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HONORING THE OLD... NURTURING THE YOUNG: PART 2

Copyright 1999 All Rights Reserved.
Commercial use of this material is prohibited .

By Dr. Steve Frisch, Psy.D.

Our first task in approaching another culture is to take off our shoes, for the ground we are approaching is holy.


As I said in Honoring the Old...Nurturing the Young:
Part 1, welcoming a new person into your group can be an overwhelming experience fraught with many obstacles. In part 1, I discussed with you how to safely and successfully integrate a new member into your group.

The key to your success? How congruent you act with the Group Therapy Contract. Congruency is the single most important determinant of your success with group therapy in general and welcoming a new group member in particular. Why is that so? The Group Therapy Contract is the internal compass of the group process. The Group Therapy Contract always points in one direction, due North. The needle of the compass never strays,  never deviates from its due North direction. When you’re incongruent with the Group Therapy Contract, you can conclude one very simple fact--you’re not headed due North. And if you’re not headed due North, it’s unlikely that you’re going to get to where you claim you want to go. There’s only one reason why you would not be heading due North at any time in your group therapy experience. That reason would be because you haven’t fully embraced and incorporated the backbone of the Group Therapy Contract, the foundational value system into every choice you make.

As I told you in Honoring the Old, Nurturing the Young: Part 1, the foundational value system is the backbone of the Group Therapy Contract. Again, just as a reminder, we’ve already established that foundational is a made up word. But don’t underestimate the importance of what this made up word means to the success of everybody’s therapy. Because the success of your therapy is so dependent on understanding, embracing, and incorporating the five values of the foundational value system into your weekly practice, I want to take some time to discuss with you the other four values of the foundational value system.

To remind you, the five values of the foundational value system are: 1.) reciprocity; 2.) presence; 3.) beginner’s mind; 4.) reverence; 5.) honoring the old...nurturing the young. Participating in the group without embracing the five values of the foundational value system is like trying to steer a ship at sea without a rudder. Because I already discussed in part 1, honoring the old... nurturing the young, I’ll be discussing only the four other values of the foundational value system below. Please read the following material carefully, thoughtfully, and thoroughly so that you can begin to incorporate the five values into your group experience.

The first value  I want to discuss with you is reciprocity. Because the focus of this group is unique in its specificity, it requires specific actions from each group member so that the group can function as effectively as it is capable of functioning. Let me repeat what I say so often. This is not just your therapy for you are an important part of everybody else’s therapy. Your emotional, cognitive, behavioral, physical, and spiritual presence that is expressed through your active participation is the sole source of material from which other group members do their therapy. If you do not attend a session or if you attend but do not participate in a meaningful way as outlined in the Group Therapy Contract or if you do not participate at all, you’ll severely dilute the potency of not only your therapy, but every other group member’s therapy as well.

Therefore, it’s critical that you attend every group session. It’s critical that you punctually attend every group session. It’s critical that you stay to the very end of every group session. It’s critical that you’re not only physically present but emotionally, cognitively, behaviorally, and spiritually present for every group session as well. To do so means that you’ll actively be engaged in the unfolding group process. That means that you’re not only actively listening to and processing what’s going on, but you’re also contributing to the unfolding process of the group. How can you best contribute, how does reciprocity  manifest itself in the group process?

The phrase I use is active participation. Active participation means that you’re congruent with the Group Therapy Contract when you reveal to the rest of the group what’s being stimulated within yourself by the here-and-now process of the group. Let me remind you. Here’s the Aspirational Contract that you’ve agreed to honor in your group sessions. Each group member contracts to share with every other group member their experience of the present moment. To do so means that you agree to examine within yourself and express to the other group members your awareness of what the present moment stimulates in your thoughts, feelings, and actions about your present and past. You agree to examine within yourself and express your experience of each group member in the present moment. You agree to examine within yourself and express your awareness of your relationship with the Group Therapy Contract. You agree to examine within yourself and express your awareness of the underlying meaning of any and all deviations from all terms of the Group Therapy Contract.

You can infer from the following part of my above statement, you agree to examine within yourself and express your awareness of the underlying meaning of any and all deviations from all terms of the Group Therapy Contract that I fully expect you to deviate from the Group Therapy Contract. Deviating from the Group Therapy Contract is as much a part of your therapy as actually following the Group Therapy Contract.

