Story and experience

1. Story and experience

One way of thinking about the difference between the story we tell ourselves about an experience, and the experience itself is to consider how the brain manages information. It has two operations located in what we can call the experiencing self and the remembering self. Each moment of the experiencing self lasts about 3 seconds, most of the experience vanishing without a trace. What gets remembered by the remembering self are changes in the story, significant (intense) moments in the story. Our brain tends to colour the entire story with the intensity of the ending of it. The experiencing brain operates without a voice and without the remembering self. Watch this:

For example, when someone listens to a symphony, and hears absolutely glorious music and at the very end of the performance, there is a dreadful screeching sound, someone could think/feel/believe the screech ruined the whole experience. But it hadn’t. What it had ruined were the memories of the experience. You have had the experience. You have had 20 minutes of glorious music. They can count for nothing if you are left with a memory that the performance was ruined. The memory was ruined, and the memory is all that you get to keep.

2. Choice & behaviour

Whether we know it or not we are all the time attempting to satisfy five core needs with our actions or behaviour. We can argue about whether we are born with an ability to choose our actions but three things are certain. Firstly, as we age and mature we develop more knowledge of what drives us and our loved ones to act or not act. With increasing self-awareness we start to turn around our reactive and automatic behaviours and replace them with pro-active choices. That is, we anticipate more accurately our default behaviours in each situation, interrupt the habitual pattern, and make a new choice. Choosing to act or not and choosing when, where, how and what we do or don’t do. We rarely have any control of how other people act or feel. Changing what we do is the key to changing how we feel. Secondly, whether we like being categorised or not, all human motivation – stuff that drives behaviour – can be described in five overlapping sets: power; love & belonging; fun; survival, and freedom. Power including achievement, making things happen, feeling worthwhile as well as winning. Love & belonging including family, loved ones, groups and communities. Fun including enjoyment, pleasure and desire. Survival including shelter, nourishment, intimacy (it is our last sanctuary) and sex. Freedom including your own space, autonomy and independence. It’s the stuff from left field that no-one could have predicted that will always test the self awareness of even the most enlightened souls. However, contrary to Murphy’s Law, many things that can go wrong turn out OK.

3. Emotions

Emotions may be the biggest obstacle to finding your way out of a complex situation. Clouded emotions like fog, obscure the bigger picture and you lose perspective.

4. Change

Changing what we do is the key to changing how we feel.

5. Authority

The two ways I have noticed authority get played in families is by abdicating or usurping. Kids tend to usurp parental authority and one parent or both parents tend to abdicate.

6. Life tasks

There are five life tasks to master in order to feel healthy. Friendship (a person’s friendships tell more about who the person is than their schooling, employment, family of origin). Occupation (vocation or just a job). Love/Intimacy (attachment). Spirituality (meaningful life), and Self (at peace with). Without growth in each of those areas, life may be experienced as stagnant, going nowhere and the person ends up feeling lost and even a little empty.

7. Shame

Shame based “When emotionally abandoned people describe their childhoods, it is always without feeling. Alice Miller writes, They recount their earliest memories without any sympathy for the child they once were. Very often they show disdain and irony, even derision and cynicism. In general, there is a complete absence of real emotional understanding or serious appreciation of their own childhood vicissitudes, and no conception of their authentic needs—beyond the need for achievement. The internalization of the original drama has been so complete that the illusion of a good childhood can be maintained. A child who has been denied the experience of connecting with his own emotions is first consciously and then unconsciously (through the internal identification with the parent) dependent on his parents. Alice Miller writes: He cannot rely on his own emotions, has not come to experience them through trial and error, has no sense of his own real needs and is alienated from himself to the highest degree. Such a person cannot separate from his parents. He is fantasy bonded with them. He has an illusion (fantasy) of connection, i.e., he really thinks there is a love relationship between himself and his parents. Actually he is fused and enmeshed. This is an entrapment rather than a relationship. Later on this fantasy bond will be transferred to other relationships. This fantasy-bonded person is still dependent on affirmation from his partner, his children, his job. He is especially dependent on his children. A fantasy-bonded person never has a real connection or a real relationship with anyone. There is no real, authentic self there for another to relate to. The real parents, who only accepted the child when he pleased them, remain as introjected voices. The true self hides from these introjected voices just as the real child did. The “loneliness of the parental home” is replaced by “isolation within the self.” A young boy who learns never to need anything emotionally from his parents is . . . faced with a dilemma whenever he feels young, needy or otherwise insecure. If masturbating has been his principle source of good feeling . . . he may resort to masturbation in order to restore good feelings about self at times when he is experiencing needs quite unrelated to sexuality. John Bradshaw, Healing the Shame that Binds You.

8. Shame based behaviours

In order to grasp types of shame based behaviours, it’s important to review the nature of human emotions. E-motions are energy in motion. They are the energy that moves us—our human fuel. Our emotions are also like the red light oil gauge on our car signalling us about a need, a loss or a satiation. Our anger is our strength; our fear is our discernment; our sadness is our healing feeling; our guilt is our conscience former; our shame signals our essential limitation and is the source of our spirituality. When our emotions are shamed, they are repressed. Repression involves tensing muscles and shallow breathing. One set of muscles is mobilized to block the energy of the emotion we’re ashamed to feel. Sadness is commonly converted into a false smile (reactive formation). I have often smiled when I felt sad. Once the energy is blocked, we no longer feel it. However, it is still a form of energy. It is dynamic. I already gave you the example of how repressed anger intensifies. Our anger explodes because it cannot be repressed anymore. In reenactment, the emotional energy is “acted out” or “acted in.” The behavior that set up the shaming event is repeated with surrogates who reenact the original shaming scene, or a person shames himself in the way he was originally shamed. This can occur through destructive self-talk, or it can happen when a person cuts himself or drives himself mercilessly, refusing to take breaks, get proper rest or take legitimate vacations.” John Bradshaw, Healing the Shame that Binds You

9. “I” observing a “me”

Most people have an “I” observing a “me”, who also guards against exposing himself to himself, and who will disown themselves when exposed: ‘that’s not me’ ‘I would never do, I would never say, I would never feel that’. This is a signature of an adversarial relationship with one’s self, and provides the way to avoid attacking one self. How does this split evolve? In the optimal family, public validation of private experience is given frequently. For example, when a child says ‘I am thirsty’ parents give her a drink (rather than saying, “No you’re not. You just had a drink”. When a child expresses anger or frustration, family members take it seriously (rather than dismissing it as unimportant).