Monday, March 28, 2011


My blogger friend Linda asks about empathy. I wrote this some time ago for a workshop.

Empathy is quite a complicated psychological process when one gets down to describing it theoretically. I suppose this is to be expected as it is considered one of the more ‘higher’ forms of communication compared to the more basic and primitive processes such as simply communicating feelings to another.

Carl Rogers states that empathy is not just the cognitive understanding of the client‘s experience, but actually experiencing it without getting lost in it.

He says to sense the client’s confusion, timidity or anger as if it were the therapist’s own but without getting lost in it. That is without it becoming to big in the therapist or negatively impacting on their ability to function. The therapist can then communicate that understanding to the client.

(Rogers(1962), The interpersonal relationship: The core of guidance. In Rogers and Stevens (eds.) “Person to Person”).

These are some examples I found in the text books of empathy being expressed

“It must be very frightening to be so uncertain about your job security.”

“I think I see what you are saying. In some ways you like coming here and talking to me, but you’re not sure it’s really doing very much for you.”

“My goodness, you really love her, don’t you?”

This process described however rests on magical thinking and thus is a flawed process or at least a flawed description of the process.


Lets examine the process of empathy from an ego states perspective.

1. Therapist is aware and comprehends their observations of the client.

The Adult ego state of the therapist observers the clients behaviour and verbal reports of what they are experiencing.

2. Therapist has their feeling reactions to the awareness and comprehension of the client.

3. Therapist’s Parent ego state keeps the Free Child reaction in check such that it does not get too large or debilitating to the therapist and that the gaol remains the welfare of the client rather than the therapists own Free Child needs.
4. NP caring combines with FC feeling reactions and Adult ego state understanding to have an empathetic response to the client. As you can see quite a complex psychological process.


It should be noted that one can not experience what the client is experiencing, one can only have a feeling reaction to it. This feeling allows the therapist’s experience to be what he perceives is a copy of the client’s experience but this is only ever a guess as one cannot experience what another person is experiencing.

Ironically in this way empathy is quite self centred and narcissistic process. It is about me and my understanding of the experience of the client. It becomes about the other in the last stage of the process with the NP involvement. The therapist’s personal experience of the client is then used in a caring way to the benefit of the client.


Sunday, March 27, 2011

Compare and contrast (Part 1)

It’s an interesting thing that humans do.
Compare and contrast.
It seems they use it to make self feel better, and to make self feel worse.

Recent research reported by Canada’s Concordia University (only in Canada!).

People who hold onto their regrets put their health at greater risk. Research demonstrated one mechanism for coping with regret was to compare self to someone who is worse off and this it was found, boosted their emotional well-being. Those who compared self with more successful people experienced a worsening of symptoms.

An interesting finding in relation to the experience of regret. Not one which I would see as particularly healthy but that is for consideration at another juncture.

Female soldiers

As a therapist it is something that one hears clients report, not uncommonly.

“I have been thinking of coming to therapy for some time but my problems seemed insignificant compared to others”.

Another common method is to compare and contrast self with a fantasised image such as this diagram shows.

Ideal vs real self

In this instance the person does not even compare to another person but to a fantasised ideal image. This I think it is safe to say is quite common. We all have things about ourselves which we would like to be different which would make us ‘better’. Often therapy is about lowering the ideal self. The closer the real self and ideal self become the more self esteem one experiences.

This can also occur when the fantasised image is projected onto another. For instance in positive transference the therapist can be idealised to varying extents by the client. The client can then compares self to the idealised image projected onto the therapist.

One could say that when a person uses the compare and contrast method they are seeking an external reference point in order to understand self.

Is this a good thing?
Is it psychologically productive to compare self to others?


The alternative is to not look outside and simply look at self and assess self in that way irrespective of others. To my mind that is probably more healthy. Simply to be who you are.

However it probably is fairly normal to do a bit of compare and contrast. It is probably normal to use others as an external reference point in order to understand ourselves. If this is the case then one would be assessing the degree of compare and contrast used and if they use it for psychological health or pathology.

There is always someone smarter, richer, funnier, more intelligent, a better conversationalist and so on. Thus one could continually use the compare and contrast method to feel continually bad as one never matches up in the end. In this case compare and contrast would be seen as pathology driven.

Then there is the other approach
This is where I arrive at what the Canadians do. Compare self to someone who is worse off then one can feel better about self. There is something not quite right about this. Whilst it may provide short term self assurance I have my doubts about its long term success. To feel better about self because someone is worse I do not think is going to work in the longer term. There is something intrinsically not right about it and that in my view will probably come through in the longer term and thus the individual will suffer as a result.

