People often tell me, “you’re not looking at things from my point of view” and usually they are literally correct. Let’s try an experiment. Think of some argument you had with someone and you knew you were right. First run a movie in your mind of just how you remember things. Now run a movie in your mind of the same events or things, but from the point of view looking over the other person’s shoulders so that you see yourself as the disagreement occurs. Watch the new movie from beginning to end, seeing it from this viewpoint.
Did you see any difference? I’ll bet you did! It may not change very much for you or others, especially if you do this already, but for some people it makes a huge difference! Are you still sure that you were so right after watching yourself over your friend’s shoulder? Now, how many of you reading this are as certain about being right that time as you were before trying this different point of view experiment? About 5% still feel sure they were right. So much for your chances of being right when you are certain you are—about 5% chance.
Folks have been talking about “points of view” for centuries, but for the most part, they only think of it metaphorically instead of literally. In general, people don’t know how to find instructions on how to change their specific point of view. What you just did was experience one of literally thousands of ways to see a thing or event. You can actually see something from any point in space. You can see any argument from the position of a neutral observer, seeing yourself and the other person equally. You can view it from some spot on the ceiling to “get above it all” or some point on the floor for a “worm’s eye view,” or you can even take the view of a child, or an elderly person.
When things go bad, lots of folks say something along the lines of, “Well, in a hundred years, who will care?” For some people, this doesn’t make any difference, while when other people hear it, it actually changes their experience and they deal better with the problem. So you ask, what happens in their minds to change their outlook as they spoke that simple sentence? What allows them to create a psychic distance from the event, sometimes speeded up, sometimes years compressed into the blink of an eye?
Before I answer that, here is another one, “Years from now you will be able to look back on this and laugh!” Have you ever been able to make the unpleasant experience appear funny? How many of you have a memory that you can’t laugh at? Try and compare the two memories (the one you made funny and the one you can’t) and look for a difference, such as color, size, brightness, or location. Do you see yourself in one of them and not the other? Is one a “still photo” while the other is a movie? Look for what’s different in the unpleasant one and try changing that unpleasant picture to be like the one you laugh at. Is the one you can laugh at seen from a distance? If so, then look at the other one from a distance also and see how it feels. If you see yourself in one and can laugh, see yourself in the unpleasant one in the same way.
Why wait to feel better? Why not look back and laugh while you’re going through it in the first place? If you went through it the first time and it was unpleasant, isn’t once enough? Unfortunately, the answer from your brain is no, your brain doesn’t work that way. It says, “Oh, you frigged that up, I’ll torture you for a few years. Then maybe I’ll let you laugh.”
Look, it’s pretty common to see yourself in a memory that you can laugh about as an observer, but if you feel stuck in the memory that you still feel horrible about, it’s like it is happening again. Right?
That’s really a pretty common thing. When you can observe yourself that way, it gives you a chance to review an event from a different perspective and see it in a new way, as if it’s happening to someone else. The best comedy involves the comic making you look at yourself differently. The thing that prevents you from doing it with an event right away, is not knowing that you can do it in the first place. When you get more practice, you can do it while things are actually happening.
Now, think of two memories from your past, one pleasant and one unpleasant. Take a few seconds and re-experience those two memories in whatever way you naturally would. Now I want you to try and notice whether you were associated or dissociated in the memories.
Associated means going back and reliving the experience, seeing it from your own eyes again.
Dissociated means looking at the memory image from a point of view other than from your own eyes, like in a movie or on TV.
Now, go back to each of the two memories, one at a time, and see whether or not you are associated or dissociated in both, or neither. Whichever way you remembered things naturally is fine. Now try and go back and see, or experience, the same memories the other way. You want to discover how this changed your experience, how you feel about it. If you were associated in the memory, step back out and see it as if it were a movie, and if you were dissociated with it, step into the picture or pull it around you until you are associated. Do you see how this simple change in visual perspective changed the feelings you experienced with those memories? Do you see how it makes a difference?
When you recall a memory (associated), you re-experience the original feeling that you had at the time. When you recall a memory (dissociated), you can see yourself having those original feelings in the picture, but without actually feeling them personally in the present. See how that can be helpful?
You may, however, have a new feeling about the event as you watch yourself in it. This is what happens when a therapist or coach asks a question like, “How do you feel about being angry?” Give it a try. Remember a time when you were angry, and then ask the question, “How do I feel about being angry?” In order to have a good answer to your question, you have to step out of the picture and see how you feel about it by being an observer. Different, huh.
The best method is to recall all your good memories (associated) so that you can enjoy them in the moment you remember them, and the bad ones (dissociated). When you are dissociated from your unpleasant memories, you still have all the visual information about what happened so that you can avoid it in the future, but without the negative feelings inside yourself. Why feel bad again? Wasn’t once enough for you?
Some of you might do the reverse, you associate with—and instantly feel—all the unpleasant things that have ever occurred to you, while the pleasant memories are dim and distant dissociated images. Yeah, there are other options, too; some dissociate with everything. You call these folks scientists or engineers and they are often described as objective, detached, or distant. I have taught them how to associate when they want to, regaining some of the feelings of connections that many of us have with experiences in our day. You can probably think of times when this skill could be handy for them. Making love, for one, is an experience that is enjoyable if you are inside your body feeling all the sensations rather than seeing yourself from the outside…yes?
Then you find other types that always associate. They instantly have all the feelings of their past experiences—positive or negative—in their life. You call these people theatrical, responsive, or impulsive. They can change their behavior if they so desire, by learning to dissociate at the correct times. It allows them to see things from a safe distance and not feel it so directly. You can even use dissociation to manage pain; watching yourself have pain, you’re not in the body to feel it.
Try doing yourself a favor by taking a moment to run through several unpleasant times or experiences in dissociated mode. Learn how far away you need to move the pictures so that you can still see them clearly enough to learn from them while you watch in the safety of distance. Next, run through a series of pleasant experiences, taking time to associate with each one and really enjoy them. What you are now teaching your brain to do is to associate with pleasant experiences or memories and dissociate from unpleasant ones. Your brain will quickly get the idea and do this automatically… your brain loves habits.
Learning how and when to associate or dissociate is one of the most profound experiences in a person’s life. It can change the quality of your experience and the behavior that results from it.
Give it a try for yourself. I hope I have explained it simply enough. If you need help just give me a call. I will be happy to help.
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Frank Hopkins is a life coach in Baton Rouge who is certified as a Professional Coach (CPC) by the Institute for Professional Excellence in Coaching (iPEC). Frank has helped numerous people to go through emotional change in a way that is positively transformative.