Deconstruction and Our New Core Self

I taught a course to teens on how to write Adventure Novels. In that style, there are several foundational rules. One of these is the concept that the adventure itself must alter the nature and focus of the main character.

As an example, let’s look at the story “The Lord of the Rings” and the main character, Frodo Baggins. Though it is certainly not the first significant adventure novel—I think Homer’s “Odyssey” qualifies better—it is the standard by which all modern adventure stories are modeled.

At the outset, Frodo is a dedicated follower of his uncle Bilbo. And though Frodo may be a leader among his friends, he is not a community leader. He is a quiet hobbit, a gentle soul, with a reflective though anxious personality. He loves home and hearth, the food and drink of his youth, his close intimate circle of friends. In short, he feels safe with familiarity.

And as the quintessential adventure novelist, Tolkien shakes Frodo’s world seismically. He sends Frodo on a quest far from home. At each juncture in the story, he is removed further from his friends. At one point, even his best friend Sam is distanced from him in many ways. His questing task requires that he give all of himself and to do it alone. By the end, he has nothing left to give out. He has given all of his old self and much more to the quest of destroying the Ring.

From the moment the quest ends and he starts to make his way back home, he comes to grip with his new Core Self. This Self has been emerging all along, he just never noticed it much. From the moment he agreed to carry the ring to Rivendell, he set his foot on a Deconstruction journey just as vast and far-reaching as the journey to destroy the power of the Ring.

His journey was the retiring of his old Core Self and the discovery of his new Core Self. The old Self became a memory and though it still influenced him for the rest of his life, it was not the decision-making part.

In short, like Frodo, we build our new Core Self by deconstructing our old Core Self and allowing a new Self to emerge.

The term “deconstruction” ironically has gone through a massive change in meaning over the past 80 years. In its original sense, coined by Jacques Derrida, it was a process of examining philosophical writings to determine the many various meanings in the original text.

Years later, writers like Barbara Johnson and Hillis Miller began to use the term to mean significant changes in areas like social sciences, philosophy, law, psychology, architecture, anthropology, theology, feminism, and political theory.

Now, the term applies loosely to the process of abandoning traditional thinking in order to explore the implications of new ideas and behaviors.

I want to apply this concept of Deconstruction to the area of psychotherapy I specialize in: Internal Family Systems. In IFS, we teach that the most critical part of our being is the Core Self. This is what we call the executive function of the neocortex or frontal lobes. This is the part of our mind that makes the final decisions and sees the big picture of who we are.

In a healthy human being, the Core Self regularly evaluates our life and determines what is true NOW for us:

What do we believe now?

Who is most important to us now?

What do we want to accomplish now and from now on?

Where do we want to live now?

To understand this, let’s look at a unique ability of the snake. The snake goes through a process called ‘ecdysis’ where they shed their skin whole. They do this for two reasons. First, the skin does not grow like the rest of the snake body grows. Snakes continue to grow all through their lives. But the skin does not. In order to keep growing, the snake must shed the last layer. They do this a couple of times a year and during reproduction seasons.

But the second reason for ecdysis may be more important. The old skin collects parasites and bacteria that could kill the snake. By shedding the skin, these unwanted travelers are sloughed off.

This is also what the human mind can do, though not as often as the snake. Our Core Self is the center of our being. As I said, it decides who we are at any given time. In IFS, we teach there are other Parts to our mind also. There are Manager Parts that keep us from feeling old painful memories, as well as keep us focused on ways to keep us safe and whole. But these Manager Parts do not want us to change. They fight change. They fear the future and are wary of the past. They want a predictable life that can be managed.

Deconstruction of anything is difficult for the Mind’s Managers. They fear this kind of whole-mind change more than anything. They fight our Core Self all along the way. But the Core Self sees change as necessary for growth into maturity. Our Core is growing larger and needs to shed off the old structures in order to arrive at this new place.

