“The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”
It is not uncommon for me to run into a potential client who is seeking to change a detrimental habit. The habit can range anywhere from issues with procrastination to substance abuse. In the process of gathering more information from the client. I encounter a pattern of unhealthy thinking and behaving that is prevalent in all areas of the clients’ life.
Upon bringing this to the attention of the client, I receive a response that the only thing he or she wants to work on is changing the specific habit they complained about, and nothing else. Well, this is a problem, because everything about us is interwoven. This means that while we are working on cognitive strategies to change thoughts and behaviors regarding the identified behavior, the client continues to engage in his established pattern of thinking and behaving in other areas of his life, which only reinforces the bad habit he wants to change.
The idea that we can departmentalize our behaviors is a misunderstanding, A misunderstanding because some people experience significant success in some areas of their lives than other areas of their lives. The simple reason for this is because in the areas they have experienced more success, they invested more time. Regardless, if you are experiencing negative consequences due to chronic detrimental behavior you engage in, it is based on your mindset, or simply put, an unhealthy mindset you adhere to. This means that for people who struggle with unhealthy behaviors, while simultaneously experiencing success in another area of their life, then they have experienced that success in spite of their unhealthy mindset. Furthermore, in the absence of the identified unhealthy mindset, they would achieve even more success in the area or areas they are already excelling in.
Ultimately, the ability to identify a need to change, and the preference to cherry pick what type of change will occur, is a primitive instinct. Meaning that we want to experience positive changes in our lives with little cost or sacrifice.
It is also important to note, that for those who embrace focusing on the whole versus the parts, the process of changing your entire life is counter intuitive in that you only focus on your mindset and become cognizant on when and how you practice change in all areas of your life.
Ugo is a psychotherapist and owner of Road 2 Resolutions PLLC.
During our first five years of life, our right hemisphere develops a narrative in accordance to what we have experienced in our immediate environment so far. This means that if our experiences so far have involved safety, compassion and affection, we develop core beliefs to reflect these narratives. If our experiences so far have evolved a scarcity of affection and compassion and a lack of safety, we develop core beliefs which prepare us to survive in a rough world. This is because on a primitive level we are hard wired to survive at all costs. An example of an unsafe environment would include physical abuse in which a person’s existence is threatened, or humiliation as a result of being on the receiving end of chronic emotional abuse. When these incidences occur during a person’s early life experience, it will most likely lead to the development of core beliefs which reside in his subconsciousness, beliefs which are geared towards protecting him from similar incidences in the future, and beliefs which habitually influence his decision making.
For example, when a child is habitually physically or emotionally abused, the child grows up to develop a sub conscious belief in which his safety and/standing with the community or any community is always at risk of being compromised. These beliefs leads to feelings of hyper arousal, where the person is subconsciously constantly on the look out of trouble, as a result everything he does will be limited by his threatening beliefs.
I once had a client who was struggling with his studies, he was a freshman at the University of Arizona and he was on the verge of dropping out of school. The primary reason for his failing grades was that he was simply not doing the work. My client would later reveal his struggle with a learning disability and the habitual shaming language he received from his parents at home in regards to their fears that he would amount to nothing. During our course of treatment, we determined that at his core, he believed himself to be worthless, and lived in fear of being discovered by others, so throughout his life, he would perform the bare minimum and avoid engaging in challenging work in the presence of others, least he was “discovered”.
Consider another story, of a client raised by a single mother, he shared that she was emotionally abusive towards him and some of her male partners were just as abusive. As a teenager, when my client finally demanded to be informed about whom his father was, his mother sent him to go live with his father for the summer. His father whom he had not had contact with since his second birthday, was now married with three children. My client reported that both his father and step mother where physically abusive towards him, and that he and his siblings struggled to get along. It was at this time he fell into a deep depression as he had always romanticized reuniting with his father and being rescued from his mother.
Fast forward to his mid thirties, where he experiences high stress and conflict in his relationships with others. He feels bullied by the mother of his child, he feels bullied by his supervisor at work and by another co worker. His response to these incidents of bullying is to become extra accommodating to the people he is experiencing conflicts with. The typical response to his accommodating behavior is that the bullying he is receiving from others becomes worse, leading him to experience bouts of panic attacks as a result of his feelings of being emotionally stuck.
Treatment for both clients were successful in which they were both able to develop new narratives to begin the process of replacing their core beliefs. These were accomplished through the process and combination of cognitive behavioral therapy and eye movement desensitization reprocessing. My first client transitioned from an academic probation status, to thriving in his studies during his second year at the University, while my second client reported how his practice of assertiveness had led to favorably changes in his relationships with others.
Our core beliefs resides in our subconsciousness and were formed during our early life experiences to meet the demands of our immediate and respective environments. However, given that change is constant, in the event we find ourselves in a new environment or competence enough to put ourselves in a new environment, it is important to know that we are fully capable of change.
We are the authors of our future.
Ugo is a psychotherapist and life coach.
Are you addicted to chasing chaos? Experiences from our early life experiences have a profound influence on who we become as adults.
In this research paper on childhood trauma published in the journal of infant mental health, the authors discuss the phenomenon of hyper arousal and dissociation as two primary types of symptoms that result from childhood trauma.
Hyper-arousal is a state of heightened awareness as a result of prolong exposure to trauma, where the well being of the person is consistently challenged and threatened. In comparison dissociation is a state of detachment that occurs as a result of prolonged exposure to trauma where the well being of the person is consistently being challenged and threatened. At this point, it is obvious that the symptoms of hyper-arousal and disassociation are based on the personality type of the person exposed to the trauma. I will also add that hyper-arousal and disassociation occur on a spectrum so most people with unresolved trauma will show both types of symptoms
In regards to chasing chaos, people with unresolved childhood trauma will often seek out relationships in their adult years that duplicate the traumatic relationships they experienced in their childhood. Regardless of how well things are going on for them in their personal lives, they will subconsciously seek out high conflict relationships in attempt to solve the problems they have traditionally been unable to solve in previous relationships. This turns out to be a repeat and rinse process where those persons with predominately hyper-arousal symptoms will habitually overreact to conflicts, leading to difficult to manage consequences. Also for those with predominately dissociation symptoms, they will consistently seek out high conflict relationships where they will under react to conflict, leading to difficult to manage consequences.
The solution is to know yourself, and work with a psychotherapist to begin the process of identifying your unhealthy auto pilot thought processes and subsequent behaviors, with the goal of replacing them with healthier alternatives.