an Uncertain/Ambiguous Quality*
Up to this point
I have asked you to explore a quality that you know is true of yourself,
and that you like. That specifies that it is a quality that is solid,
and is in alignment with your values, so you already have a fairly extensive
and effective database of examples, with relatively few counterexamples.
This is the simplest situation for learning about the various process
and content aspects of self-concept. Of course, what feels "solid"
to one person might feel "very shaky" to another, so we have
still encountered quite a range; some of you had considerably more counterexamples
than others. Some of your "solid" qualities were actually
somewhat ambiguous because of the large number of counterexamples, or
because of the way that you represented your counterexamples.
Now I want you to choose
a different aspect of yourself, one that you feel ambiguous or uncertain
about. Again I want you to pick a quality about which your values are
clear; you know how you would like to be. For instance, sometimes you
think you're considerate, and sometimes you think of yourself as inconsiderate--or
perhaps most of the time you are simply unsure about whether you are
considerate or not, but you know that you would like to be considerate.
When an aspect of yourself
is ambiguous, that indicates that there is a roughly equal number of
positive examples and counterexamples, and because of this, you can't
come to a firm conclusion. There could be a lot of each, or only a few
of each. A more disturbing ambiguity will usually have many examples,
or more intense examples on both sides. It is also possible that you
have only a few counterexamples, but the way you represent them creates
ambiguity because of the resulting intensity.
Since you are unsure
about this quality in yourself, it is unlikely that you feel good about
it, so it probably doesn't contribute much to your positive self-esteem.
However, if you think that you should manifest this quality unambiguously,
the fact that you don't could result in low self-esteem.
The last thing that
we did with counterexamples was to group them, find the worst one, and
then process that one in order to transform the group into positive
examples, and then return them to your positive database. There are
only two important differences between that situation and working with
an ambiguous quality. One is that the ambiguous quality probably has
a greater number of counterexamples, so it might take somewhat longer.
However, if you know how to mow one lawn, you also know how to mow three
lawns; it just takes longer. The other difference is that the positive
side of your ambiguity may not already be in the form of a positive
quality for you. Simply putting the database of that ambiguous quality
into the form of the positive template will make it more convincing.
The first thing that
I want you all to do is to take a few minutes to examine how you represent
this ambiguous quality in yourself. Find out how your database for this
ambiguous quality is organized.
* * * * *
Just as when we explored
counterexamples previously, there are three possibilities for the organization
of your ambiguous database:
1. Examples and counterexamples
are integrated into the same database, using the same modality.
2. Examples and counterexamples
are represented in the same modality, but separately in different locations.
3. Examples and counterexamples
are represented in different modalities, and in different locations.
First, I'd like to see
by a show of hands how many of you found that your database fit the
first possibility? About a third.
And how many fit the
second possibility? About half.
And how many the third?
Only a few.
Did anyone have counterexamples
in a different representational system, but in the same location? No.
Although it is theoretically possible, no one who comes to seminars
seems to do it, but perhaps someone out there does it, so it's good
to keep the possibility in mind. Perhaps they are all in mental hospitals
And how many of you
had an ambiguous database that was already in the same form as your
positive template? Only one. Usually the positive examples are not in
the form of the positive template, and the first step is to put them
in that form, because when they are in that form, they are most compelling
As before, one of the
first things that you can do is examine the content of your counterexamples
as we did before, and consider the possibility that some, or all, of
the counterexamples might actually be examples of a different quality.
In that case, we can divide this ambiguity into two separate generalizations.
The positive examples would form the basis for the unambiguous positive
quality, and the counterexamples, or a group of them, would form a basis
for a different and separate quality.
For instance, let's
say that your ambiguous quality was intelligence, and you find that
all the counterexamples are situations in which you simply hadn't had
an opportunity to learn anything about a topic. Then you could think
of all these "counterexamples" to intelligence as examples
of situations in which you hadn't yet had an opportunity to learn, or
simple ignorance. Ignorance doesn't have anything to do with intelligence,
although many people confuse the two. This would resolve the ambiguity
about the original quality, and clarify that there are certain situations
in which your intelligence can't be expressed well because of a lack
Of course, this process
still usually leaves you with situations in which your intelligence
can't be expressed well, but this is simply one of those difficult situations
we face in life. If it's important to you, then you can seek out and
learn the kind of information that will make it possible to be intelligent
in those situations, too.
This is another way
of understanding and accomplishing the process called content reframing,
finding a different "frame" of understanding for a certain
set of experiences. By reexamining a generalization, you can find a
different way of thinking about the same information, such that it is
valued differently. Although most of my examples here are of changing
a negative evaluation into a positive one, can also change a positive
evaluation into a negative one, when someone doesn't recognize that
a quality has harmful consequences. Someone's quality of being a "free
spirit," and "responding spontaneously," can also be
described as being irresponsible and thoughtless of others' needs. Reframing
can be a very rapid and effective way to transform the meaning of a
group of experiences. Since this process has been described in great
detail elsewhere, (12, Ch. 1) I won't spend much time on it.
Let's say that you have
already examined your counterexamples, and have separated some of them
out as belonging to some other valued quality. The next thing to do
is to process the counterexamples that remain, in order to transform
them into examples of the positive quality.
Since there still may
be quite a lot of counterexamples, it will be even more useful to first
gather them into groups before processing them. Transforming an ambiguous
quality into a positive one is a significant change, so it requires
particular attention to congruence. Although all the processing methods
include steps that check for congruence, it is useful to begin with
one about the overall process itself. "Does any part of me have
any objection to having this positive quality unambiguously?"
The last important element
is to check to be sure that the final database containing both examples
and transformed examples is represented in the same form and location
as the positive template. Now I would like to demonstrate how to transform
an ambiguous quality.
Demonstration #1: Ambiguous
Quality to Positive Quality
So, Janice, there's
some quality that you are aware of, and you're not sure if you have
it or not. Is that right?
Janice: That's right.
