What the heck is a “Self-Concept?”

This post took me forever.  I’d go off on tangents and then do another draft to remove the tangent.  I’d also get dangerously close to “what is a self” which gets controversial and speculative very quickly.   Here’s a draft that contains a small dose of tangents and a small dose of self-theory.

Although a “self-concept” is a very abstract idea, it’s really simple to describe what it is and how to access it.

If you take any element of your life – whether it’s an event, your hair color, your job, your family, your sleep patterns, your car, your age, your dreams, your pets, your sexual practices, your posture – truly ANY aspect of your life – and you stamp the question, “what does that say about me?” on top of it, then you’ve moved into the self-concept territory.

It’s as simple as that.

When you ask yourself “what does that say about me?” it immediately brings answers of “I am [such and such]” which is the self’s concept of self; i.e., self-concept.

But things start to get really tricky really fast.  Already, we’re talking about the “self’s concept of self.”  Wait, what? An entity possessing a concept of its… own self.  What??  The self-concept is a crucial layer to examine but it can also get pretty tangled.  Let’s dissect why.

If our vehicle for getting into the territory is the stamp [what does it say about me?] and we examine the vehicle, we notice how the word “say” (send) implies there must be a contrasting energy of “listen” (receive).

So the self is saying something to the self who’s also listening.  Hmm.  We can see why this gets tricky.  It’s like trying to see your own eyeballs.  You can’t… unless you recruit a mirror.  And, even then, it’s subject to how good your vision is and how clean the mirror is.  There can be a lot of error.

So let’s examine some polar frustrations that can happen from self-concept.  On the one pole, we could use the label: “self-conscious.” Here we find the frustrations of using a lot of energy to examine, filter, worry, and choose.  On the other pole, we could use the label: “lacking insight.” Here we find the frustrations of having to solve the same problems over and over again (because they’re repeatedly created and remain constant).

Now we need to introduce parts-of-self.  Let’s say you have a disturbing dream where you’re doing some really funky things. So far, we have the dreamer who dreamed the dream, yes?  Then if we add the, “what does this say about me,” stamp, we introduce another role. If a part-of-self is saying, “wow, you’re a weirdo for having that dream,” then the dreamer has become a *receiver* of this message and there’s a new part-of-self of judger/sender. This is why self-concept is such a critical layer to examine.  It shows splits and parts, the stuff of inner-conflict.  There’s a view-er and a view-ee; a do-er and a do-ee.

In “self-consciousness” the volume is turned way up for viewer (who also happens to be very judgmental).  There’s the self who’s the doer.  And then there’s the self who’s viewing and judging the doer. Self-consciousness is very frustrating because, ultimately, we all want to dance like no one’s watching.   If you’re on the dance floor and there’s an individual standing a few feet away from you scowling at you and mocking your movements, it would be tough to enjoy dancing.  It’s also probably worth noting that “self-consciousness” has a lot of projection.  Instead of fully realizing, “hey I’m sitting here and judging myself,” it’s projected and experienced as an external fear: “if I do such and such, what are YOU going to think about me?”

To the flip side:  repetition after repetition due to a lack of insight.  If a person *never* asks themselves “what does this say about me?” then they’re discrediting their creative efforts.  If we look at a problem in our lives (especially if it seems repetitive/familiar) and then we wonder “what does it say about me,” then the next automatic step would be diving into how and why the problem is created by our own movements.  If we don’t turn our *sight* *in* (insight) then we’ll be “seeing” (out there) a really frustrating problem happen over and over again but the odds of it changing are very slim because we won’t adjust our own steps.

Here’s a quick peak at theory. In theory, growth entails the self-concept becoming integrated to where, at any given moment, the messages are the same: what the person is *doing* is identical to the concept of *what it says about the person*.  There’s a congruence of intent and message, something like “what it says about me” = “what I’m saying.”  Instead of a gap between [an expressive, creative behavior] and [a concept of self], there’s a confluence and sameness between them, like: “what I’m saying is what it says about me is what I’m saying.” In growing, the two come closer and closer.

