There will always be parts of ourselves and associated behaviours that we don’t like. I know for I have them too. These parts trip us up. So yes, they can be really frustrating and annoying. Despite all the effort and all the trying they still block us. They sabotage us, prevent meaningful change and we find ourselves faced with internal resistance.
So what can help as we face this polarity between the part of us that wishes to change and the part entrenched and embedded in old patterns?
I suggest coming to this situation with non-judgemental curiosity. Perhaps even some humility. Recognising that this entrenched behavioural dynamic, this part that you struggle with, was at one point important and useful. It is well established precisely because it served you well. It may be true that it no longer serves you but, at some point it did and hence the resistance.
Working with compassion and a non-judgemental stance around such resistance often reveals that what is so hated, disliked and labelled as “bad” often served a useful function historically. It may have protected us in some way or kept us safe.
Recognising how our younger selves managed difficult situations and came up with creative solutions can be quite powerful. It allows us to move toward humility and compassion towards our younger self who did what was needed to keep us in life and support our growth.
It may be true that these creative solutions have now established themselves into behavioural patterns that are no longer helpful. However, at the time they were suitable. And now with the passing of time there is an invitation to change.
Holding this stance of kindness and compassion towards ourselves, in particular our younger selves can allow the process of change. We meet ourselves with love, not hate and a dialogue can be facilitated between the desire to change and the older entrenched part. As opposed to feeling stuck and frustrated we notice movement and the beginnings of change.
In my work I have repeatedly witnessed how working with resistance and including all parts of ourselves with love and compassion has been the first step to facilitating change. Working with that which we see as a block or impediment can be very rich, deeply rewarding and supportive in the counselling process.
Having suggested that psychosynthesis and constellations go hand in hand it is only fair that I tell you why I believe this is the case.
Psychosynthesis and constellations are both about radical inclusion. On a personal level we are all aware of the parts of ourselves we don't like. The lazy aspect of us that does not go to the gym or the inner critical voice. Psychosynthesis suggest we include them, be curious about them and see if we can engage in an inner dialogue with them. There is a charge in these parts, and so it is useful to pay attention to them. Similarly constellations insists that all parts of the system be included. So an irritating aunt or a difficult siblingare part of our system and need to be included.
Both psychosynthesis and constellations believe in potential. Internally psychosynthesis suggests that the difficult bits are a distorted manifestation of some qualities that are trying to emerge. So you inner critic that may leave you demoralised may be a form of protection, trying ensure you stay safe and asking you to be cautious. Similarly in constellations suggests the same. You may find yourself behaving in the same way one of your parents did. And this loyalty provides us with a wonderful opportunity to blame them. However this repeated pattern may potentially be a manifestation of the pure love we children feel for our parents. Dear mum or dad, I love you so much, I'll be just like you. And this love has a lot of potential if we are able to come to a healthier relationship to it.
For me however the most important similarity between psychosynthesis and constellations is their stance. A stance of deep humility. Both work with you and acknowledge your reality. It is not about making things fit some theory, but recognising your uniqueness. In the psychosynthesis world, counsellors refer to themselves as guides indicating that they may have some suggestions but ultimately you hold on your truth. Similarly constellations work is phenomenological. It insists on what is without overlaying with an artificial structure provided by theory.
So it makes sense to me why these two approaches, one that supports the individual and other that supports the individual in their systems. They go hand in hand.
I realise I have hit a snag. As I sit to write about psychosynthesis I can't help but introduce systemic family constellations (or constellations for short). Why? Because for me the two go hand in hand. And if I write biscuit sized pieces on psychosynthesis I can not but mention constellations.
So having briefly introduced psychosynthesis I find myself having to talk about constellations. Why, because whilst Psychosynthesis looks at the individual, Constellations looks at the whole.
Constellations, as developed by Bert Hellinger is a wonderful method to explore the individual within the whole. In today world we are so caught up with individualism that we forget that we are all embedded in systems. These systems may be our family, workplace, culture or heritage. Not just the personal, e.g. your family but also the professional and so your workplace is also a system you operate within. The whole within which we are embedded.
Why look at the system?
