Hiding the Marshmallow
One of the greatest challenges in psychotherapy, possibly in any kind of healing work, is getting clients to change old habits. Will power alone doesn’t work. Conscious knowledge about why a specific habit is destructive or perpetuates a debilitating situation is enough to make a client want to change, but not enough to effect that change, never mind anchor it as the new, standard way of being. The social psychologist Wendy Wood discovered in her research that sustaining healthy behavior is best accomplished by restructuring the environment so that the old, destructive habit is not as available or easy to pursue – or is removed entirely from our conscious perception. A good example: in Walter Mischel’s famous experiment in the 1960s, children presented with the possibility of eating a marshmallow, but the instruction to resist eating it, were able to hold out appreciably longer if the marshmallow was not visible.
So, if removing the sugar bomb from sight helps us resist gratification, how can this lesson be applied to Spirit Energy Medicine? If, say, a woman responds instantly to daily calls for help from her needy mother, and in so doing has learned to neglect her own wants, we see a classic bad habit at work. The mother has become entirely dependent, abusing the mother-daughter relationship to remain, essentially, immature and incapable of emotional self-sufficiency; the daughter has felt unable to cultivate a loving relationship with a man or fulfill her deep desire for children of her own, so engrossed has she been by the demands of a manipulative mother. The client understands this dysfunctional dynamic, knows she will never know abiding personal happiness as long as she feels obliged to be her mother’s keeper. Despite this understanding, she continues to get daily hits of instant “gratification”: her mother calls, she responds, leaving work even to drive her mother to the emergency room for a non-existent medical crisis. In this way the client reaffirms her own perverted raison d’etre: she learned long ago, in the earliest throes of childhood, that her right to exist is largely based on her care of a needy mother. (The wonderfully sonorous German word for this is “Daseinsberechtigung”, the right to exist.)
To put it even more bluntly: She has done her part, and now is allowed to live another day.
Helping this client to develop a healthier right-to-live is, of course, one part of the psychotherapeutic work. Appealing to her intellect, to the knowledge that her mother can manage without her, is also necessary. But it’s not enough.
So, how can we hide the marshmallow? It’s not as simple as turning off her cell phone, or leaving it at home when she goes to work. The Mommy-marshmallow is still perceivably there! The client can feel her mother bearing down on her, she knows seconds or minutes in advance when her mother will call. The cell phone is only the technological enabler. The energic connection is on all the time.
That’s what we need to switch off. The energic entanglement has to be dissolved, or at least throttled to the extent that the mother falls below the threshold of consciousness. This she can’t do without help. It’s my job as spirit energy medicine practitioner to choke off the flow of energy between mother and daughter. To switch off the energic phone. To hide the marshmallow.