Paul cannot stop himself from thinking about the guys that his girlfriend was with before they met; although they are no longer in her life, the thought of them makes Paul afraid his girlfriend will abandon him for someone else. He cannot stop himself from comparing his attractiveness to that of other guys; when he does he comes up short. These thoughts are so bad they are the first thing on Paul’s mind when he wakes up; they keep him from concentrating in class sometimes; they cause him to question his girlfriend about all the details of her past love relationships, even though knowing only makes him feel worse. His fear of abandonment not only shows up as obsessive thoughts, but as emotional reactivity and physical anxiety: “I get a pressure on my chest when I feel scared: I feel uncomfortable and start to sweat; it’s hard for me to follow conversations. My breathing is heavier, and my heart-rate goes up.”
These feelings brought to Paul’s mind the picture and sensation of “a little elephant walking on my heart.” This graphic image is an objectification of Paul’s fear, which otherwise stays elusive and difficult to understand and address as long as he remains subjectively enmeshed in his anxiety. As soon as Paul discovered this means of objectifying his fear, he could use that objectivity to understand how he scares himself and what he can do to reduce his fear. Notice that what the image is does not matter, nor does it matter whether it is “real” or imaginary; what is important is that it is for Paul a realistic personification of the life challenges that his fears of abandonment bring up within him. For Integral Deep Listening, the next step is to gain more information from the objectivity of the perspective of this little elephant. What is it doing and why? Here is what the “elephant” had to say:
“I’m walking on Paul’s heart for fun. I like that I am independent and I can make Pavel feel bad; I’m powerful! I represent Paul’s fear. I sneak up and do my little game whenever I want, but I can’t always use my power because sometimes Paul pushes me away.”
“If I could be anywhere I wanted to be I would like to be free to do whatever I want and not just come out whenever Paul is not vigilant. I would like to explore, listen to what I like, maybe come out of his body and explore the whole world, become larger!”
“I score myself eight in confidence on a scale of zero to ten because I have freedom, but I also have a task. When it’s necessary I can go back to my old life. I score myself a ten in inner peace because I don’t worry about anything! It’s great! I do what I want. I’m imaginary so I can become anything I want… I score myself a ten in witnessing because I don’t care about drama! I don’t know any drama! Drama is a waste of energy because it is controlled by your emotions, not by what you have learned in your life or your intelligence. It is getting too much into one thing and building up fears and imaginations that are’t real! I score myself eight in acceptance because I don’t know what my purpose is. I accept every purpose because I’m looking for one. Regarding compassion, I score myself a two in compassion toward myself because I don’t care so much about myself because I am very self confident. I can use my self-confidence to help others, and that’s why I am an eight in compassion regarding others. I would only score myself a ‘one’ in wisdom because I am not very wise! I have only jumped on Paul’s heart all my life!”
“If I scored tens in all these qualities I would be the best elephant I could be! I would know things because I’m wise; I would make wise decisions; I wouldn’t let myself get pulled into negative emotions or feelings. I would be stable and strong all the time. I would then be useful for my environment because I wouldn’t have problems inside myself because I would no longer have a wrong picture of my environment.”
“If Paul scored like I do in these six core qualities he wouldn’t use me so often, because I represent his feeling of fear. If he is wise and self-confident then he wouldn’t need me. He wouldn’t get scared so quickly. Then I would get to do whatever I like! He would concentrate on becoming more happy and achieve inner peace. Regarding his curiosity about his girlfriend’s relationship with men, if I were hi I would accept it as a fact and laugh about it and not get insecure. I do not have fears of losing someone or others taking anyone or anything away from me. I can be happy without others. Paul would realize that she has no reason to pick another guy over him, and that if she does, maybe she isn’t the right one for him and then he would just find someone else.”
“Regarding his depression while he was taking a year of study abroad, if I were him I would feel thankful for what I learned as tools for the future and deeper understanding of myself and society, people in general.”
“Regarding his future, it’s important! It is in his hands! The past is to learn from and to remember the positive things that one has experienced. I would focus of building my self-confidence if I were Paul! That’s the key!”
“It would be useful for Paul if he were to imagine he is me when he is afraid! His fear will go away because he will see that there is no reason to be afraid. I’m self-confident and happy! Even if Paul loses his girlfriend he will be OK. I am in Paul’s life because my task is to protect him from danger that he is confronting, dangers in his life. I want to be friends with him.”
This last statement is a reversal of why the elephant initially said he was in Paul’s life and a contradiction of how Paul experienced him. A transformation of Paul’s relationship with his elephant has occurred. This is reflected in Paul’s summary of what he heard the elephant say:
“This elephant wants to be friends with me! In situations of fear I have to realize there are no reasons to be afraid. I need to see what is a real danger and what isn’t. I have to become more self-confident; then I won’t compare myself to my girlfriend or the guys she has some friendship with. This elephant is wanting to lead me to my maximum potential.”
Paul’s re-framing of his fear is cognitive, emotional, and somatic. Not only does he think about his fear differently, he has different feelings about it when it arises. In addition, when it arises he can use the image of the little elephant walking on his heart as a cue to dialogue with it and to give it permission to go and live its own life. Such thoughts interrupt the chronic pattern of over-excitation of the sympathetic branch of Paul’s central nervous system.
If you know a teenager or an adult who compares themselves to others, feels insecure, or has chronic fear, you can help them to get in touch with their own unique emerging potentials that reflect the priorities of their inner compass. Just use the life issue interviewing protocol used with this interview and located on this website, here.