I want to emphasize the following. Although deviating from the Group Therapy Contract is expected, an important part of your therapy is examining your deviations from the Group Therapy Contract. You can infer from that statement that I believe that there’s profoundly important psychological information about who you are at play whenever you deviate from the contract. Because group therapy is a psychological investigation, I insist on treating your deviations from the contract as explainable only in terms of who you are, only in terms of unconscious or conscious motivations, only in terms of choices that you made to set up the situation you find yourself in. By no means do I view your deviations from the contract as you being the victim of unforeseen, out of control, or random circumstances. Arguments anyone?

There are three specific styles of active participation that you will utilize in the group. Each style supports different styles of participation and different goals of your involvement in the group. The first style of active participation is compliance. The second style of active participation is defiance. The third style of active participation is self-examination.

It’s important that you’re able to distinguish between the three different styles of active participation. As you’re better able to distinguish what style of active participation you’re using, you’ll have better insight into the type of involvement you’re creating for yourself in the group. Let me emphasize that I fully expect that you will use all three styles of active participation throughout the entire course of your membership in the group. Although the aspirational goal of each group member is to exclusively participate through the active participation style of self-examination, you’ll discover that you’ll frequently use both compliance and defiance as well. Again let me emphasize, as important as the style of active participation is that you’re using, it’s equally important that you continually examine what’s being revealed about you, no matter what style of active participation you use.

Let me give you some specific information about each of these three styles of active participation. First, I’ll discuss compliance. Compliance is a style of active participation that enables the group member to create the appearance of being actively involved in the group process without actually becoming emotionally connected with themself and/or with the other group members. Compliance, as a behavioral strategy, enables the compliant group member to limit and control access to them even as they appear to be courageously, actively participating. The goal of the compliant group member is to emotionally distance themselves from the group, all the while creating the impression that they’re a well-meaning, well-intended person who’s above reproach. The compliant group member works very hard to appear as if they’re doing group therapy the right way, but their unspoken intention is to keep everybody off their backs. The compliant group member resists becoming emotionally involved in the group process but resists in such a way that (s)he does not appear that (s)he is being resistant. The reason why the compliant group member has their own unique style of interacting with other group members is because they need a style of relating to the other group members that constructs an image for themself rather than deconstructs the layers of masks behind which they hide their authentic Self.

There are two types of active participation that the compliant group members uses. I refer to the first type of compliance as Speechifying and the second type as Groupspeak.

The first type of compliance is Speechifying. Speechifying is a type of active participation whereby the compliant group member gives long-winded speeches. These long-winded speeches are designed to exclude rather than include the listener in the conversation. These long-winded speeches provide window dressing for the image that the compliant group member is attempting to construct of themself. If you listen carefully to the compliant group member who is Speechifying, you’ll notice that (s)he is not so much self-disclosing as filibustering.

The purpose of the filibuster is to demonstrate that the compliant group member is participating without having to ever reveal their authentic Self. The filibuster also prevents other group members from connecting with the compliant group member because the group members are blocked from responding. Not only are the group members blocked from responding to the compliant group member, they’re bored into submission by the endless recitation of the same old tired information about their good intentions, their protestations, their declarations, and inevitably how misunderstood they are. Any remnant of emotions that existed prior to the beginning of the speech are wrung out of the room, early on, once the filibuster begins. Once the room has been put to sleep by the endless litany of aspirations that never will be met and promises that never will be kept, the compliant group member completes their speech, satisfied in knowing that they have wiggled off the hook one more time.

If a person’s stated objective in belonging to the group is self-examination for the purpose of transforming and growing, why does the compliant group member Speechify? As I said above, the compliant group member’s sole goal of active participation is to create the appearance of actively participating in the relationships of the group without taking on the inherent risk of actually connecting with anybody. Speechifying separates the speechgiver from the rest of the group, enables the speechgiver to successfully control the group members’ thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, and regulates the amount of access that any one individual can have to the speechgiver. How does Speechifying accomplish such an end?

Speechifying creates the appearance of active participation without any of the inherent risk and exposure that goes with being involved in the process of connecting with another human being. Speechifying serves as a barrier that the speechgiver erects in order to avoid the intensity and intimacy of a one-on-one interaction. Speechifying is a way of pleading one’s case without having to thoughtfully and courageously self-examine what the speechgiver is experiencing in the moment. Speechifying is a device that enables the speechgiver to present themself as a well-intended person who’s really, really trying, and one day soon, any day now, is going to get all of this stuff right.

