Convictions are more dangerous enemies of truth than lies.
There is plenty of unavoidable suffering in life. You will get your fair share, and if there is nothing you can do about you will have to accept it. But suppose you don't want to accept it? The alternative to acceptance is problem solving, which is a good choice if you control the relevant variables, otherwise it is pointless.
The automatic reaction to pain or perceived failure is shifting from the associative perspective of the performer to the dissociative perspective of the observer or problem-solver to seek a solution. But if there is no solution, what started out as a dispassionate attempt at finding a solution to a problem, degenerates into Ruminative Self-Focus.
Both adaptive problem-solving and maladaptive RSF involve a shift from the associative perspective of the actor to the dissociative perspective of an observer. Whether the problem-solving effort is adaptive or maladaptive depends upon the attributes of the observer. Which perspective do you think will promote maladaptive RSF? A dispassionate, non-judgmental observer who is loyal to the truth and to good outcome for you. or a harsh critic with relentless standards who seeks to point out your character flaws. In fact, because of the correlation between harsh, self-critical ruminations and Emotional Disorders, meditation is often recommended to help neurotics "get out of their head" and back into experiencing the here and now [the Associative Perspective]. An alternative strategy is to try on different dissociative perspectives and observe how they influence your emotional state.
Different perspectives induce different subjective realities
The dissociative perspective is not necessarily harmful. When the persona of the observer is not shame-inducing, but instead a rational entity who is aware of your core values and motives, seeks to understand and apply the cause-and-effect principles that operate in your subjective universe, and has unconditional positive regard for you, the shift to the dissociative perspective of the observer is beneficial.
Thought Experiment: Try On Helpful PerspectivesConsider a situation in which you typically experience symptoms. Shift into the persona of a dispassionate, helpful observer [see examples below]. How does the situation look from this perspective? How would you recommend the actor respond?
- Yourself 5 years from now looking back on your current situation.
- Your guardian angel observing your current situation.
- A wise and kindly guide, teacher, or collaborator, who is helping you through this heroic passage.
The old perspectives and ways of reacting are so well practiced that they have become automatic. Our goal is to practice shifting from being part of the sequence of cause and effect to stepping outside the sequence so you can purposely change your perspective, and hence your emotional reactions. The enhanced mindfulness that emerges from practicing this shift in perspective will free you from knee-jerk emotional reactions so you can respond to the things that happen in ways you consider to be most advantageous.
Thought Experiment: Practice the A2D Shift
See if you can follow this training protocol: At least once per day shift from the associative perspective of the actor to the dissociative perspective of a dispassionate observer. Consider a problem, decision, your current circumstance, or the day ahead from this new perspective. What insights and suggestions come to you? To structure this activity you can use the 4-column data sheet provided click here to print it.
Your developmental history as seen from different perspectives:
Thought Experiment: Reminiscence
Consider an experience from your childhood. Remember how you experienced it as a child and contrast that with how you experience that imagery now from your adult perspective.
Note regarding traumatic events: Children who were abused often feel that they were bad and deserved the abuse. However, as an adult viewing a parent abusing a child, it is obvious that the abuser, not the child, was the bad one. Children are bound by the laws of cause-and-effect to act as they do; children are innocent and responsible for the bad things that happened to them.
Now take the perspective of a developmental psychologist who is interested in how your early experiences influenced this child's development. From this clinical perspective, consider your psychological history and the pathogenic beliefs and reactions patterns that were conditioned into you by your particular history. What hypotheses might the psychologist consider? What might the psychologist suggest you do considering the realities of your past?
Experiencing your symptoms from a dissociative perspective:
Thought Experiment: Rating Symptoms
How long does a panic attack last? It seems to last forever. Intellectually, you understand that anxiety, anger, and other subjective phenomena have finite, often brief, life spans. Nevertheless, to the creature you inhabit, experience is absolute and seemingly permanent. The next time you experience a strong emotional state, see if you can rate the intensity of the discomfort [or desire for relief] on the Subjective Units of Discomfort Scale [SUDS], which ranges from 0, or no discomfort, to 100, the most intense discomfort you have experienced in your life.
Note: When you are experiencing the discomfort you will be in your normal associative perspective of experiencing the here and now. See if you can shift to the dissociative perspective of the interested but dispassionate observer, and rate the SUDS from that perspective.What do you observe?
Shift your perspective during a crisis
During this series of thought experiments you have had the chance to practice shifting from the associative perspective of the actor to the dissociative perspective of the dispassionate observer. A useful by-product of this practice is the appreciation that your perceptions, motivations, and appraisals are temporary creations of your nervous system rather than permanent features of objective reality. This Meta-Cognitive Awareness can be useful to you during a crisis, if only you could access it.
Thought Experiment: Pull Up Into Adult During a Crisis
- Recognize opportunity to dissociate — for example, "I am experiencing that familiar negative emotional state that tips me off that I am following an autonomous path to self-sabotage. Now is the time to pull up into a dispassionate, adult perspective and reconsider my options."
- Purposely shift into the intended perspective — e.g., the dispassionate observer who has unconditional positive regard for you and wants you to act in accord with your interests and principles.
- Observe the current circumstance from that perspective.
- From this perspective how do you appraise the options available to you?
- Given the above, what is the best use of your attention right now?
- Return to the associative perspective with these insights and the intention to follow your path of greatest advantage.
Perspectivism: The Solution to Shame
People often cringe when they think back on their reactions to an emotionally provocative situation. From my perspective as a psychologist, it seems foolish to be mad at or shame the self for those reactions. The creature you inhabit is determined by biological, psychological, and social principles of cause-and-effect to react as it does.
Dictionary.com defines "shame" as: "The painful feeling arising from the consciousness of something dishonorable, improper, ridiculous, etc., done by oneself or another."
Judging whether or not an action is dishonorable, improper, ridiculous, etc. requires a perspective. As Nietzsche points out, no perspective is completely valid, but some are self-defeating. Among the most tragic of these is the self-critical, shaming perspective.
Like the perspective for a photograph, you have to choose one even though there is not a most valid or correct one. So the basis of selection is which produces the best outcome. Shame and Ruminative Self-focus use up the cognitive resources needed for good problem solving and so are not good choices. I recommend choosing a perspective that has unconditional positive regard for you and is loyal to your core values and motivation.
The methodology of hypnosis provides a fast and potent method to influence phenomena by working with the perceiver's perspective.