You know those everyday hurts and pains. And you know how the tiny hurts and irritations can have a cumulative effect. Then one day you just erupt with the disappointments, hurts or irritations that you've been trying let pass, ignore or talk yourself out of. And then your self esteem plummets because of the childish, inappropriate way you acted.

For some examples of those tiny hurts, let's say you walk into a party and experience a group of friends turning their backs on you instead of smiling, or your mother screams she'll have a heart attack if you go out with that woman, or you find out that your mate has been viewing pornography every night after you go to bed. The hurt can be as seemingly small as smiling at someone and getting a cold glare back.

Any of these things will usually trigger an emotional reaction, however slight and brief. It's natural. If we could just feel the feelings they will just go on through our amazing, self righting body/minds and would re-center ourselves and move on to what was next.

But the truth is that most of us don't just stop at feeling the feelings. We make up stories about why "it" happened; or how inadequate, weak, or stupid we are to have the feelings we have; or how wrong "they" were to do whatever. In other words, our interpreting machine starts whizzing. And as we are nattering away, we know we are doing this and our self esteem is sinking.

Much of our self esteem (at least until we have trained ourselves for a radical self-acceptance) depends on what emotions we are feeling. Ideally we would open-heartedly accept however we feel. But, let's face it, when we feel loving, playful, generous, we feel good about ourselves. However, when we are caught by anxiety, sadness, jealousy or hurt, our self image can suffer. At those times, we don't measure up to how we would like to feel, how we would like to be seen, how we would like to imagine ourselves to be.

The problems we have with ourselves and with those emotional states come from getting stuck in the feelings, from identifying with the feelings. It is the experience of "I AM angry" rather than I am a beautiful being who "has anger" passing by. The real problem is our reactions to our feelings, and our judgments about ourselves for having those feelings. That keeps us stuck as we resist, and react ad nauseum.

I'd like to give you a way to experience your uncomfortable feelings but not get glued to or avoid them.

This method is called Conscious Witnessing. It is explained in great depth by Wayne Dyer in Your Sacred Self: Making the Decision to Be Free. This method is also something that therapists may use to assist people who are working through major trauma.

This split focus and detaching method requires that you observe painful moments from a detached, slightly dissociated place a couple of locations away from the experience.

For a visual metaphor of the placement of the vantage points, you can imagine yourself in a movie theatre in the projection room. And you are doing three things at once. 1 )You-as the Conscious Witness--are looking down into the theatre, and having your own response as you watch and 2) you notice your emotional reactions, thoughts, body sensations as you 3) see the painful incident played out on the screen.

I'll describe the process using an experience of a composite client. I'll later demonstrate how it can be used for more harmonious relationships.

One step removed: viewing a video or film of the incident with you in it

In the theater metaphor, you are not in your body, seeing the incident from your own eyes as you were when it first happened. You are viewing the incident on the screen as you sit in the theatre.

To practice, the first step is to pick an experience that is not horribly painful, but enough to register some emotional pain. Now play the video or screen scene forward as you non-judgmentally notice your responses.

To demonstrate the process, I'll use the following incident.

"I'm five years old, in the backyard with Mom, hanging up wet sheets. I touch her arm. She pulls back, starts to cry and runs away to a next door neighbor's back yard. I follow her; she weeps, falls to the ground and says she feels trapped being a mother. She rocks back and forth sobbing and singing, ‘If I had the wings of an Angel, over these prison walls I would fly.' I sit on the ground, at her feet, listening quietly."

Two steps removed: viewing yourself as you view yourself watching the scene

In the theater metaphor, you are seeing yourself from the projection booth as you watch the film, video, or incident. If you prefer to just visualize yourself viewing the scene from up and behind your head about three feet, that works too. Notice, without judgment, your thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations.

The example continues.

"First I/she was feeling love for Mom, which is why I/she reached out to touch her arm. So I am shocked when Mom pulls back. I'm hurt. And scared and confused and I know it's best if I make my face a mask and don't show my feelings. When she starts to cry, in the neighbor's yard, I have certain calm. I know that once she gets the pain out of her system, she'll feel better."

Notice how you feel about yourself as you watch yourself go through your experience.

"From this position I experience such tenderness for myself. My voice from there is "She" is so dear. . . She wants to help. . . There is love there . . . She doesn't realize it, but she is being given a gift an apprenticeship as a therapist. From down there, she thinks it hurts, like a ‘shot' but the incident is imbued with enormous healing powers. "

Using Your Conscious Witness View for Relational issues

I now turn to an example of how using the Conscious Witness position can help to get a different perspective on relational issues. This practice not only provides emotional relief, but can provide emotional freedom with which to imagine and carry out alternative responses.

Below is what happened with a woman as she experimented with using the Conscious Witness perspective.

The scene: she and her partner are lying in bed watching TV before sleeping. He makes a derogatory comment about the program. She quickly picks up her journal and begins writing energetically in it. He thinks she is offended by his comment and is writing nasty things about him. He sighs in pain and disgust, feeling criticized. She thinks he is taking her actions personally (she's actually inspired and writing a poem). She thinks, "There he goes. Again."

This client was feeling angry, lonely, sad, disgusted, and depressed about her relationship. She was thinking, "He's so not there-as usual. He never sees ME, only his ideas of how I'm disapproving."

As she lay on the bed, in pain, she saw that he had gone to sleep. She decided to try the Conscious Witness point of view of their exchange. As she replayed the scene from her conscious Witness point of view was an all too familiar relational pattern, played out countless times. She suddenly burst out laughing at the predictability and the "ridiculousness" of the pattern. She wrote in her journal, now, "This is hysterical!" Her feelings of annoyance at her partner vanished, and she went to sleep happy.

She is understandingly excited about continuing to use this practice to detach from her unwanted emotional intensities. She is also freed up from her distress enough to actually invent alternative ways of reacting to the pattern when it appears again.

I hope this Conscious Witness practice will bring you relief and restore your humor at our relational foibles.

About the Author

Jane Bolton

Jane Bolton, Psy.D., M.F.T., is a supervising and training analyst and adjunct professor at the Institute of Contemporary Psychoanalysis in Los Angeles.

You are reading

Your Zesty Self

Four Steps To Developing Patience

4 Steps to Decrease the Happiness Killer: Impatience

Does Your Relationship Feel Like a Curse or Curriculum?

Are the difficulties in your relationship a bane or blessing?

Avoid a Surprising Holiday Hurt

Is your appreciation mindful?