Burka shop

Indeed here, I have provided a new theory of life positions. One of the points I make is that the life position of I’m OK, You’re not OK is more accurately stated as I’m not OK, But you’re worse. I can make myself feel better if I can see you as worse. It is stated in the article,

“it is not possible to view others as not-OK unless one views at least part of one's self as not-OK.”

To see others in a bad light does not deal with the persons own sense of not OKness. Indeed it could even be seen to reinforce it. As a therapist I would not be willing to contract with the client who wants to see others as worse in order to feel better in them self.

Finally compare and contrast could be used as a way to maintain pathology. One finds this when working with drug users. The worst thing that can happen to the habitual drug user is for an associate to stop using. This highlights for them what they are doing with their life. To compare and contrast self with other drug users one can get an assurance of their own OKness and to keep using.


Compare and contrast is a normal human endeavour.
The less one does it the better.

Psychopathology is indicated when:
One uses it a lot.
It is persistently used to maintain a poor self view.
It is used to maintain self defeating behaviour.


The trust transaction

Body armor

She reports consistent tension in the neck and shoulders. At times it is painful and is very persistent. A history of regular headaches and at times migraines.

Has a considerable anxiety about letting self feel vulnerable with others. In her mind being vulnerable means one will be exploited. Trust issues.

This can manifest as never trusting anyone or at times trusting others who let her down or exploit her so as to reinforce the script belief of Trust = exploitation.

Some people are trustworthy and others are not
Identify associates who are trustworthy and those who are not. More correctly identify the ways and areas in which various associates are trustworthy and where they are not.

Kiss kid

Identification is done using
Adult ego state
Little Professor ego state

Identify Bad day at black rock scene where the trust issues evolved.


Friday, March 25, 2011

Doing bad therapy - Therapist role

Major and I, have both discussed how at times the therapist can believe things about clients which are factually untrue. For some reason the therapist comes to some conclusion about the client such as a diagnosis which is not accurate. Obviously this is not a good thing. If a diagnosis is incorrect then of course the treatment is not going to be productive and bad therapy will ensue.

This diagram shows how therapists make diagnoses of the client. It is a function of the Adult ego state (A2) and the Little Professor ego state (A1).

Diagnosis & misdiagnosis

Therapists are making diagnostic conclusions all the time. This can be formal diagnoses such as OCD, PND, DID, PD, ADD. (that is an awful lot of Ds) or all sorts of little diagnostic conclusions in each therapy session. What the body language may be saying, the client maybe seen as minimising, rationalising, displaying racket feelings and so on many, many times each session.

It seems safe to say that all therapists will believe things about clients that are not true. Most often they are things which are not of any great significance. Occasionally they are and then there is a problem.

Over the years I have received referral notes from a whole variety of different professionals. At times the referral note includes a diagnosis of the client being referred. After getting to know the client a bit I sometimes find my diagnosis is different to the referrer. We both can’t be right.

bogged car
What is the diagnosis?

Diagnosis involves receiving Adult information and then making conclusions based on that. However as this diagram shows humans receive a huge amount of information unconsciously. In Transactional Analysis terms this information is processed by the little adult of the Child ego state (sometimes referred to as the Little Professor ego state). If therapists use this in their diagnosis then they are using hunches and feelings to decide on the diagnosis.

Diagram 6

At the Adult ego state level misdiagnosis can occur because there is misinformation, a lack of information or the therapist is mistaken about what the information means.

Diagnosis with the A1 unconscious information is a double edged sword. It can result in more swift and insightful diagnoses but it also has the potential to go more awry than an A2 diagnosis.

Each of us also have our blind spots - our own personal issues and script. Some people see sexual abuse every where, if one has personal issues about the opposite sex then diagnosis in couples counselling can be way off, people who lack a sense of trust themselves will tend to see trust issues more often in their clients, or alternatively they may miss an obvious diagnosis of trust issues.

Another cause of misdiagnosis is inter-professional rivalry - “My theory is bigger and better than your theory”. In some circumstances there is considerable money, power and prestige invested in making certain diagnoses and particularly believing in a particular aetiology for the diagnosis. One needs to be careful that their Child ego state does not take over here and the client suffers or becomes secondary to proving ones diagnosis for professional pride. A diagnosis must always remain changeable in the mind of the diagnostician, when one resists such a change it is necessary to look at ones real motives.

pulling cats tail
Unruly child = ADD?

Psychology is subject to fashion and trends like any other area of human endeavour. There will be fashions in diagnosis as well. An example of this is ADD. Once upon a time ADD was a discrete and identifiable diagnostic condition. In recent years in Australia it has become a very fashionable diagnosis and now any unruly child can be diagnosed with ADD. Another example of this is the diagnosis of drug induced psychosis. This is a very politically correct and fashionable diagnosis in Australia at this time. Hence it is over diagnosed and thus the therapist believes something about the client which is untrue.


