“Conversations between the different perspectives of the mind can be seen in the same light as a conversation between different persons. You can have a good conversation, a bad one, or none at all”
The other day I was sat with a friend who shares a mutual passion for discussing mental health. My conversations with her are some of my most satisfying vocal exchanges I happen to encounter and my last one triggered my desire to write this blog post on non violent communication with the mind (NVCM)
We were sat talking about mania and delusion and my friend enquired into how it was that my delusions stopped. I explained simply that over time when I focused on other things crisis subsided that the delusions simply stopped.
“Did you do anything to make them stop?” She asked. The answer was that yes I did, and no I did not. It was from here that to conversation moved on to an explanation and we came to the subject of my freestyle practice of non violent communication with the mindthat I would like to share with you. My friend told me it had similarities to other practices within the mental health world and that she would be curious to read about it if I wrote it down. So being as I enjoy writing so much, I decided I would.
A little background
Whilst I was in the midst of my struggle with psychosis and mental noise I found that no matter how much i resisted or fought against it the struggle in my mind never eased, instead it increased in its intensity. The more i battled my demons, the louder they raged. The same was true for other symptoms such as insomnia and anxiety, the more i fought against them, attempted with force of mind to be rid of them, the more they hounded me.
This over the course of many months left me exhausted and flabbergasted. How on earth does one reduce mental noise and suffering if one cant will it away?
In the end, i stopped fighting the thoughts in my mind, I neither agreed or disagreed with the narratives or conclusions they brought forth. The reason for this was simple, it made absolutely no difference wether i resisted the negative thoughts or not. Actually that’s not true. It made a huge difference, When i resisted and fought, my mind was split, each different perspective or preference was in constant battle with its opposite.
The person that wanted the negative thoughts or delusions to go away was of course the same person who was creating them and therefore to take one position over the other simply created conflict. My solution (more aptly called a survival technique) was instead to let the thoughts and feelings do as they would and instead concentrate on my actions. Therefore with crazy mind along for the ride I decided to focus on the sane world outside of my head. Work, activities, relationships. All things in the external world were going on in exactly the same way regardless of my subjective view of them. I rationalized that whilst I couldn’t will away my crazy mind, I could focus on the things that I knew in the past brought me a stable, relatively happy life. As I got more invested in everyday life, the crisis in the mind and the body settled down. To change an old phrase. “Actions speak louder than thoughts”
Over many, many days my mind returned to a semblance of its old self. It was not through positive thoughts winning over negative, or the logical over the illogical. It was nothing that played out in the mind whatsoever. I owe my mind “coming down” to the fact that I stopped fighting, let the mind do its thing and set my focus elsewhere. This does not mean that the mind was suddenly a peaceful haven full of flowers and lovely thoughts, not then, or now but rather that whatever on earth was going in the mind, was left to do its thing without resistance, without a split.
Thats not an easy thing to do, when one part of the mind is sickened or being hurt by the other, but really what else are you gonna do? If something wants to take space, using force to stop it doing so may work temporarily but it might come back ten times as aggressive the next time around.
This is how i dealt with things in crisis, when the mind was so wild that it becomes nearly impossible to lead a normal life. After crisis, when things settled is when I began to explore new, possibly healthier ways of interacting with the multifaceted mind. In the later stages of recovery, where life felt different but normal again, I was exploring this new terrain. I was trying to make sense of what happened to me and to do this I had to think a lot. Think things through and talk them out with myself and others. Out of this pondering I created my own way of making peace with the mind. For the sake of this article I will call it “Non violent communication with the mind” or NVCM”. It is this practice that I would like to share with you today. Before I get into it I’d like to state what i’ve stated before in this blog. Im not a mental health expert and this is not a“five steps to reach happiness blog” It is just me sharing what I have been through and what I experienced. Im not recommending this practice with any conviction, im just saying… it was interesting and it worked for me. Ok that said, heres the practice im rambling on about
NVCM — Preparing for the conversation
I will describe the practice in an ideal setting but in reality one could of course do such a thing anywhere. Often i practice or explore at night whilst laying in bed after the rush of the day is settling down. I will lie on my back, eyes open or closed and begin a non violent conversation with myself in my mind.
The practice will be different depending on certain things. Here are the two main things I try to identify before I begin
- Is there a current conflict between different perspectives within the mind?
- What is the dominant perspective, the voice you are speaking with/defending/identifying with the most.
For example. The current conflict could be you didnt go to work today and one part of the mind is making you feel really bad for it. The other part of the mind wishes it could be more forgiving and really doesn’t want to go to work anyways. This is the conflict that will be given room with NVCM. It is both the conflict of wether one should go to work and the disagreement between different parts of the mind that will be given space. In this example I will say I feel most identified or I have a preference towards feeling forgiving. Therefore It is with this part of the mind with which I would begin the conversation. I’ll explain why later.
Personification of the thoughts
In this practice, I allow the thoughts to speak as if they were completely independent agents. So I am having an actual conversation with the different sides of myself inside my mind. For those of us who have had (in psychosis perhaps) very negative personified thoughts take over our heads, this can feel quite intimidating. In my own journey I only dared to do such a practice after crisis had passed, with the hope of preventing something similar in the future. Its worth noting that, whilst allowing the mind to separate and speak as separate parts (with or without different personalities) it is all done so whilst acknowledging that the mind is a whole comprised of many different spectrums. The aim being to at the end of the practice come back to a more peaceful unified whole. So we start as perhaps two conflicting sides, we come into the conversation and allow all sides to partake, and then we come back to a single perspective again where hopefully things feel a little less separated and there is less conflict.
