This post is going to explain methods dedicated to build and repair connections in personality structures.
The methods presented here may seem counterintuitive as they don’t directly correspond to shame, humiliation, low self-esteem and other bitter feelings that haunt people suffering from Avoidant Personality Disorder and Social Anxiety. Please read previous posts to understand why making connections is building and repairing personality structures. Immature and flawed personality makes you miserable and controlled by external influences, well developed and robust one will make you the director of your own life.
Avoidant’s relations to other people are often of a “child to parent” type, aimed at receiving, previously denied, acceptance. Other times they are superficial, directed at feeding the defense mechanisms. The practices described here are targeted on building authentic, equal to equal, rich and multidimensional connections.
This is a long term undertaking, not intended to improve self-esteem or to feel good in the short run. Every connection is like tiny twig, you need a pile of them before the positive results will be noticeable.
There are things that feel good in the short run: being accepted by others, being noticed and recognized, daydreaming about fame or reprisal for being harmed. All these have two things in common:
- their source is other people (alive or imagined),
- they lead you nowhere, may only drag you deeper into misery.
Self-work, however, is sometimes arduous and numb, but always beneficial and often followed by a sense of satisfaction.
- The outside source, the input from other people, is healthful and necessary in normal circumstances. What makes it useless and harmful for personality disorder sufferers, are destructive changes in personality structure.
- To simplify the descriptions, all the below methods are about connecting to people. However, the whole nature can be included, animal and even plants.
- This post points to some meditation resources on the Internet. You may prefer different resources and branches of meditations depending on the language you use and a culture you live in. Choose what suits you best.
I. Loving kindness meditation.
This technique is based on slowly repeating (in mind or aloud) the sentences aimed at inducing positive emotion toward the chosen person. Here you have one of the recommended set of sentences:
May he/she/they/I be safe and protected, and free from inner and outer harm.
May he/she/they/I be happy and contented.
May he/she/they/I be healthy and whole to whatever degree possible.
May he/she/they/I experience ease of well-being.
The whole sequence of sentences is repeated several times, each time choosing different person:
- First, choose someone close to you, someone you love or like a lot,
- Next person should be yourself,
- Then choose someone you like a little or someone neutral.
- At the end you may choose someone you don’t like. Skip this one if it’s too difficult.
Saying the full name of the person (if known), may help in increasing the emotions.
There are plenty of web resources describing this technique, choose the one that suits you best. You may also listen one of the guiding meditations to better understand the practice. I can recommend recording by Dr. Siegel, who is a known scholar and practitioner of meditation: http://www.mindfulness-solution.com/DownloadMeditations.html
Other kinds of sentences
Feel free to modify the sentences. There is no single, the only correct, set of phrases. I like to add following sentences:
May he/she/they/I discover the beauty he has inside, develop it and share with others.
May he/she/they/I take joy from the beauty others give him/her.
May he/she/they/I truly love and be truly loved back.
Apart from “wishing” sentences I use following “acknowledging” sentence:
You are the wonder of the nature, you are unique and beautiful.
You may use some shorter form of the practice in situations where there is no time or possibility for the full one.
II. Imaginative techniques
These ones are about simply visualizing the connection. There are two types:
- Imagine the positive attitude toward the other person. Imagining the friendly hugging this person is a good example. Imagine the closeness, touch of the skin, do not feel repulsed by old age, an illness or other adversities.
- The second one is about the connection only, with neutral emotional attitude. The goal is to feel that you and the other persons(s) are somehow linked together, or that you all are part of one organism.
You can imagine some kind of physical connection, like line between you and the other person. You can imagine that you both share some body parts or that you are part of a greater organism, like leaves on a tree or drops of water in the ocean. You can also imagine some kind of energy connecting you and the other people.
This is quick practice, suitable for situations when you are among people and don’t have time or conditions for other practices. The second form is also useful when dealing with difficult emotions.
III. Observational techniques
Notice the small ordinary things in people around you. Their hair, skin, parts of the body. Their clothes, jewelry, other things in their possession. How they behave, how they move, breathe, talk, etc.. Small things. Try to see the beauty in them, but pay attention to bad, ugly things as well.
