A Course Summary, 2004
Three concepts are fundamental in this course
1. Conflict is not a result of a disagreement in ideas.
2. It is caused by the energy in the interaction. In a confrontation, we are always more aware of the power the other person has over us than the power we have over them.
3. Reconciliation is possible when the underlying vulnerability is honored and addressed.
When we study the building blocks of the human personality, we find that there are parts or selves within the psyche. The Psychology of Selves and the Voice Dialogue technique created by Drs. Hal and Sidra Stone, provide a theoretical model and a method for exploring them. Selves can be experienced directly, awareness of them is heightened and a central place is created where selves can be honored and we can have choice about their effect on us. [the Aware Ego Process].
Currently there are several approaches available for understanding selves/parts. Most recognize that each self has its own function and perspective. Using the Stone's work, it is clear that each one has its own unique energy as well.
The Energetics of Confrontation
We make a distinction between powerful selves and those which have a more vulnerable energetic. Much of the time we experience powerful selves. Then something happens which ignites our vulnerability. Immediately our powerful selves pull us out of the discomfort because they are designed to do this. In this way we unconsciously swing from one to the other. To chart this movement we write the word Power, followed by a line with an arrow point at each end, followed by the word Vulnerability.
The powerful selves developed in us when we were young to protect us from feeling overwhelmed by vulnerability. Their particular beliefs and energetic allowed us to function in the culture and family of our origin. Vulnerable selves exist in everyone but often the powerful selves hide them.
In the midst of hostility, the powerful selves are so effective that it is easy to miss the vulnerable feelings that are present. Because of this, we usually describe a fight as a power struggle. Yet each powerful self is brought into action because a vulnerable self was provoked.
Understanding this dynamics is crucial in energetic resolution of conflict. In this course we will go through processes that will clarify these principles for you, both intellectually and experientially.
Remember an argument. Pick an exact moment and reflect on what forceful self you were in and what tenderness was underlying it.
Each of you may describe this to the group so that we can become aware of the energies that were involved. We will form a picture of the power self and the vulnerable one that came up. We are interested in the function and beliefs of the selves, as well as the feel you have in your body with each self. Energy is experienced physically. When you are not speaking about your own circumstances observe the manner in which we ascertain the qualities of the selves for those participants who are describing theirs.
Facilitating These Selves
Now you will be able to experience these two selves directly. Please divide into pairs and decide who will facilitate first. Facilitators remember you are simply meeting these selves with no judgment and all due
respect. I would like you to allow the person to describe the selves he/she wants to explore. Then let them move to the place of the powerful self and spend about five minutes with it. Then bring the person back to the center. Ask for a description of the energetic difference between the center and the power self. Ask what the gifts of this self are, and what the limitations are. Then have the person move to the vulnerable side and have the self describe how it felt in the conflict. When this is clear and you have honored this self have the person return to the center. Again ask how it feels in the center in comparison to being in the self. Ask what gifts and limitations he/she sees in the self. Take some time to notice the quality of the connection between the two of you when the facilitation is complete and an Aware Ego Process is inducted. Finally, you will change roles and repeat this process.
As we return to the group, I would like to know what you learned about the powerful self. How would you describe its energy? What is the vulnerable energy like? What brought up the vulnerability? How did it feel to sit in the center between the two of them? Generally, power-side selves extend energy, create space or attempt to control the other person and they bring us completely out of the experience of our vulnerability. In the center we are conscious of both sides and can be more fully present for the other person.
The Aware Ego Process
Voice Dialogue gives us an opportunity to separate from selves, value their gifts and realize their limitations. During a session we have direct experience in the selves and the center point between them. Then we
observe this from a place of awareness where they can be seen with no judgment or aspiration to change (Awareness Level). When we return to the center our Aware Ego Process has begun. Our capacity to embrace the selves and have choice over their effect increases. The way we view our circumstances and our relationships with others changes significantly. On our chart we draw a circle in the center of the line between word Power and Vulnerability.
It is important to have direct experience of Voice Dialogue to understand and use our method of creating reconciliation. When you are guiding others, your sense of the energetics of selves, their dynamics and the Aware Ego Process gives you the skill you need to be effective.
The Energy of the Center
Let's do an exercise to give you another experience of being centered (Lawrence Novick). Please divide into pairs. Decide who will be A and B. A, stand with your feet shoulder width apart and imagine your favorite
food high on a shelf in front of you. Reach up for that food, up on your tiptoes to take it off the shelf. Now B put your hand on the shoulder of A and give a gentle push sideways. What happens?
