When I sit with my clients, I often keep in mind that each of us has two of them. Two minds, I mean. We may have a single brain but within that 3 pound mass is room for the whole universe and two different ways to see it.
Even though some of us think or say that we are or aren’t in our “right” mind, our two minds are not right or wrong or good or bad. More like big and little. Expansive and limited. Wise and foolish. When I am in my wise mind, I see more than me. I see other perspectives. I see and understand the fears, desires and motivations of others without judging. I see the world through their eyes. I empathize with their plight.
When I am in my small mind, the whole world is about me. I filter my experience through my Doug filter. People are either serving or thwarting my needs. If they are bringing me good news, I love them. If they bring me conflict or contradiction, they are my enemy. I am out to win, which means you have to lose. Sorry. Nothing personal. At least not your personal. In my small mind, your person does not matter. There is only one person that matters in my small, limited mind and that is me.
Small minds ruin relationships. And sometimes require therapists to help with repair. However, small minds are incapable of fixing what they break. That is the wise mind’s role. Your wise mind can heal what the small mind breaks but the small mind first has to get out of the way.
The wise mind is willing to fail. It is willing to lose. It realizes that it must give what it wants to get. And it only gets what it gives. The wise mind is filled with love and empathy and understanding. The wise mind is abundantly blessed with all this and more. Our small minds fear the wise mind. When we are in our small mind, we are afraid of what the wise mind is willing to do to preserve and heal relationships.
Like when our mothers want us to share our toys with our brothers or sisters. Our small minds cry out in pain. How can I win if they win too? How can I ever be happy unless I always get what my small mind claims it needs?
As a therapist, my couples struggle with this. Their small minds get stuck on the personalization and blame game. Everything that happens is about me and it is your fault. When two people think that, the relationship is in big trouble. When one can step into the wise mind, however, the other will too. It is hard to stay in your small mind when your partner is filled with maturity, understanding, love and empathy. However, when both are small they can each play the delicious “I blame you and I am the victim” game. They get so stuck only the therapeutic “jaws of life” can extricate them.
That is my job. I have to climb into my wise mind and help them get into theirs. Some love to live in their wise mind and need very little coaxing. Others prefer their small mind because it is familiar and they don’t have to be responsible for the carnage they cause. Some don’t want to grow up and have grown up relationships.
Actually, if we are honest, all of us want deep, meaningful and satisfying relationships but we don’t see our own role in creating our frustrations and resentments. Our small minds nurse our hurts and plot revenge. In our small minds, our emotions control us. In our wise mind, we skillfully manage our emotions as tools appropriate to specific tasks.
We get to choose which mind we inhabit. If we are anxious, depressed or filled with anger, it might be due to this choice. Our small mind will take certain thoughts too seriously and get lost in the darkness and the drama. Our wise mind can see our thoughts as possibly true and helpful or false and harmful. The wise mind sees the thoughts as separate bits of data that can be held and understood. The small mind is like a helpless cart dragged around by blind horses.
The good news is we can all learn to live in our wise mind but first we need to see that we have this choice.
Doug Craig graduated from college in Ohio with a journalism degree and got married during the Carter administration. He graduated from graduate school with a doctorate in Psychology, got divorced, moved to Redding, re-married and started his private practice during the Reagan administration. He had his kids during the first Bush administration. Since then he has done nothing noteworthy besides write a little poetry, survive a motorcycle crash, buy and sell an electric car, raise his kids, manage to stay married and maintain his practice for almost 25 years. He believes in magic and is a Sacramento Kings fan.