The second type of compliance is Groupspeak. More than just a style of participation, Groupspeak is actually the solution to a problem that all compliant group members must solve. The problem that they have to solve is how to appear to be actively involved in the relationships of the group without actually establishing any kind of authentic connection with the other group members.

The solution that the compliant group member invents is to create the illusion that they’re emotionally involved with the other group members. The way the compliant group member creates such an illusion is by learning the vocabulary of the group process and hiding their authentic Self behind empty phrases that don’t accurately portray a congruence between the compliant member’s behavior and their expressed sentiment.

The first example of Groupspeak is empty words or phrases.   Empty words or phrases have two goals. Goal number one is to articulate what the compliant group member believes should be said in a given situation, even if what is said doesn’t expresses a sentiment or emotion that reflects how the compliant group member actually feels about the receiver of their communication. Goal number two is to do and/or say something right regardless of whether it reflects the truth about who you are and how you feel towards another group member. There’s a very simple reason that the compliant group member relies on Groupspeak as their dominant means of participating in the group. They do so because the compliant group member values doing and/or saying something that is right over authentic connection with the other group members. Examples of this type of Groupspeak include but are not limited to: I care about you; I feel your pain; I just want to check in with you; I know you had a hard time in group last week and I was worried about you so I wanted to see how you were doing; I miss you; You mean a lot to me; I don’t want to keep doing all of those things that I keep doing. Afterall, that’s why I’m here, to change.

The second example of Groupspeak is providing the same standard, tried-and-true psychological explanation(s) for every question you explore, every action you take, every thought that you express in the group. It’s as if the compliant group member creates a mental checklist of psychological explanations that they have learned in their therapy and apply those explanations to any and all circumstances that they encounter in the group. For example, “I keep treating you this way because you remind me of my mother, father, brother, sister, lover, boss, fill in the blank (as if your past is the sole reason for why you do everything). Or, I keep doing this because I’m afraid (as if fear is the sole explanation for all that you do, think, and feel). Or, I continually dishonor the Group Therapy Contract because I’m a controlling person (as if control is the sole explanation for all that you do, think, or feel). Or, I don’t know why I keep doing this, I’m not consciously doing it on purpose (as if the only thing that motivates your behavior is your conscious reasoning).” Or, I don’t want to control you. That’s what I’m here for to change all of that (as if your good intentions are the sole explanation for why you do, don’t do, or say something).”

The third example of Groupspeak  is participating in the group by exclusively addressing the group as a whole rather than engage individual group members one-on-one. The explanation for this is no different than those that I have already stated for other examples of Groupspeak. By solely addressing the group as a whole, the compliant group member is able to control the intensity of their participation, lessen the level of their exposure, and maintain the anonymity of their authentic Self.

The first cousin of addressing the group as a whole is the infamous redirection play. You’ll oftentimes notice that a group member has been engaged by another group member in conversation. As a means of escaping that interaction, the compliant group member will slip out of the other group member’s grasp by responding to the group as a whole, redirecting their response to another group member, or include the therapist in the conversation. All of these strategies are attempts to sever rather than maintain the one-on-one connection with the group member who initiated the conversation.

To be sure, there are times when a group member very appropriately addresses the group as a whole, but as with anything else, it’s all about proportion and the underlying motivation.

The fourth example of Groupspeak is providing the answer that you believe your therapist or fellow group member wants from you. The compliant group member is a sneaky wascal of a wabbitt. Instead of focusing on themselves and how the present moment is impacting their own being, the compliant group member meticulously and methodically expends all of their mental energies collecting data on what responses will satisfy what group member and what response will provoke their ire. Not only does the compliant group member collect this particular data about each group member, the compliant group member develops an exhaustive data base of responses that the group therapist finds acceptable, insightful, and speaks to whatever point the therapist is making.