Doing bad therapy - client information.

KYLady states

“According to your diagram, as long as you never catch your client in a lie or he doesn’t admit lying to you, you can provide good therapy. What if the problem he comes to you with is that he lies all the time. Can therapy help somebody like that?” (end quote)

Here, I discuss therapists doing bad therapy when what they believe about the client is not true.

One can do bad therapy when the information they have is inaccurate and thus they believe things about the client that are not true.

Clients lie all the time. Indeed people lie all the time.


I have said before there are similarities between a police interview with a suspect and a therapist interview with a client. Both are seeking to identify the lies but for quite different motives. One is constantly cross checking information provided by the client to identify inconsistencies. The same question asked in different ways, in different contexts two weeks apart. At the beginning of a session I might begin with chit chat therapy as this is a good way to cross check information and just get information about the client. Their defences are more down compared to the interview situation of therapist and client.

For example, as I meet the client at the door she may talk a bit about what she did last night and may mention a restaurant she went to that I know. As we chat about it I may ask her about the meal she ordered. She reports a meal that is high fat and high calorie and she is skinny. What is going on there? The little bell rings in the therapists head - to be revisited later on!

By simply chatting about an evening at a restaurant one can get a lot of information about a client and their relationship to food, eating and so forth. Chit chat therapy is good as the defences are down. police so the same with good cop, bad cop. If they can create that situation in the crims mind the person will be less defended with the good cop person.

informal man

Now, I am not suggesting that clients are a group of pathological liars. When one meets a new client for the first time one has got to expect they are not going to get the truth or at least the whole truth. Clients sometimes talk about very intimate things and I am a complete stranger to them. If a woman is talking about a bad marital situation I may ask her if she has had an affair. At that point I know she may not be fully candid simply because she does not know me and there has not been the time for trust to develop. I would be the same if I was in her situation.

Secondly clients lie all the time because they lie to themselves. This is the lie the therapist is most often looking for. The client who says she loves her husband whilst shaking her head. She is lying to her self about her love for her husband. If the therapist does not see the lie then he will believe something about the client that is not true and do bad therapy.

Fake sun tan! Even body language can lie.

Coerced clients could be seen as more likely to tell falsehoods. If I was told I had to go to counselling I would be resistant at some level as well.

However in my situation where clients pay money to see me one can expect more truths to be told. The client knows if they tell me falsehoods, I will do bad therapy which they are paying for. However this does not always happen. I wrote a long time ago of a man I saw semi regularly over a 4 or 5 year period.

In the last 3 months of our meetings he told me that he required a heart lung transplant and it was quite likely he would not survive the operation. I had noticed he had trouble breathing at times and he said he was asthmatic. He wasn't. This piece of information significantly changed the course and form of therapy and he didn’t tell me for 4 years. So I did bad therapy for 4 years. It’s like working with someone to give up smoking when they are on death row. What’s the point.

Why he did that I am not too sure as I never got a clear answer to that question either. However as he slowly disclosed further information it became apparent that he was not doing all that he could, medically. Refusal of treatment for a life threatening illness? A suicidal act? Maybe?

Man dog


PS. Oh! about my comment that clients lie all the time. I am just being a bit obtuse. I like clients.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Suicide and being killed

In my book I take some time to look at what actually constitutes suicide. A definition of it so to speak. It seems to me that most have quite a simplistic and one dimensional approach to it. One can conceptualise of three groups of people who could be considered suicidal in some form.

Group 1. Those who plan to kill self, have made the suicide decision and the suicidal ambivalence is heavily weighted to AC side. These people typically report feeling depressed, anxiety, despair or some other kind of pervasive angst. This is what most would see as the suicidal group.

Group 2. Those who will never do the act of suicide them self but may have made the suicide decision. It is simply either not in their behavioural repertoire or they have made a special kind of suicide decision.

gun to girl head

There are seven different suicide decisions of which two are:

I will get you to kill me

I will kill myself by accident

How does one get to kill self by accident. There are a number of ways

Car or motorbike accidents
Drug overdoses
High risk sports
Working with dangerous animals

How does one get someone else to kill them. There are a number of ways

Domestic violence. Behave in a particular way with a very violent other

Death by cop

Become involved in criminal activity where people kill each other - both as police and the crims.

