posttitle = Internal Trust Dancing case study 3: easy but impossible; welcoming suspicion titleClass =title-long len =77

Internal Trust Dancing case study 3: easy but impossible; welcoming suspicion

This is a sequel case study to Internal Trust Dancing case study: scheduling & cancelling dates. This was my second session with this client, and here we look something a bit deeper, less concrete, and more meta-conflicted. A lot of the moves are the same, but there were a few moments where something else was needed.

M: So I’m interested in knowing as part of part of going into this… what does the moment look like, when you tip over into the despair space? Like, what happens just before that happens? And you can share whatever’s arising, even if it doesn’t feel like an answer to that question.

C: I can feel exactly where it starts… it’s when I think about doing something that I want to do, like, think about a goal, a work goal or personal goal. And it’s almost like, it loses value, you know? But I’m trying to move back to that moment… There’s some kind of aversion, like, “No, no, go back. Don’t do that.” And it’s not fear, it’s almost…

M: Wondering if this feels related to the thing you said earlier around feeling like “not allowed to do that, shouldn’t do that”

C: Yes, definitely. Wow, yeah! This sense that you’re not allowed to take that step. When I say “step”, I mean “everything”. Like you’re not allowed to move to that location… go to that other place. It feels really physical, like, there’s a gap. Like “No, no, don’t do that. You shouldn’t go there, you’re not allowed to go there.”

M: What kind of “not allowed” is it, in the physical metaphor?

C: It feels more like a gap, like something that I cannot jump, you know?

M: So even more physical, like, not allowed by the laws of physics.

C: [laughs]  yeah.

M: …but we usually don’t frame it that way, like “I’m not allowed to levitate”… so, there’s something kinda funny there.

C: Yeah.

M: Huh, maybe it might occur more like that to a little kid though, it’s like… if I’m a little kid, “I wanna levitate! I saw a guy do it in the anime I watched! Mommy how do I levitate?” and she says it with the same tone that she says “Sorry, you can’t have a fourth cookie.” And you don’t realize that the “can’t” is a different kind of “can’t”.

C: [laughs]  huh, yeah.

M: I’m going to offer what’s called a sentence stem. Basically, it’ll be like the first half of a sentence and you can just try saying it a few times and sort of see what comes out as the second half. So: “if I try to jump this gap…”

C: Yeah, if I try to jump this gap, I will die. I will fall down. Yeah it feels very real, you know? Where’s no way that I can do it. [pause] Just now, it came, a sense of giving up. “There’s no way, so give up, move back, don’t even look at the gap.”

M: But maybe some other part is like “no I want to!” so you get stuck.

C: Yeah! The other part says, “It’s easy! You can do that.”

M: Okay, well, we’ve now found one piece of a difference in perspective there. It seems like you noticed that too. So we’ve got one side saying “it’s easy” and another side saying “it’s impossible.” Well they sound like they’re living in very different worlds!

C: Yeah.

a figure standing at a clifftop with some clouds, with one shoulder advisor saying it's easy and another saying it's impossible
(by Silvia, as usual)

Perspective-bridging and respecting distrust

This is one of the core moves of Non-Naive Trust-Dancing, whether internal or interpersonal—surfacing ways in which the perspectives don’t trust each other, and inviting them to respect that they can’t trust each other.

M: So yeah, we could try a few moves here. I’ll put both of them out and see which one appeals to you more:

  1. Have the side that’s like “it’s easy” say “I don’t see it, but if it were impossible/dangerous, then obviously it wouldn’t make sense to do it.”
  2. Have the part that’s like “it’s impossible” say “it’s impossible, but yes, I would like to do it if it were possible.”

C: Let’s start with the first one… it feels easy to say. Easy to agree with that.

M: And how does that land for the other side? Do you feel in touch with the other side, the sense of impossibleness? Have the other side receive this thing.

C: Yeah, that’s funny, it doesn’t trust that’s true. That the other part just accepted it.

M: Can the easy-part respect that? Can that part receive the sense of “I don’t quite buy it” from the other side. Like “I get that you can’t trust that I actually would want to avoid danger or whatever if there is danger.”

C: Yeah… yeah! It can. It accepts that. It’s weird, but yeah.

M: Yeah. So can you have it really communicate that to the other part?

C: Mm, it’s completely different when I try to communicate that to the other part… it’s very suspicious, it’s like “that’s just another trick”, you know? It’s funny, because I can sense these very different reactions.

M: Okay, cool. And so it feels like the “doesn’t buy it” is showing up on the meta level too, like “I don’t buy that you respect that I don’t buy it.”

C: Yeah, yeah.