Instead of participating in a therapy of meaningful self-examination and thoughtful self-disclosure, the compliant group member creates their own style of therapy, a style of therapy I refer to as therapy by the numbers. Therapy by the numbers is a style of therapy whereby the compliant group member simply inserts the response they believe is expected from them in the appropriate “slot.” If the compliant group member doesn’t provide the response expected from them then they provide the response they believe to be most pleasing. If it’s neither of those two choices, then the compliant group member provides the response that makes them appear to be the most psychologically sophisticated in their understanding of who they are. Of course if the situation doesn’t call for any of those types of responses, the compliant group member will offer the response they know will bring an abrupt end to the ongoing inquisition. Please note that even as our compliant group member excels at providing what they believe others want to hear them say, our compliant group member is in no way closer to mastering the art of being connected to the present moment, connected to their authentic Self, connected with the other group members, connected to their spiritual centers nor any more able to reveal their authentic Self to the rest of the group, all of which, I hasten to add, is the sole purpose of participating in the group.

But compliance isn’t the only style of active participation that you’ll run up against or even rely upon in your group experience. Another style of active participation that you’ll encounter is defiance. There are several reasons why a group member adopts defiance as a style of active participation. For starters, the defiant group member uses defiance as a way of opposing both the prescriptive rules and the aspirational goals of the Group Therapy Contract. Why? Oppositional be thy name!

Defiance, as a style of active participation, provides the group member a way to release all of their unacknowledged, unexpressed feelings by acting out their feelings rather than expressing them. But more than a release for unacknowledged, unexpressed feelings, defiance enables the defiant group member to maintain their sense of autonomy and independence. You see, whereas the sole concern of the compliant group member is to do and say the right thing, the defiant group member’s sole concern is to be in control, vigilantly protecting their autonomy, rigorously maintaining their sense of independence, and unyieldingly remaining separate rather than a part of the group.

The first style of defiance is not honoring the prescriptive rules of the Group Therapy Contract. Specific examples of that would be missed sessions, coming late for sessions, having outside contact with other group members, dating and/or sexing with other group members, not paying for your sessions at the beginning of each group, coming to group under the influence of drugs or alcohol, not turning off your pager or cell phone. I consider any one or any combination of these activities a SERIOUS  breach of the Group Therapy Contract.

No breach of the prescriptive rules of the group should be treated lightly. When there’s a breach of the prescriptive rules, it’s the responsibility of the offending group member to use their individual and group therapy to examine the underlying meaning of the specific breach(es).

The second  style of defiance is using group time to discuss people or events that are totally unrelated and/or external to the group. I refer to that as talking about outside business. To interact dominantly about people and events external to the group is a way of avoiding creating relationships with people in the group.

To be sure, there will be times when the present moment stimulates a period of self-examination and discussion about your past or outside business. However, that type of self-disclosure is appropriate only when done in the context of something stimulated by the business of the group.

The third style of defiance is repeated discussions about past events and past interactions that has occurred between you and other members of the group. Don’t get me wrong. It’s critical that you continually examine and discuss the past and present aspects of your unfolding relationships with the people in the group. However, if a group member refers back to past events in the group as the dominant way they participate in the group, they’re avoiding connecting with the members of the group in the present moment.

 The fourth style of defiance is not participating in the group at all. I know that may sound paradoxical. Afterall, how can you actively participate without participating? Simply put, active participation takes place non-verbally as well as verbally. So the defiant group member uses non-participation as a form of communication--“Me and my two friends, Smith and Wesson, are doing this group my way, not yours, buddy.”

There’s one last style of active participation I want to discuss with you. It’s the style of active participation that each group member should aspire to use. It’s the style that every group member has contracted to use. I refer to this style as self-examination. I call the style of active participation that the self-examining group member uses self-disclosure. Self-disclosure is a style of active participation whose sole purpose is to reveal yourself to each group member. Emphasis on reveal, not explain, not justify, not rationalize, not litigate, not storytell, not problem solve, not rehash, but reveal.

What do you self-disclose to the group? You self-disclose  information that’s relevant to the focus of your group. The focus of your group is the material that arises in the eighty minutes that the group is in session, the material from your past that is stimulated by the eighty minutes that the group is in session, material that has been activated from past sessions, material stimulated by your relationship with the Group Therapy Contract and the underlying material that is embedded in your deviations from the Group Therapy Contract. 

You can infer from what I just said that the focus of the group is not the problems in your life external to the group, not the people in your life external to the group, not the circumstances in your life external to the group, and not topics of general interest  external to the group. Therefore your self-disclosures should exclude problems, people, circumstances, and topical interests. Those are all appropriate subject matters for your individual therapy and/or different styles of group therapy.