Get the state kill you with the death penalty

Go voluntarily into a war zone

Refuse treatment for a life threatening illness

Shot man Vietnam

Group 3. This is a more contentious definition of suicide. These people present as clearly non suicidal. They will state they feel good and have everything to live for. In addition they consistently place self in circumstances voluntarily where the likelihood of being killed significantly increases. Examples could be Steve Irwin and Peter Brock. They appear quite non suicidal and yet repeatedly place self in circumstances where the risk of death significantly increases. Is this suicidal behaviour or not? This can also apply for someone who smokes 50 cigarettes a day. Is that suicidal behaviour?

smoking girl

However what I wish to discuss at this juncture is a piece of research I came across

“Female soldiers' suicide rate triples when at war”.
Recent research reported in the magazine USA TODAY (March 2011) Gregg Zoroya

This research on US military found

1. When female soldiers deploy to Afghanistan and Iraq the suicide rate triples from 5/100,000 to 15/100,000.

2. When male soldiers deploy to Afghanistan and Iraq there is a 30% increase in the suicide rate from 15/100,000 to 21/100,000.

This could be seen to support the contention that going into a war zone can be used as a way to fulfil the suicide decision:

I will get you to kill me.

Obviously in a war zone there are plenty of people trying to kill you.

Or at least those who have made some kind of suicide decision

Those who are actually deployed may be a self selecting group to some extent. Those who have made this suicide decision will get themselves into the circumstances where they are more likely to be deployed than other non suicidal people in the military. One reason why the suicide rate increases is because the group has selected in, more suicidal people.

Army homeing pidgeons

In the report on the research the researches say the usual stuff. People deployed to such war zones are more stressed and so forth and this maybe the cause of such statistics.

There is an alternate explanation. Stress has never made anyone suicidal. What stress can do is make an already suicidal person more likely to act on their self destructive urges. Thus a person who has made the suicide decision is more likely to end up in a war zone and when stressed is more likely to act on that decision. Hence the rate of suicide goes up.


Therapy venn diagram

Over here, Major did a venn diagram from the client’s perspective. I thought I would do one from the therapist's perspective.

Therapy venn diagram

It is interesting how things look different depending on your own perspective. Whilst I am only looking here at the client therapist relationship one could say the same of all human relationships. Is it really any wonder there can be mis-communication in relationships?

Bubble blower


Friday, March 18, 2011

The Parent contract and the no run contract (Part 1)

Here is another request.

A “No run” contract. I certainly have used this contract in the past, and it is that the client makes at least one more appointment before ending treatment. The motive behind it is that for some reason you want to lock the client in to this relationship. That maybe to close the escape hatch of running from a relationship when you feel reliance or for some other reason. The counsellor is seeking to increase the clients distress by not allowing them to ‘run’. Or indeed it may heighten a sense of security for the client. There could be a whole range of motives for a therapist to suggest such a contract to a client.

Boy race


Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Redecision flowchart - edit #1

Sometimes I do requests.
Here is one for my good friend.

Redecision flowchart

Children make early decisions about them self, others and life. These are mostly formed and set by the end of the first decade of life. Usually people do not alter these but by the process of redecision they can be altered.


Many years ago it was Freud who first coined the phrase, “repetition compulsion”. That is people have a compulsion to repeat the same behaviours, thoughts and feelings over and over in their lives. Since that time many have said the same in various forms and ways. People behave in patterns and this is no more obvious than in their relationships. People do the same things over and over in the ways they relate to others.

These early decisions are one explanation of how the basis for the patterns are formed. When the 4 year old child makes its decision they get set in the psyche and as I said often remain unchanged for the rest of their life. Redecision therapy is one means by which a person can change such decisions.

boy throw rock at tank
What decisions will this child make in this situation? The pattern is being set. When he is 30 years old how will he compulsively repeat the same pattern with adult behaviour.


Monday, March 14, 2011

Working with shame in the therapy process. (Part 6)

What does a therapist do when a client presents with strong feelings of shame. One knows what to do when a client is angry. They feel the anger, they express the anger and when ready they drop the anger. When a client feels sad the therapist acknowledges the feeling, the client expresses the sadness with some kind of crying usually, one listens to the client, empathises with them and is compassionate. Then the sadness is dealt with.

However shame is different. Unlike sadness and anger, shame tears at the very sense of who we are in a way that other feelings do not. With shame one experiences a sense of painful self diminution. Their sense of worth, importance and sense of who they are as a person is painfully reduced. With shame there is a sense of ‘I am bad’. What does a therapist do with this?

When people feel shame there is a strong desire to withdraw or change the topic. The person wants to go into hiding in some way. This seems to be the natural Free Child reaction to shame. The problem with this, is it does not deal with it, in the therapeutic sense.

Now that's embarrassing!