It is not only important to be connected but the connection must be authentic and multi-dimensional. It means seeing the diversity of the other person and connecting with it. Strong line is made from a bunch of tiny threads.
This practice, like the previous one, is short and may be used among people. Of course, if it is not too embarrassing.
IV. Feeling connected to difficult people
Connecting to people that either reject us, are rejected by us or induce other negative emotions is not only building a new connection. Overcoming the rejection, even if only a little bit, is gradually repairing broken, rejecting part of your personality. It is therefore a necessary effort to undertake.
It is good to remember that hurtful behaviour stems from the damaged personality. It is a legacy of the wronged, abused or abandoned child. Do not identify the behaviour with the person as a whole, deep inside every villain is a child that wanted to be loved an to love. Acknowledging this will not prevent you from being hurt, and cannot be an excuse for wrongdoing, but may bring some comfort and understanding.
When we experience negative emotion towards other, like shame, envy, hate or anger, they often overwhelm and repulse us from trying to connect. For personality disorder sufferers, there is little innate connection capability, the connection is made ad hoc, based on outside circumstances. It may be weak and temporary, but it represents almost everything that connects you with the other person at this very moment. Small, seemingly irrelevant negative emotion, may define whole attitude toward the other person, making him all bad in your eyes.
Connections are reversible, so you believe others see you in the same manner: slight disapproval of minor aspects of your behaviour, will make you feel that you are totally rejected as a person.
Here are the advices how, despite all the odds, increase your chances to handle the negative emotions and be able to evoke positive ones:
- Do not try to shut down the negative emotion. Blocking them will not work and may even block your capability for emotional connection. What’s more, it’s generally counter-beneficial to deny negative emotions. We are building the authentic image of others, with all (fifty) shades of gray, not a pink, fantasy one.
- Use chosen imaginative technique (from the second group, the neutral ones) to visualize some form of connection. Inducing positive feelings may be very hard at this moment, but imagining a connection with neutral attitude is an easier task. Subsequently, this should somewhat soothe the painful emotions.
- Put your negative emotion into the context, canalize them. By canalizing I do not mean changing its direction, but pointing it precisely at the source of the emotion.
You may feel hate toward the whole person or feel totally rejected. Change this by saying to yourself what exactly caused these negative feelings and what are exactly the feelings, be precise and honest to yourself. Direct your emotions at concrete aspects of the other person or yourself, turning it away from the person as a whole. Do not diminish the negative emotions, it may be even helpful to increase it a bit.
E.g. “I’m so furious at this behaviour of yours. You said this false information about me, It makes me feel so bad that I want to die now. It was awful, terrible behaviour. It should be a death penalty for saying such things.”. This made up self-conversation, may be little weird and superficial, but it underscores these two important aspects:
- directing emotions, not at the person as a whole, but at the source of emotion, here: saying the false information,
- not denying the emotions, keeping them strong.
- The above methods will hopefully make space for inducing a positive connection, using other techniques from this post. Choose the method that you feel is the best and doable at the moment. Let the positive emotions and connections stay together with the negative ones. Do not expect the negative feelings to disappear, these practices are supposed to work in the long run. It is yet another method of building multidimensional, strong, integration with the World.
- The main objective here is to create new positive connection(s) alongside the existing, negative ones. The methods designed to handle negative emotions are only to help in achieving this goal. In many situations they may not be necessary.
V. Breath and body meditation
The practices described earlier are directed to build connection with others. The breath and body meditation is different – it is joining together divided aspects of yourself.
There is no established opinion, how and why meditation exactly works, however I have my own:
- By integrating disconnected elements of yourself, meditation works against engulfment, against the parts of your personality which deny your integrity and independence. These are the remnants of a caregiver, scared by looming child independence and trying to suppress it.
- Meditation soothes noisy parts of your mind and make the entry to your personality more accessible. It therefore increases further effectiveness of all other practices.
Meditation should be an indispensable part of the daily self work. It needs to be practiced regularly, best every day for half an hour or longer.
- First variation, breath meditation, is very easy in theory. In simplest form, it’s just: focus on your breath and try not to think about anything. After typing “Buddha in blue jeans by Tai Sheridan” into a search engine, you will find a very short but comprehensive guide to breath meditation.