Self-disclosure is done in one-on-one interactions with each group member about the stuff that exists between you and the present moment, the stuff that exists between you and a particular group member, the stuff that is awakened from your historical past by the present moment, the stuff that exists between you and your relationship to the culture of the group, the stuff that exists between you and the Group Therapy Contract.

The stuff that I’m referring to includes but is not limited to: 1.) the material that the present moment has stimulated between you and another group member; 2.) the material that the present moment has stimulated within yourself by observing and experiencing other group members interact between themselves; 3.) the evolving material from your expanded and deepening awareness of historical interactions between you and another group member; 4.) historical material that is stimulated by the present moment experiences in the group; 5.) incongruencies you experience in observing yourself and the other group members; 6.) incongruencies between you and the Group Therapy Contract.

The more you discipline yourself to use self-disclosure rather than the tools of compliance and defiance, the more you’ll get out of your group experience. At the same time, you need to be aware of and accept that the more you use self-disclosure, the more vulnerable you’ll feel. The more vulnerable you feel, the more tempted you’ll be to slip back into using the tools of compliance and defiance.

The second value I want to discuss with you is presence. What do I mean by presence? Presence is the emotional, cognitive, physiological, behavioral, and spiritual connection you have to the present moment. There are three aspects of presence that I want to review with you.

The first aspect of presence I want to discuss with you is being mindful of the Aspirational Contract that you’ve agreed to honor as a member of the group. Each group member contracts to share with every other group member their experience of the present moment. To do so means that you agree to examine within yourself and express to the other group members your awareness of what the present moment stimulates in your thoughts, feelings, and actions about your present and past. You agree to examine within yourself and express your experience of each group member in the present moment. You agree to examine within yourself and express your awareness of your relationship with the Group Therapy Contract. You agree to examine within yourself and express your awareness of the underlying meaning of any and all deviations from all terms of the Group Therapy Contract.

Beyond being mindful of what you’ve contracted to do, an important aspect of your self-examination is to be aware of whether or not your actions are congruent with what you’ve contracted to do. The point is not to shame you when you deviate from the Group Therapy Contract. Rather, it’s important to examine what those deviations reveal about who you are, what the underlying motivation is for your deviations, and what obstacles you create that prevent you from being congruent with the Group Therapy Contract. Please note and incorporate into your active participation that it’s fully expected that you’ll deviate from the Group Therapy Contract. However, it’s your responsibility to explore the underlying meaning of your deviations from the Group Therapy Contract in your individual and group therapy sessions.

The second aspect of presence that I want to discuss with you is your emotional, cognitive, physical, behavioral, and spiritual state before the group begins. Because of the unique focus of your group, you’ll be challenged to unplug from the day-to-day influences of your life in order that you may attend to the eighty minutes that the group meets. It’s very difficult to leave the stresses, concerns, and responsibilities of your life at the door of my office, but that’s exactly what you need to do in order to most fully benefit from your group experience.

In practical terms, that means you should be mindful of the following. Although no one has ever missed a session because they couldn’t find a parking space, finding a parking space can be at times difficult and stressful. Although there’s ample parking in the neighborhood in which my office is located, it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to pull into the neighborhood five minutes prior to your group starting and find a space immediately in front of my office. Also, you need to know that whatever parking spaces are available, virtually none of them are legal parking spots. So leave plenty of time to find a parking space. Do not plan on walking into the group right as it begins, huffing and puffing from running three blocks. Leave yourself enough time to distance yourself from the stress of parking as well as from the stress of your day-to-day life. Take a few moments prior to the beginning of your group to collect yourself. Make some time for quiet reflection. Mentally put away the emotional armor that you wear throughout the day. Get yourself grounded in your body, in your emotions, and in your thoughts as it relates to group therapy. Review in your mind where you’re at in the group, where you’re at in your unfolding relationships with the other group members, and where you’re headed with each group member. If you’re asked to do a specific assignment for the group, do it, bring it, review it, and present it!  Finally, I ask that each group member turn off your cell phone and/or pager while in the group room. It would be preferable that you leave your cell phone and/or pager at home, in your car, or in Steve’s office. Whatever you choose to do, it’s your responsibility to insure that the group is not interrupted by your cell phone and/or pager. Your group therapy can be a very powerful experience, but only if you prepare properly for it so you can be absolutely present to each unfolding moment of the group.