The assumption behind this personifying or separating is that for crisis (or conflict)to come into being that there must of been some friction, or something that was not given focus. Either that or one particular part of the mind took up all the focus and other parts were not given the space they needed. Therefore by opening up to a conversation where all perspectives of the mind are honoured, there might be space to figure things out before a crisis occurs.
I enter into the practice and set some guidelines.
- All parts of the mind are welcome to speak, give perspectives, share concerns and have time to articulate that which they are attempting to express.
- The main theme to explore will be that which is in conflict, but there is time and space for the mind to shoot off wherever it wishes.
- I will return at the end of the session to whatever is the dominant or resting perspective (ie- however the dominant personality feels at the end of the conversation)
How it works in practice
Okay. So i’m laid in bed and I want to begin. I start out by addressing whatever it is my mind is struggling with. From the current mood I am identified with (that which I consider as myself in this moment) I state what is going on, and then I simply say, does anybody, or any part of the mind have something to say?
After this the conversation can begin. It will often be the secondary dominant voice that responds. As in to say that which is in direct conflict with the primary voice. But this is just what happens for me, it could happen many ways for someone else. When another perspective of the mind responds, I allow it to have autonomy over the mind. It will respond as if it is the dominant element of the mind. This is what I mean by personification of the thoughts. In this way, I allow myself to identify as much as I can with that side of the mind. I consider this much healthier than the alternative which is to have conflicting sides.
So I present the subject, I ask if anybody has anything to say, and then I allow the responding part of the mind to take over as the dominant voice. Then I just let it speak. Or should I rather say, I speak representing that part of the mind and everything I can think to say from that perspective. I give it time to express what it thinks, why it thinks this thing and how it came to think it. I then allow it to tell me what problems it has with the perspective or feelings I (as my every day dominant perspective) am most identified with
When it has finished, I switch perspective back to the original dominant perspective and ask, do you have anything more to share?
Once again I switch back to the secondary dominant perspective and respond.
It is a game of switching back and forth between different perspectives of the mind and giving space for them to speak.
After the two main perspectives have spoken, I will ask, does anyone/any other perspective have something to share or add to the conversation. At this point, all manner of different perspectives may come in that I hadn’t thought of before.
During this conversation, things are illuminated. As they are illuminated, they may cause pain, or resistance. Despite negative feelings that can come up there is little conflict, because it is setup is to allow all sides of the mind to speak without judgment. None of the perspectives are considered right or wrong, they are all considered valid with the assumption that there must be a reason for what they are thinking and they want to be heard.
Often what happens is that through this conversation, a middle ground is found. A kind of compromise can be reached between the different sides of the mind. I would say nine times out of ten when I do this practice, the conclusion slowly comes all by itself. However if it doesnt, I will directly prompt it by asking — “Is there a way that we can honor all feelings in this and go forward in a way that all sides of the mind are happy with?”
Once again I wait. As before, switching back and forth between perspectives. I converse and I wait for the answers to come. What I have found is that a mind that was previously in conflict begins to speak nicely to itself and that nearly always there comes a solution through dialogue. If it does not manage to reach a conclusion, often the different sides agree to give it a few days to settle down and take up the issue again.
Time and time again that I have laid down and done this practice and I have seen similar results My conclusion is that by giving space and time, the mind has more room to consciously explore its difficulties. Instead of simply resisting and trying to dominate the mind with a particular perspective I enter into a conversation that allows the mind to come together and talk. In this way, I do not believe the different parts of the mind to be so dissimilar from different people in a community. It is much better to reach a healthy consensus than to repress a particular individual so that the dominant persons get their way. If we repress or argue, the trouble just keeps brewing up. If we try to find consensus through compromise and discussion, the pressure starts to release and we can reach a healthier place that suits everyone, or in this case, all aspects of the mind.
Why I start with the dominating voice
I said earlier I would explain why I start the conversation with the voice I am most identified with at the time. The reason is that I want to start from where I am, present how im feeling and my problem, and then open up and make it the problem of the whole mind. Then return at the end to a more together position. To start with the dominant voice means that Im letting go of my position from the starting block and seeing what happens. Im sure theres many ways to play with this, since I just made it up, but yeah thats what I do.
Some concluding notes
So yeah thats pretty much it. A non violent conversation with my mind. The impact on my life from this has been very beneficial. Its not that suddenly I don’t get depressed or hopeless or frustrated, it’s not that Im in peace all the time from practicing it — But I am on the other hand in conflict less often. It does not mean that I don’t have harsh thoughts, but it does mean I fight them less and listen more. In the last five months I got a new wave of the depression, it came out of the blue and took me by surprise. This time though, I haven’t sunk under and in a large part that is due to this practice and the way that I allow the depression to take the place it wants, trusting that just like last time, it has important things to say.
Thankyou for reading. Please share, like, pass on if you feel its relevant, and definitely drop me a comment sometime!
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