The Four Steps

This is a four-step program based on the inherent human need to be touched, to be seen, to be heard, to be understood, and to be valued for who we really are. We participants have examined our emotions, thoughts and actions and have symbolized them in order to communicate Self to ourselves and to the world.


The problems to be addressed are: Who is our True Self? What have we experienced that caused our False Protective Self? What are the markers of our True Self? What are the behaviors that indicate False Protective Self, the various protectors? How can we tease them apart and regain our undamaged essence? The most pernicious consequence of trauma is that it moves us away from our True Self into False Protective Self patterns of behavior and thought that we recognize, but mistake to be the True Self. We often believe True Self to be impaired, and therefore spend time hiding our True Self behind our False Protective Self. Or, if we know our True Self is intact despite its having been abused physically or emotionally, we deliberately hide that True Self to keep it safe from any more abuse or disregard. Either way, our True Self is a prisoner to our past and our fears.


Step 1

In this project, the first step is to identify the True Self – the innate, unique individual we are, the Self that is confident, curious and calm. This entails discovering what gives us joy in the moment, in the Being or in the Doing. What really stirs our curiosity? What is it we always wanted to do that we avoided out of fear – of what? Why? We believe we can find our True Self through what excites our awe: it is our vitality. This search requires hard work, courage and honesty.


Starting with very small events we begin to define our unique Self, noticing the ways we share joy with others and the ways we delineate our very uniqueness. This is primarily integration: the left hemisphere brain (specific, language, sequencing, logic) is getting in touch with the right hemisphere brain (holistic, musicality, patterning, intuition). “I think 2 about who I am.” The True Self thus motivates intrinsic curiosity and the desire to be understood, and it gives us the direction for personal creativity. This process of finding our True Self needs to be symbolized in some form. In this project we chose hands-on art, but any creative form would work. As a group, we played together, and we cared for each other.


Step 2

The second step is to replace judgment with curiosity (Lynn Nottage) about why we may be motivated out of fear rather than joy. What were the experiences that frightened us into shame and withdrawal, or panic and clinging? What has caused us to either minimize or maximize the significance of these events? Why are some of us tight, emotionally rigid and aggressively controlling, while others of us are loose, emotionally labile and passively controlling? We must investigate our past since it lives in us in the present through every False Protective Self defense we manifest. How do we symbolize this pain?


Step 3

Third, once we understand the meaning we have given the past, especially what past events mean about us, we are ready to dismantle our False Protective Self. What thoughts and actions are the False Protective Self not truly us, the defenses we had to develop in order to survive our form of trauma? These defenses become fixed patterns of behavior. They become our unconscious strategy for dealing with our relationships. Do we laugh whenever we talk negatively about ourselves? Do we take care of others at our expense, or do we make excuses and blame everyone else? What addictive fixed action patterns do we fall into every time we feel fear? Could it be avoidance, withdrawal, denial, procrastination, sabotage, or, insistence, stubbornness, violence, aggression, phoniness, sarcasm? These behaviors no longer serve us. They are generated out of predictions almost always no longer real. They make it difficult to be true: collaborative and coherent (Main and Hesse). In the process of re-living the past, day by day, we damage True Self. Through art, we create a symbol of our False Protective Self behaviors.


Step 4

The fourth step is to put in writing an explanation of the symbols of True Self, the impact of the trauma, and False Protective Self. This fourth step again requires use of left hemisphere narrative and right hemisphere creativity. The 3 left gives verbal meaning, the right experiential meaning, re-integrating all facets of ourself and healing the trauma. We are courageously facing the pain in our psyche and body, the life “we have put together with all means available.” (Pierre Janet)


This project actually normalizes the emergence of many behaviors that cause us trouble. If as children the demand of the environment was that we respond “well” to abuse or neglect, we learned to do so. We all feel pain and we all adopt patterns of avoidance. For each of us, it is not the fact of response but rather the nature and degree of response that differs. Knowing this helps reduce the stigma of our False Protective Self.


Critical to the success of these four steps is the recognition of the fact that relationship with others is fundamental to our Being – our inherent relational Self. Accordingly, the project is necessarily done in concert with others. This is a group endeavor, learning about our Self through collaboration and play with others.


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