In my recent newsletter I addressed the difference between “Solid-Self” and “No-Self” behavior. In this post I’ll describe another aspect of what it means to operate from a solid-self rather than a no-self perspective:
Daisy (not her real name) has been a client for the past several months. She takes her therapy seriously by making goals for what she’ll work on between sessions, doing outside reading, and engaging in extended family research. In this session, Daisy is discussing her troubled relationship with her sister:
Daisy: I don’t know, Lorna, it seems like whatever I do my relationship with my sister never gets better. She can be nice to me when we’re alone, although even then she looks for things to criticize or pick on. But when we get together with other people it gets really bad. If I pay attention to her I have to put up with insults about me and everyone else in the room, and if I avoid her then I’m really in for it. It’s like she can’t stand to see me have a good time. But she doesn’t have to worry because if she’s there, I won’t have a good time!
Lorna: Daisy, what efforts have you made to improve your relationship with your sister?
Daisy: After you and I talked about about cut off and emotional distance, I started calling her every week. I invite her to get together and I’ve worked on being more patient and not blowing up no matter how rude she is.
I’ve also thought a lot about why she does what she does, and I’ve asked her and my mom lots of questions about our childhood. I understand it was difficult for her to go from being the only child to having to share me with Mom. She’s a lot like my mother; she wants to be taken care of. She resented having to be responsible for me. But none of that is my fault and I’m really sick of being punished for being born!
Lorna (smiling): I hear a lot of strong emotion in that statement. Maybe you’re still fantasizing that human relationships are “supposed” to be all sunshine and lollipops?
Daisy: I know, I know. Still…
Lorna: I never thought the goal was to have a better relationship with your sister. I thought the goal was to have a better relationship with yourself; to be more of a “solid-self”.
Daisy: As long as I keep getting my buttons pushed like this, I won’t feel better about myself.
Lorna: Your sister keeps giving you opportunities to grow up, doesn’t she?
Daisy: I thought if I did enough work on myself she would somehow get nicer. That’s me trying to change her, just like she tries to change me!
Lorna: That sounds right. What’s another way of thinking about it?
Daisy: My sister loves me, in her own way. The problem really is that we can’t be as close as either of us would like and we judge and punish each other for it. And when I’m reacting to her I’m not being any more mature than she is. If I can remember all this even when I’m upset, and if I can keep doing what I think I should do as a responsible sister, maybe I can learn to accept things the way they are.
Lorna: What might help you to remember?
Daisy: I have to keep a clear head, especially in social situations. I need to be well-rested and not have too much alcohol when we’re together. Otherwise I fall into old patterns and feel like some kind of puppet getting my strings jerked. No wonder they call it “no-self”!
Lorna: When I talk about “solid-self” versus “no-self” behavior I’m referring to your ability stay on course-your course-despite pressure from an emotional system. In this case the emotional system is you and your sister.
Daisy: When I distance or blow up, or do what she wants because I’m afraid of her temper, then I’m engaging in no-self behavior. I see that. I can work on that. Maybe I won’t ever have the sister I’d wish for, but I think I will like myself better if I stick with this.