Hank is in his mid-40s, married, with two latency aged children. Hank is bright, articulate, personable and works in a technical profession where he has achieved considerable success. About 12 years prior to this session, Hank, with several co-developers, created a successful start-up. One year prior to this session, Hank’s business was acquired by a much larger corporation. At the time of this session, Hank was working as a mid-level manager/supervisor within this larger corporation.
At the time of this session, Hank and I had been working in psychotherapy for five years, 10 months. While we initially met weekly to every other week, due to Hank’s concerns about costs we started meeting once monthly, for 50-minute sessions, one year into our therapy. A few months prior to the session described below, however, Hank and I agreed to meet for longer, 80-minute sessions, about twice monthly, so that we could do intra-relational work using The Comprehensive Resource Model (CRM; see Schwarz et al, 2017; Schwarz, 2014-2017). Specifically, we sought to work with Hank’s “younger parts” that appeared to be inhibiting his fully committing to and pursuing his current professional aspirations. The following session lasted 80 minutes, and while we referred to different “inner voices” or parts giving Hank conflicting messages, we did not follow the CRM protocol.
Vignette: “Depression, or Pro-being Shame and Pro-being Pride, Calling”
“Hank” began the session (session #1) two weeks prior to the one described below (session #2) reporting that there was a change in his organization, creating an upper level manager opening. Hank was encouraged by his boss to apply for this higher level, managerial position. Prior to session #1, Hank had applied for that position and was waiting to be interviewed. In preparation for the interview, Hank found himself getting depressed. As we spoke during session #1, Hank realized he wanted to leave the organization altogether and pursue his dream of developing a new tech product with like-minded creators and entrepreneurs. Hank left session #1 motivated to talk with his wife, “Rachel”, about his intention to leave his current job in five-months.
I had anticipated, coming into this session #2, that Hank would have spoken to his wife, Rachel, and already begun taking steps toward his new work venture. Instead, Hank began the session described below (#2), saying he thought he was depressed. Hank was having difficulty getting motivated, either to leave his current organization or commit to staying.
Hank and I identified two internal “parts” or voices, one that I dubbed “the Nike commercial” after the slogan “Just do it!”, and the other “Be reasonable”. “Just do it” told Hank he should “Just go for it”, that is leave his current work and start reaching out to fellow tech professionals and entrepreneurs to begin work on a new venture. In stark contrast, the voice of “Be reasonable” argued, quite rationally and calmly, that Hank already had a good job that paid well, that his wife was just starting out in her profession, and that what was best for Hank and his family, now, was his staying put. “Be reasonable” made this case, by the way, despite the fact that Hank shared that his wife, Rachel, would support his developing his own new product and company if he wished.
I helped Hank see, and this was not hard to do, that neither “Just do it!” nor “Be reasonable” was resolving his dilemma. In fact, it was leaving him feeling depressed. I suggested to Hank that neither “Just do it!” nor “Be reasonable” were addressing a third part of him. I didn’t specify what that third part was, although I had thought it held some of Hank’s fears of “asking for help” as we had worked on before. (Hank’s difficulty identifying a need and asking for help had been a central theme of our work for a few years, now). Whatever this third part represented, I knew it needed to be heard by Hank and myself before he could get unstuck.
I encouraged Hank to hold the two competing voices while listening internally for a third part that wasn’t being heard. Several times and quite unconsciously, Hank kept returning to speaking from one of the two voices, particularly “Be reasonable”. After Hank reiterated “Be reasonable” two or three times, I decided to invite him to “go with” that message. I suggested he take “being reasonable” to its logical conclusion, by his imagining 25 years from now, about to retire, having worked successfully at his large corporation and moved up the ladder with increasing management responsibilities, but not having pursued his dream of building a new, tech product. Hank allowed himself to imagine this future for a few moments, and then said he would feel “Disappointed” with himself.
“Why?”, I asked, “You would have new challenges, and you would have supported your family well.”
“Because I wouldn’t have done what I wanted. I would have been afraid to go for it.”
“What is it?”, I wondered. What is “it” you want to do?”
Hank and I took most of the remaining session fleshing out his professional dream. As Hank’s dream took shape, little by little, so did his “pro-being pride”, that I have elsewhere defined as “‘I delight in me being me delighting in you delighting in being you’’ (Benau, 2018, p. 135). Hank said he wanted to be one of several “pioneers”, combining their respective technical and business talents to create a product that mattered, that is contributed something new and valuable to others. Hank wanted to use his talents, including his technical and creative capacities. In addition, Hank’s goal was to earn enough money so that his family wouldn’t have to worry about money ever again. Hank also wished to be part of a group of people he cared about, and a product he believed in, rather than working for a corporation, like his present place of work, that he experienced as soulless and caring more about meeting quarterly financial goals than individual employees. But even more than that, Hank wanted to create something, with others, that he felt “proud of”.
