Center for Human Awakening BLOG
Today I'll bake; tomorrow I'll brew.
Then I'll fetch the queen's new child.
It is good that no one knows
Rumpelstiltskin is my name.
(from "Rumpelstiltskin" the German folktale in Grimm's Fairy Tales 1812)
The extraordinary subject of family dominates and pervades our existence as individual and collective beings throughout our life. Who can see their family clearly and vividly? Who can name the qualities, the attributes of the individual members and the collective giant of family itself? Knowing yourself and others is not enough; there are also the relationships between each of the members. In a family of four, there are 48 basic relationships in play (relationship to self and the other three, relation to you from each of these plus the perceived and possibly erroneous relationships you project). Is it any wonder that family dynamics are so notoriously dense?
In myths and fairy tales from around the world we find the motif of the mysterious helper who strikes a bargain with the distressed heroine and is eventually disempowered when his name is discovered and spoken (see The Name of the Helper: Aarne-Thompson tale type 500). The German folktale Rumpelstiltskin is perhaps the one we are most familiar with. Briefly, a boastful father claims his daughter can spin straw into gold. The king incarcerates her in a tower and threatens to kill her unless she can perform the miraculous task. In her despair, a stranger appears and produces the gold in exchange for her necklace and ring. The king offers to marry or kill her on the third night unless she produces even more gold than before. This time the stranger produces the gold in exchange for her first-born child. She marries the king, has a baby boy, and the stranger appears to collect his reward. She offers all her riches, for she is now the queen, and eventually the stranger agrees to delaying taking possession of the child for three days, during which time if she can guess his name correctly he will relinquish his claim.
Now here comes a highly significant variation. The queen discovers the stranger's real name. when he is found in the dead of night, dancing around a fire singing a rhyme. But in some versions it is the king who hears the stranger's song, in other's it is a traveling artisan or someone who works for the king, in others it is the girl's parents, and in still others it is the girl herself.
The name of course is Rumpelstiltskin -- a name you could never have guessed. But whether you, your parents or the king discover it and release you from the follies, the intrigues, and the hidden dynamics of your family belief system and prison is crucial.
Therapy is the pursuit in which we reveal our truth, our essence -- in which we discover our true name. The dwarf, the stranger, the trickster are merely versions of an animus that is attempting to thwart us from that discovery. When we are confident in our inner work we understand that the answer is within. Hence in a German version of the story "Kugerl," we read, "The girl was satisfied with this answer, and she went home."
The hungry ghosts, the imps, and those inner beings who seek to take from us manipulatively are overcome by speaking their names: Rumpelstiltskin, Hipche-Hipche, Doubleturk. The answer, of course, is found at home, or within.
"If my bride knew that my name is Doubleturk, she wouldn't take me!"
Within you -- and within each client you work with -- are the parental images you have taken in throughout your early years. Also there is the authoritarian voice or image, the part of you with a will to power in the name of protection, in the name of survival. And finally there is the essence, the kernel of yourself, your own soul or psyche which is the one that needs to rise to the challenge and free itself from the chains and oppression of the family matrix, outmoded, anachronistic, and irrelevant as it is now.
This idea of having power over something you can name has great relevance in family exploration in psychotherapy. As we work, as therapist or client, through the mazes and labyrinths of our family history, clarity arises from our acts of naming. As we get these words, notions, and descriptions "right" -- that is more true, more vivid, more real -- so family conditioning loosens its hold progressively over our lives. When finally we have the word for it (figuratively), our attachments dissolve.
Naming the stranger, the dwarf, the half person is by reflection naming ourselves. By naming what we reject, we recognize what we are prepared to accept. What your client aspires to, what motivates them, their intentionality and their attitude and resilience to overcome challenges and discover their true nature -- these are the qualities that determine the outcome of their personal process. Will they discover themselves or not? Will they take the complete course -- the one that only they can know, the one that is designated within them -- and learn to speak their own name?
Discovering the name of the trickster reveals to us our own truth, our own completeness, our wholeness and wholeness has been the goal of depth psychotherapy since the Upanishads, since counseling began.
Fairy tales are of childhood. The characters and the narratives are like family stories, symbolic of inner dynamics and reflective of the time when we are learning to make sense of the world, when everything appeared to be black and white.
Here I sit, carving gold,
My name is Holzrührlein Bonneführlein.
If the mother knew that,
She could keep her daughter.
("Dwarf Holzrührlein Bonneführlein" in Märchen und Sagen aus Hannover 1854)
Richard Harvey is a psycho-spiritual psychotherapist, spiritual teacher, and author. He is the founder of The Center for Human Awakening and has developed a form of depth-psychotherapy called Sacred Attention Therapy (SAT) that proposes a 3-stage model of human awakening. Richard can be reached at [email protected]Blog entry #171
Why are boundaries so important in therapy?
Therapy is a relationship. The meeting points of this relationship are as specific as any other kind of relationship. The wise therapist needs to pay careful, regular attention to these meeting points as a way of maintaining healthy contact with her clients.
