How does the practice help?
By accessing a role model or healing mentor visually, you are able to personify the qualities you desire to possess. You may wish to ask yourself if you are currently satisfied with the way you see yourself. If you are unsatisfied with your current sense of self, you have motivation to proceed with the practice. Kohut, the developer of self psychology, points to a mistaken sense of self due to developmental issues during childhood where we are completely dependent upon an external figure to help us provide for our emotional and physical needs. He points out that our caretakers and role models are important to our expanded sense of self in that they teach us healthy interdependence, model emotional regulation, and meet our basic needs. According to Kohut an interdependent identity helps us maintain a stable sense of “self-esteem, forming and maintaining a stable system of goal-setting ideals and the ability to communicate feelings to significant others.” This should all take place in an environment where we are not isolated or rejected. This early structure helps one to be calm in times of stress and rebuild when faced with disappointment.
A calcified and isolative sense of self develops after one “focuses on deficiencies” and is “extremely vulnerable to criticism and failures” (Kohut 1971). A healthily role-modeled childhood gives one a sense of interdependence, rather than a small self hardened around narcissistic views. This healthy developmental environment, creates a more expansive self that includes dependence on others. As Kohut explains “significant others are experienced as non-autonomous components of the self”. This sense of self serves as an anchor in times of strife. Many of us face challenges presented by missed role-modeling opportunities in childhood. These practices may be pivotal to the re-parenting process.
It could be argued that the Buddhist doctrine of no self undermines the notion of a self at all. I interpret the Buddhist notion of no self as an expanded and interdependent self rather than a small and isolated one. This notion of “expanded self” dispenses with an attachment to Buddhist doctrine. This practice helps to build the ego strength necessary to interconnect and deal effectively with outer and inner strife.
James Hillman, the founder of archetypal psychology, talks about entering into another “psychological dimension” by personifying or placing our experiences and notions into other beings and objects. This is the imagination at work and is important to the process of role-modeling visualization. When visualizing you are making the object real in terms of embodiment. This reality subsumes interdependence and an expanded self versus a small isolated ego-self. In role-modeling visualization practice this self embodies a tree of interdependence and support that we draw on, take into our body mind and use for healthy interactions with others. This is an integration of the idealized healing role model that shields us in order to do battle with rejection, disappointment and inner and outer strife.
Hillman sees that personification has fallen under the knife of science and scientific monotheism, been chopped to ribbons and thrown out entirely. This notion of science appears to be slowly reversing itself as neuro scientific research is beginning to understand the language of the nervous system. However, when we look for concrete facts and things we can be sure of, we are hearing the voice of a science that sees its notions as the only verifiable reality. It may have been valuable to head in this scientific direction as a reaction and balance to “whacko mysticism” or vague language that is narrow in its own way, but in so doing we’ve completely lost the reality of imagination. Not only that, we’ve lost the transformative and expansive power of the imagination.
From a neuroscience perspective, the brain “lights up” when imagining an activity in similar ways to when we are performing the activity. These role-modeling simulations have the potential to develop regions of the brain. These brain regions may be stimulated and brain development may occur as a result in the areas of bodily self-regulation and mapping our own and other’s inner states. The portions of the brain that deal with insight and narrative may develop in ways that allow us to transform and reinterpret our identity. Our attention regulation centers may see profound changes as a result of these types of practices. These are only some of the healing possibilities for role modeling visualization. I will be posting an audio guided practice next week. Please give it a try and let me know your thoughts.
Re-Visioning Psychology – James Hillman
Self-object Needs in Kohut’s Self-Psychology. Psychoanalytic Psychology – Banai, E., Mikulincer, M., & Shaver, P. (2006)
Lee, D. (2005). “The Perfect Nurturer” in Gilbert, P. (Ed.) Compassion Conceptualizations, Research and Use in Psychotherapy, New York: Routledge.
Coates, S. W. (1998). Having a mind of one’s own and holding the other in mind: Discussion of “Mentalization and the changing aims of child psychoanalysis” by Peter Fonagy and Mary Target.