In essence it is an avoidant, ‘Lets try and forget about it’, approach. This works with small ‘traumas’ but with big ones it does not work. They need to be brought out into the open, experienced and then one can ‘get over it’. The Free Child reaction with shame is to hide and avoid. With most other feelings the Free Child reaction is a therapeutic one that will bring resolution of the painful event like expressing sad feelings when one’s cat dies. With shame the natural Free Child reaction will not bring resolution or closure to the event. Thus shame is somewhat unique in this way.

I will cite how I have developed my approach to shame over the years.
The first step is to clarify the shame, the guilt and the internally directed anger. As I have shown before these can be articulated by three separate transactional diagrams:

Two internal angers

Guilt transaction

Shame transaction

These three transactions can coexist in various combinations at the one time and often do. The therapist needs to assist the client to untangle them. Sometimes when a client initially reports a feeling of shame one finds there is not a shame reaction but it maybe a guilt reaction or internal anger reaction.

One indicator that shame is present the client’s unwillingness to bring it up and discuss it. If there is a true shame reaction the client may be quite unwilling to mention it which is a problem in itself because the therapist may not hear about it for some time. Obviously if the therapist does not know about it then it cannot be dealt with. Examples of this can be self harm or bulimia. The shame that is felt about these activities may result in the client not mentioning it for some time.

However when the client does raise the shaming event the therapist knows this is a positive move indeed. It means the client now experiences the therapeutic relationship in such a way that she is prepared to raise such a sensitive and intimate issue. The therapist is now being trusted in way that he has not been before.

Big man

When this happens the therapist untangles the three possible reactions of inward anger, guilt and shame. The therapist then deals with the inward anger and guilt in the usual therapeutic ways. Whilst doing this the stage is being set for the shame to be dealt with.

The client is then asked to do something that is unnatural for them to do. With shame the Free Child wants to hide and withdraw but the therapist asks the client to come out into public (with the therapist) and talk about the shame and the shaming event.

This to my mind, is the first step to resolving the shame. As simple and unsophisticated as it is. The shame is simply brought out into the relational with the therapist and the therapist responds in an empathetic fashion. Once the shaming event has been disclosed the therapist can bring it out into the open at the appropriate time. This requires some caution such that one does not reshame the client in the therapy setting.

From what I have seen once the event and shame have been discussed a number of times it seems to loose its potency. The catharsis obtained from speaking about it with the therapist seems to reduce the need to hide it. Subsequently it can be raised much more easily by either party when need be.


Thus the initial therapy process is to come out of hiding, speak about the event and the feelings with another trusted person. If that person responds favourably the shame and embarrassment diminish over time.

However this is not the end of the story. Whilst it may be easier to discuss it with the therapist, the underlying damage that resulted from the shaming event still remains. With guilt one has the sensation of ‘I am bad because I did x’. With shame it is simply, ‘I am bad’.

This is treated with the usual various redecisions, awareness of the shame, acceptance of shame as a natural thing, hypnotic suggestions when the client is significantly regressed, working through the negative and positive transference reactions, forgiveness of self and so forth. This takes time depending on the depth of ‘badness’ the client experiences. However this process is significantly helped if the shaming event looses it impact in the ways I have described above such that the event can be more easily spoken about. The need to hide with the shame fades and diminishes.


Sunday, March 13, 2011

The expression of shame & blushing (Part 5)

Thanks to all those people who kindly sent me bits and pieces on shame when I requested any information on the physiology of shame. That information still remains quite elusive. That is, what physical bodily changes occur when a person experiences shame or embarrassment. I have for the moment given up on my pursuit of that information and will seek to produce a statement about what happens to the person when they feel shame.

I am referring to here and now shame rather than neurotic shame at this juncture. We all go through life and sooner or later circumstances arise where we will feel shame which is appropriate to the events. For most this is probably not a common occurrence and as I mentioned before the experience of embarrassment is probably much more common for most. People who were shamed as children will feel shame in response to a wider variety of events in adulthood because they have been ‘programmed’ to have that reaction.

Butt cheeks motorbike

What happens when a person feels shame or embarrassment?

Common body expression and attitudes when one experiences shame include a bowing of the head, an attempt to hide the face possibly with the hands, a blushing of the face and possible sweating, body bent over on itself and possibly a closing of the eyes. It is like the person is endeavouring to make self as small and as invisible as possible and as a result there will be a strong drive to remove self from any company and seek to isolate self for a while.

The other interesting feature of shame and embarrassment is blushing. In this instance there is a reddening of the face, neck and possibly the upper chest. This is seen to be a reaction of the sympathetic nervous system that causes the blood vessels in the face to dilate. The cheeks tend to have more capillaries and blood vessels than other parts of the body and the vessels also tend to be wider in diameter and closer to the surface. The increased blood flow results in a colour change in that area from light pink to dark red. As it is involuntary it is something that cannot be controlled which may cause even further disquiet.

