Every physical health problem has an emotional and thought component. How you feel about your symptoms and what you think about them makes them better or worse. The less emotional drama you have about your body the more likely it is to get well. The less confused thinking, the fewer mistaken assumptions you have about your body and your symptoms, the more likely you are to recover.
The benefit of an IDL interview is that it provides quick, efficient information that aids both diagnosis and treatment in ways that can be understood and carried out safely by those with the problem.
The following interview is with a sixteen year old boy who has had nausea and stomach cramps off and on since he was ten, when he was in-patient in a psych ward for them. He has been in therapy since that time; it has not gotten rid of his conflicts with his mother, his self-criticism, or his fear of failure.
Tom is a likeable young man who is president of his class at his high school. He has always found school easy and has had high marks until this year, when he has been failing French and Physics, neither of which he likes. He feels guilty and ashamed of disappointing his parents. He has incapacitating, painful stomach cramps that come up when he is afraid of failure. Most recently, they were so strong that he couldn’t get out of bed to go to school to take a French test. His mother, an MD and a psychotherapist, thinks he is just making it up in order to avoid school. She doesn’t trust him. Tom himself doesn’t know if he’s making it up or not; he doesn’t know if he can trust himself or not.
In his interview Tom’s stress took the form of a piranha chewing on his nerves behind his sternum, in the middle of his chest. From the very beginning, this piranha had a lot to say:
“I like to get on Tim’s nerves! I want him to pay attention to me! I want to tell him to study French! I get on his nerves because studying French is something he doesn’t want to do. He thinks there are things that are more important than learning French. And so do I! But if his French marks aren’t good he’ll have problems with his parents. I’m trying to keep him out of trouble with his parents! His parents won’t be disappointed in him. I don’t like him to feel bad!”
So notice that this piranha, that is obviously tormenting Tom, is a personification of his very real physical symptoms. But it sees itself as trying to help him! It is trying to make him study his French so that he won’t disappoint his parents, because that makes him feel bad! Tom is in conflict with thoughts, feelings, and physical symptoms that exist in order to help him. It is trying to help in ways that makes the problem worse. Tom certainly has not seen this stress as helping; it’s his tormentor, his enemy! So, which is it? It’s pretty clear that Tom’s piranha is both!
The piranha recognizes this. Tom has been taught about the Drama Triangle – the three roles of persecutor, rescuer, and victim. The piranha says, “*I’m his persecutor! I’m trying to rescue him by persecuting him!”
It is easy to see that this is a sick attitude, but isn’t it very common? Don’t you use it with yourself when you criticize yourself for something you say or do you don’t like? Aren’t you trying to rescue yourself from bad behavior by punishing yourself?
The piranha decided it wanted to turn into a whale. What does this mean? Well, the whale doesn’t have all those sharp teeth. It said that it doesn’t need to rescue Tom by persecuting him. The way it deals with stress, like the presence of nearby sharks, is by “just keep on swimming” – to stay focused on his priorities and ignore the drama.
Tom himself is conflicted about this. He has grown up inside the Drama Triangle, so he equates being out of the Drama Triangle with being selfish. If he doesn’t do drama he is afraid that he may be lonely! Do you? Many people do drama in the hope of generating closeness and succeed merely in pushing healthy people away from them.
The interview surfaced these important motivators that keep Tom stuck in psychogenic pain. As long as he thinks it’s selfish not to do drama, he will continue to manufacture unnecessary stress in his life that will be experienced as suffering, if not outright physical pain. As long as he thinks that getting out of drama will leave him lonely, he will think he has to choose between the support of others and health.
This whale that the piranha turned into is pretty healthy. He has more confidence than Tom, has a great deal to compassion, strong acceptance, inner peace, and witnessing. But this whale feels insecure in the Atlantic. It understands that the Mediterranean is not the ideal place for a whale, but he feels that he has more control in a smaller body of water. This may reflect Tom’s ambivalence about growing up and taking responsibility for his life. The truth is, he’s just sixteen and the big world looks like a scary place! Maybe a “smaller pond” is a safer choice for now!
When the whale deals with stress by “swimming on,” it is focusing on its own priorities and ignoring Drama. It says, “Kind of ignore it; don’t get entangled in it!”
When would be a good time for Tom to imagine that he is this whale?
