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Sunday
Sep252011

Internalizing Wisdom

Last week I got a call from a client who I'd seen half a dozen times early this year. Working at a very senior position in real estate development, she originally came to me because she was unhappy about not achieving the superior results she'd long achieved (but in a different area of real estate), and feeling that she was in a firm which was not making maximum use of her talents.  But she also felt that she owed the partners who had hired her "more" of her, and so she was wracked with guilt.  In addition, she had recently gone through a bitter divorce, triggered by her husband's philandering, and was plagued with anger that was leading her to spend an inordinate amount of time obsessing about ways to exact revenge on him.  

She had not called to schedule an appointment (my first thought when I heard her voice).  She had called to thank me for setting into motion internal shifts that had led to huge changes in her life: leaving the company she'd been with to strike out on her own, optimistic and enthusiastic about her prospects for success, and finally letting go of the anger and resentment towards her ex-husband that had been consuming so much of her emotional energy.

She explained that a major contributor to her ability to effect such changes after only a handful of sessions was the fact that she had internalized my voice.  In fact, she admitted that she'd created a little acronym that she often used to center and guide her when she began feeling distress: "WWJS" (What would Jim say?).  Because I had consistently articulated a few key principles in working with the issues with which she was struggling, principles that she came to see as valid, it became fairly easy for her to process her disappointments, resentments, fears, and anxieties through a prism that brought her relief.  For example, in our sessions every time she brought up resentment and revenge fantasies towards her ex-husband I asked her "who is suffering more from this line of thinking, you or him?"  After only a few repetitions of this question she was able to clearly see that her resentments were taking a toll on her, not on him - and that therefore the resentments were counterproductive.  The revenge impulse continued to surface, but each time it did she was able to neutralize it by asking "WWJS?".  Similarly, each time guilt surfaced relative to her "underdelivery" at work, I would articulate another core principle of mine: "Win/Win", asking her if, in the long run, she and the firm would be better off maintaining the status quo, or going their separate ways so as to find solutions that better fit each of their needs.

In contrast to this rapidly successful case history is one involving a young man who had dated his high school sweetheart for years, broken up with her during college, got back with her again afterwards, and then "dumped" her again.  She was crazy about him, smart, sweet, and beloved by his mother - but the chemistry wasn't right, and their sex life was unsatisfactory.  He came to me tortured by doubt about whether he'd made the right decision in ending the relationship, wondering obsessively whether he should resume it again.  I asked him to make a list of all the times / situations in which he was with her and had doubts, and as the list grew longer and longer he realized that he'd consistently had significant questions about the rightness of the relationship. "Trust your intuition" was the principle I was trying to get him to adopt.  But he couldn't accept that at first, and so pursued outside source after outside source for an answer: fortune tellers, friends' opinions, hypnotherapists.  He eventually was able to trust his intuition (as I pointed out more and more situations in which it had accurately guided him) and now is comforted with the knowledge that he has an internal guide that he can trust.

I've had many, many clients report that they've discovered that their negative feelings can be quickly neutralized by applying a line of questionning that they've learned in our sessions.  This same phenomenon is at work among people who value spiritual or religious principles, allowing them to guide their thoughts to a more peaceful place. Quakers, observant Catholics, Orthodox Jews, Scientologists all have systems of thinking that can be applied to bring peace to just about any stressful situation.  In actuality, though, this process can work just as effectively with a "secular" set of principles. For example, the prescriptions of Steven Covey (articulated in "The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People"), or the execises recommended by Byron Katie (outlined in "Loving What Is"), or the "Four Agreements" of Don Miguel Ruiz are guidelines which, if they resonate and are consistently applied, will work beautifully.  

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