I'd rather you didn't
mention content, by the way, unless we get stuck somewhere, and then
you can just whisper it to me. Mentioning content would distract others
from following the process, so I want to be kind to them and withhold
it. You have already worked with a quality that you were sure of and
that you liked. Can you tell me a little bit about the structure of
your positive template?
Janice: I had sort of
a collage of pictures here in front of me.
OK. Fairly close, are
Janice: Yes, quite close,
about here. (She gestures about a foot in front of her face.)
And tell me a little
bit more. About how many images are there?
Janice: Oh, lots.
Janice: Probably. Lots
So then the pictures
have to be fairly small.
OK. And are they more
or less rectangular?
Janice: No, they're
kind of oval shaped.
Ovals. And how about
the overall shape of the collage--is it kind of an oval, as well?
Janice: It's kind of
OK. Now, given that
the pictures are fairly small, how do you access information from them?
I can choose any one of them and step into it. It happens spontaneously.
So it's easy for you
to associate into any of them. It's very quick, you go into it, and
it's right there in front of you, right?
And when you see the
whole collage, there's probably no sound, but when you step into one,
then you get the sound and the feelings.
Janice: Yeah, it gets
big. (She gestures broadly with her hands.)
Usually the nonverbal
gestures give you wonderful information that confirms what the person
says. Occasionally they appear to disconfirm, and then you need to check
more to find out what's going on, or if something important has been
left out. OK, this is the positive template, the structure that we want
to end up with when we are done. And Janice, you know all the ways in
which you improved this template earlier.
If I were working with
someone who didn't know anything about what you have been learning,
I would go through the list of all the different things that we've done,
and make sure that they have all three perceptual positions, small chunks
and large chunks of time, future examples, counterexamples, and all
those other things that we have been working with. Since you have all
done that, I can just demonstrate the overall pattern.
Next, Janice, we need
to know the structure of your ambiguous quality. I'd like to call the
positive aspect of your ambiguous quality "Q," just so I have
a way of talking about it without mentioning content. And there's also
the negative aspect, the "not Q." How do you represent the
ambiguity at this moment?
Janice: (looking up)
Ummm, it's in a grid.
It looks like it's higher,
Janice: Yeah. I have
quite a lot of examples of the positive. But equally as many negative.
And are they in the
same place? Tell me a bit more about your grid.
Janice: It's more rectangular,
and the individual pictures are more rectangular. . . . And I've got
it tied in with time. They mostly alternate--the negatives and the positives.
Sometimes there can be a bunch of either one or the other. The negative
ones are brighter.
The negative ones are
brighter. That probably makes them more prominent to you.
Janice: Yes, I notice
When you say it has
to do with time, does that mean that each image is later in time than
the one next to it, in a sequence?
And they more or less
alternate, right? So you get a plus, then a minus, then plus, then every
once in a while you get a few minuses, and then maybe a few pluses or
whatever. They're organized by time, and the negatives ones are brighter.
Are there any other difference between the negatives and the positives?
How about size--they're both rectangles?
Janice: The negative
ones are maybe a bit more three dimensional, like a relief.
OK, Are there any other
differences? . . .
Janice: I think those
are the key elements. With the negative ones, there's more auditory.
There's more auditory
with the negative ones.
Janice: Yeah, there
is some auditory. If there's any auditory in the positive ones, it's
Since the negative ones
are brighter, more 3-D, and have auditory, I'd guess that you more often
think of yourself as "not Q." Does that fit for you? (Yes.)
Before proceeding, I
want you to do a thorough congruence check. Turn your attention inward,
and ask if any part of you has any objection to your having Q as an
unambiguous part of your identity. Be sensitive to any signal in any
modality--Visual, Auditory, Kinesthetic. . . .
Janice: No, all I have
is a nice expectancy, a kind of eagerness to go ahead, and that's in
OK, fine. I noticed
that your head and body also moved slightly forward, which is congruent
with that. Next I want you to group all the negative ones and then examine
them, to see if a group of them are actually examples of some other
quality, because if so, then we can simply separate them from Q.
Janice: No, I don't
OK. There are a number
of choices about what sequence we use to transform these negative ones
into positive ones. I'm going to try one sequence, and if it doesn't
fit for you, you can let me know, and we'll back up and do it a different
way, because I want to make sure it's comfortable for you. If at any
time we do something that is at all uncomfortable, let me know, and
we'll try something else.
I'd like you to start
by just bringing this collage for the ambiguous quality down into the
same space where the positive template is. It looks like they're both
about the same distance, right?
Try just bringing it
down into the same space that the positive template occupies . . . and
report back to me about how that works for you, and if that results
in any other changes. . . .
Janice: It gets softer.
It gets softer. Did
the images become more rounded? Does it take the form of the template--with
the wavy rounded outside, and oval individual examples and counterexamples?
Janice: Yeah. They become
more random, as well. The distribution isn't arranged by time any more.
OK. Great. That sounds
good to me. Notice how important location is. When Janice moved the
grid down into the location of the positive template, several things
happened spontaneously. The time sequencing disappeared, the positive
and negative ones became more randomly oriented, the shape changed from
rectangles into ovals. Often when you make a location change, many other
things change spontaneously. And I always like to track that, so I know
what's happening. Is that comfortable for you?
Janice: Yes, I like
Now, I want you to see
if you can find any other examples of positive Q that you could add
in to that. They might all be in there already, but maybe you could
find some other positive ones, other times when you have had that quality
in the way that you would like. . . .
Janice: I think I have
most of them in there already.
OK, fine. I'm doing
what I can to make Q more like the positive template. Sometimes people
go, "Oh! There's this other one and that other one," and so
on, and then they can add more positive ones into it, which makes it
OK, now I'd like you
to take a look at the the images of negative Q, the counterexamples.
You said that now they are ovals. Are they still brighter? And 3-D with
auditory and so on? Or has anything changed in that?
Janice: I get auditory
if I step into them. And, yes, they're still brighter.
OK. And how about the
Janice: Uhhh, no, they're
Now I want you to close
your eyes and allow those counterexamples, the negative Q, to group
themselves. Maybe they start moving or swimming around and end up grouping
themselves into certain assemblages that have something in common. Perhaps
it might be one group, perhaps it might be several, I don't know. But
they'll group themselves somehow in terms of what they have in common.