The third aspect of presence that I want to discuss with you is your emotional, cognitive, physical, behavioral, and spiritual state during the group. It’s only natural for you to mentally, physically, and emotionally drift in and out of the group during the course of the eighty minutes that the group is in session. Things will be done and said in the group that will trigger memories of past experiences. Things will be done and said in the group that will trigger your own tangential path of self-examination. Things will be done and said in the group that will trigger the activation of your self-defense mechanisms that inevitably disconnect you from the immediacy of the present moment. Things will be done and said in the group that will bore you to tears and as a result, trigger your flight by thinking about the pattern on the rug or the spider’s web hanging from the ceiling. A more reasonable goal than never disconnecting from the group process emotionally, cognitively, and physically while the group is in progress is to identify all the ways that you do disconnect from the present moment and find a way to get yourself reconnected to the group process once you notice your disconnect.

Remember, the underlying principle of this group is to examine what the here-and-now stimulates within you. To do so, you must examine how you’re impacted by your connection to the present moment, examine how you respond emotionally, behaviorally, physiologically, cognitively, and spiritually to the stimulations of the present moment, examine what the present moment awakens within you from your past, and examine how you disconnect from the present moment. Because these are the underlying fundamentals of the group, it’s critical that you become an expert on how to attend to the present moment, how you disconnect from the present moment, and how you can best return to the present moment.

The third value I want to discuss with you is beginner’s mind. There’s only one obstacle that will sabotage any effort you make over the course of your entire group experience. Whether it be welcoming a new group member, developing relationships, addressing the unfolding issues that arise in the group, wrestling with the Group Therapy Contract, no matter the issue, no matter the task, you and only you will be your only obstacle to succeeding in the group. Stop worrying about what you don’t know, there is no need to fret about the unexpected, stop being so anxious about how all your shortcomings will do you in, because they won’t. There’s only one thing that you need to be protected from and that one thing would be you.

Throughout your entire group experience, you’ll have many opportunities to learn, to grow, and ultimately, transform. However, very little transformative learning can take place until you recognize how you get in your own way. Once you recognize how you get in your way, the next thing for you to do is unlearn what you do that gets you in your own way. Why? Because if you don’t unlearn what you do that gets you in your own way then how much room can there be for you to make room for new experiences and new ways of seeing yourself and the world at large? The following story is a good example of how people get in their way to the point that they can’t possibly be open to new experiences and new visions.

A learned professor once went to visit a Zen master to debate the finer points of Zen. The professor came armed with his credentials and his many accomplishments in the field of comparative religion. Included in his introduction to the Zen master was the mentioning of the many awards that had been bestowed upon him during his long and distinguished career.

While listening to the professor, the Zen master offered tea to his guest. As the learned professor continued presenting his credentials of expertise in the field of comparative religion, the Zen master began to fill the professor’s tea cup. While the professor went on and on about the level of expertise he had achieved, the Zen master continued pouring tea into the learned professor’s cup until it was overflowing. Even as the cup overflowed, the Zen master continued pouring and pouring.

The professor protested, thinking the Zen master a madman. The professor pointed out that the cup was overflowing and had become too full to hold any more tea.

“You are like this cup,” the Zen master told his guest, “too full of your own opinions to receive anything else.”          

You too are too full of your opinions and ideas to receive what your experience in the group has to offer you. Until you approach every week with an empty cup and a beginner’s mind, you’ll continue to be blinded by your opinions, your judgments, and your self-serving belief system. How can you develop a beginner’s mind?

What I tell people that they need to do is to not fall in love with their story.  What do I mean by their story? Everybody has a story, a way they explain to themselves who they are, a way they explain to themselves who other people are, a way they explain to themselves what motivates their choices, a way to explain to themselves the circumstances of their lives, a way to explain to themselves how they fit into this world. For each and every aspect of your life, you have a story that explains that aspect to yourself.

Inevitably, these stories are self-serving, Ego-dominated, biased, narrowly constructed accounts of what you’re experiencing and perceiving in your life. The themes of these stories are easily recognized: 1.) I’m a hero; 2.) I’m well intended; 3.) I’m unique; 4.) I’m a victim; 5.) I’m misunderstood; 6.) I’m not responsible; 7.) I’m helpless; 8.) I’m entitled to...; 9.) I need; 10.) I want; 11.) I must have; 12.) the world’s unfair.