On the contrary, growth also entails self-concept becoming more and more irrelevant.  Health simply means having a vast range of abilities to respond fittingly to different contexts in different moments.  Attributes of “character” aren’t as relevant because different situations call for different responses.  A concept of “I am warm” might actually be a detriment if there’s a situation that would be best suited with a “cold” response.  Self-concept, seen this way, becomes more and more  flexible and dynamic with growth to where it’s basically rendered irrelevant.  The self actually loses any sort of a fixed structure.  Perls loved this and talked about how he felt more and more like “nothing” as he grew.  Bruce Lee talked about this in terms of “be water.”

When I began this post, my intent wasn’t to examine two polar frustrations that relate to self-concept, nor to talk about self/growth theory. I just wanted to paint a quick picture of what self-concept is – and how to access that layer – so that I can talk about how you can get a two-for-one for your efforts; a psychological snowball effect; a buy-one-get-one for the same energy cost.  So here’s what the post was originally going to include before I went off on tangents:

There’s a huge difference in the value of completing tasks depending on whether the task touches your self-concept or not.  If you vacuum your house, you get the reward of the satisfaction of vacuuming your house.  And you get a vacuumed house.  If it didn’t touch your self-concept, then that’s all the reward you get.  No more.  HOWEVER, if your self-concept is “I am a dirty person” -> “I vacuumed my house” -> “what does that say about me” -> “maybe I’m not a dirty person!”  Now you have an unspeakably larger reward for your output.  When you complete a task and it also touches your self-concept, the reward is so much larger to the point where it can snowball bigger and bigger into, “what else am I capable of?!”

When we realize how much dead energy sits around in our personalities because of self-concept – “I am [such and such]” – and then we start hunting for how to get buy-one-get-one snowball effects, we can really get some things moving.

Try playing with it.  Try to differentiate tasks based on whether they touch your self-concept or not.  If you’re not sure, just take a quick moment and think, “what does this say about me,” and it must mean “I am [fill in the blank].”  This layer of life called the “self-concept” can really open up avenues for getting a lot more reward for your output and unlocking a lot of patterns and stale energy.

Try it with this post.  What does it say about you that you read this?  Fill in the blank: “I am [blank].”

“I am a bad-ass who is going to keep challenging myself and improving so that I can keep getting more and more engaged with the world and make the most out of my life.”

“I am a hopeless case who reads mental health articles because I can’t quite get it together.”

“I am inquisitive about the inner-workings of my psyche.”

Big differences, yes?  Even though the fact was the same (fact = I read this article), doing a quick peak at the self-concept layer can make a world of difference. Try to choose the tasks that go straight at the parts of your self-concept that need the love.

Be the snowball.  (The devil whispers to the warrior, “you’re not strong enough to withstand this storm.”  The warrior replies, “I am the storm.”)

 

 

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Indirect vs Direct Coping – How Do They Fit With Avoidance?

Sometimes therapists will “teach coping skills.”  I was about halfway through grad school, all jazzed up about counseling, when I changed from a behavior modification service (BHRS) to a therapy service (FBMHS).  Excited about the opportunity to work more deeply with people, I remember vividly being surprised when I heard several of my colleagues talk about “coping skills.” It took me a while before I had the ability to articulate why this was rubbing me in a weird way.

“Teaching coping skills” is a collusion of avoidance.

Therapists teach coping skills for the same reason clients avoid confronting their situations:

It’s a fear of not being able to change the problem – a fear of being consumed by the problem, in essence killed by the problem – a feeling of inadequacy and hopelessness.  Those are all really good reasons to avoid a problem!  If there’s a chance it’ll kill you, by all means avoid it!

So when people talk about coping skills, they’re often agreeing that the best idea is avoidance and maintenance of the status quo.

Let’s closely examine the concept of “coping” and let’s break it down into two categories:  “indirect coping” and “direct coping.”  It’s important to be skilled in both categories and it’s also important to see the difference between the two so you can choose mindfully and make sure you’re not settling for less than what you’re capable of.

An indirect coping skill is if my boss makes me angry and I go home and sprint a mile to blow off steam – or my dog dies and I have a beer – or my sister yells at my child so I beat up a punching bag. These aren’t necessarily unhealthy. Exercise is good and sometimes a beer really hits the spot. The only downside to indirect coping is if we never consider direct coping.  Indirect coping skills don’t actually change anything about the problem that’s causing the need for coping.