Boundaries enable relationship. They are not what relationship is all about, but they offer ways and means. Like internet connections they link you up, rather than proscribe what will be the content of the communication.
In therapy there are physical boundaries and energetic, emotional ones -- the seen and the unseen boundaries.
Money in remuneration for therapy is a seen boundary. You make a charge and the client agrees to pay it. That's an agreement you make and it is a boundary that can be kept or broken.
Time is another seen or physical boundary. You agree to meet your client at a predetermined time and frequency. How exact that time is, how fixed, how you deal with late arrival and the consequences of cancellation or not showing up -- this is the business of negotiating clear time boundaries.
Money and time boundaries are extremely powerful and they can have profound therapeutic results. They reflect our sense of inner worth. Money and time are symbolic of self-esteem, self-worth, self-image, and our overall sense of value. They are undoubtedly important issues for our clients -- but also for ourselves.
Relational boundaries in psychotherapy and counseling vary enormously across different traditions and lineages. Analytical psychotherapists, for example, don't work with the relative or a friend of an existing client. Humanistic psychotherapists by contrast may well have social relationships with their clients. We will surely return to this subject over the levels of the SAT training, since it is so complex and important.
In the meantime, questions such as, Is attending a social situation with a client, outside of the therapeutic setting, breaking a boundary? Is befriending a client breaking a boundary? What should I do if I arrive at a social dinner and one of my clients is present? should be thought about deeply and, for the moment, I suggest that you ask what is right for you in regard to this boundary issue and in regard to individual clients. Where you feel unclear and need to discuss a particular relationship further, I suggest discussing it with your supervisor.
Richard Harvey is a psycho-spiritual psychotherapist, spiritual teacher, and author. He is the founder of The Center for Human Awakening and has developed a form of depth-psychotherapy called Sacred Attention Therapy (SAT) that proposes a 3-stage model of human awakening. Richard can be reached at [email protected]Blog entry #170
Therapists should always be prepared for the unexpected. The catharsis of feelings is not always tidy. It does not always wait for you to lay the mattress and cushions on the floor and send an invitation. If strong catharsis and particularly demonstrative catharsis appears as the practitioner you need to trust the process. You must breathe. This is important to ensure that you do not get caught with any of the flagrant feelings flying around the room. Hold the space, be sure that your client cannot harm themselves physically, for example, if they are striking the arm of their chair you may need to pad it or redirect their hitting to a nearby cushion.
Your therapy space should to be able to accommodate and contain shouting, hitting, screaming, swearing, kicking, stomping, and movement of all kinds. It must be safe to express emotions, release them, and be cathartic. Your client has a right to reclaim their feelings.
When a client connects with the flow of emotional life beneath the surface we must respect the consequences for them and the lives of others close to them. While some balance is being gained, some new alignment set in their integrating and stabilizing as a feeling, emotionally expressive human being, your client may need some help and guidance concerning their primary love relationship and close friends. Because these relationships are the ones your client feels most strongly about, now feelings are flowing more freely, close and loved ones may need help to understand what is happening in the client’s inner world and what is now being expressed in the client’s outer world.
Become sensitive to your client’s needs and you can help him or her to re-engage with their emotions. People are not all the same -- no slogans about allowing or encouragements to release are as effective as the wisdom that underpins the effective guidance that comes out of a genuine understanding of your client. You may need to be tremendously slow, gentle, and sensitive, patient and understanding. For some what seems a very small movement to you may be immense from their perspective. Never assume your sense of proportion equals that of your client.
There are a variety of principal messages which you may want to be aware of and they may underpin your approach with any given client. Here are a few pointers.
- Your emotions are acceptable and it is OK to feel.
- Everything inside you is natural and human.
- Feelings are natural and desirable; they fulfill our humanness.
- You can feel and set the boundary between us.
- It is alright to feel hurt.
- You have permission to be angry.
- I will listen to your feelings.
- Emotions are not shameful; you do not have to feel guilty for feeling them.
- You have a right to your emotions; you deserve to feel, your feelings are valuable.
- Your emotions are of value.
- Your feelings are worth listening to, worth my time, and they deserve to be recognized and acknowledged.
In Sacred Attention Therapy we work with shared reflection, which includes the client in the process of developing awareness on a mutual, equitable relationship. A final thought about emotional repression in therapy: you only feel strong emotions toward people you care about. This is important. Anger can bind you as much as love. The surplus of emotions your client is bearing in their psyche – many of them are related to people who really mattered when they were young. These emotions now bind them to those people. So, do not be surprised if your client begins to have powerful feelings toward you – and they may well be negative ones.
When your client directs negative emotions toward you, simply try and stay out of the way and recognize the effectiveness of having these powerful feelings expressed now they are real and present in the therapy room. The connection to the important figures from early life will emerge; just trust the process… and when it does the source of the emotions will become clear and presage the healing transformation.
Personal therapy takes place through the Process of Self-Discovery in which the wounds of the past are healed. As you pass through the final stages of personal awakening, through forgiveness and attaining wholeness by owning the shadow or all you have denied, you enter into a realm of heart feeling that is more alive and vivid than emotions ever were before.