. . .
Janice: There are a
number of different commonalities between them. And yet in some ways
they could also share those commonalities, so it could be, say, three
descriptions that would--
OK, so there are three
criteria that are common to all of them?
Let's try taking them
all at once and see what happens. I'm lazy, so if we can do something
that could change a whole bunch of experiences at once, I always like
to try for it. And then if it doesn't work, or there are some left over,
then we can always work more with those. So you're aware of how they
all share these three criteria, is that right?
Janice: Well, I think
I can group the three criteria actually into one word.
OK, so the three criteria
can even be grouped into one word, so they all have this in common.
Now, choose the most significant one of those counterexamples--the worst
one that somehow symbolizes all the others, and represents of all of
Janice: Could I take
Sure. Take two if you
want. And now do some kind of transformation with them. I would transform
them one at a time, probably, but do whatever is easiest for you. Start
by trying simple videotape-editing. If you were to go through that kind
of experience again, what would you like to do differently that would
be an example of positive Q? You don't need to tell me about it. Just
let me know if you need any assistance in transforming those two examples.
Janice: Well, in both
situations there's another person involved . . . who is implanting the
OK. So what resources
would you need to be able to comfortably deal with that situation in
which this other person is behaving in a way that's difficult for you?
If you run into any difficulties, let me know, and I'll offer you more
specific instructions. . . .
If I were working with
someone who didn't know anything about change processes, of course I
would need to do much more, and I probably wouldn't do it content-free.
I would need to know something about the content of this one word that
encapsulates the three words, which describe what is common to all the
counterexamples. At this point, it's a matter of using any change technique
at your disposal to assist someone in transforming the counterexamples
into positive examples.
Janice: I am having
a bit of difficulty in finding resources to deal with it.
OK. Can you think of
someone else that you know, or you've heard of, or seen in movies or
something, who has that kind of resource? Someone who can deal with
that kind of situation in a way that you consider resourceful and appropriate.
. . .
So have you got it the
way you want it? Have you done both of them?
Janice: Yes, I've done
both of them.
So now you have two
representations of positive Q that have been transformed from the negative.
We said these were to represent all the others, so I want you to check
several of the other negative ones, and see if they are transformed,
or if we have some further work to do.
Are they all different,
Janice: They're not
That's probably a good
indication. I want you to pick any one of them and step into it, and
find out if it is transformed, or if is it still a negative example.
Doing change work on a group of experiences usually transfers to all
of the examples, but I like to check to make sure.
Janice: Should these
feel all like the positive Q?
Well, they're not negative. Even the ones that I deliberately transformed
are less negative, but they're not--
OK. Now, that's an indication
to me that you need an additional resource, because we want these to
be fun, not just less negative. Maybe "fun" is the wrong word.
But, we want them to be really positive, not just "OK."
If it fits for you,
that's wonderful. But whatever resource you add, we want these experiences
to end up being so positive that no matter what happens out there in
the real world, you're "bullet-proof," and you can take great
pleasure in that. So maybe you need to search for another resource.
Maybe fun, maybe humor--that is a wonderful resource--or some kind of
And since you said this
has to do with another person, I'm going to suggest a couple of things,
without knowing anything about the content. Sometimes it can be very
helpful to have some compassion for them, and to realize that their
negative behavior is just what they're doing out of their own unhappiness,
or their own limitations, or family history, or whatever. In other words,
what they're saying or doing is not really about you--it's about them.
Are they positive examples
now? (Yeah.) Great. Now check some of the others to make sure they're
also positive now. (Yes.) Great. Are there any leftovers? (No.) When
you look at them, do you have some way of knowing which ones are transformed
and which ones really happened.
Janice: Yes, the transformed
ones are smaller.
OK. And they're not
as bright now, is that right? (Yes.) OK. Now, I want to ask you about
them being smaller. I'm a little concerned that by making them smaller
you would be deemphasizing them. Those transformed examples could be
even more valuable as a direction for you in how you want to be in your
life than the original examples, because they represent how you can
exhibit that quality in situations where you previously couldn't. I
suggest that you consider color coding them in some way to indicate
that they were transformed from counterexamples, so that they could
be the same size as the others.
Janice: In the positive
template, the counterexamples are turquoise, so I could use that color.
That sounds fine. Go
ahead and do that, and then see if it is OK to have the transformed
ones be the same size as the originals.
Janice: Yes, that works.
Now I'd like you to
compare what you have assembled with the original positive template,
and find out if you notice any differences.
Janice: The only difference
I see is that the positive template has those turquoise counterexamples
that haven't been transformed.
Oh, you still have counterexamples
there? Counterexamples are useful, but they are relatively crude, so
my preference would be for you to take the counterexamples that are
now turquoise in the original positive template and transform them into
examples in the same way that you did the others.
Janice: OK. Mmhm.
Take a minute to do
Janice: It's done.
It's done already. OK,
fine. Sometimes people are fast, and jump ahead. So now if you compare
Q with the positive template, are they the same structurally? (Mmhm.)
Now I want you to check to be sure that Q is an appropriate name for
this database we have just created, or if some other name would fit
Janice: Q is fine.
OK, great. Open your
eyes. Are you a Q person?
Janice: Hmm! (slightly
surprised) I am a Q person. (she laughs)
Can you say anything
about how you feel about that?
Janice: Very positive.
And if you look back
and compare what you're experiencing now with what you experienced 15
minutes ago? . . .
Janice: It's hard to
remember. (laughing) It feels much stronger.
If you examine one of
the transformed examples, they used to have a lot of auditory in them.
If you step into one of those, does it still have a lot of auditory,
or is it different?
Janice: It has the auditory,
but it's much softer and kinder.
OK, so the tonality
of the voices or the sounds has shifted.
Janice: Yes. And it
doesn't "get me" emotionally in the same way.
Great. When I ask questions
like this, I am also testing, to be sure that the changes are complete.
Janice, I want you to check again to find out if any part of you has
any objection to the changes we have made? . . .