Your stories are very important to you. You use these stories as the rationalizations, justifications, and explanations for all that you see, think, feel, and do. However, just because your story is your story, just because your story is the product of your own life experiences, just because your story is the sum total of how you understand the world and your place in it, doesn’t mean that your stories are necessarily accurate accounts of who you and other people are, what motivates you and other people to do what you do, nor do these stories necessarily serve your highest good.

In fact, about the only thing that your stories do serve is Ego. More times than not, the stories that you construct are ghost written by Ego. The stories serve Ego by keeping the voice of Ego in the foreground and the voice of your authentic Self muffled in the background.                                                                

It’s simple for me to exhort you to merely let go of how you view the world. The reality is that’s not going to happen so easily. You just don’t give up those things because I suggest that you should. First you need to see the wisdom for yourself in giving up your viewpoints about yourself, the people in your life, and the circumstances of your life. If you decide that it’s time to do away with parts of how you see things, you’ll need other ways of viewing the world.

As you empty your cup and let go of many of your self-serving stories, you’ll start the creation of a beginner’s mind. Once your cup empties, you’ll start to fill another cup with stories that have been created by your beginner’s mind. Some of those themes are: 1.) I’m ordinarily human; 2.) I’m an unindicted co-conspirator in all that happens in my life; 3.) I attract to my world all that I put out into my world; 4.) my higher power and I are the active co-creators of my emotional and spiritual well-being; 5.) my choices serve my highest good; 6.) my obstacles are my teachers; 7.) the challenges in my life are gifts that enable me to grow.

Until you approach each group session open to questioning the veracity of your stories, until you approach each group session open to rewriting the stories of Ego from the voice of your authentic Self and Essence, you’ll continue to participate in your life in all the same ways that you currently do. Until you empty your cup, until you approach group with a beginner’s mind emptied of judgment, opinion, and Ego dominated beliefs, you’ll continue to be not only your biggest obstacle in group, but your biggest obstacle in your life.

The fourth value I want to discuss with you is reverence. Joining a group, starting new relationships with the current group members, actively participating in those relationships, awakening emotional wounds from your past, and experiencing new wounds in the here-and-now is an emotionally provocative experience for anybody. The tensions created by those experiences can be overwhelming. Just as in any other area of your life, you’ll experience the need to protect yourself from the inevitable emotional discomfort aroused by opening yourself up to other people and letting them enter your world. You’ll protect yourself in the group the way you protect yourself in every other aspect of your life--by disconnecting from the present moment, initiating avoidance behaviors, donning the many masks of Ego, and activating the Ego created personal energy, pride.          

I’ve already discussed with you disconnecting from the present moment in the section on presence. I’ve already discussed with you some of the avoidance behaviors you’ll utilize in the group in the section on reciprocity. Let me take some time here to provide you an overview of two aspects of your personal energy, pride and reverence. Pride is that aspect of your personal energy that’s created by Ego. Reverence is that aspect of your personal energy that’s created by your spiritual center, Essence. An important focus of the work you’ll be undertaking in the group is how to transform pride into reverence. For a more detailed explanation of pride, Ego, reverence, and Essence read the following pamphlets, Mirror Mirror on the Wall..., Parts 1&2, [Re]Connecting With Essence: Giving Birth to a Life of Joy, Love, and Prosperity and The Art of Living Consciously: How to Create A Life of Love, Authenticity, and Grace.

As I said, reverence is that aspect of your personal energy that’s created by Essence. Reverence is made up of three elements. The three elements of reverence are surrender, humility, and gratitude. The three elements of reverence are antidotes for the four elements of pride. Those four elements are willfulness, shame, grandiosity, and entitlement.

As you explore who you are in the group, as you examine the choices you make, as you develop a deeper and more expanded awareness of what parts of yourself are activated by what circumstances in the group, you’ll be confronted with one unavoidable Truth. The unavoidable Truth that you’ll be confronted with is that Ego and it’s energy, pride, is embedded in every level of your being--your thoughts, feelings, choices, and physiological reactions.  