Real emotions flow after the dammed-up ones are finally released. Only when these present responsive emotions are flowing do we come to truly experience authentic emotionality. It is like turning on a bright light. No longer are emotions and your feeling life a reactive affair, no longer do emotions bruise, hurt, and crush you. A vibrant, life-giving torrent of experience awaits you in the second and the third stages of awakening. In time, you will look back and it seems as if the world that was in black and white is now flashing and brilliant, dazzling with a new dimension of feeling and emotion.
Richard Harvey is a psycho-spiritual psychotherapist, spiritual teacher, and author. He is the founder of The Center for Human Awakening and has developed a form of depth-psychotherapy called Sacred Attention Therapy (SAT) that proposes a 3-stage model of human awakening. Richard can be reached at [email protected]Blog entry #169
Family beliefs are the shared and collective judgments and prejudices that appear in a family grouping. The family in this context is usually biological in origin – the so-called nuclear family -- though today it often includes step-siblings and partners who may not be biological parents, but who relate to the children as parents and primary carers.
Speaking of her parents and the prevailing mood of lies in the family, a character in a modern novel describes the experience like this: "It wasn't so much any specific thing they said as the whole family atmosphere. It was the air we -- even that 'we' was a kind of lie -- breathed."
The family atmosphere is the experience we "breathed" in and it was, at least in part, the result of the concepts and beliefs held by the family.
Family beliefs may be shared in the sense of conformed to or they may be rebelled against. Either way we are interested in them in Sacred Attention Therapy (SAT) because they reveal the client’s life orientation. It is important to see whether we accept or reject a particular belief, but whichever we choose, it may still become a part of us. In fact all the collective events, narrative, and fabric of the family become part of our ancestral heritage, even secrets and personal, private thoughts. This makes therapy sometimes extremely challenging as we try to embrace the client’s whole experience, including only tacitly known facts or suspicions. As SAT therapists we can hold even tentatively offered experiences, sometimes placing them on the back-burner as the emerging life story reveals a place for the smaller details.
Family beliefs are pronouncements about the fabric of life, about human reactions to life events and relationships. They reflect principles and convictions about trust, love, disappointment, certainty, welcoming, belonging, taking risks, dangers, what can be relied on, what is certain to fail – the list seems endless; it is as long as lives themselves and as rich and varied and diverse.
Family beliefs reveal attitudes to right and wrong, to morality, discipline, and effort. They declare what binds the family together, what is of value and what is not. They come from parents, teachers, relatives, friends, and mentors. They arise out of a broad canvas of assumptions and expectations, colored by society, culture, religion, literature, philosophy, psychology, and the prevailing ethos.
They may stem from conventional morals, communal values, old adages, common folk wisdom, superstitions, collective wisdom, and cultural notions. They may have a flavor of our national identity, class identity, local identity, and conclusions drawn from the place we perceive we occupy in the world.
Sometimes they derive from edicts, aphorisms, axioms, mottos, or maxims -- common sayings and folklore. They can be sourced in poetry, folk songs, and pop songs, and reinforced in comedy, theater, movies and other forms of popular entertainment.
In the practice of Sacred Attention Therapy, or SAT, we spend a lot of time being. My kids used to ask me, What do you do at work dad? And I used to say, "As little as possible." This isn’t precisely correct of course, because not doing can be as hard as, or even harder than, doing.
One of the reasons we go to see a therapist or counselor is that they are not too eager to interfere. The mature and good counselor takes time to intervene, allows the client time to talk, feels into the client’s reality, and, because he is able to be and not just do, he is able to firmly set his own personal material to one side.
This setting our own material to one side is tremendously important, because it is only in receptive emptiness that we can resonate with another. Think about this for a minute. The blank canvas is a gift to the artist, as is the empty note pad to the wandering poet, the piles of wood and bricks to the gifted builder, and the uncarved block to the artist-sculptor. Therapy too is an art and, as we set our own material to one side, so we are more able to help our client to understand herself more deeply and in time heal. But in order for that to happen the client before us paints her picture for us to see, acknowledge, and validate.
Validation, recognition, and acknowledgement are fundamental needs. Mostly as children we have not had enough of these. Take your own children, or somebody else’s, to a play park and you will learn this very quickly. Look at me! cries the child excitedly propelling herself down the slide, whipping up a storm on the swing, or recklessly riding the roundabout. As many times as you can respond with, Great! Yes! Well done! Brilliant! the child returns with the repeated demand, Look at me! It seems as if the need for validation and recognition could go on forever.
Most of us did not receive the attention we hoped for and needed. We wanted more, we deserved more. Sometimes more in the sense of more and more times, but often simply more in the sense of a quality of attention -- the need to have all the attention or someone's total attention.
In SAT we give our attention. We give all our attention, every bit of it, and if we cannot do that, then either we should be doing something else or we should learn how to do it. All therapy, at least in the first stages, is remedial. Remedial means making up for lost time, filling in a deficit, giving love and awareness into a seeming void... though it turns out only to be a child’s need for validation, for recognition, for some affirmation that “I exist.”
Blog entry #167