Managers oppose this with all their tools: Anxiety, depression, shame, guilt, loneliness, physical reactions, dissociation, and many other tactics. Some people will give in to the Managers and never let their Core Self grow past a certain point. They live a locked-in existence with their Parts. Though this may seem safer, it is destructive. Just like the snake gets rid of the parasites when the skin is shed, so too our growing Core Self gets rid of harmful ideas and behaviors when we allow it to grow.

I used to be a pastor; for 36 years. Approximately 25 years ago, I began to re-think the doctrines I had endorsed when my denomination licensed me. These were the classic doctrines of the evangelical faith tradition with some more about healing and the Holy Spirit added.

My fear parts didn’t want me to re-think them. What if I did that and then decided I didn’t want to be a pastor any more? What would I do for a living? I was technically a counselor also, but I had put most of my time and energy into pastoring, and my Fear parts didn’t think I could make enough money just as a counselor.

My Manager that loves to be accepted and belong told me that my Christian friends would reject me if I didn’t hold to these truths. This Acceptance Manager predicted that if other christians learned I had let go of any core doctrine I would be summarily rejected.

By the way, it turned out this Manager was ultimately correct. Very few of my evangelical friends will even speak to me now.

At the same time as my managers were kicking up dust, my Core Self was growing, and I could not deny I wanted to be authentic to the changes in my belief system.

In order to be true to this emerging Self, I had to deconstruct evangelical Christianity. It all started innocently while reading Numbers 31, which I have written about here. By the time my wife and I had processed the heinous “acts of God” written about in that chapter, I realized I could no longer accept the Old Testament as without error. Therefore, since the Old Testament is part of the Bible, I could not accept the Bible as without error.

My belief “skin” was beginning to shed. Everything within me fought doing it and therefore I kept much of the process a secret. My wife and two oldest kids knew, but no one else. When I let go of Inerrancy as a doctrine, I felt something drop off me. I had a new Core Self. This Core Self remembers the old one. In fact, that Core Self remembers all the old ones.

Every time we continue to grow in our understanding and our values, we shed off the old self and put on the new self. This does sound similar to what Christianity calls being “born again”. We still share a history with the Old Core Self. But we are fundamentally changed and we cannot easily go back to what we once were.

I guess when I consider it, this is similar to that concept of being Born Again.

I started “shedding my skin” of Inerrancy slowly. First, I began to devalue most of the Old Testament. In particular, I discovered that the so-called “historical” books of the Hebrew Bible were actually compiled oral traditions, legends that had endured since the beginning of the nation of Israel. Contemporary scholarship, even among conservatives, shows that these books were all compiled after the Israelities returned from Babylonian captivity. There is very little proof the stories are true. They are therefore considered Religious History, a retelling of the origin stories of their people.

I also noted many of the themes of the Bible are antithetical to ethical behavior. The Bible condones, or at least does not condemn slavery, genocide, sexual assault, misogyny, patriarchy, racism, violence, aggressive warfare, and class systems of economics. As I shed off the skin of biblical inerrancy, my new Core Self felt free to grasp some of the glaring weaknesses of the Bible while holding onto some of the truths which run counter to those.

During that time, I also noticed that the Pro-Life movement had been completely manufactured for political purposes. It seemingly sprang out of nowhere onto the political landscape and was then embraced by one of the main parties. Most christians I associated with endorsed this political movement.

Despite the fact that the biblical basis for life beginning at conception is completely anecdotal and marginal, the evangelical church joined forces with one political party and shunned anyone who supported the other political party.

I could not allow the Pro-life movement to control who I was. Since its start, I stood against the Pro-life movement, even though I am a Pacifist. The movement is not particularly Pro-life since most of its members own guns and support Capital punishment. They also do not actively support programs for impoverished single parents and do not support programs for feeding the poor. They are simply Pro-fetus.

Admitting all of this gave space for my Core Self to leave behind absolute allegiance to my church and its political machinations. The more I grew out of my old beliefs, the more I found health and strength.