Janice: I just have
a little happy bubbly feeling all over, so I'm pretty sure the answer
Do you have any questions
for Janice about her experience of doing this? Save any questions about
the process for me.
Fran: How did it feel
when you were changing?
Janice: Much easier
than I anticipated. It was primarily visual. Because I only had the
auditory if I stepped into a picture, what was going on was really just
visual. When I grouped them together and looked at what could be their
positive intent, there was a sense of relaxation when I recognized that
there was a positive quality to the negative. So that was a sort of
a "Whew!" feeling. And then when they were transformed, it
just felt good. But primarily it was visual.
Are there any other
questions for Janice? . . . Thanks very much. Do you have any questions
for me about the process?
Tess: I'm wondering
why you got all the information about the positive template and the
ambiguous quality first, before asking about congruence? Why not ask
about congruence right at the beginning?
If you do a congruence
check right at the beginning, there is some danger that the change we
are proposing might be unclear, and that muddies the communication.
A part of the person that might actually object to it might not realize
it, and a part that wouldn't actually object to the change might be
worried and think that it did have an objection. By gathering all that
information first, I set the stage for the check, so that every part
of the person knows exactly what we're proposing to do. "We're
planning to make this ambiguous quality just like that positive template."
That's a very clear and specific communication that makes sure that
we get any real objections, and not have to deal with concerns that
are only due to vague communication.
Fred: I still wonder
about making all these transformations. If all I had is transformed
examples, I might forget all the mistakes that I made in the past, and
the way I thought of myself would be kind of a lie, because I didn't
actually do all those things.
Well, there are several
related issues here that I'd like to respond to. The first is that if
you are concerned about forgetting past mistakes, make sure that you
include the counterexample linked to its transformation, or color code
the transformed examples the way Janice did. If you include the counterexample
itself, then you have all that information about how you made mistakes
in the past available to you. If you code the transformed examples in
some way, that indicates that you made mistakes in the past, but omits
the detailed information about how it occurred.
The second point I want
to make is that a transformed quality might be a lie with regard to
the past, but it's a truth with regard to the future. Remember that
your self-concept is a feed-forward system that creates how you want
to be in the future. In one sense, NASA's moon program was a lie for
years until it actually put a man on the moon. If you have made effective
transformations of past mistakes, they will result in your actually
being different in future situations, and that is the truth that matters.
In order to understand
behavior, psychology and psychiatry has searched for cause-effect relationships
in people's lives, and that has produced a lot of useful information.
However, sometimes that gets warped into the idea that we are only products
of our past, or completely trapped and determined by our past experiences.
We also have feed-forward systems, in which our goals in the present
determine our future--and the self-concept is the most powerful one
that I know of. If you didn't utilize your self-concept in order to
change your future, then you would be trapped by your past.
Alice: Janice's ambiguous
quality was in the same visual representational system as her positive
template, but in a different location. What if the ambiguous quality
was in the auditory or kinesthetic system, as well as being divided
in different locations?
OK, let's assume that
the positive template is visual, and the ambiguous quality is divided
between the positive auditory examples and negative kinesthetic examples.
I would first take the positive auditory ones, and change them into
visual images, and then put them into the template, because that gives
you a head start on creating the positive quality.
Then I'd take the negative
kinesthetic ones and change them to visual images, examine them, group
them, and transform them into positive examples, and put them into the
template. However, if that wasn't comfortable, I'd try something else.
When you keep your eventual outcome clearly in mind, you can vary how
you get there.
For instance, I might
first try just moving the entire ambiguous representation into the location
of the positive template, as I did with Janice, to see if the examples
would automatically change into visual images. I wouldn't count on that
working, but it might. Rather than talk about it, let's demonstrate.
Who has an ambiguous quality that's in a different modality and in different
Demonstration #2: Ambiguous
Quality to Positive Quality
Bruce: My positive template
is basically like a screen of televisions, and my counterexamples are
like smaller flatter televisions within that, a little lower. There
are three of them, and they are meshed in.
OK. So you've got a
display of larger TVs, and every once in a while you get a little one
that has a counterexample in it, and you were gesturing a couple of
feet in front of you. So this is what we want to end up with. Now tell
me how your ambiguous quality is represented.
Bruce: Well, there are
sequential images, a bit to the right. They're actually quite small,
but about the same distance, about two feet. A picture flashes up of
how I would like to be, the times when I'm that way, the positive ones,
and that gives me an auditory, "That's great." Then I get
a feeling that contradicts that image, and then an auditory that goes
with that, and then I get a second kinesthetic feeling of heaviness,
of settling down.
So the first image and
voice is the positive image and then you get the contradictory feeling,
that has an auditory with it. What does that auditory say?
Bruce: It says, "I
can't be bothered. It's too much effort."
Do you believe the "too
Bruce: Yeah, it just
seems to be--I could get over it, but unless I had a really strong outcome,
it's just too much of a struggle.
OK. I want to say something,
just in case it might be relevant. I said I wanted an ambiguity where
the values are really clear, and it's possible that your values are
not clear on this. You might think, "Oh yeah, I'd like to be this
way all the time," but it might actually be too much effort, "Well,
you know, it's really not worth it." I just want to raise that
possibility for you to consider. Do you have any response to that?
Bruce: I would like
this particular quality to kick in sooner. It does eventually, but it
has to kind of to go through a threshold when the situation around me
escalates, then I have to kick into that quality.
OK. So it's a little
bit too slow for you; you have to reach a threshold, and it's effortful.
These are some of the criteria that we probably will want to use when
we transform counterexamples. The reason they are counterexamples are
because of the slowness in reaching threshold, and the effort. There
might be more, but this is at least some of the content information
that would be relevant.
We've got the basic
structure of the ambiguous quality. Now it's time for a congruence check.
Close your eyes and ask, "Is there any part of me that has any
objection to having this as an unambiguous positive quality?" You
wouldn't have to go through the effort of reaching threshold, it would
be quick and automatic. You always have the choice of exhibiting it
or not, but it could be right at your fingertips, immediately available,
just as with all the other positive qualities that you have. Given all
that, do you have any objections?