Why is it so important for you to embrace this unavoidable Truth as well as understand the implications of this Truth for your personal transformation? No matter how many books you read, no matter how many workshops you attend, no matter how many audio tapes you listen to, no matter how many twelve-step meetings you attend, no matter how much time you spend in individual therapy, no matter how many mistaken beliefs you correct, no matter how many emotional wounds you heal, no matter how many psychodynamics you have interpreted to you, no matter how able you are to embrace your inner child, no matter how many developmental stages you are able to work through, if you don’t identify, examine, acknowledge, and take ownership of Ego at the very cellular level of who you are as well as how Ego manifests itself into every one of your thoughts, feelings, and actions, your journey of personal transformation will remain horribly incomplete. Until you grapple with Ego, until you give yourself permission to claim Ego as part of who you are, until you embrace reverence, as a way of life to be lived, not an abstract concept to be learned, you’ll merely be treading water, putting off until the very end the most unpleasant of all jobs of constructing your personal and spiritual transformation--surrender, humility, and gratitude.

The focus of much of your examination in the group will be not only on how Ego is embedded in all that you do, think, and feel, but how Ego is the creator of the energy that stops you cold in your tracks, sabotages your best intentions, fans the flames of drama and chaos in every aspect of your life, and poisons your relationships.

Let me emphasize the following point. Ego will live and breathe in all that you do in group, from your first moment in group until your very last. The point of your therapy is not to eradicate Ego, that will never happen, nor should it! The point of your therapy is to identify, examine, acknowledge, and take ownership of how Ego manifests itself at the very cellular level of thoughts, feelings, and actions in order that you may transform pride into reverence.

Incorporating reverence into your group experience means that you acknowledge to yourself that every present moment in the group offers you a choice. The choice is between Ego authored and Essence authored thoughts and actions. Because of that, you need to develop the following awareness. Are the thoughts that I’m thinking, are the feelings that I’m experiencing, are the words that I’m saying, are the behaviors that I’m choosing Ego sponsored or Essence sponsored?

Ego sponsored choices are choices that have embedded in those choices aspects of one of the following or any combination of willfulness, shame, grandiosity, and/or entitlement. Essence sponsored choices are choices that have embedded in them aspects of one of the following or any combination of surrender, humility, and/or gratitude. Ego sponsored choices’ sole purpose is to bring you temporary relief from emotional discomfort. Essence sponsored choices’ sole purpose is to serve your highest good. Ego sponsored choices are little self inspired. Essence dominated choices are Divine inspired.

Let’s be very clear here. You must make the distinction between aspiration and doing the right thing. Do not assume that Essence authored choices are the right way to do group therapy. The only right way to do group therapy is to acknowledge what’s unfolding within you in the present moment and make whatever choice you want to make at that point. You may aspire to create Essence authored choices, but, that doesn’t mean that Ego authored choices are wrong choices. Ego authored choices are merely choices that bring you momentary relief to your emotional discomfort rather than serve your highest good.

So reverence, as an aspect of your personal energy, is manufactured by your spiritual center, Essence.  Reverence, as a value of group therapy, is manufactured by your Essence sponsored choices. Essence sponsored choices have at their core surrender, humility, and/or gratitude. That distinguishes them from Ego sponsored choices, which have at their core, willfulness, shame, grandiosity, and/or entitlement. Get it? You’re not a prisoner to your reactions. You’re not a slave to the script. You don’t have to spend a lifetime being oppositional to all that comes into your path. You have a choice of how you want to respond to any given moment in the group and in your life. You can always choose surrender over willfulness, humility over grandiosity and/or shame, and gratitude over entitlement. Or not!

To make such choices requires that you be connected to the present moment, your feelings, your thoughts, and your physical being. You must be willing to thoughtfully examine how pride is embedded in your moment-to-moment experiences. Ultimately, you must make a choice between the momentary comfort that pride seemingly provides for you and a choice, authored by reverence, that serves your highest good.

Those are the other four values of the foundational value system  of the Group Therapy Contract. Embracing the five values of the foundational value system  will not guarantee your success in the group. However, to turn your back on them and continue to embrace your own old tired ways will guarantee you only one thing. That one thing? In the words of the late, great Stanley Phillips, “If you choose to always think what you’ve always thought, and if you choose to always do what you’ve always done, then you will always get what you’ve always got.”

G.B.U.

Steve



Dr. Steve Frisch, Psy.D. is a clinical psychologist in private practice in
Chicago, Illinois and Northfield, Illinois.

You can contact Dr. Frisch, Psy.D. at drfrisch@aliveandwellnews.com  or at
(847) 498-5622.

Recover from chemical dependency and its toxic impact on family members. Raise your children to choose to be alcohol and other drugs free. Learn how to in Dr. Frisch’s, Psy.D. Recovery book series.

 


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