Often we can work hard on ourselves and despite our best efforts things don't change. Yes there is always more personal work that can be done, however it could be useful to zoom out and focus our curiosity on the system. This respectful and humble curiosity can reveal patterns that repeat generation after generation also referred to as transgenerational entanglements that get passed. Recent research seems to indicate that there is a biological dimension to this as well. (See guardian article)
How does it help to hold this holistic perspective?
What is honest and respectful of constellations is that it does not promise happy families or to make things better. The suggestion is that becoming aware of these dynamics we can come to a new and possibly more supportive relationship to them. What has happened, the past can not be undone. But how we choose to relate to, and be in relationship with the past can possibly release us and bring us to more nurturing and supportive place in relationship to others.
Systemic Family Constellations is deeply honest and respectful approach that allows us to see the bigger picture using the systemic lens. A lens that may possibly allow us to come into a more peaceful and nurturing stance with system (family) and it's members.
So as I share these bite sized biscuits I'll be drawing not only on psychosynthesis but also on constellations.
We all know about the unconscious. But we we need to thank Psychosynthesis for introducing us to the higher unconscious.
Sigmund Freud gave us the current popular understanding of the unconscious. He suggested that it was that dank, dark and mysterious part of the psyche where repressed and suppressed material goes to live. Stuff such as socially unacceptable ideas, wishes or desires, traumatic memories, and painful emotions.
However Roberto Assagioli, who created Psychosynthesis suggested that the difficult material we struggled to incorporate were not just drives and urges that were painful and socially unacceptable but also aesthetic experience, creative inspiration, and higher states of consciousness which we often repel and repress. This was the higher unconscious. As beautifully expressed in the poem by Marianne Williamson.
Our greatest fear is not that we are inadequate,
but that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness, that frightens us.
We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant,
gorgeous, handsome, talented and fabulous?
Actually, who are you not to be?
You are a child of God.
Your playing small does not serve the world.
There is nothing enlightened about shrinking
so that other people won't feel insecure around you.
We were born to make manifest the glory of God within us.
It is not just in some; it is in everyone.
And, as we let our own light shine, we consciously give
other people permission to do the same.
As we are liberated from our fear,
our presence automatically liberates others.
So holding the psychosynthetic frame, let us explore the unconscious for the richness that it holds.
The psychosynthetic stance not to instruct, but to approach issues with the curiosity around what potential seeks to emerge. It suggests that's below all your troubles there is a deep desire to move towards synthesis. I often noticed this with my clients who come to me in pain and confusion and are unable to see their courage. Yes courage. It takes a braver person to face and deal with their issues. This courage is the hidden potential. This is the movement towards healing. Who know what other qualities may potentially be seeking to be emerge. I find it deeply humbling framework to hold and support my clients on their journey.
Psychosynthesis is deeply respectful and works with the wisdom of your body, your emotional world and your mind. It is deeply compassionate and accepting, working with all aspects of yourself (all of you as opposed to just staying with the mind and analysing everything). It is radically inclusive in its approach, curious about what feelings go along with a subject, what sensations get provoked in your body and using your mind to make sense of it all.
So if you are talking about a charged subject and you notice you are feeling quite lost what might the sensations in your body be saying. If your foot is tapping furiously what is the impulse? Is it so scarper? If so do we need to acknowledge some fear?
Being fully present in the moment to all of you can reveal where you are with a given situation allowing you to better manage it.
There are many studies of the psyche. Not surprising, considering how vast the subject is! You have probably stumbled across CBT (cognitive behaviour therapy) which is offered on national health. However I want to tell you about psychosynthesis, a lesser known approach. Each approach has its own understanding of the psyche, however I believe that psychosynthesis is somewhat unique in what it has to offer. But then I would say that, as it resonates deeply with me and I trained in it.
My intentions is to share biscuit sized notes on psychosynthesis and my understanding of it. The subject is huge, and this is the only way I know to break it down. My hope is that by understanding psychosynthesis you may find some tools that help you navigate life.
I will try to write as simply as possible trying to avoid jargon. My hope is that average Joe (whom I am yet to meet, after we humans are all so unique!) is able to understand it. So watch this space for regular updates.