OK, that looks good.
The first thing I want you to do is take a positive example, one of
those pictures that flashes, and represent it in this template. Make
it into one of those TV screens. . . . You're taking a little while
to do that. Is it difficult?
What makes it difficult?
Bruce: As soon as I
start to get a positive example of demonstrating this quality, I get
a "but--" right away.
OK, great. I apologize;
let me adjust my instruction a little bit. I want you to take one of
these units that includes both the positive and the negative. The positive
is already an image, so that already fits the positive template. Take
the kinesthetic that follows and the auditory that goes with that, and
transform those into a visual image. What is that feeling about? What
is that voice about? Trace it back from the voice and the kinesthetic
to get a visual image of what that counterexample is. . . .
Bruce: I saw two things.
One is me just kind of slumped in a chair, and the other one is actually
an image of my father making passing comments on a series of things
that I've done, but always adding in, "but you could have also
done this as well."
OK, we're getting into
content a bit more than I like for a demonstration. Pick either one
of those images--or both if you want--and then take this unit that includes
both the positive and the negative images, and represent it up here
in the form of the template, so that you have the positive on the big
TV screen, and the counterexample a bit lower in a small screen. . .
Bruce: Now the "but"
is easier to ignore. I know it is there, but it's more matter-of-fact.
That makes it much easier
Great. Now it has less
impact on you. I apologize for making it hard for you at first. Usually
they aren't linked in the way you have them. Now take another one and
do the same thing. . . .
OK, do you have several
up there? Do you have your screen pretty much full?
Bruce: I'm still filling
in a few more examples.
OK, take a couple of
minutes, or whatever time it takes, to get a few more, until it's the
same as your positive template. Initially there may be more counterexamples
than you'd like, but at least the form will be the same, with the larger
screens for examples, and the smaller ones for counterexamples. . .
Now, I want you to examine
the counterexamples to find out what's similar about them. Given what
you said about the first one involving your father, It sounds like they
might have to do with somebody else's opinion.
Bruce: I think that
the common central theme is disappointment. I disappointed myself by
disappointing somebody else. Having squashed those counterexamples down,
it sort of changed the meaning of those pictures. Now it's more about,
"Why did I put so much pressure on myself to do these things?"
OK. Now take the worst
one, and think about out what you would have liked to do in that situation,
and what resource would allow you to transform it into what you want.
From what you've said, it sounds like a little bit of evaluation might
be helpful. Perhaps taking time to step back out of the situation for
a moment to consider, "Is this something I want, or is this something
somebody else wants?" Consider what resource would be useful, and
then transform the worst one, and check to see if the rest are also
transformed. . . .
Are there any counterexamples
Bruce: The counterexamples
are now more just feedback opportunities that I can use, instead of
straightaway going to the pain, the "beating myself up." If
I can have it as an image, then I can look at it and I can go, "What
can I dismiss from this particular opinion that's coming at me, and
what can I take as something valuable to use."
OK. That sounds great
to me. Unless you want to go straight for the bad feeling?
Bruce: No, I don't think
Making a little joke
like this can actually be quite useful. When I say, "Well, you
can always do the old thing," and they go, "Well, I don't
think I want to do that," it kind of locks in the change a little
bit. "No way! No, I don't want to do that."
Bruce: This works a
Are there any other
Bruce: No. The ones
that really sort of stuck out are all taken care of.
OK, great. Is your name
for this quality still appropriate? Given that you've made some changes
and some transformations, it could be that the name is a little archaic
and needs a little update.
Bruce: Well, the word
is still fine, but the meaning of the quality has changed for me. Before
it was a very digital representation, and now there's a whole range
of other ways to demonstrate this quality that I never even thought
Interesting. How did
you get all these other ways of demonstrating the quality?
Bruce: Well, now that
it is a way of being, I can just behave, rather than have to do it so
I see. Before you had
this need to have it intensely because of the ambiguity? (Yes.) OK.
Now I want you to imagine going into the future. Think of a time that
you might encounter one of these situations where this quality would
be particularly useful, and just step into that and find out what it's
like. . .
That looks pretty satisfactory;
you're nodding your head. Do you have any objections to that? . . .
Bruce: No, it's fine.
From your present position,
looking back on when you were ambiguous about this quality, what do
you notice about the difference between those two experiences?
Bruce: Well the first
thing that comes to mind is that sense in my body, that I have had to
battle a lot of the time--I'm not going to have to do that any more.
That heaviness that I had in the past is not there. And the tension
through the shoulders that I usually have is gone. Instead I've got
a nice energetic movement, a slight swirling through the middle of my
Do you notice anything
in the auditory system?
Bruce: I'm neither having
to "coach" myself one way or the other--either talk myself
into demonstrating this quality, or talk myself out of it.
OK. Do you have this
Bruce: (quickly) Yes.
That looks good to me--a
nice quick and congruent response.
OK, do you have any
questions of Bruce? Keep any questions for me for later.
Sally: Do you feel confident
Bruce: Yeah. I am confident.
What lets me know that is the lack of auditory. I don't feel the need
to talk myself into one way or the other. I just will be that way. It's
not like "trumpets" or anything like that going on inside,
because there's no need for that kind of intensity. It's just quite
quiet, and very matter-of-fact.
That's a very nice answer,
and that's exactly what you want to hear at this point. If you do hear
"trumpets," that means that they still feel ambiguous about
the quality. For example, what if you went up to a door and as you opened
it, you announced to everybody, "I can open the door!" That
might be appropriate for a small child who has just learned how to do
it, but it would be pretty ridiculous for an adult. When people are
uncertain about something, they typically have that quality of being
too strong, too much, too conscious of it. When you presuppose an ability,
you don't even think about it, you just do it.
A lot of people think
that confidence is like the "trumpets" that Bruce mentioned,
and a lot of politicians and motivational speakers talk like that. For
a lot of people that is very convincing, because they don't realize
that overconfidence is actually a sign of uncertainty. Bruce's answer
is great. "I don't have to talk myself into it, I don't have to
talk myself out of it. I just do it. That tells you that now it is simply
and solidly a part of his identity.