To go a step further, sometimes indirect coping skills can cause a more serious problem when it turns cyclical: being tired so I have a cup of coffee – being broke so I take out a loan – being mad at my boss so I yell at my wife, etc.

Direct coping skills, on the other hand, is a confrontation of the problem: an approach to the thing that’s causing the discomfort. It could be internal or external.

External: approaching the boss or the sister and trying to come to a resolution. Doing “chair work” to my dog and saying how much I miss him and I hope he had a great life.

Internal: searching myself to see why the boss bothers me so much. What are the self-concept messages that get activated? Examining myself to see if I have unresolved things with sister from before my child was even born.

Again, neither coping style is inherently better than the other. When we’re functioning optimally, they’re usually intertwined: like an indirect coping skill (deep breath) in order to gather my thoughts in order to do a direct coping skill (approach my sister to ask her to consider the impact she’s having on my child).

Let’s go back to the therapy side of things. We often utilize indirect coping skills when we don’t believe we have a fighting chance against the actual problem. If I feel hopeless that I won’t be able to create any change towards my sister, I won’t take the risk. If I feel inadequate in my interpersonal skills or in my value as an employee, I won’t approach my boss in order to try and make change. So when therapists “teach coping skills” (usually meaning the indirect kind), they’re often accidentally communicating to the client: “I don’t think you (or I) have what it takes to solve the actual problem and make things lastingly better for you.” Bummer, right? This is also closely connected to the difference between intervening to “treat the symptom” versus “treating the problem.”

The last crucial piece is the very-hard-to-reach attitude of viewing problems as opportunities. This is so difficult to do in real life. It’s much easier to type about while drinking coffee.

It goes something like this:

Each problem is an opportunity. Each problem is a lesson about yourself to teach you where you’re vulnerable to get your peace, joy, and grace stolen. Each problem shows you the perfect template for the exercises you need to do in order to strengthen the whole of your personality. Viktor Frankl’s “Man’s Search for Meaning” is a great resource to keep this part of you burning.

In sum, it’s important to recognize the difference between “direct” and “indirect” coping. And it’s important to really ask yourself how much change you think you can make.  If we only do indirect coping, we’re still spending a lot of energy… but the overall configuration doesn’t change.  Are you avoiding certain exercises? Are you selling yourself short? Is it worth the risk? Is there a growth opportunity if you directly confront the problem?

Exploration, Choice, and Payoff (an examination of the phrase, “I’m good at helping others but I can’t help myself.”)

I’ll occasionally come across the phrase, “I’m good at helping others but I can’t help myself.”  I want to break this down a little bit and highlight a few concepts.

If we hold the first part of the phrase under a microscope, here’s how it looks: “I’m good at listening to a person’s situation, making an assessment of their available options, and then giving them advice about what they should do next.”

There is nothing wrong with that.  That’s what some therapists do.  And it helps some people.  The downside is the frustration in the second part: that they “can’t help themselves.”

Here’s how the frustration looks under a microscope: “When I examine my own situation, I usually come up with advice for myself about what I should do.  But then I run into some serious difficulty in following through with the plan.  I can’t get myself to do what I should do.”

So let’s check this out.

It’s a problem of exploration, choice, and payoff – and ultimately, like everything else, energy flow.  To put it another way, it’s an insight problem followed by a stalemate of energy and behavior.

Whenever we fully want to do something, we move into it with grace, ease, passion, interest, care, eagerness (and many other really positive sounding words).

Whenever we partially want to do something, the behavioral flow loses some of its power and force.  The more partial it is, the harder it is to follow through with the task.  If I partially want to get my paperwork done but I partially want to go to bed, it’s going to be pretty hard to get my paperwork done.  If going to bed ends up trumping the paperwork (51% bed, 49% paperwork) then I’m going to bed.  I might not be able to sleep because some of me still wants to have my paperwork done.  Makes sense, right?  It’s pretty straightforward: desires come in percentages.  Some desires compete.  The largest one wins.  Unfortunately (in this culture – for most people – and arguably even due to the human condition) the times when we have a desire that has 100% fullness are rare.  Desires spend most of their time in conflict with other ones.