As we discussed Hank’s applying his talents, I reminded him of conversations we had had several sessions before, where Hank described how, as a small boy, he loved to take apart machines and put them back together again. I called this fascination and passion Hank’s “tinkering”, and I said to Hank, “You have always loved being a tinkerer. Taking things apart, seeing how things worked, and putting them back together. Right?”
Hank readily agreed, and sat up and smiled for the first time this session as he recalled doing this as a young child and imagining doing so again, in his new company-to-be.
I viewed “Hank as tinkerer” as “Hank embodying his pro-being pride.” I believed, deeply, that Hank could do many things well, including managing others as he was now doing, but that not everything would make him deeply satisfied and happy. I told Hank the story of a teenager I worked with many years prior. This teen, “Fred”, was both very artistic and very musical. While Fred’s drawings were beautifully rendered, only playing his rock guitar excited him. I suggested the same was true with Hank: He could remain at his current job, he could work for this large corporation and in time earn more money and provide well (if not as well as he wished) for his family. But given how Hank imagined being “disappointed” in himself if he remained there until retiring, and how he felt no personal connection with this corporation, I had a clear sense Hank wouldn’t be happy, and said so.
Hank readily agreed. We spent the remainder of our session focusing on Hank’s “pro-being” qualities and energies, that included Hank describing himself as a “pioneer”, “working with like-minded others”, “using my
talents”, “building something new”, “something I’m proud of”, and “something where I earn enough money to not have to worry about providing for my family.”
Sigmund Freud purportedly said, “Love and work are the cornerstones of our humanness.” Notice that Hank’s pro-being pride also met Freud’s criteria for psychological well-being, “love and work”, that is caring for his family well and engaging in meaningful, creative work.
As I kept bringing Hank back to the wellsprings of his pro-being pride, I openly shared my enthusiasm for Hank being Hank. That is, my pro-being pride met Hank’s pro-being pride, as I delighted in being myself delighting in Hank being himself:
“Hank, I don’t know diddly about your tech field. If I can use word processing and asking Google a question, I feel I am doing great”, I joked. “But I don’t have to know anything about what you do to be excited for you being yourself, tinkering with your fellow tinkerers and entrepreneurs. I believe strongly that you can do many things, Hank, but if you do what excites you, what you are meant to do— and that can be more than one thing but “only managing others” is not ‘it’— not only won’t you be “disappointed” or “depressed”, you will feel as alive as you feel now talking about this with me.”
As our session ended, Hank said he felt “antsy” to get going on his next creative venture. This, clearly, was the opposite of his feeling stuck or depressed. Hank knew that in the tech field, this might well be his “last” big venture. While he knew his new project would require a lot of his time and energy, Hank felt confident that his wife, Rachel, would support his dream. I suggested to Hank that even though he would need to work more hours for a period of time, he would likely come home to Rachel and their kids happier and ready to engage with them. Hank agreed, and was now anxious not to avoid failure, but rather to “do it!”
Pro-being shame to pro-being pride
This session helped me realize that just as there is “pro-being pride”, the joy in being oneself with oneself or others, there is also “pro-being shame”, the shame that accompanies not living one’s life, fully. I call this pro-being shame as it communicates, as Hank expressed, disappointment in not living one’s life authentically, that it not giving fuller expression to one’s unique, “pro-being”. Otto Rank, a young protégé of Freud’s, called this “existential guilt” but I think it is closer to “existential shame”. When horses don’t get to run with other horses they languish and look depressed. When tigers are caged in a pen at a zoo, they may be well cared for and live to an old age, but that doesn’t mean they are vitally alive. There are many things people can and do, do in order to survive, and there is nothing wrong with that. Many people the world over struggle just to survive and support their loved ones. But when a person like Hank is in a position to listen to his pro-being shame, that I believe is much deeper than “disappointment” when imagining his unlived work life and, in turn, to re-connect with his pro-being pride (e.g. “Hank’s inner-tinkerer playing with his fellow tinkerers and builders”), then pro-being shame is supplanted by pro-being pride, depression by aliveness, and surviving by thriving. It’s that simple, even if the route to simple truths is not simple at all.
Benau, K. (2018). Pride in the psychotherapy of relational trauma: Conceptualization and treatment considerations. European Journal of Trauma and Dissociation, 2, 131–146.
Schwarz, L. (2014-2017). CRM (Comprehensive Resource Model) Practitioner Booklet. CRM LLC.
Schwarz, L., Corrigan, F., Hull, A., & Raju, R. (2017). The comprehensive resource model: Effective therapeutic techniques for the healing of complex trauma. New York, NY: Routledge.