Thanks very much, Bruce.
Now do you have any questions for me?
Stan: I really like
the idea of testing your work by looking back and comparing after making
a change. Can you say a little more about that?
Sure. That accomplishes
several things simultaneously, and some of them aren't obvious. The
overt question is to gather information about what is different, to
be sure that the changes are in line with what we're trying to accomplish.
However, I'm also presupposing that there will be differences; if there
weren't any, of course that would be clear evidence that we need to
do more. Bruce was very eloquent about the shifts in his physiology.
The internal auditory battle and the heaviness and tension in his shoulders
is gone, and now he has a nice energetic movement in his back.
But asking him to look
back is also a way to consolidate the change, because it presupposes
that he fully associates into the present and dissociates from how he
was. I'm also expecting that the present state is more satisfying than
the old one, and listening for any possible indication to the contrary.
So there is quite a lot going on in that simple instruction--so much
that it's pretty unlikely that someone could track it all and consciously
fake a response that they'd like to have, but don't really feel.
Lois: When you transform
an ambiguous quality into a positive one, how can you be sure that it
will fit in with all the other qualities of the person?
Remember that I specified
at the beginning that your values were clear--that you know that you
want to be like the positive side of the ambiguity. That presupposes
that you have already gone through a process of thinking about it, and
have concluded that's how you want to be.
However, just because
I asked you to choose a quality for which your values are clear, that
doesn't mean that they necessarily are. When you examine the examples
and the counterexamples carefully, you might discover that your values
actually aren't clear. If you're not clear about what you want, it's
totally appropriate to feel ambiguous about a quality. You would have
to clarify your values first, and decide what you want to do. Earlier
I made a few suggestions about how to do that. Usually the most useful
thing you can do is to experience specific situations to find out what
you value, rather than trying to figure it out intellectually.
Andy: It seems to me
that what we have been calling an ambiguity is the same as what has
often been called a "polarity," so I keep thinking of other
ways that I have learned for working with polarities, like internal
negotiation between the two sides, or the "Visual Squash,"
in which the two representations are moved together into the same space
with the hands, and I'd like you to comment on those methods.
Yes, polarity and ambiguity
are two names for the same thing, as far as I'm concerned. We could
speak of "one part of you" that believes that you have the
quality, while "another part" believes the opposite. I agree
that there are older NLP methods that can be used to integrate them,
and one example is the Visual Squash. Although these methods are quite
powerful and effective, they are also very crude, because we don't have
much chance to gather detailed information about either side, and that
makes it difficult to make detailed predictions about the results of
Another problem with
simply integrating the two sides of a polarity is that it all happens
at once--all the examples and counterexamples of both sides are slammed
together at a moment in time--rather like instantly moving two very
different households full of furniture together into one house. That
is why most people require a good deal of time for integration afterwards.
It take a while to sort out the mess and make it livable--to decide
what furniture goes where, what to store in the attic, and what to sell
or give to a thrift store, etc.
When you transform and
integrate counterexamples one at a time, or in groups of similar ones,
you have much better information about the content of your examples
and counterexamples. That allows you to carefully consider the best
kind of resource and transformation, and your internal ecology. Rather
than just anchoring the two polarities and slamming them together, you
take one counterexample at a time (or a group of similar ones) transform
it first, and then cautiously integrate it.
If there is some objection,
we back up and find out what we need to do first in order to make it
easy. This makes the process much more detailed, elegant, and less disruptive,
and it requires very little time for integration and sorting things
out later. Doing this kind of process is a lot less dramatic than the
visual squash, but it is also a lot gentler and thorough, and much more
respectful of all parts of the person.
Now I want to offer
you a follow-up that I got from a participant a week after she had worked
on being healthy, which had been ambiguous for her:
"There would be
pockets of time when I would be healthy, when I would eat really well
and exercise regularly. But more often I wouldn't eat properly and I
wouldn't get enough sleep, and I wouldn't be healthy. I tended to sit
down at my computer and just work until I was absolutely starving and
then I'd have to grab from whatever was in the fridge that only took
five minutes to prepare. And then I wouldn't do any of the exercise
either, because I'd be busy doing work, and I also wasn't sleeping enough.
"So I revised those
counterexamples to what I wanted instead. I took your advice of looking
at the entire scope of the day. Instead of just the moment when 'I'm
starving what do I about it?' looking at replanning my whole day. 'A
healthy person eats regular meals, they make time for exercise, and
preparing food.' And then I also looked at a span of a whole week and
thought, 'Well, whether I do all the work in one hit, or whether or
do it over a week, it's exactly the same. The work gets done, the outcome
is the same, so why don't I just pepper in all these other things?'
I also added in other resources of creativity and sensuality, so that
cooking can be creative and sensual and more fun for me.
"So all those counterexamples
became healthy examples, and since then it's been fabulous! I'm on automatic
pilot now with being healthier. Now when I hit 9:00, I realize I need
to have breakfast. And then when I'm at the computer or doing something
else, I now say to myself, 'OK, well I've done this for a couple of
hours,' so I'll stop and say, 'OK, well I've gotta go prepare something.'
Or I'll say 'OK, well let's go for a walk,' or I'll go play in the garden.
It's just all automatic; it just happens. I don't have to really think
about it. It's just like a clock goes on in me and says, 'OK, time to
switch.' That never happened before, and it's lovely. I really like
the idea of doing change work using that larger scope of time, rather
than a single experience. That was incredibly helpful for me."
I want to point out
that previously she had imposed a rigid hierarchy on herself by continuing
to work at the computer while ignoring her need for food--until she
was "starving" and had to pay attention to it. Her resolution
respects the natural heterarchy of her various different needs.
Now I want you to pair
up and take turns practicing this process with each other. An ambiguous
quality will usually have a fairly large number of counterexamples,
so it is likely that there are some other important outcomes that have
to be respected. That makes it more likely that there may be objections
to transforming the counterexamples, and it may take a bit more change
work to make it congruent.