There’s a big difference between a “should” and a “want.”  A “should” is an encryption.  It keeps you from knowing the exact number of the percentage of “want.”  It conceals/hides the valuable data.  That’s why we encrypt things… to conceal the actual data.

People become a lot sturdier and free-flowing once they explore their personalities, find the “shoulds,” and become hackers: unencrypting them and uncovering the valuable data of the actual percentages.  Some “shoulds” become high-percentage-wants and they’re so much easier to flow with.  Some “shoulds” become low-percentage-wants and they can be more easily disregarded.  The tougher ones are when the percentages are close (like my bed-to-paperwork example).  When the percentages are close, that’s where we’ll feel stuck because any movement will be the loss of a huge chunk of energy/desire.  If I choose the 51% winner, that’s 49% of myself that’s not on board.  That’s a big loss of fuel!

So let’s head back to the “I can’t help myself” example.  Let’s also define “advice” as a “should.”  When we ask someone for advice, we’re saying, “please assess my situation and tell me what I should do.”  The sticking point ends up being a less-than-full evaluation of the wants.  So whenever someone says, “I can’t help myself,” they’re saying, “I’ve assessed my situation and given myself advice (shoulds) but I can’t get myself to behaviorally follow it through.”  This makes sense now, right?  There are encryptions.  The behaviors won’t flow unless there’s enough “want juice” flowing into it.

So here’s where it gets more complex because, if we want to rearrange the stalemate and create movement, we would need to develop the insight into functions.

Every whole wants to preserve itself – whether it’s a whole culture, a whole nation, a whole business, a whole pattern, a whole family, a whole creature, whatever.  An animal will gnaw off its leg if it’s trapped and it can’t think of a better way to preserve the whole.  Each human being is a whole.  We seek to preserve ourselves.   Every choice has a function of self-preservation.

So when we run into a problem where we can’t quite get ourselves to do what we think we should, we’re battling against a self-preservation desire that’s larger than the encrypted should.  Rather than beat yourself up about why you’re not following through, it’s much healthier to try and move downwards into your personality and start to look for the payoffs to the choices.   Give yourself more credit.  At the roots of you, there’s a perfect reason why you’re doing what you’re doing.  If you can’t quite see it yet, give yourself some time to fully examine your desires, your hopes, your fears.  Try to move into the confusion/frustration (where the encryptions live) in order to map out those parts of you.  They are obviously strong enough to influence you, so you might as well spend some time there.  You might as well try to ally with those strengths rather than beat yourself up about not being able to overpower them.  All the parts of you have vitality.  All the parts of you are attempting to serve you for the greatest good.  The goal is to tap into all of your vitality so you can move as one beautiful whole.

Once things are mapped out, they make perfect sense.  You make sense.  The world makes sense.  Give yourself some credit and some time.  Keep exploring.  Keep mapping.

Full (Physical and Psychological) Makeover

I am extremely excited to finally offer this service to the public. My long term career goal to be a part of a facility that seamlessly integrates physical and psychological fitness is coming to fruition and I’m so excited to be turning the corner towards that goal.

I’ve trained a handful of people (friends and family) and have experienced immense joy from witnessing progress. There is nothing like achieving something today that you could not have done before. I am so excited to open this up for other people.

What I’m offering is a formal strength-training program (weight-training) coupled with gestalt consultations.  You can skip to the bottom of this post to see a quick outline if you don’t want to read the details.

Formal strength-training is probably different than any type of exercise you have ever tried. I became obsessed with it years ago when I started realizing the Central Nervous System adaptations and the psychological effects involved. I was an athlete through college and lifting weights in the off season was a regular part of the process. Once sports were done, I started learning about strength and weight-training from a very different perspective and, in conjunction with the health and psychological growth aspects of my formal education, began realizing what an amazing impact strength-training has.

I want to do a quick contrast between “training” and “exercising.” When you “exercise,” you do whatever fits for that day. Maybe you feel like going for a run, or doing some yoga, or jumping rope, or doing lunges. “Training,” on the other hand, has a very specific result in mind and it formulates a clear plan to get there. In this case, the result is functional strength. You literally get stronger.   And you KNOW you got stronger because pounds are an objective measurement.  One day, you won’t be able to move X pounds.  A couple weeks later, you move X pounds. You become able to do things that would have been laughable before. It’s very different than exercise.  There’s nothing wrong with exercise. I just get sad when I hear people who try exercising and then they get frustrated about the lack of results.