It is believed that everyone has the physical capacity to blush. The whiter the skin the more observable it is. In dark skinned people it is almost impossible to notice but they do blush the same as lighter skinned people. Women tend to blush more than men. It is reported to occur in kindergarten aged child but some report that a child as young as two years old can blush. Adolescence is the stage at which it is most prevalent due to it being a period of high self consciousness. As one grows older it tends to decrease as people start to become less self conscious (in normal circumstances) and the stimulation of the blood vessels decreases with age.

Shy Woman

From a human communication point of view blushing is an interesting phenomena. Blushing is body language like any other kind of body language and people can use it to communicate. What does it communicate to the observer of the body language? Perhaps one could draw the blushing transaction as such:

Blushing transaction
Blushing transaction

1. The blusher receives some kind of information from the other person or from the environment in some way. A woman at a party has a wardrobe malfunction in front of a group of others and exposes her breast. She does not realise until someone brings it to her attention. A wife may mention to others in front of him how her husband now has to wear a ‘nappy’ since his bladder operation.

2. In response to the incoming information the person blushes with a reddening of the cheeks. This communicates back to the observer that the blusher thinks he has broken some moral boundary or sense of personal dignity as defined by the Child ego state and he is currently feeling very bad and uncomfortable about it. They will also know he is highly motivated to end the precipitating event either by withdrawal or changing the subject and so on.

This response will be a Free Child transaction if the shame or embarrassment is an appropriate reaction to the incoming information. If the shame is not an appropriate response that would be seen as an Adapted Child reaction and form the basis of neurotic shame. The two examples cited in number 1 above could be seen to be examples where it is appropriate to feel shame.

Unfortunately many teachers have learnt that shame is a good way to control children. Whilst parents may be careful not to shame a child at home it can be happening in the classroom.

A good example of the AC (neurotic) response can be found with some social phobics. A person with such a phobia can have self defeating internal talk. When in conversation they may start thinking that the observer can see they are blushing and thus how much of an idiot they look or how embarrassing they are. They may or may not be actually blushing but the person feels they are. This makes them more uncomfortable and thus the blushing increases or is felt to increase more so.

Note the lack of Parent ego state involvement in the transactions which is typical of the difference between shame and guilt. Like guilt, shame has the capacity to curb human behaviour most notably the Free Child. Whereas guilt comes from a Parent ego state introject shame is a Child ego state driven process and hence tends to be more potent and destructive. Shame feels very unpleasant to the person and thus they will be highly motivated to change their behaviour. Shame is experienced as being more in the core of the person as compared to guilt.

Do people blush alone, is an interesting question. People certainly can feel shame whilst being alone. The woman cited above who had the wardrobe malfunction can recall that event the next day whilst alone in her home and feel shame about it. However would her feelings of shame result in blushing? She is aware she is not being observed by anyone in that instance. I am unsure of the answer to this question. I would tend to think that she would not blush or certainly any blushing that did occur would be less intense. However I have no data on which to base this conclusion.

Young girl
Making children perform on stage can easily produce a shame reaction. Parents need to take care when the child is required to make some kind of public performance.

Does anyone out there have personal experience with being alone and blushing or not blushing?

Whilst my parents were by no means perfect they never did shame me as a child. Thus I have few incidents where I can recall when I felt shame as a child or an adult. There are a couple and if I recall them I do not think that I demonstrate any blushing.

This leads us to the next stage in the process of our discovery of the various components of shame. Many a client will recount incidents where they felt shame in the past. If a client experiences shame in front of the therapist what does the therapist do? Watch this space.


Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Shame and pride - edit #2 (Part 4)

I saw an interesting comment in a book I was reading the other day. It stated that the opposite to shame is pride.

As I endeavour to gain a fuller understanding of shame, what it is and what it means it seems salient to understand the opposite of it. If I can understand the opposite of shame then I should be able to understand shame in a more complete way.

Snake lady

Evan says "My guess is that the opposite of shame is actually honour. This has the ability to take in the sense of relating to the community which I think is essential to a definition of shame." (end quote)

I think you make a good point Evan. Since writing this post I have though some more about shame and pride and I tend to agree with you that shame and pride may not be so opposite after all. Your idea of honour is an interesting one.

When you look at emotions overall maybe shame is quite unique in this way, of having an opposite. For example what is the opposite of anger. One could say maybe calm or happy or relaxed. But one could say the same about sad and anxious as well. So they are not opposites like pride or honour are.

As I was reading the book, which I can’t even remember what it was now, it was just one of those sentences that you seem to notice and sticks in the mind. Feelings having opposites.