M: So let’s collectively respect that by leaving it there right now, you know, not trying to push that a little more. And let’s try out this other direction to see what’s possible there, if there’s space for that. I want to check in, too, how’s your whole system feeling at this point?

C: It’s good, even to sense having the parts communicating, even though one of them doesn’t trust the other one. It’s good, yeah.

M: Because yeah, even if what the easy part is saying still seems kind of suspicious, it’s still maybe better than it just being like “fuck you!” right? There’s still a sense of “okay, I’m trying.” So the other part can be like “I don’t really trust you trying, but you’re at least not like actively attempting to obliterate me… I guess?”

C: Mhm.

M: So yeah, let’s see if we can shift over to the other side, and go to that part that’s saying “this is impossible or dangerous”… does it feel to that part like if it were—idk how—safe & possible to do this, then, yeah, I would want to.”

C: Mm. There is no “want”, but it’s fine with it.

M: “…then I wouldn’t stop it.”

C: Yeah.

M: Okay. So can that side speak to the other part, that has the more active want, “hey, I’ve got some sense of impossibility/danger here, so I’ve been stopping it, but if I saw a way that would be possible and safe, then I wouldn’t stop it”?

C: Yeah.

M: How does that land? Does the other part buy it?

C: Yeah, it does. It trusts it. Yeah. It believes what the other part is saying.

M: So maybe, to express back how that’s landing, you could say something back like “I see you’re not stopping this because you don’t want me to get what I want, but because it seems dangerous somehow.”

C: Okay… yeah. Hm… now the other part’s starting to trust, to believe that that might not be a trick.

I don’t say this explicitly, but in the next line, this is deliberately me inviting the part to open up some, not having his other part do the inviting. It would have a different meaning coming from the other part. Might be fine, but I’m pointing at something structural, not trying to do a move between the two parts with this.

M: So yeah, and I’ll invite that part to, you know, open up as much as it makes sense and feels good to open up, and not any more. Like it doesn’t have to go all the way to “I totally believe you.” Just noticing if there’s an “oh, okay, that… makes a little more sense.” You know, even if that’s just a small amount.

C: It’s still suspicious, you know? Like, yeah, I can do that just a little bit, but you know, yeah.

Rederiving “Self” and embracing suspicion

In my first ITD case study, I speculated that it was an approach that didn’t require involving the concept that IFS calls “Self”. Here I infer that the dialogue between the two parts has sort of broken down and there’s a need to engage the rest of the whole system of the client. I’d never made a move like this as part of an ITD session before and I’m not sure exactly what I’d say about when to use it.

M: I have an inclination to take a little step back here, from the kind of… dialogue between these two parts, and just… find within you all of the energy that you have, all of the parts or perspectives or love that you have, that could go towards really saying like “it’s okay that you’re suspicious.” Any inner energy that wants to say that.

[C pauses, is visibly emotional]

C: That was really emotional… nobody ever said that to that part.

M: [softly] Yeah, I bet. [pausing] Seems like something’s landing, there’s a little more space to have that suspicion.

[a couple minutes of stillness]

C: Yeah, I’m just saying that, staying with that, because it feels good.

[more stillness]

M: I’m leaving lots of space here for things to move at their own pace, and there’s a lot to soak in.

C: Thanks.

[another minute of stillness]

C: That was profound, you know. That was deep. And it seemed so simple, but something happened.

M: Yeah, and I mean, that’s similar to the thing that we had in the first session—the magic move. And it’s the same structure, right? Respecting the reality. But what I noticed in this case—and I’m just, you know, I’m making this up as I go along, you know, from this deep understanding and deep generator—what I noticed was a sense that between these two parts, there isn’t enough trust there already. But I had this feeling like, I bet there’s a lot more to you, that would have the capacity to hold this part. And so that was kind of like, you know, in IFS terms, stepping into more Self-like energy, or stepping into the Whole. And it felt like, boom, that landed.

C: Yeah.

If this had failed, depending on how it went I might have tried a few things. If the suspicion didn’t buy that its suspicion was okay, I might have explored seeing if the part could believe that I respect that it’s suspicious, which might be easier since there isn’t a longstanding tension with me. Maybe not though! Another reason it could have failed would have been actually that the client may have been unable to embody the stance of respecting the suspicion, in which case of course I would have recursed to explore why it didn’t feel safe to do so.

Revisiting the earlier tension

Having allowed the suspicion to be profoundly welcomed by the whole, I turn our attention back to what was feeling blocked before. We’ll see that things have indeed opened up here, but it feels important to register that I was holding a complete unknown about that when I proposed returning. I wasn’t making an assumption that what had occurred would unlock anything in particular.

