You Must Learn to Face the Pain and Suffer

This article was previously published on the Dangerous Child blog

You must, where necessary, learn to face pain and to suffer, in order to destroy and assimilate the pathological material contained in the symptom. (p. 166)

__ Perls, Hefferline, Goodman “Gestalt Therapy: Excitement and Growth in the Human Personality (1951)

In other words, running from a source of inner fear and pain merely prolongs the agony and expands the sense of inner weakness beyond where it has any right to go. Facing the pain and bearing the suffering can shorten the ordeal and strengthen the self — but many children are not open to the logic involved here, on a moment to moment basis.

Dangerous Children do not reach the levels they do by taking the safe and easy path to person-hood. In the act of growing up every child confronts obstacles and suffers many types of pain. Traditional parents often rush to remove obstacles from their child’s path, but parents of Dangerous Children understand that the child must learn to confront difficult, and often painful, problems. Suffering is inevitably involved in the simple process of growing up and gaining a step by step maturity.

We have discussed the use of “mindfulness,” meditation, self-hypnosis, cognitive behavioral therapy, and neurofeedback in Dangerous Child training. Different methods of “quieting” or “balancing” the Child’s mind will suit different children for getting over minor emotional bumps. Dealing with more substantial and threatening obstacles can require a more nuanced approach.

Usually the simpler the approach to dealing with emotional blocks to learning, the more easily the child can move on to the next challenge. But simple does not necessarily mean “direct.” A paradoxical approach often yields quicker and more effective results than mere “common sense” direct advice or instruction.

Paradoxical Therapies

Example: Paradoxical Intention — Visualizing or practicing disturbing symptoms or situations to the point of absurdity or humor.

Paradoxical intention is a bit like trying to tickle yourself. Consider that you are in control while trying to tickle yourself (or trying to experience a disturbing symptom). This sense of “being in control” makes it difficult to experience the tickle or the troubling symptom, because most of the tickle and most of the emotional symptom comes from not having control in the first place.

This tactic of willfully trying to produce the feared symptom usually impresses clients as absurdly incongruous when the therapist first proposes it. And their bemused reaction tends to introduce an element of humor into the therapy… Such an injection of humor is designed to help clients detach themselves from their symptoms through the very act of smiling or laughing at them. __ Leon Seltzer (p. 59) (see link below)

Or, in the case of the Dangerous Child, posing the experiencing of the uncomfortable emotional symptom as a challenge — better yet as a humorous challenge — reframes the situation completely, and makes it easier for the Child to disentangle himself from the bad feeling, bad habit, or troubling thought. This is not a trick and should not be presented in a sneaking way, but rather in an open and straightforward manner.

Paradoxical techniques are simply tools for teaching, and their efficacy depends upon the trust that the Dangerous Child has in his parent, mentor, coach, or teacher.

The master of paradoxical therapies was the psychiatrist and clinical hypnotist Milton Erickson M.D.. But the basic techniques are practiced by psychotherapists and coaches of many different disciplines and practices.

The pearl of gestalt wisdom excerpted at the top of the page was quoted in a 1986 book “Paradoxical Strategies in Psychotherapy,” by Leon Seltzer. The book describes a wide range of “paradoxical” approaches to therapy from ancient Buddhist thought to Freud to Gestalt Therapy to Behaviorist Therapy to Paradoxical Hypnotic Suggestions.

Clinical Psychologist Jordan Peterson in his “12 Rules for Life,” emphasizes the importance of facing up to the things that frighten or trouble us, so that we can get past them. He often recommends “desensitization” using an incremental approach — doing as much as you can or taking as much as you can take, then increasing the intensity or duration the next time, and so on.

Peterson also emphasizes the need for persons to take responsibility for the things that are within their power to change and make better. Doing this can give purpose to the individual’s life — and purpose is one thing that can give meaning to life’s suffering (since suffering is inevitable).

It may seem odd that one can run into the same sort of personal growth techniques from ancient Tibetan Buddhists, modern martial artists, Freudian analysts, Gestalt therapists, Cognitive Behavioral Therapists, hypnotists, storytellers, and self-help psychologist-guru-authors like Jordan Peterson.

That should tell you that the dysfunctional avoidance of uncomfortable — but common — situations is a problem that keeps individuals stuck in ruts across all sorts of societies and cultures and socioeconomic classes.

For Dangerous Children, the method that gets him out of his self-made rut and back on the road to Dangerous Childhood, is the best approach for each one.

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