This time, A, when you think about your favorite food on the shelf, do not let your attention go up to the food. Keep your attention in your belly, in the center point of your body. Reach again for the food, up on your tiptoes. Now B gently pushes on the arm of A. Is there a difference?
When you're reaching for the food and focusing on the food, it is much easier to be destabilized. If you've brought your attention to your center, you can still extend without losing your balance. This is energetically similar to being in an Aware Ego Process, where the impact of selves is diminished and you can maintain your core. Reverse roles and repeat this.
The first step in this reconciliation method is creating a graphic representation of the interaction. On the chart we will let the original line represent person A where power is on the left side and vulnerability on the right. Now we add a line below this first one. On the lower line, which represents person B, the sides are reversed. Vulnerability is on the left and Power on the right. We draw an arrow down from the Power to the Vulnerability on the left and an arrow up from the Power to the Vulnerability on the right.
We pick a moment in an experience of conflict and determine what power-side self was present in A. Then we drop to the bottom line, and ask how the other person's vulnerability was affected. Going to the right hand side of the lower line, we ask what power self B went into because of the discomfort. Then we go to the upper-right hand and ask how the power from B affected A. We can continue circling until the dynamic is clear.
Now let's map the patterns in a conflict using one person's experience as an example.
Please divide into groups of three. Each of you chart the dynamics of a discordant situation you've been in lately.
These diagrams illustrate the role of energy in disagreements. Our experience with this shows that conflict is not the result of a dispute in ideas. The same words can be spoken with another energy and have an entirely different effect. A battle begins when we feel threatened. Our powerful selves pull us out of this discomfort because they are designed to do this. We unconsciously swing from vulnerability to power. This has an effect on people around us. Our powerful expression ignites their vulnerability, which triggers the powerful selves within them. The intensity continues to escalate. This pattern can go on for decades and lead to war.
Mapping allows us to illustrate the dynamics of selves in an interaction. Now we will move to the second step in this method, tracking. This is done by sitting with two or more people who are in conflict. It is not necessary that they have experienced Voice Dialogue, although it is helpful. What's more important is that they trust you. You must explain that the participants will not speak to each other until the end. No one will be blamed or judged. You will be guiding them to a deeper understanding of themselves and each other. Honor any hesitation anyone may have by accepting it. Acknowledge it and alter the setting as is necessary. All participants must feel safe and committed to the process as its been defined. If someone is uncomfortable, stop and attend to his/her needs.
We proceed by listening to one person describe a specific moment in the interaction, while we observe the energies that come up. When an identifiable self emerges, we ask the person to stop speaking for a moment to become aware of the energy. We describe what self we are experiencing. Usually at this point it is a powerful self that has appeared. We encourage the person to experience this energy. We ask the person what vulnerability this self is trying to cover. We listen and help distill the qualities of this vulnerable self. We continue by asking another person to describe the conflict as he/she sees it, while observing, reflecting on the energy and drawing attention to the vulnerability.
This process is repeated until at least one person separates from the power-side and can feel the underlying vulnerability. When this happens everyone experiences the vulnerability. There is an energetic shift. This is the result of the facilitator inducting an Aware Ego Process for at least one person who can then be present with the others and appreciate their vulnerability.
Following the Hands
This exercise gives you the sense of presence you need in order to track energy (Lawrence Novick). Choose a partner, and stand up facing each other. Extend your arms toward each other with your palms facing downward, one person's hands on top of the others. The person with the hands on the bottom will lead. The other person will make an effort to follow as the leader moves his/her hands. When you are tracking, focus your mind on your hands. Do this for a moment.
This time, when you are tracking, bring attention to your center and allow your eyes to blur and sense into the other person.
Notice the difference between tracking with the mind versus being centered. The mind takes time and effort to process the stimulation from the hands and direct the next movement. Having your attention extended in that way is similar to doing something in life from a self. The second time, the smoothness you felt is much more like being in the center.
Experiencing the Aware Ego Process
Please stand up and move your chairs to the side (Franca Errani). We're going to imagine a line down the center of the room. On one side you will stand in the powerful self you just defined. On the other side of the room you will be in the vulnerable self. Along this one wall that is perpendicular to the centerline, you can move into the Awareness Level. In the center we will make a circular area for the Aware Ego Process. You'll have a few minutes to walk freely around to these different positions. When you are finished please sit down.
