship results is an abusive relationship, then they alone are responsible for the result.

Understanding the source of their problem requires carefully stepping through each experience in detail.  With each retelling of the events, we separate the variables from the consistent choices, and when the stories are complete and the steps defined, the evidence and facts are clear.  No matter where, what, or when the experience occurs, the only constant is the person at the center for whom these patterns repeat no matter what the variables.

When someone understands that they are the source of these outcomes, they can begin the work of understanding why they have a need to repeat these patterns.  For addicts it can be their fear of the future, or the feeling that their life is a failure.  For others it can be as simple as trying to change the course of a pattern created when they were young.  For many people with these issues the cause are emotions from long past, in some cases more than half a lifetime ago.  These emotions are as fresh, powerful and influential on their behavior as something they felt an hour earlier.  When emotions drive behaviors like these, the pattern repeated is most often their need to try to change the emotional outcome they experienced long ago.  If they succeed in changing the outcome, they succeed in changing the foundation of a part of their life that has brought them confusion, pain and difficulty.  Finding the past events that create the need to repeat these negative patterns is the most important step toward resolving the issues.  Moving the square shape, to the square hole, and successfully completing the task, means that they are now free to move on and leave behind this challenge and its repetitive emotional pattern.


I Created You

I Created YouClients often ask how did they get to this point in their lives.

The answer?  I created you.

The choices you make create the world around you.  No one else can make these choices but you.  No one else can push you into directions you did not accept, down paths you did not choose.  For clients in crisis the answer to their question is not something they want to hear.  They want to think that someone else created this situation.  Someone else caused them to take up drinking.  Something else possessed them to corrupt their marriage, partnership, business, or relationship with their children or parents.

The answer to their question is always the same.  They created this situation, on their own, and by their choice.

This answer is not something a person in therapy often wants to hear.  Frequently the response to this feedback is to rebuke the entire concept of choice with emphatic statements like “why would I do that to myself?” or “do you think I want to live like this?” or “do you think I ruined my marriage on purpose?”  The answer is clear.  Everything they have done, every choice made, created their world as it is at that very moment, no matter how awful or difficult.

It is only when the concepts of choice and world-creation are heard and accepted that the therapeutic process can pivot from how did they get to this place, to how can they change their world through better choices.  And, as the process progresses, people come to understand another critical foundation of healing, –the reasons why they make these choices.  These reasons are the foundation to recognizing the triggers and motivations that cause people to create worlds they no longer want.

We constantly alter the world around us through the choices we make.  We accept or reject inquires, options, people, information, direction, emotion, contact, drugs, advise, alcohol, sex, love, and affection.  This is by no means a full listing of choices, but they are some of the common elements most likely to alter the world people create.  Think about the day you met a long-term partner, spouse, or close friend.  Now consider the choices you made that day that led to your first meeting this person.  Now consider in your mind a single change to that day leading to your meeting.  How would that affect your life now had that single change been made?  How would it be different?  Now multiply this example of a single choice by thousands, and consider the power of how the choices you make shape everything around you.

The choices you make not only create your world; they create the people around you.  Your choices define the behaviors of others.  Choices you make signal and define who you are, what you are about, how you work, love, worship, and define as acceptable.  People accept or reject these signals and definitions, and are either attracted or repelled.  This creates a redefining orbit, where we gain or lose people and definitions in a way similar to how atomic structures are formed.  Change an orbiting molecule and not only do you change the structure of the atom, you change the definition of the particle.  As we are joined or left by others, the structure of who we are changes, as do the people in our orbit.  Who you add or take away changes the nature of your atomic structure, and those in your orbit.

When clients realize the power of their choices, and accept responsibility for the choices they made in the past, they can take back their lives through new choices.  With an understanding of how they came to be in this current place, and what drives their choices, they can begin to utilize their personal power to change their world and create healthier environments and pathways to a fulfilling and happier life.

Choices create the world around you.

What kind of world did you create?