Here are some defintions of pride:

the state or feeling of being proud.

a becoming or dignified sense of what is due to oneself or one's position or character; self-respect; self-esteem.

pleasure or satisfaction taken in something done by or belonging to oneself or believed to reflect credit upon oneself

the best of a group, class, society

the most flourishing state or period

splendor, magnificence, or pomp.

ornament or adornment.

pride and joy, someone or something cherished, valued, or enjoyed above all others

Dog frizbee

Now all I have to do is work out what is the opposite of these.


Shaming in child development (Part 3)

As one endeavours to increase their understanding of what shame is one needs to isolate what can be shaming practices by adults on children. There are certain critical times and events that occur in a child’s life where shaming by the parents can be particularly influential. I am reminded of an example with a client a few weeks ago.

A mother whom I had seen on and off for about a year raised a concern she had about her daughter who was five years old at the time. She reported that when checking on her daughter asleep at night she observed that her daughter often had her hand down her pants touching her genitals.

She wanted to know if I thought it was psychologically OK for her daughter to be touching her genitals in a masturbatory way. I suspected the real question she was building up to was, do I think this is a sign that she has been sexually abused?

Barbie face compare

The reason why I suspected this is because Australia is a pedophobic society. There is almost a hysteria around pedophillia in Australia. Male school teachers are a slowly dying breed as a result. I was also recently amused by the report of a health official who publicly announced that perhaps we could reduce childhood obesity in Australia by getting more children to walk to school. Initially there was much “oohhing and aahhing” about such a proposal. What a good idea it was and why hadn’t we thought of it before. A few days later there were those saying it was too dangerous as the pedophiles may get our children as they walked to school. People suggested counter proposals of having meeting points where children could walk in groups to school or having special wardens to walk with the children. The upshot of it was that it got too complicated and guess what - children still don’t walk to school.

Somebody forgot to mention that the likelihood of a complete stranger sexually attacking a child is about 2%. The vast, vast majority of sexual assaults on children are by someone in the family, known to the family or in some position of trust with the child. But that does not seem to matter as Australia has convinced itself that there is a pedophile hiding in every bush waiting to jump out and abscond with our children.

Hijab women

I informed my client of this Australian cultural pedophobia and also that almost all children touch their genitals and masturbate at times. And thus we arrive at the point at hand. This is a critical point in the development of shame problems in a child’s psychological development. As a result of their own beliefs and taboos about masturbation a parent could quite easily use shame as a means of attempting to stop the child from doing such a thing. Shaming around sexual matters is particularly powerful. Thus one would be suggesting to parents that they do not engage in such shaming practices as it can seriously impact on a child's sense of shame and effect their self esteem. This is also particularly relevant in young teenagers as well.

In situations like this I sometimes provide a little information about the misunderstandings of childhood masturbation to concerned parents. When Freud originally proposed the idea of childhood masturbation it was met with much horror and aghast. How could such a thing be true many asked!!

Head in water

Well children grow up and have other feelings like sadness, anger, fear just like adults do so why can’t they have sexual feelings as well. Of course they do. However there is another common misunderstanding because adults will assume that a child’s comprehension and perception of masturbation is the same as an adults. It is however different in significant ways.

As a child grows it discovers its body. It learns that if it has a itch on its backside and scratches it that feels good. If it has a booga up its nose and pries it out with a finger that also feels good. It also learns that if it touches its genitals that feels good. In a child’s mind touching its genitals and scratching its backside are the same kind of thing. In an adults mind they are very different because the child does not yet understand all the connotations that go along with masturbation as compared to scratching its backside. So a child’s comprehension of masturbation is very different to the adult.

Secondly, the vast majority of people report their first orgasm occurred after puberty. The vast majority of children who masturbate do not do so with the goal of orgasm. Obviously very few children even understand what an orgasm is. They simply touch their genitals because it feels good. Another significant difference between adult masturbation and what has been unwisely called childhood masturbation.

Twilight zone
Its every where you know!

When communicating with children about sexual matters parents must be vigilant to avoid any shaming. The other critical point with children and shaming is in their toilet training. Watch this space.


Monday, March 7, 2011

The physiology of shame. (Part 2)

Want to win a prize?

I have searched long and hard to find some kind of statement on the physiology of shame.

Google has failed me like never before.
I have lost my faith and trust in the internet.

What will ever become of me now!!