How did it feel in each of the selves? Why did this particular power self emerge in you? Can you see how the vulnerability has been present much of your life? What did you gain by standing in the Awareness Level? From the center could you feel the capacity to acknowledge and pay attention to the vulnerable part?
Increasing Energetic Sensitivity
Let's work on increasing your ability to distinguish between powerful and vulnerable selves. I will begin by moving to three different positions. I would like you to make note of the selves that you see. As you do this, pay attention to how you feel the energetic of the self in your body. I will begin in the center and return to the center after each self. (Usually I choose selves with considerable energetic differences, such as, the angry self, the pleaser and fear).
So, tell me what you saw in each position. Even though anger and pleaser are very dissimilar energetically, can you feel how they are both extended, controlling selves, where as the one who carried the fear, is imploded and powerless.
This time I'll demonstrate with three other selves. I will not change my position. Instead I will bring their energy into the center. Follow the energetic shifts and take note of them.
What selves did you see? How were these energies different? Were you able to distinguish between them because of something you felt in your body?
When we were children we were not capable of sitting between two opposite selves. The powerful selves protected us from feeling vulnerable. This is a normal and automatic energetic reaction. As we mature, an ego emerges which opens up the possibility of choice. We can begin to build our capacity to have a conscious relationship with our selves and use them with discretion. We are then able to interrupt the escalation of conflict.
Now we will do an exercise (Created with Franca Errani) in which you experience a powerful and vulnerable self. You have been working on being aware of these selves. Here you will begin to decide how much effect you want them to have on you. By practicing this you increase your ability to relate to those selves through an Aware Ego Process.
Imagine a line down the center of the room. To the left of that line is the powerful self and to the right is the vulnerable self. In the center of that line imagine four concentric circles. The central circle is the place for the Aware Ego Process and along the perpendicular wall is a place for the Awareness Level. You will start in the center. Then step toward the power side into the next circle. Experience that power side-self coming in about 10%. When you are ready step to the next larger circle and experience this self at 50%. Next, move to the larger circle and experience the energy at 80%. In each of these positions stay in touch with the Aware Ego Process. When you return to the center circle take some time to experience the shift in your energy. Then move into the vulnerability, adjusting the level of its presence. Notice as you move to higher percentages of an energy, the self starts to feel like it has the whole truth. As you move back into the center, become aware of how you can experience the gifts of the self and it limitations. After this, move to the Awareness Level. Observe with no judgment or desire for change, from this place of lucid vision. Return to the center. Pay attention to how this feels and how your sense of yourself is new.
It is ideal if there are two people in the course who have been at odds recently and are willing to work in front of the group. If not, an
individual can be chosen. The procedure is the same. The goal is to discover the forces that emerged in the disagreement; to help the person
become aware of each distinct energy, and experience each as a part of them, which has wisdom but does not have the whole truth. When the person is able to experience this Aware Ego Process the perception of the conflict shifts dramatically. The pressure to debate rationally diminishes. A direct connection with the others emerges. The focus becomes an exploration of possibilities because the forces underlying the conflict are clear, understandable and appreciated.
I would like you to look at the notes you wrote at the beginning of the weekend. Take a few minutes to reconsider this conflict. Now please divide into groups of three. One person will present their situation. The second person will track the energies. The third person will observe to be sure the process focuses on the energy and does not become derailed by discussion of the specific issues in the disagreement. You will rotate responsibilities so that everyone is able to fulfill each function.
Finally, consider one part of this process you would like to bring into your daily life. Describe a specific context where you could practice.
Write the new strategy you would like to use.
As a facilitator of reconciliation we have to be able to identify selves and their energy. We must continually develop our Aware Ego Process so that we are able to map the energetic dynamic when people are relating to one another and track these energetics as they appear in an interaction.
As we do this participants acknowledge their selves, and understand that each one is a part that does not have the whole truth even though it feels like it when they are identified with it. As they begin to appreciate the function of selves, they realize the swing from vulnerability to power is fast and automatic. At the same time they experience the possibility of having discretion from a position in the center.
From the perspective of the Aware Ego the charge of the selves drops away and connection can be created with others. The experience of the discord is completely fresh. Solutions are less urgent and they can be formed. Reconciliation is possible.