On this journey of life, what often gets overlooked and discarded is pausing to breath and really celebrating how far we have come. Yes our society does believe is celebrating, but often it is explicit, external and material successes. This has validity but when over-emphasised we loose sight of the much deeper and in my opinion powerful inner developments and changes within us that need to be recognised and celebrated.
In therapy or even in life the most challenging thing for people is to recognise their success and allow it to inform them. Often one is so identified with the “traumatised” or “wounded” part of ourself, that when change happens and new behaviours begin to establish themselves these are often dismissed as freak one off occurrences. Or we jump to the next “problem” or “issue “ that needs to be looked at, which often come out as a but statement; “I may have stood up for myself but it was only with my friend, I don't think I can do that with my boss.”
The I am statement
The hardest part is making “I am” statement that invites you to own the change. For example “I am courageous” (if the person has been fearful) or “I am powerful” (if the person has been a victim). “It doesn't feel right”, “its like someone else is saying this” is the feedback I hear.
This is why celebration is so important. Taking the time to embrace this new identity, feeling the discomfort and recognising that it is not uncomfortable, just something different. Looking at what allowed you to get to this place, what supported you to get here, what did you need, who were your allies and was the result something that supported you. Recognising the above allows you to replicate this in your life and move towards more fulfilment. Going one step further you may also wish to have an external celebration, however small or large to symbolically recognise this moment.
It is my hope that this article makes you pause and reflect on recent positive change in your life. How you were with it and if you did take a moment to celebrate it? How do you usually celebrate? It would be great to hear back from you.
The dis-identification exercise was the first psychosynthesis exercise that I was introduced to. It is short, simple and if practiced regularly quite effective in reducing stress, increasing peace and calm and awareness.
Start by sitting in a comfortable posture in a quite space. Now take a moment to become aware of your body. Do a body scan starting from your feet all the way up to your head. As you do so, feel free adjust your body, breath into tense parts and scratch any itches you have. It is not about sitting rigid. It is about becoming aware of your body Recognise that you have a body and are more than you body.
Once you are comfortable with you body become aware of your emotions. See what emotions might be present for you. Allow them to be and allow them to flow. If they disappear and replaced with new and different emotions, then allow this to happen. The objective is to get a sense of your feeling state. Notice that you have emotions but are more than your emotions.
Now move on to your thoughts. Become aware of what thoughts cross you mind. Don't censor them. Allow them to pass by like a film strip without any judgement. See how they raise and then fall away and disappear. Become aware of how you have thoughts and are more thank your thoughts.
At this point I invite you to use an in-breath to ride into the quietest place available to you. To rest in pure consciousness or awareness. To let go and just be present.
After a while become aware of the noises and sounds around you and gently bring yourself back to the place you are in.
Moving through this exercise allows for a number of shifts.
Often what we feel may be in different from the thoughts we have and how we inhabit our body. That may think that we are fine but our body is all tense and cramped. Possibly we have some powerful emotions running through us that have not been acknowledged. Be curious of what mode you prefer. Are you more identified with you mind, body or feelings.
Saying YES to all of you:
This is important. By saying yes to body, feelings and mind all of you is included. There is no judgement that this feeling is “bad” or this thought is “good”. They simply represent information. A feedback loop. You move away from I am sad, angry or inadequate to I am feeling sad, angry and think I am inadequate.
Developing an Observer:
If you are more than your body, feelings and mind then who is doing the exercise? Developing this position of the observer allows us to step back and take stock. It prevents us from getting swept away. And with this comes choice.
For me this exercise represents hitting the “pause” button. I can step back and take stock and ask myself what really needs my attention. You may be surprised by what comes up. Also things may not as charged as you may believe them to be.
The beauty of the psychosynthesis dis-identification exercise is that it's flexible. It can be as long or as short you as you like. Usually it's takes about 10 minutes. I have had people feedback that just saying the sentences; “I am more than my mind, I am more than my feelings and I am more than my body”, allows them to step back and get a better perspective when under stress. Others tell me they have incorporated it into their meditative practice.
So I invite you to try it, amend it in a way that suits you and let me know how it was for you. I look forward to your feedback and comments.