I want you to work primarily
by yourselves, but I still want you to be in pairs, in case one of you
needs some assistance, and also to share experiences afterward. Those
of you who are therapists might prefer to guide each other through this
process: one of you can be a client with a troubling ambiguous quality,
and one of you to be the change agent, and then switch.
* * * * *
outline on a separate page)
Exercise 10 Transforming
an Ambiguous Quality into a Positive One. (pairs, 20 minutes each)
Pick an aspect of yourself
that is ambiguous--sometimes you think you're "X," sometimes
you think you're not "X," and you know how you'd like to be--your
values are clear. The steps below are a suggested sequence. A different
sequence may work better for a given person. Keep the eventual outcome
in mind, while respecting the individual's needs.
1. Positive template.
Elicit the structure/process that you use to represent a positive quality
that you like. (What you have already been doing.)
2. Tune-up. Use all
that you have learned to improve what you already do to make your representation
of this quality even better, by adding modalities, future examples,
other perceptual positions, processing counterexamples, etc. (Again,
you have already been doing this.)
3. Elicit the structure/process
of the ambiguous quality. How do you represent the examples and counterexamples
of this quality?
4. Congruence check.
"Does any part of you have any objection to having this quality
as an unambiguous positive part of your self-concept?" Satisfy
any/all objections, through reframing, redefining the quality, accessing
resources, building behavioral competence, etc. before proceeding.
5. Represent examples
in the form of the positive template. If your positive examples are
not already in the form of the positive template, shift them into that
6. Examine counterexamples
(or a group of them), to find if they actually represent a different
quality that can be named appropriately, and separated from the original
7. Group and transform
any remaining counterexamples into examples of the quality, and place
them into the database with the other examples.
8. Check summary. Review
your name for this quality to be sure it is appropriate for the modified
9. Looking back. Looking
back at your previous experience, what differences do you notice between
what you are experiencing now and what you experienced before?
10. Testing. "Are
you____?" Observe nonverbal responses.
11. Congruence check.
Again check for congruence with the work that has been done. "Does
any part of you have any objection to the changes that you have made?"
Satisfy any/all objections.
Do you have any questions
Frank: I'd like to report
what mine was like. My positive template is represented here in front
of me at eye level, and a little to my left, about a foot away. There's
a big picture here, almost in front of me, and then a couple of small
ones to the left of that one, that are sort of "backups,"
ready to take the place of the big one whenever I need it. The rest
of my database is in a vertical arc that passes between the big one
and the two smaller ones. When I focus on any image in the database,
it moves up here where the big image is, and then when I'm done with
it, it moves back, and then one of the smaller ones moves over to take
its place. My ambiguous quality had the same kind of structure, but
the two backup images were blank, and when I searched for examples in
the database, there were also a lot of blanks. There were a few positive
examples, and a few negatives, but mostly it was just a lot of empty
frames where examples ought to be. So I just searched for positive examples
and put them into those empty frames until they were all full, and then
transformed the counterexamples.
Great. So that was actually
very similar to building a quality--assembling positive examples in
the form of the positive template.
Demie: My positive template
is a collage of slides, about a foot away, about six rows and six columns,
with bright light behind, and they are all positive examples. If I bring
in a counterexample, it always goes right into the middle, where it's
surrounded by positives. The slides go out of the display on my left
side, and circle around behind me into a storage bank, and then they
come in again on my right side when I need them. But in my ambiguous
quality, all the slides in the three rows on my left side were negative,
and all the ones on the right were positive. I felt so awful looking
at it, I didn't have a clue what to do. My partner looked at the way
the slides in my positive template rotated around behind me, and suggested
that I move the whole collage to my left, so that all the negatives
could go into storage, while more positives could come in on the right.
I couldn't believe how simple that was, and how relieved I felt. Then
I could bring one negative at a time into the center and transform it.
When I was done with that, I was crying, because it was so nice to know
that I had that quality.
In these two examples
the ambiguous quality was organized in a way that was very similar to
the positive template, and that made it much easier to transform it
into a positive quality. It's not always that easy, but sometimes it
is. What you can say about the experience of having had an ambiguous
quality from this new perspective.
Demie: It's like looking
at a stranger. I don't know how I could have felt so bad.
Frank: The main thing
I noticed was very similar to what Bruce said. I feel much more comfortable
now that the ambiguity is resolved, because I don't have that back-and-forth
doubt. I don't feel any need to tell anyone about the positive side
of it, whereas before I did. And because I wanted to cover up my own
uncertainty, I came across too strong.
I talked about this
before, but it is so important that I want to say even more about it.
When I described the criteria for an effective self-concept earlier,
one of them was that it be free of the self-importance, egotism, and
superiority that results from consciously comparing yourself with others.
I want you all to think
of some situation in which you felt uncertain about your ability to
meet some important challenge, like a job interview, or a date with
an awesome person. Most of us tend to tense up, and struggle to look
more confident and capable than we actually feel, and our behavior is
likely to have this too much quality.
It takes a lot of time
and effort to maintain a false self, particularly when you include all
it takes to buy and maintain the fancy car, big house, etc. that someone
needs to have to support their self-importance, even when they weren't
inherently enjoyable. And this is often true of social "rebels"
as well. I knew one guru "wanna be" who spent hours making
sure that his hair had the Baba Ram Dass look, and a punker once told
me that it took a couple of hours to color and set his spiked hair each
day. If someone truly enjoys any of those activities, I have no argument,
but if it is primarily to announce their identity to the world, I think
that they could probably spend that time in ways that they enjoy more.
A false self is usually
created in response to accepting some sort of social demand or ideal.
Thinking that you "should" be a certain way, rather than how
you are, is a good way to make your life "Shoulddy." Some
people create a false self out of social expedience, while retaining
a strong sense of who they really are. Others may get so involved in
maintaining their false self that they lose awareness of who they are,
and it's all too easy to slip from expedience to denial.
