Curiosity is the Key
These are notes I took from Monday night’s session of The Self-Acceptance Project presented by Sounds True. It’s not a word-for-word transcription, but it will give you the basics. It’s still online and free, so check it out.
In this episode, Tami speaks with Dr. Harville Hendrix, the creator of Imago Relationship Therapy. Dr. Hendrix is the author of the classic book Getting the Love You Want.
I have never read any of Dr. Hendrix’s books, so I’m not as familiar with the concepts he discusses. It was very interesting to listen to him. In some ways, he sounded very behavioral, talking about gathering data and letting the data change your beliefs about yourself. In other ways, he sounded psychodynamic, talking about excavating the self and looking back into your childhood to see where self-limiting beliefs may have originated.
My notes are in order of what he said, but they don’t seem as organized as those I took while listening to Kristen Neff, Ph.D. (click her for those, Compassion and the Self-Critic.) I may come back to this and try to develop this better, but for now I just wanted to get them out there (and not be perfectionistic!).
The important thing is to think about is what function the negativity serves, and to process that information. Everything we think and do serves a function in our psychic economy. He believes there is some sort of causality in whatever we do. He gave an example of a graduate student who was working on a dissertation. The dissertation was actually finished and the person had received positive feedback from people on his dissertation committee. It is ready to turn in (and has been for months) but the person waits and keeps saying it’s not good enough. The self put down, the statement of it’s not good enough, prevents the person from experiencing any relational transaction with the professor in which his fears might come true. He is fearing the possibility of negative judgment. Now where does the self put down come from? Usually people can trace it to something early in their lives. Ask yourself other questions such as “What is it related to?” or “What is it protecting your from?”
The second thing is to move out of the limbic system of the brain—the part of the brain where we are always looking for bad stuff to happen. There is a neurochemical response in which cortisol is released and permeates the sensory system. This makes you feel like you’re in a dangerous state. We have to move out of that system and accumulate data and assimilate the data that is not congruent with your beliefs. He said that positive affirmations never helped him. The data helped him.
Positive affirmations never helped me. The data helped me.
He also said there is a connection between the quality of our relationships and how we treat ourselves. He said reality is relationship. Reality is connection. If we don’t have a sense of safety in our relationships it’s very difficult to have internal safety.
He also talked about the power of ambivalence. He said when we are in the state of ambivalence our brain doesn’t know what to do. When it’s not engaged in a directed activity, it gets anxious. So ambivalence feeds on itself. When we move from the state of ambivalence to commitment, our brain knows that it has to go to work. If you want to grow you have to become intentional. You have to get on the train and then the brain engages. You collect data and then sort the data. The ambivalence protects the person from some fearful imagined outcome.
He talked about letting love in and rejecting compliments:
1. If I let in the compliment that I did well in, it will establish expectations that I will always do well, and that will be too taxing.
2. People are always insincere.
3. If I let love in, it will cause me to have to release the architecture of my self-concept.
Again, you have to understand where the defense comes from, and then collect data over and over again in small amounts until you can’t deny the evidence anymore. At some point this will release the defense.
When we change our self-configuration, we have to be open to being a “bigger” person. This opening up can create anxiety.
In neuroscience terms, the brain likes to know what is coming next. If we let love in, we have to be willing to live in mystery. When we are aware of our connection with the rich tapestry of life, we live in joy. When we are not living in joy, something has triggered our anxiety and makes us experience ourselves as separate.