Chapter 9 of Jeffrey Kottler’s “Change”, entitled “Moments of Clarity that Change Everything”, talks about how there are people who have undergone profound change but it was not the result of a single overwhelming event that changed everything “immediately”. Instead, over time, change seemed to have been happening almost in the background. A series of positive changes that was so gradual as not to be obviously apparent, and yet there was some moment where something “snapped into place” and they felt a profound sense of clarity.
This isn’t revolutionary, it is often the entire basis for psychotherapy…analysing situations until something is “learned” about it, some new identified element that allows you to reinterpret a situation, an insight that allows you to change the way you interpret and react to certain types of situations. Some of that insight is that “you are not alone”, that what you are feeling is “normal” and that others have felt the same way previously. But what I like about the chapter is the clear recognition that insight alone is often insufficient. In particular, I like the section about the insights you can discover more or less on your own, partly as I came to the same insights when I stripped my psyche down to the core back when I was 29-34. Some examples:
“Nobody or nothing can make you feel anything, or cause you to react in a particular way, without your permission and consent”. For me that was about the fact that people can push your buttons, but you choose whether or not, and how, to react when your buttons are pressed. Maybe some buttons do nothing, maybe others make you smile or walk away. Accountability reigned supreme for me in those early insights. Another insight that Kottler highlighted was that “Feelings do not arise out of thin air, nor are they caused by anything other than your own thoughts and interpretations.” Again, a powerful notion of accountability built into that too.
I’m not as sold on the other two insights he talked about. “You have the power to almost instantly change how you are feeling about almost anything you ever experience, just by altering your interpretations of the event and substituting alternative thoughts.” That is a bit too far for me…I think you can try to do those things, but there are limits to how far you are going to get. In some situations, it might seem as benign as “think positive” but in the face of large adversity, that’s not likely to be enough. And if you don’t succeed, that accountability suggests that it was your choice, i.e. you failed to think otherwise. But I accept, kind of like rehab for 12 step programs, that there are some forces in the universe greater than my own. There are days I’m going to fail, and one of the things I might fail on is substituting alternative thoughts. It’s not a simple mindset change, but a behaviour that reinforces and is reinforced by the alternative thoughts, counteracted upon by the original thoughts that betray you. I’m not sure Kottler was suggesting it was easy, just my concern that it isn’t identified as being as hard as it really is.
The last is that “Most people don’t want what I’m selling” i.e., the argument that most people don’t want to take full accountability for their emotional well-being. I find myself both agreeing and totally disagreeing with that premise, and I’m not sure why. In part, I want to fully agree because I like the accountability as it goes hand in hand with power – if I have the power to change things, accountability kind of goes with it. But on the other hand, I know that I’m not the all-powerful Oz (just as Oz wasn’t really all-powerful), and so I don’t want full accountability either. Maybe it’s semantics, but it seems like it isn’t quite the right nexus.
The part that I think is missing, a bit, is a primary interpretation example. For me, hand in hand with failed accountabilities in part is the recognition that others are going to fail regularly too. If I accept full accountability for self, wouldn’t I then have to hold others fully accountable for how they behave? Yet if I accept that they might not be perfectly in control of themselves, and that they might be acting in a way that is harmful to me, do I give them a possible pass on their behaviour i.e. recognizing that they’re not perfect? And if so, don’t I also have to give myself the same pass?
For me, I constantly try to remind myself that most people who interact with me are in their own little worlds and their behaviours may or probably don’t have anything to do with me. In short, not everything that others do TO me is ABOUT me. In fact, most of it probably has nothing to do with me at all. Yet if I am recognizing that, and giving the others a break for their behaviour, how do I square that (normatively) with arguing I am fully responsible for self? The two seem incompatible to me for normative theory. Kottler does cover a portion of this in the section on dysfunctional beliefs for “mind reading” (page 205) where the person makes “invalid assumptions about other people’s behaviours and motives (emphasis mine), based on inaccurate data, poor observations, and fallacious reasoning.” Overgeneralizing, discounting/self-deprecation, fortune-telling/forecasting, and disasterizing are all in there too, although I’m surprised there isn’t one that is a bit more a hybrid of several…more of a simply pessimistic one.
But overall, I simply like the initial premise — that clarity might come suddenly, or in fits and starts, even if the underlying “events” are not sudden.