The whale says, “When he shows his school marks to his parents, for instance. It’s more important to me what he thinks of himself than what his parents think about him.”
How can Tom, or you, when you have physical health symptoms, make best use of this interview?
First, the benefit of a major positive reframing of one’s condition cannot be underestimated. If you think of a disease, injury, condition, or symptom as an enemy that is attacking you, you put yourself at war with yourself. Divided against yourself, you are depriving yourself of energy you need to get well.
Why not instead co-opt your “enemy?” When you make it your ally, you gain its energy to help you to get well. Isn’t that a wiser approach?
Second, looking at how you are stuck from an objective perspective is always an improvement. That alone helps to get you out of drama.
Third, if that perspective is not only objective but reflects the attitudes associated with how you stay sick, you can learn a lot about why you stay stuck and what you need to do differently to get unstuck.
Fourth, your healing journey becomes more self-directed. No one knows you like you do. The problem is, you’re largely out of touch with yourself! IDL interviewing teaches you to access, listen to, and use the healer within.
For more information, see Waking Up, by Joseph Dillard, available on Amazon.Com.
What are three fundamental life issues that you are dealing with now in your life?
2 Physical symptoms
3 Conflict with mother
Which issue brings up the strongest feelings for you?
What feelings does this issue bring up for you?
Now watch that color swirl, congeal, and condense into a shape. Don’t make it take a shape, just watch it and say the first thing that you see or that comes to your mind: An animal? Object? Plant? What?
Now remember how as a child you liked to pretend you were a teacher or a doctor? It’s easy and fun for you to imagine that you are the shape that took form from your color and answer some questions I ask, saying the first thing that comes to your mind. If you wait too long to answer, that’s not the character answering – that’s YOU trying to figure out the right thing to say!
Piranha, look out at the world from your perspective. What do you see?
I’m small but I’m cheeky, with sharp teeth; my best food is meat!
Piranha, what are you like? What you are doing?
Swimming around under Tom’s chest bone! I like to chew on nerves! I like them because they are tough! My teeth are made to chew on tough stuff!
Piranha what do you like most about yourself? What are your strengths?
I like to get on Tom’s nerves! I want him to pay attention to me! I want to tell him to study French! I get on his nerves because studying French is something he doesn’t want to do. He thinks there are things that are more important than learning French. And so do I! But if his French marks aren’t good he’ll have problems with his parents. I’m trying to keep him out of trouble with his parents! His parents won’t be disappointed in him. I don’t like him to feel bad!
Piranha, what do you dislike most about yourself? Do you have weaknesses? What are they?
That I’m so small. I’d like to be as big as a whale!
What aspect of Tom do you represent or most closely personify?
I’m his Persecutor! I’m trying to rescue him by persecuting him!
Piranha, if you could be anywhere you wanted to be and take any form you desired, would you change? If so, how?
I’d be a whale! I’d like to be swimming in the Mediterranean! I don’t feel guilty because I was the reason for his stress, so I wasn’t really helping him…
(Continue, answering as the transformed object, if it chose to change.)
Whale, how would you score yourself 0-10, in each of the following six qualities: confidence, compassion, wisdom, acceptance, inner peace, and witnessing? Why?
Confidence: 7 I’m big; I don’t have many enemies; If I strand somewhere, that’s stupid, but…
Wisdom: 6 The Mediterranean is not the ideal place for a whale. The Atlantic would be better. The Mediterranean is smaller; I can have better control….
Acceptance: 7 I am happy with myself because I’m big but I’d like to be more flexible and smaller someTomes.
Inner Peace: 8 There’s nothing much I’m afraid of.
Witnessing: 7 I get into drama someTomes
Whale, if you scored tens in all six of these qualities, would you be different? If so, how?
If I was never in the Drama Triangle might make me lonely…I wouldn’t be alone but maybe the friendships wouldn’t be as intense. It’s selfish to be out of the Drama Triangle…
If you could liveTom’s waking life for him/her today, would you handle Tom’s three life issues differently? If so, how?
1 Stress:I would just swim on! Kind of ignore it; don’t get entangled in it! If there are sharks I might have a bad conscience if I just swim on.
In what life situations would it be most beneficial for Tom to imagine that he is you and act as you would?
When he shows his school marks to his parents, for instance. It’s more important to me what he thinks of himself than what his parents think about him.