- Another variation that I encourage to practice, interchangeably with breath meditation, is the body scanning. In this practice, the focus is placed on different body parts instead of breath. There are plenty of resources on the Internet that will help you with it. The recording mentioned in “Loving kindness meditation” section or YouTube recording of “Body Scan Meditation” by John Kabat-Zinn (the creator of the western Mindfulness methodology) may be both a good start.
Meditation is very easy in theory, but not necessarily so easy in practice. After a few years I still struggle when practicing, but despite the struggle I see the results (or maybe thanks to it).
Follow all mentioned practices interchangeably. Choose the one that suits you best at the moment and fit into the situation. The practices described here are the ones that I follow, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that they are best for you or best in general. Feel free to change them and invent new ones.
Try to evoke feelings during practice, but don’t struggle too much. Sometimes you just feel nothing, don’t worry, the practice is still beneficial.
When practicing alone, be aware that the authentic image of the other person in your mind fades gradually with time, and you may find yourself connecting to false, imaginary representation of this person.
Finally the last, but important, thing. Keep your practice private, unbeknown to others. Exposed to other people, it may be hijacked by the need of acceptation or defence mechanisms. In particular:
- do not disclose the practice – do not tell, write or show it in any way to anybody,
- do not intend or plan to disclose it in the future,
- do not imagine or daydream about disclosing it or being disclosed accidentally,
- do not consider yourself special or better for doing the practice,
Do not blame yourself for failing to connect or to meet above points, just try again. This fight is also to allow yourself to be normal, to be defective, to fail.
Will continue with the remaining aspects in the next post.
[January 2020] I got such question recently: “When you try to put your negative emotions into context, I understand how canalize negative emotions that another person caused, but most of the time I will feel ashamed because of some decision I made. So how would I put those situations into context and use self talk like the example you gave?“. It made me feel that I wasn’t clear enough in this post, so I put the answer below, as a clarification of some aspects that may be confusing.
The putting in context is a supplementary procedure, to be used only when we feel strong negative emotion TOWARD OTHER person. Negative emotions toward other “person as a whole” often block inducing positive emotion in the same direction, hence this “putting in context” procedure. Shame is emotion directed TOWARD YOURSELF, not the other person, so you cannot put it in the context, and you don’t need to.
The rest of the proceeding is the same, no matter if you feel shame or other emotions: try to emotionally connect with the other person (using the techniques I described, or your own). Do not fight with the shame, just let it be, and make an imaginary connection BESIDE it: “I feel you rejected me, it hurts, but in spite of you rejecting me, I want to accept you.”. You may feel stronger imaginary emotions from the other person while doing it, like anger or stronger rejection: “Why do you try to connect with me? You are useless and I don’t want to have anything common with you.”. Such thoughts are obviously not true, but do not fight them and do not try to argue with them. Just do yourself: make the connection despite (and beside) these adversities.
Note: this is building/fixing the personality gradually, so it will probably not cause the immediate relief from shame.
How it works:
On the emotional/subconscious level, the shaming person is perceived by you as a rejecting Parent and you perceive yourself as a rejected Child. You cannot directly change your emotional perception of the rejecting attitude this person has TOWARD YOU (that’s why you just let the shame be). Instead, focus on the emotional relationship with this person from the opposite side: YOU TOWARD HIM/HER. Try to build the connection from you to this person, e.g. by focusing on this person deeper, wishing him well, accepting his shortcomings, etc..
It builds/converts your personality in two ways:
- building the positive connection
- perceiving the other person less as an infallible/omnipotent Parent and more like a normal person, and similarly perceiving yourself less as a helpless/always-wrong Child and more like a normal person
Probably your feelings tell you (lie to you) that it’s everything all-right about the other person and everything wrong about you – so why do I recommend to think good thoughts about the other one, when you already are thinking in positive ways about the other person, and it is rather YOU who need to be thought well about? The answer stems from the point 2. – when you perceive the other person as an infallible Parent it is not a true positive thinking, rather kind of subconscious worshiping. By seeing this person deeper and wishing him well, you are converting him/her into a normal human being.