Sunday, June 22, 2014

Going Where No One Has Gone Before

My client Barb had come to a coaching call dismayed to have realized, half-way through a conversation with a new acquaintance about a mutual friend, that she was focusing only on the negative. 

"I was just awful. Why do I have to be so critical of others?" An Enneagram Style One, her self-critic was also quite analytical: "I'm probably trying to avoid self-criticism by projecting it onto others."

"Does it work?" I asked.

"Well, no, now I'm criticizing myself for being so critical!" She laughed and continued, "I'm even ashamed that I need to use a defense mechanism as crude as projection."

"You're right, projection is pretty common," I agreed. "What would be a more sophisticated defense mechanism?" I was grinning, too, by now.

Her sense of humor was in full force: "Reaction formation!" she blurted.

After some discussion we mutually defined reaction formation as publicly criticizing what you privately desire and agreed she'd pay attention to her use of this "more refined" defense mechanism before our next talk. 

Notice how we broke through her self-criticism by validating her worldview and at the same time gently disturbing it with humor. From our perspective of "the more defense mechanisms, the merrier," we created a facilitative double bind: "You can only be perfect by being imperfect."

For useful actions a client can take between sessions, consider fieldwork that will stimulate a worldview shift, as in the above example, when Barb moved from judging herself for evidence of a defense mechanism to laughing about having even another form of defense. When new experiences are incompatible with old worldviews, the link that binds habitual programs begins to loosen.

NOTE: A double-bind communication contains two contradictory messages. In a facilitative double-bind, clients' habitual thinking patterns are of no use -- they must break free.

(A version of this example appears in Chapter 13 of Out of the Box Coaching with the Enneagram)