Each person who continues to shed old versions of themselves finds this strength building in them. And let me be clear: It is not primarily beliefs and practices we are shedding. We are letting go of who we think we are to more completely match our current life with what we want, need, believe, and do right now.

For the Core Self of the individual to lead the rest of a person’s Parts, this deconstruction of the former Self and the embracing of the new self must take place. But it is difficult and can be very painful. And the pain only increases when people around you—even your personal support system—do not like what they see in your changes.

I remember one day when a woman I love and admire told me I was cursing babies to death and would suffer unimaginable pain and torture because I saw the Prolife movement differently than she did. This woman had been like a mother to me and supported me for years as I sought to be both therapist and pastor with all the tensions that those two professions can carry with them.

And now, because I was no longer politically aligned with this movement, she saw me as an enemy.

Around that time, I read Cheryl Strayed’s excellent autobiographical story of her hike along the Pacific Coast Trail, “Wild”. She tells about how she spent three years seeking to recover from her mother’s death, often resorting to self-destructive means of coping. At one point, after drug and alcohol dependency and broken relationships looked like they would kill her, she decided on a whim to hike one of the longest continuous trails in the lower 48: The PCT.

She was ill-equipped, both literally and figuratively, for this journey. She carried too much stuff with her, most of which was the wrong equipment for this journey and had to be abandoned along the way. It was a metaphor for her life she soon realized. Her old Core Self was carrying so many things that were messing her up. She was carrying so much baggage she would have to rid herself of before she could keep going.

At one point, after losing toenails and finding massive gaping blisters from poorly fitting boots, she knew something had to change. It was at that point, in the fits of despair, that she finally started to move forward in her grief. By the time she finished her journey at the Washington-Oregon border, her new Core Self had emerged completely and she had deconstructed who she used to be.

Every culture, religion, and philosophy has a name for this journey. But whatever you call it, the key to it is to embrace the process. The more you fight the New Core Self emerging, the more you feel stifled and unhealthy. And even though the process of deconstruction is painful, it is a pain that brings personal expansion.

The Five Lies that Victims Believe

falsebeliefs

In 1987, I wrote an article telling the story of four sisters who had been molested by their father. Each of them had been molested the same way. Each experienced this at the same age–he moved on from one to the next with maniacal precision. Of course, each of them had been emotionally damaged by the abuse.

I wrote the article for a psychological journal more to point out the differing outcomes of each one. Though they were all affected negatively by the abuse, they all compensated differently to it as adults. They each gave me permission to share their story since I had counseled every one through to health.

But I was intrigued by what they wouldn’t allow. Their father was still alive and still married to their mother. I had talked about the possibility of all four of them confronting him on what he had done. Though they could not have him charged because of a Statute of Limitations, they could have the satisfaction of letting him know how his crime had changed their lives. There is a healing aspect to confrontation.

But all four refused to do it. Curiously, each of them had a different reason:

  • One was afraid it would kill their sick mother
  • One felt she had somehow participated in the abuse and had no moral grounds to confront him.
  • One was sure confronting him would destroy her inside
  • The final one felt she would never be able to get the words out of her mouth.

Their unique responses to confrontation underscores how each victim experiences abuse and assault differently. But it also shows that every victim wrestles with different beliefs emerging out of the abusive situation. Continue reading “The Five Lies that Victims Believe”

An Alternative Approach to Marriage Counseling

I won’t bother giving them fake names to protect their identities. I don’t have permission to share the details of their story and I’ve lost touch with them. But it really doesn’t matter; their story is universal these days. He worked too much and distanced himself from his wife over many years of being married. Every year, she grew more angry at him. She let that anger color her decisions and, as a result, she easily entered into another relationship. Her husband found out she was cheating on him and she freely admitted it.

