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"Mind-Mapping": How We Manipulate the People We Love

All too often, people do hurtful things with impunity and entitlement in relationships simply to gratify their own needs.

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That’s what Stanley did when he acknowledged his hidden agenda in his sexual relationship with Kristin. Rather than getting a sense of safety, security, reassurance, or commitment from her, he had to “hold onto himself,” stand on his own two feet, and tell the truth. Under the right circumstances, I see people do this all the time. Shifting from depending on other-validated intimacy to doing self-validated intimacy fundamentally changes the dynamics of relationship and revamps partners’ maps of each other’s minds.

Like many couples, Stanley and Kristin dramatically turned their relationship around. Seeing the best in each other come forward made a huge difference in accepting their past, putting it behind them, and building a present and future based on self-respect, greater honesty, and more willingness to address difficult issues as soon as they arise. In fact, it’s not hard to resolve rapid orgasm, even when it has existed for decades. It can require the reduction in anxiety that Stanley and Kristin established by confronting their dark truths. Without this reduction, sexual techniques focused on delaying ejaculation often don’t work. Mapping each other’s minds during sex and allowing themselves to be mapped profoundly deepened their intimacy.

Reality in the Consulting Room

Many therapists fear clients will take offense and walk out if they’re as direct and confrontational as I appear to be. In fact, in my practice, that virtually never happens. My clients say they stay because they know I can see them, and they trust me because I talk straight and confront them about difficult topics. Clients are likelier to walk out if you suddenly adopt a style of honesty and directness that conflicts with your prior interventions. When you’ve soft-pedaled difficult issues and sugarcoated harsh truths, confronting them about doing cruel or selfish things seems judgmental and pejorative, as if you’re ceasing to be supportive and you don’t like them anymore.

Collaborative confrontation doesn’t seem like a departure from therapeutic business as usual when it is business as usual. If you don’t use positive reframing to put a smiley face on everything, and your questions demonstrate your willingness to see people’s darkness (and their goodness), clients can handle their darker issues better when they’re exposed.

Having gone through this process with many couples, I’ve learned that, paradoxically, the bigger the lurking bombshell, the more tenuous the situation, and the greater the impulse to approach this in small incremental baby steps, lest things blow up, the more important it is to approach tough issues directly, with their implications fully visible, and shepherd couples through this stage quickly. Progressively unpacking timid disclosures of difficult truths saps partners’ endurance, courage, and belief in themselves and each other. In contrast, watching your partner confront himself unilaterally, without guarantees of acceptance, builds mutual respect, earns forgiveness, and induces you to act in kind.

Here are things therapists can do to encourage clients to decide their best option is going through the process of differentiation and self-validation:

Use collaborative confrontation to wake people up by exposing their games and encouraging their best to come out.
Work quickly. Speed creates hope, and a brisk pace yields greater traction with clients.
Use honesty to harness clients’ innate desire for intimacy and partnership. We can’t be safe and secure while we hide, because our partner really doesn’t know us. When we’re finally known, we can truly relax. Difficult truth-telling makes couples feel productively and profoundly connected.
Foster a sense of unilateral responsibility and differentiation to enhance people’s collaborative alliances.
Whether unwittingly or by design, therapists co-construct how clients function, feel, and look, to such a profound degree many of us can’t imagine. We lose sight of how we co-construct clients in ways that support our favorite theories. Attachment therapists don’t really believe they are co-constructing abandonment fears: they believe they’re treating it. I readily concede differentiation-based therapy is co-construction too.

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