M: So now, I would be really curious to come back to what we were saying… these two parts, one saying “I want to do this thing, it’s easy, I should just go in”, and the other saying “it’s dangerous, it’s impossible, I’m suspicious.” If we go back to that line of tension… we explored having the easy part say to the suspicious part, “if it were impossible or dangerous, then of course I wouldn’t want to do it anyway and get hurt.

C: Yeah, there’s trust now. It’s totally different. Like, their relationship, you know? It now believes what the other part is saying. If it’s dangerous, it’s not going to do it. So it’s okay. They’re still holding their positions, you know?

M: They still have their own perspectives—they don’t suddenly fuse.

C: But the sense is completely different.

M: Yeah, its sounds like a sense that that part would listen to the concern?

C: Mhm, yeah.

M: I imagine it would have felt true, before this whole process—and maybe still feels true now, that’s what I want to check on… I imagine it would have felt true before this whole process, that the part that just wants to do it would have this feeling of frustration, irritation, kind of like “why won’t you just let me!? I don’t trust that you won’t just get in my way”

C: Yeah.

M: And I’m curious if there are elements of that that are still present, or even just want to be spoken to from how they were sitting before, even if something feels different now.

C: No, it definitely respects that message, that it might be dangerous. It still wants to jump, but yeah, it’s considering that. So there’s no frustration anymore. Actually lemme check. [pauses, goes inwards] Yeah, there’s no frustration anymore, but it still wants to do it.

M: I wonder if it would feel true to acknowledge, without blame or shame or apology, “I wasn’t listening to you”, “I was trying to tune you out”.

C: Yeah.

M: How does that feel to receive from the other part?

C: It’s good to receive that, to see that the other part’s knowing that, yeah.

Closing reflections

M: Yeah, cool. So we’re at the 1h mark here, let’s wrap up.

C: That was magical again, I don’t know how you do it. [laughing]

M: I really do think it is a “we do it” thing. I’m able to bring a quality of presence and possibility to these conversations with you, in part because you leave so much space. And I can’t “pull this off” with everybody. I did a few more sessions since our last and they were all a lot harder. But it seems your system at least seems to work very well with this process.

C: What’s incredible to me is that you always get the next move right. I keep feeling like “I can’t move from this” and then you find something.

M: Well it’s definitely a puzzle. Sometimes I also reach some point where I also don’t feel like I have any moves, like “that’s a dead end”… but we needed to go down it to know it was a dead end. I need to listen really deeply—I don’t know what’s going to work for you. And it was neat finding out this time that we had two layers deep of “I don’t buy it”.

I checked in with the client a few weeks later, while working on this post, and he said:

This time, things didn’t unfold so smoothly as the first time. I can feel/see the conflict more clearly almost daily, which is interesting. But they still seem to be on opposite sides and unwilling to cooperate.

This makes sense to me. This seems like a pretty deep thing, and the two parts didn’t really come to any new understanding of each others’ perspectives, they just became a bit more aware of each other and more respectful. So it was possible this level of work would have led to some sort of downstream breakthrough, but not obvious. And even if it seemed like it would obviously produce change, one has to actually check! This is a core principle of emotional reconsolidation for transformational change: unless the change is effortless to maintain, there’s still something in conflict.

I don’t know how easy it is to train this technique. Sometimes the process feels very mechanical, almost like a flowchart, but as I noted above, I’m definitely still inventing some of the pathways. And even a flowchart requires actually being able to discern where you are, and I may be tapping some deep intuitions to do that.

Beyond that, as far as I can tell there’s something huge I’m bringing to it in the form of an embodied sense of coherence empathy, ie respect for the coherence of all of the parts involved. I’ve explored the idea of something called “surrogate Selfing”—essentially taking on the role of Self for a person temporarily. I’m not sure if that’s what this is.

I would imagine that the process would become substantially easier with two coaches:

  • one to take detailed notes on exactly what the person is saying
    (I can only guide this puzzle-solving process with a near-verbatim transcript that captures phrasings and the structures of trust and distrust)
  • the other to focus on embodying coherence empathy and making moves
    (the writer could also indicate possible openings, based on their own intuitions or consulting an external flowchart)

I can do them both at once, but only from years of practice taking notes on conversation plus a deep understanding of the ITD process specifically and emotional coherence generally. And I think I’d also benefit from having a scribe.

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About Malcolm

Constantly consciously expanding the boundaries of thoughtspace and actionspace. Creator of Intend, a system for improvisationally & creatively staying in touch with what's most important to you, and taking action towards it.

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