I do know the details of that initial fight and I don’t really have to share them here. It wasn’t any more dramatic than the confrontations in a million other relationships. Both of them spent a sleepless night wondering if they should contact a divorce lawyer. They both cried. They spent that night in different places, both physically and emotionally. But for some very unusual reasons, their story did not turn out like millions of others.Though each of them did go for counseling at some point, they never went together for marriage counseling. And they never got a divorce. They eventually solved the problems in their marriage (for the most part) even though they both unveiled other secret sins.

By telling their story I am not saying they are better than other people. But their choices do shed light on an alternative approach to marriage counseling. Continue reading “An Alternative Approach to Marriage Counseling”

How Others Treat Us – What is it based on?

Emily is 26 and has just gone through a horrible separation. Her husband was physically abusive, hooked on drugs and alcohol and verbally abused her in front of their daughter almost every day. It was the same way her father treated her mother, and the same way at least three boyfriends treated her in high school. She started to see me for Memory Processing because her current boyfriend started hitting her and calling her names.

Which brings me to this question: why is it that certain people go through the same treatment in life over and over again. There is no sense that they want this is there? In order to answer that, I have to go to one of the tenets of lie-based thinking. In LBT, a person doesn’t just believe something, but that belief also colors the way they act toward others. It affects how they will interact. It affects what they will put up with and what they won’t,.

But, and here is the crux of the matter for Emily, what we believe about ourselves is often what others come to believe about us as well. If we are firmly believing that all men will hurt us or take advantage of us, or lie to us, or all women will cheat on us, or hurt us etc., that is often what continues to happen in repeating patterns.

As Emily went through Memory Processing, she noticed the beliefs about men were consistently lived out, even with men she had only known casually. It never happened with any of the women in her life. Since getting rid of the lies, she doesn’t run into men that try those things on her any more. It brings up another axiom of life: Healthy people tend to attract healthy people, and unhealthy people attract unhealthy people.

Group Theophostic

Some of you are part of my prayer team for teaching, so this story will not be entirely new. But this week I am teaching at the Youth With a Mission Base in Lakeside Montana. My topic is “Hearing God’s Voice” and how that relates to prayer and Christian Living. One of the events of the week is a time when I do an evening teaching. It is often preceded by worship. In the past, this has often been a time where God shows up and brings a manifestation of His Presence on the students and the staff. At least, that has been the case most years I speak here.

Wednesday night was awesome. God’s Presence was a tangible reality and it seemed like His love and joy were becoming more intense every minute. Several students were feeling overwhelmed with God and crying, laughing, shaking and repenting all merged together. At one point, a young girl got up and stood on her chair. She said that the Lord had been expressing his love to her, but her heart didn’t believe it. Now, you need to remember that I wasn’t teaching on Theophostic or lie-based thinking at all. She declared in front of the entire class that she wasn’t coming down until her heart believed what her head did. I knew if I didn’t jump in, she was going to be up there for a long time.

However, before I could go over and help her with reaching to the point of her lie, she invited anyone else who felt the same way (lies that were getting in the way of the Truth) to bring their chair over and make a stand. Four other girls did the same thing. That made me turn around and go back to where I had been kneeling. After all, you can’t do TPM with five people at the same time, right?

I apparently don’t know the power of God or the effectiveness of what I believe. The Lord pushed me over to the group and had me do a 10-second explanation of what we were going to do. I asked them to focus on how the lie felt inside. Several of them became very emotional. I asked them all if they wanted to go to the source of the pain and the lie. They all agreed. We waited on the Lord as He showed them each memories where the pain emanated from. I then asked them if they felt this belief was true. They all did. Then I invited the Lord to come into each memory and speak to them. As I said this, it seemed like chaos began to reign. One girl fell off the chair. Another began to rejoice and the other three were crying uncontrollably. One by one, I asked them what the Lord showed them. It was completely the Voice of God for every one of them. By the end of the time, all of them had been set free from lies and reported peace in the memories. They all said they felt that their head and heart were in agreement.

All of this took about 20 minutes. God is so effective. It makes me believe that I probably don’t believe that God can do anything. But I am becoming a believer more every day.