Carl Rogers, yes, you will have heard me mention his name quite a few times, produced a phrase which I love, and would like to share with you here today!
He said there exists…
“Horizontal multiplicity, and the layer upon layer of vertical complexity.”
He is of course referring to our issues, and the way we not only view them, but talk about them. It’s fascinating!
So here we go…
The experience of our daily lives is cyclic – that is our days start, they roll around, they end, they begin again. Round and round we go, doing pretty much the same routines – hydrate, eat, work, play, rest, learn, love, sleep & repeat. It is therefore absolutely no wonder why we develop patterns, or shortcuts of thought that leave us mired in the past, unable to fully experience (ideally with a certain naivety), the present!
You’ve heard the term “being present” – how often are you actually fully present in your own life? Less than you’d like? Too many thoughts bouncing around creating noise in your head? Life is hectic, and I think as a society, we’ve managed to make the noise much worse. But we’re learning, evolving entities and I believe we can iron out the bad that we’ve created. Because after all, we’ve also created SO much good!
Hypothetical scenario! Problem situation arises, how do we deal with it? By looking at what we did last time! Or a close enough approximation. It’s the brain’s way of just mapping thought patterns to actions or responses, in order to save time. In some situations it can even save our lives! But often times, it just makes us repeat the same old mistakes over and over again! This then that! If A, then B. It’s almost like a constant ongoing self diagnosis without any consideration of the symptoms or possible alternative routes of treatment. It’s effective at getting to (ineffective) resolution, and quickly, but it’s also arrogant and it’s also blind!
The reason we do this is simple, we experience these thought patterns, no LIVE these thought patterns, as fact. However, they are more like constructs of our lived experience, forming assessment which is either right, or wrong. This happened before, it’s very similar, so I reacted in this way, and then that happened, so that’s what I’m going to experience again… because it’s happened before! I can’t learn a new skill at College, because I did really badly at school and that made me feel really low. Therefore if I go back into education, I will do badly again and ultimately feel really low again. Is that true in the context of the “you” of today? I’d challenge that individual to truly spend some time with that thought pattern and see what comes out!
So what do we do when we try to explain our pain or struggles? We start with the aggressor, the big trouble, then we move onto smaller more consistent troubles, before finally linking them all together in a big knot, shrugging, sighing, dropping our shoulders and just saying “that’s life, pull yourself together… just deal”. We stack layer upon layer of multiplicity into this cyclic thinking – picture it as a ball of your stresses rolling along a straight road, gathering more and more stresses, more issues, but never any more detail. We continually reiterate the problem over and over again until it just becomes “us” and our lived experience.
Now consider if the ball came to a complete stop, imagine you get to press pause on a single day of your life and explore every facet of it. Studying every exchange in the minutest of detail and living fully in every beat, ever present, ever connected to it. The ball starts to unravel as stresses fall away. Not to be resolved, but to become separated from the “stress ball” as a whole entity. One by one, you pick up the pieces, taking the time to tackle each issue in its own right. To own each experience and have the resources to explore what it means to you, how it effects you and whether your thinking is correct in the present, or a construct of your past.
The more you examine each stress, you discover that it goes deep inside you, revealing buried feelings, dissecting experiences in whole new ways. You start to feel more connected to the meaning of the stress and how it affects you. You have time to regard each issue in its own right and have the space to explore different ways of thinking, feeling and reacting to this one particular stress. You come to realise the depth and complexity of every single one of your thought patterns and how if left unchecked, unmanaged, they control you.
I’ve just described, albeit a little poetically, a fairly broad strokes therapeutic counselling relationship. Or at least the good work that should take place within an effective therapeutic counselling relationship!
No wonder then that Carl Rogers, the founder of person centred therapy described this very process as having that “horizontal multiplicity” and then a deeper “vertical complexity”.
Stresses are something you never want more of, but hey, this is life! That multiplicity will be ever present in our lives. But what we’re really focused on here today is that deeper connection with the complexity. Or if I were to rephrase to better demonstrate a successful outcome, I’d use the term “understanding”.
It is in understanding our thought patterns, complex, tangled and construed as they may be, that true personal growth can take place. Awareness is such a valuable tool, it may just be THE most valuable tool we have available for ourselves. Becoming more self aware, particularly of the constructs made from our past experiences can help shine a light on our mood and our mental health.
Good mental health can start with good mental process!
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