Curiously, many spiritual
paths or self-improvement programs often become yet another set of "shoulds"
to be imitated in the competition for status within those groups. Back
in the '60's, with its emphasis on being in the "here and now,"
there was a syndrome that could be described as "Nower than thou,"
which actually put people clearly in the "there and then,"of
self-importance. Social and political groups are often led by egotists
who bolster their own uncertainty by by becoming expert leaders or gurus,
and many of their followers do the same by identifying with the guru's
charisma and success.
At some level, someone
with a false self--and we all have some of it--realizes that it isn't
real, and that creates yet another trap. When someone responds to a
false self, that means that the response isn't really to the person,
but only to the false image, so you can't enjoy it. That is the source
of a lot of loneliness, which is most obvious in movie stars, politicians,
or other famous people who work at creating an image, and then find
it hard to believe that anyone could love the person behind the image.
Many people think pride
is a good thing, despite what the Bible and many other spiritual sources
clearly say. Like its opposite, shame, pride always involves comparing
yourself to someone else, and being either better than, or worse than
them. Pride and self-importance are signs of a shaky self-concept, one
that can easily flip to its opposite, shame and unimportance. When things
go well, an egotist is glad to take responsibility for it, but when
things go badly, suddenly it's someone else's fault. "Scratch a
braggart and find a complainer." Curiously, even humility can be
a source of pride, as Samuel Taylor Coleridge pointed out a couple of
hundred years ago:
". . . the devil
did grin, for his darling sin
Is pride that apes humility."
When someone feels insecure
about a quality, they take any challenge to it very seriously, and will
respond defensively and do almost anything to restore their sense of
importance. One example of this is a "macho" male who struts
and brags about his manhood, and who will take offense at the slightest
word or action that appears to challenge it, and has to respond, often
with violence, sometimes even to the point of killing the offender.
What a trap!
Men in trouble with
the law are often in this situation, though not many are willing to
admit to it, since admitting to it would also be a challenge to their
image or status. Many prisoners have such an inflated and unrealistic
way of thinking about themselves that they completely believe that the
only reason they are in prison is that someone made a clerical error.
"It's all a terrible mistake." It's no accident that pride
and envy are among the seven deadly sins in Christianity. In the old
Greek version they were understood to be the worst, and the ones from
which all the others spring.. Anger, another of the deadly sins, is
seldom in response to actual physical harm or danger. Most anger and
violence is in response to criticism, insult, disrespect, or some other
challenge to someone's self-importance, or what is often called ego.
Many people believe
that anger is in response to hurt, and at one level, that's true. But
hurt is usually in response to some kind of disrespect, an injury to
how someone thinks of themselves. In the 60's movie The Russians are
coming, as Alan Arkin (a Russian) climbs out of a bullet-riddled Volkswagen,
he says, "My dignity only is injured."
When our expectations
are not met, there is always a loss, and the first response to loss
is disappointment and sadness. This feeling is often so immediately
and completely overshadowed by anger and other attempts to avenge or
repair the pride of the damaged ego, that the sadness is not noticed.
Sir Walter Scott said it well over 200 years ago:
brooding o'er the slain,
Had lock'd the source
of softer woe;
And burning pride and
Forbade the rising tear
When something terrible
happens, sadness is a more basic feeling, and usually a much better
place to start problem solving than pride, anger, and vengeance.
There are many other
much subtler signs of self-importance and egotism. A friend of mine
often used to comment on food by saying things like, "That was
such a good steak." It took me a while to realize that she was
not really talking about the steak! The steak was just a convenient
way to brag about herself and her exquisitely superior taste discrimination.
Often people are talking much more about themselves than they are about
the apparent topic of conversation, so you can gather a lot of useful
information without asking any questions.
Whenever you observe
pride or self-importance, that is an opportunity to resolve an ambiguity
using this process. A stable self-concept can only be based on who you
are, and the satisfactions of living a life that exemplifies your values,
without comparing yourself to others. When your self-concept is solidly
based on your own experience, then no one can take it away, and you
are safe from disrespect, humiliation, anger and hurt--and all the turmoil
and suffering that results from it. When Buddhism and many other spiritual
traditions advocate eliminating the self, I think what they really mean
is eliminating the egotism that results from ambiguity. By transforming
an ambiguous quality into a positive one, this egotism is eliminated.
Sarah: When you talk
about the macho male, and others who aren't willing to acknowledge tenderness
and tears, etc., I think of the approaches that advocate accepting your
"dark side" or "shadow" self, as a way to become
a more whole and complete human being.
Yes, when someone consciously
identifies with one side of an ambiguity, often because of rigid and
absolute social or religious beliefs, they often disidentify with the
opposite, which becomes a kind of hidden "shadow"self. Because
of our society's sex-role stereotypes, the shadow self for a male in
our society is likely to include the things that you mention, while
for a woman it is likely to be things like assertiveness, anger, power,
etc. Some people think of the shadow self as being evil or dangerous,
and it does often include unacknowledged anger, aggression, and other
natural, though troublesome, responses. But often it also includes very
wonderful and valuable qualities that are unacknowledged because they
don't fit the social stereotypes. I will have more to say about the
shadow self soon, but I want to wait until some other understandings
are in place.
You have learned how
to transform an ambiguous quality of self-concept into a positive one,
using two major processes. One is to place the positive examples into
the form of the positive template, which may require changing the modality
of the examples. The other is to transform counterexamples, so that
they become examples of how you want to be, and then add them into the
positive template. There are several steps in this process of transformation.
You group counterexamples, transform the worst one of the group, check
the rest of the group to be sure that they are also transformed, and
then place them into the positive template.
The very same process
can be used to transform a negatively-valued quality into a positive
one. Although this is often the most difficult kind of self-concept
intervention, it is also the one with the most profound benefits.
But before we do that,
I want to explore a different and much simpler kind of negative self-concept,
in which the representations of the summary and the database are negated.
In what I have called the "not-self," someone defines themselves
by what they are not, rather than by what they are. This is very different
from the negation of not liking how they think of themselves. The "not-self"
can be either the easiest, or the most difficult to change, depending
on how extensively someone has become embedded in it.
This is an excerpt from Real People Press' book "Transforming
Your Self: becoming who you want to be".
Return to the Transforming
Your Self workshop description