I also want to contrast strength-training with “body building.” Body building is a sport in which you train in order to go on stage and be judged for how you look. That’s not what this is. Yes, you will look better from strength-training.   Yes, you’ll be more comfortable in a bathing suit.  But that’s not the direct aim.  Understandably, a big component of exercise for a lot of people is the desire to look better.  I have no beef with body builders or people who exercise to look better. I’m just saying that’s not what this is about. You will feel better. You will BE better. And, as an additional bonus, you’ll look better.

Being a holistic therapist, the psychological and philosophical parts are where I find the deep worth and fascination. There’s a specific moment in strength-training when you feel yourself wanting to negate your responsibility.  You confront the realization that it’s you who needs to do the work in front of you. This realization starts to generalize to other areas of your life, your struggles, your challenges, your goals.  If there is any laziness down in the depths of you, strength-training will find it and give you the opportunity to clean it out.

Form and technique are crucial, for both safety and performance.  You learn how your body works as a whole.  You learn the correct structure of your parts in order to confront possibly the most difficult (physical) thing you’ve ever done – and to come out of the challenge unharmed. Focus and determination get developed. This, again, carries over: the confidence and focus from successfully overcoming legitimate challenges to your structure. You learn stabilization, groundedness, and centrality while taking on challenges to your range of motion. See how that phrase could be talking about the physical or the psychological? I love it.

In addition to the formal strength-training, you’ll learn two types of yoga.  I teach the opening portion of Ashtanga Yoga for the warm up.  It takes about ten minutes and this, alone, can change your life.  I was just talking to an experienced yogi the other day and she said, “if people would just take a few minutes everyday and do the first several Ashtanga movements, it will really clear up so much of what’s going on with them.”  Agreed.  That’s our warm up.  The other type of yoga you’ll learn is Yin Yoga.  Ashtanga and Yin are polar.  Ashtanga is active and powerful. Yin is passive. Yin is the “let go” yoga.  It is equally crucial to helping your body recover from the strength movements we’ll be doing.  The psychological and overall health benefits of both types of yoga are extensive and beyond the scope of this post.  If you decide not to utilize this service but you still would like to invest in yourself, learn Ashtanga and Yin.  In the Harrisburg / Camp Hill area, you can find Ashtanga at Befit Yoga and Yin at Om My Yoga.  I have no affiliation with either of them other than having gone to (and approved of) both.

Lastly, within this service, you’ll also receive two Gestalt Consultations a month.  In these, you’ll learn the functional flow of your awareness and techniques on how to clear your mind, free up space, and have more direction and control.  I’m not going to write too much about Gestalt in this post because it’s available elsewhere.

The training includes three weight-training days a week: Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 6.30am – 7.30am.   Yes, you only train 3 days a week.  Yes, you’ll get serious results from only 3 days.  But I do HIGHLY recommend you do the Ashtanga and  Yin portions on the other days as well, preferably Ashtanga in the morning and Yin in the evening before bed.  You just need a few minutes.

The price is $530 a month, due at the first Monday of the month.  I can’t imagine working with you for more than 8 or 9 months.  By then, you should have a firm grasp of how your body works, the correct form and technique to keep you safe, understand how strength-training works (concepts of adaptation / over-training / over-reaching / linear progression / deloading / supercompensating), and what the other variables are (active recovery, sleep, hydration, nutrition) in order to carry on by yourself and continue having a blast with it.  You’ll have an Excel Spreadsheet with your lifting logs and you’ll know how to use it to keep making progress.

A great example for anecdotal purposes is my wife, to whom I introduced strength-training a couple of years ago.  She’s now having so much fun doing it on her own and she comes home and is proud to tell me about the “PR” (Personal Record) she set on a specific lift on that day.  You become excited about getting your body to do something that it couldn’t do before.  It also changes your relationship with those “other variables,” like hydration, nutrition and sleep.  Those things start to fall into place with ease because you quickly realize if you’re not fueling your body correctly, it’ll show up in your performance.  This is largely why I’m calling this program a “Makeover.”  And if you’re willing to track those other variables, I can help you stay accountable in that area as well.  Apps like Myfitnesspal allow you to track your food/water intake and easily email it to me.