It is easy to find the physiology of an emotion like anger. When you feel anger this happens

Car push

1. In response to an electrical stimulation in the hypothalamus area of the brain,
an extra supply of the hormone adrenaline is secreted and distributed.
2. Respiration deepens.
3. Heart beats more rapidly.
4. Blood pressure rises.
5. Sympathetic nervous system diverts blood from the skin. liver, stomach and
intestines to the heart, CNS and muscles.
6. Digestive processes are suspended. Stomach and intestines virtually stop
their secretions and movements. [Blood diverted to the muscles and heart and
lungs. This 'self transfusion' allows more performance of muscular power.
7. Glucose is freed from the reserves in the liver.
8. Cortisone production is increased in order to depress the immune system.
[Protection from an instant allergy reaction (such as asthma or closing of the
eyes), from a dust up with an attacking foe].
9. Spleen contracts and discharges its content of concentrated corpuscles.
10. Men have an increased supply of the male hormone testosterone. Provides
extra supplies of oxygen to feed the increased blood supply coming into the lungs.
Pumps more blood to the muscles and lungs, to carry more fuel and oxygen to and
from the battle front. This allows 'quick, short distance' energy supply. Fuel for
a sprint.

When you look at it that’s quite a lot of things.

"Eve after the fall". Rodin's famous sculpture - Eve - depicting the shame reaction.

I cannot find anything like this about shame or embarrassment. If you can then you may win a prize if you let me know

I have found stuff like this:
Common body expression and attitudes when one experiences shame include a bowing of the head, an attempt to hide the face possibly with the hands, a blushing of the face and possible sweating, body bent over on itself and possibly a closing of the eyes. It is like the person is endeavouring to make self as small and as invisible as possible and as a result there will be a strong drive to remove self from any company and seek to isolate self for a while.

Of particular interest is blushing or a reddening of the face and cheeks.
Why does that happen? Why don’t the knees redden, why the face?
And what is it?
Is it an increase in the blood flow to the cheeks or what?

Moose race

It's a good prize if you can help here.


Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Expressing internalized anger

The internalised anger transaction can take two forms.

Two internal angers

Firstly the person receives information of some kind. It is disturbing information to which the person reacts in an angry fashion. The person may have been criticised at work, they may have got a “B” for an assignment when they expected an “A”, they may have been rejected by someone or many, many other possibilities.

Once the information has been acknowledged by the Adult ego state the internalised anger can be expressed in two ways which are indeed quite different in their origin and indicate two quite different psychological processes.

The person can express such anger at the Child ego state from the Critical Parent ego state (CP). This person can be said to have a large internal critic inside their head which at times actively scolds and derides them. The origin of this comes from an introjection in childhood of the parent figures around them.

The child may have observed mother and father being critical of others and themselves and he copies that. However the more potent source of an active internal CP is when the parents have expressed criticism of the person when they were a child. The young child is criticised directly by mother and father. This criticism is then internalised by the youngster and stored in their Parent ego state through the process of introjection.

steptoe and son

Often the words the person says inside their head as an adult are exactly the same words that were expressed to the person as a child by mother and father. Or the self criticism is about the same kind of things mother criticised the about child as a youngster.

This type of self directed anger is the least pathological and the easier of the two to treat. As with all treatment contracts it is better to look at increasing some behaviour rather than decreasing behaviour. One would not want the contract to be - “I will decrease my Critical Parent comments”. Instead one would want the contract - “I will increase my Nurturing Parent comments”. If one increases their Nurturing Parent ego state then the Critical Parent will naturally go down. One focuses on the Nurturing Parent rather than the Critical Parent.

CP vs NP

Interestingly if a person has a high internal critic directed at self then there is always the potential for it to be directed at others as well. If one is working with a client who has a high CP for self then one also wonders if there are high CP thoughts about the therapist as well.

Some with a high CP for self can also have a high CP for others. Those critical thoughts of others may be openly stated or they may never be stated and just remain internal thoughts. But the potential is always there compared to the individual who does not have a high internally directed CP.

Child ego state anger
As the diagram shows the other type of internally directed anger comes from the Child ego state and is directed at the Child ego state. As a consequence these angry statements are not introjects from our parent figures. Instead they result from decisions that the Child has made about itself. These represent more serious psychopathology and thus the person can be seen to be more ‘damaged’.

sword swallower3

The nature of the CP statements tend to be; “I am bad because...”

The Child ego state angry statements may also be precipitated by an event and thus one gets statements like: “I am bad because..... and there is an inherent badness in me anyway”. At other times there may be no precipitating event and the person simply expresses anger at self for no obvious reason. At times this can result in self harming type of behaviour.

Whilst an internal directed CP is common, almost every one has an internal critic of some kind. The internally direct Child statements are far less common. It requires the person to believe and feel there is something basically and intrinsically bad about self. This probably represents 5% of the population. As a result it is much more difficult to treat as one is looking to remediate a basic belief about self and not simply encourage NP statements to counter the CP statement from the Parent ego state.