Injunctive Messages 3
I don’t know when Bob and Mary stumbled on the non-word, “Redecision.” If they told me, I don’t remember and it is not recorded in any of their writings. Actually, they never really pinned down a definitive definition. I’ve read countless times everything they wrote and there is not a single place where they say, “Here is the benchmark definition of the word Redecision.” The closest he came is when Bob was presenting at Dr. Jeffrey Zeig’s very first Milton Erikson Evolution of Psychotherapy Conference:
“Redecision therapy is not simply making a decision to be different. It is the process in which we facilitate the client getting into his or her Child ego state. From that state, he relives an old scene and changes his or her part in it.” (1985, p. 303)*
This is exactly what they believed. They believed that when the person was a child he actively participated in a scene where he chose to make his early decision. Later, that same person can’t change the original scene. That’s history, but he can change the way he participated in it. They believed that by changing the original participation (i.e. the Redecision), he would then be able to change current behavior because the one decision had replaced the earlier decision. This would lead to an exponential change in behaviors in multiple settings. They were very persuasive and they were brilliant at helping people regress into these early scenes and relive them. The work they did with people while they were in these scenes was clearly relieving, helpful, emotive, and clarifying. People came out of these experiences feeling energized and empowered. I know this for a fact. Their work at moments in time felt truly amazing in the best possible way.
It is interesting that Bob used the word, “Process” in the quote above. Of course, he is referring to the means by which he and Mary helped people get into the early scenes. Once there, the “Redecision” was an action that corrected an earlier action. They were good at action. Most change comes through a process, just as we came to our early beliefs, our early decisions through a process over time. One could say that our early decisions were “means tested.” That is, we found what was congruent with our environment and our view of ourselves. Then we settled in. We made sense of the world and our place in it in light of those tested beliefs.
Where we were once the recipients of the influence coming in from the world, we now had a view of our self and our place and of reality itself. We began to be able to influence the world. Mostly outside of our awareness, we could manipulate people and situations to give us feedback and responses that reinforced this sense of reality. This created a whole world of congruence around these early beliefs, these early decisions.
This was the genius of Eric Berne’s concept of games. He demonstrated how people could interact with others and receive the sort of stroking and recognition and receive the outcomes they expected; even if sincerely not wanted at a conscious level. Show me someone who believes that no one in the world likes her and I will show you someone who is an expert at getting just that feedback, while yearning desperately for the opposite feedback. What we believe is very powerful and not subject to rapid alteration.
In my LA training group, we began to see redecision as a process over time as opposed to a decisive action at a certain moment in time. Bob and Mary believed the young child had a choice to respond to the Injunctive Message or not. We did not agree. The young child had to find a way to find congruence in the world. Therefore, we began to talk about Redecision as a process of acquiring a new belief that would be more powerful than the original belief.
Then, we began to look for what those new beliefs might be. It is easy to imagine new beliefs being something like, “I’m a good person,” “I have a right to be here,” “I like the person I am,” “I refuse to believe your view of me,” and so on. Those are all worthwhile thoughts to have, but they don’t actually represent a durable new belief. Those thoughts are good as responses to specific challenges, but do not provide a powerful enough substitute to replace the old belief. They feel good, but feeling good is not a very powerful antidote to feeling despair. In this form, these are just well-meaning defiant decisions. The problem with defiant decisions is that they leave us enmeshed in the struggle with the Injunctive message.
So, if those were not good examples of what would be powerful new beliefs, what were they? We spent a lot of time on this. It was not simple and it was not intuitive. Beliefs are not peripheral. They are core. They are not revealed on a good day when everything is going our way. It is the stuff that emerges when crisis is happening, when pressure is being applied by life, when our efforts have not acquired for us the outcome we sought. We find out a lot more about our core beliefs on the day we get fired than on the day we get promoted. This is when the “rubber hits the road,” to use an old metaphor. When the world has spit us out, the thought, “I’m a good person,” doesn’t provide much philosophical or moral resonance. It doesn’t help us with the dilemma that occurs when bad things happen to good people. Something with more heft, more wisdom, is needed to place defining moments into perspective.
Another burden on the new belief is that it must be able to replace the satisfaction gained from the coping behavior. The coping behaviors are anchored in perceived positive results. If I am always hitting myself on the head with a stick while I walk up life’s mountains I don’t mind so much that I have headaches. After all, part of the reason I got to the top of the mountain is because I was hitting myself. Right? In an odd way, the headache is more than just a badge of valor, it also reassures me I am doing the right thing. If I believe my success depends on that stick, you will not convince me otherwise and you certainly won’t be able to wrest the stick from my grasp, even if you point out quite rightly that I will have brain damage in the long run.
The new belief, the Redecision, has to be strong, vibrant, and durable enough to allow for the stick to eventually drop from my hands. I will need a strategy to correct for when I pick it up again out of habit. After all, I might have a lot of headaches, but I really trust that stick. Besides that, it gives me lots of ways to talk to other people and their sticks. My malady is a big source of strokes. I know the language of my malady.
The new beliefs must be core. They will have to be means tested so that we can turn to them in moments of crisis rather than the “stick.” The new beliefs are not ephemeral, but go to the heart of wisdom. It takes heft to deal with the important issues of life: survival, attachment, identity, competence, and security.
It is not just a matter of changing our minds in a moment. That just does not rewire the brain, our habit paths. There has to be support for the new beliefs, support that is more durable and more powerful than the old destructive beliefs. The two main pillars of the new beliefs will be discussed in the next post: Resolving Activities and The New Parental Stance that Heals.
*Goulding, R. L.. (1985) Group Therapy: Mainline or side line? In: J. K. Zeig (Ed.), The Evolution of Psychotherapy (pp. 300-306). New York: Brunner/Mazel