Last but certainly not least, we can have up to 5 people in one training group.  It’s very valuable to watch others train in order to learn proper form.  To encourage you to find someone else to take this journey with you, I’ll drop the price to $600 a month ($300 a person) if you find a partner.  The only caveat:  the partner needs to be a similar height as you.  We will be squatting and it’s impractical to change the squat rack height for each lifter.   It doesn’t matter if you start at different levels of fitness.  Height is the only thing that matters.  If we have someone who is 4’10”, they can’t lift with someone who is 6’2″.

Please email me at kip@gestaltdevelopmentcenter.com in order to get things started.  The first person to respond will set the height requirement.  :-p

And since I’m so excited to get this service off the ground, I’ll throw in a free Withings Scale (“Smart-Body-Analyzer”) ($149 Value) no strings attached, yours to keep, to the first person who starts up.  I also have one. I love it.  It tracks your weight and your body composition (how much muscle / how much fat) and wirelessly syncs it with your PC and phone so you can see your progress.   It would be really neat to start tracking those things as soon as you get started and then watch the numbers change as you go.

This blog is still really new and there’s not a lot of traffic to it yet, so I’m not sure how long it will take to get the training group formed.  Please check with me via email to see where we’re at.  We might have gotten several groups formed or we might have different times and days for the training groups.  We’ll see.

 

Here’s the outline as promised above:

 

Price:   For one person, $530 a month.  For two people, $600 a month ($300 a piece).

Training schedule:   Monday, Wednesday, Friday.   6:30am – 7.30am.

What you get:

– Formal, linear-progression strength-training.

– The beginning portions of Ashtanga Yoga (active yoga).

– Yin Yoga (passive yoga).

– Two Gestalt Consultations per month.

– Optional: Other Variable Tracking (Nutrition, Hydration, Sleep, etc.)

– To the first person who begins the program: a free Withings Scale to keep ($149 Value)

Timeline:  The first month and a half will feel pointlessly easy.  The next month and a half will feel pointlessly hard.  After 3 or 4 months, you should be noticing some serious differences as your system adapts.  After 8 or 9 months, you should be ready to take over on your own and not need me anymore.  The timeline will vary slightly for everyone, depending on what your status is when you start, but it’ll be very close to those markers.

How to get started:  Email me ( kip@gestaltdevelopmentcenter.com ) to see if those times/prices are still available.

 

 

 

Tracking Awareness and the Meaning of Life

There’s a fundamental “exercise” in gestalt – Gestalt 101, if you will. We jokingly call this the ‘gestalt muscle’. Like any other muscle, the more you use it the stronger it gets and, if you don’t use it, you lose it. The phrase, “Here is where the beginner begins and the master ends,” is very applicable to this muscle.

The exercise is to repeat this phrase: “Now I am aware of [fill in the blank].” You simply track your awareness and keep repeating the phrase and filling in the blank with whatever you’re aware of. At the Center, we’re very strict about getting the exact wording during our Structured Groups. If you change the wording, you’re no longer doing the exercise. Simple enough, right?

It’s so deceivingly simple that people often ask, after their first round of about 8 seconds, “what was the point of that?” (Sometimes they might be angry, confused or disappointed when they ask.)

Polarities are fascinating and this one is one of my favorites. On one hand, what is the meaning or purpose of life? On the other hand, what was the point of that silly exercise? Those are the same questions.

To do this exercise – your gestalt muscle – you are tapping into the highest expression and location of your energy in that very moment in time. You are touching your most powerful potentiality. We don’t exist in any other moments other than right now and to clearly locate your precise energies at the precise moment when they’re available is the very peak of your existence (at that moment).  While doing the exercise, it’s your largest truth and your fullest self – attempting to move with the energies of the universe – in those moments. Unless you’re already objecting to the things I just typed, it naturally follows to ask, “so what?” hence, the meaning and purpose of life.  If that’s your truest and fullest self in those moments, then what?  What’s the point of being a person in the first place?  What are we supposed to do while we’re here? What’s the meaning of life?  What’s the point of “having an awareness”?