Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Camera Shy

My Inner Critic was slow to respond but when it did, its attack was devastating: “What a stupid thing to have done! Everyone will see how bad you are. You weren’t focussed, you hadn’t prepared, you asked leading questions, you were too prescriptive… And anyway, who do you think you are? There are much better and much more experienced people than you. What do you think they will say when they see your lousy performance?!”

That morning six of us had gathered at a studio in central London to make a couple of short videos for YouTube. I would be facilitating two Voice Dialogue sessions that would then be posted on our website and available for all to see on the worldwide web. With the cameras rolling and a small audience to play to, my Presenter - the extrovert part of me that usually takes centre stage when I teach seminars - had taken charge. He had strutted his stuff, delighted to be in the limelight.

But clearly, my Inner Critic hadn’t been impressed. Later that evening, when I was home alone with time to reflect, he made his views felt. On a private “MeTube” video in my head, he projected every aspect of the demonstrations in minute detail. He zoomed-in, paused, magnified and replayed each perceived mistake as I squirmed with embarrassment. “You were hijacked by that Presenter. You were not giving a seminar. It was an altogether more dangerous situation. What were you doing exposing yourself to the judgements of others who might disapprove, ridicule and reject you?! You stuck your head in the air asking the whole world to shoot at you! The only way to stay safe is to keep your head down!”

As I listened to this onslaught I began to recognise the rules of my primary protecting selves: don’t show off, stay in control, think things through, and be well prepared. I realised that my Inner Critic was simply trying to enforce these rules in order to protect the vulnerable parts of my personality - my young Shy and Sensitive selves - and to make sure that I would never expose them in such a way again.

Suddenly I remembered another situation involving a camera. It was 20 years ago when I was studying Voice Dialogue with my teacher Gail Steuart. I had done a lot of sessions with her and discovered many of my selves. I was aware that when speaking as my different selves my body language and facial expression changed. I wanted to see just how different I looked, so I bought a video camera and, with Gail’s permission, arranged to film a session.

We set the camera up behind Gail in the doorway of her consulting room so that it would capture me whether I moved my chair to the left or the right. After a final check to make sure everything was in focus, I switched the camera to record and we began the session.

First she talked at some length to a couple of my very competent primary selves - my Pleaser and my Rational Mind. They felt very comfortable and didn’t seem at all worried by the presence of the camera pointing at them over Gail’s right shoulder. Then a young and tender energy emerged that was very shy. It sat tightly curled on the floor, did not look at Gail and whispered only a few words in answer to her questions. It was very sensitive, anxious about the feelings and opinions of others and afraid of being judged or rejected.

When the session ended we were both excited to see the video. I had clearly gone through some physical changes and was eager to watch my selves in action. While Gail made us some coffee, I rewound the film and switched on the wide screen TV. We took our seats for the show and I pressed “play” on the remote.

I was intrigued to see how as my Pleaser I moved my chair closer to Gail and leant towards her when speaking. My body language was open and my face warm and friendly. I maintained good eye contact and it even seemed like I was playing a little to the camera! As my Rational Mind I sat further back and was sterner in appearance. My face was tighter and my body language more guarded, arms and legs crossed. Again, I was able to look directly at Gail as well as at the camera.

I could not wait to see how I came across as my younger Shy self. I watched as I sat on the floor but was then astonished to see myself move back until I disappeared completely from the screen! Gail and I looked at each other in amazement. I had moved to the corner of the room and curled up out of range of the camera. This was a part of me that really did not want to be seen. Neither Gail nor I had been conscious of this at the time.

To be on camera, or even worse on a video accessible to thousands if not millions of viewers, is terrifying to my Shy self. On reflection I understood that my Inner Critic’s harsh words were actually an attempt at damage control. To be self-critical is less painful than being criticised by others. It is a form of defence, a kind of pre-emptive strike. If I can say, “I know I wasn’t good - I wasn’t focussed, I hadn’t prepared enough, I asked leading questions, and I was too prescriptive,” it helps to shield me from the external barbs of those who might judge me.

The YouTube videos have been edited and are now available for all to see. Just search YouTube for “Voice Dialogue UK” and you will find them divided into 5 short sections. Alternatively you can view each one separately at: and Whenever I sit down to watch them, I invite all my selves to gather around. I put one arm around my Inner Critic, the other around my Presenter and place my Shy self safely on my lap. I invite you to watch the videos and to notice which of your selves are sitting with you. What do they have to say? How would they have behaved in front of the camera? Would they even have allowed you to do such a thing? I’d love to hear their comments. You can post them on this site by clicking the blue “comments” button below. Thanks.

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

The Crucible

In the mid 80’s I was introduced to an Englishman who had a management training business based in Munich. Paul ran programmes for German business people aimed at improving their cross-cultural communication skills. We hit it off immediately and soon began developing and running intensive workshops together.

The German business milieu values order, detail and discipline and I felt very much at home. I was good at organising and planning, and loved the process of creating new programmes. We worked and reworked the structure, content, timing and delivery of each workshop until they were perfect. We impressed clients with our logical explanations, clear paradigms and comprehensive models. No request was too much for us and we drove ourselves relentlessly. A typical seminar day began at 8am and did not end until the last participant left the hotel bar, often after midnight. Our German participants thought we were “wunderbar!”

In the third year of our cooperation Paul and I trained 180 days in 50 locations. This did not include the days spent in development, preparation and travel. Professionally and financially I had become very successful, but I was beginning to feel a growing emptiness inside. I had no time for a social life or to develop intimate relationships. Something told me I should take a break or I might I burn out.

I negotiated a three-month sabbatical with Paul, devised a detailed itinerary, bought a round-the-world air ticket and headed off - first stop S.E. Asia. I had lived and worked in that region before and there were lots of people and places I wanted to see again. I also had a list of destinations I had not previously visited that I wanted to explore. After a hectic six weeks of sightseeing in Singapore, Thailand, Hong Kong and Japan, I flew to Hawaii to meet up with some old friends, and then on to San Francisco. It was there that my carefully planned schedule got derailed.

At a party, I was introduced to Arturo, a Mexican from out of town. He was studying in Tucson, Arizona and I was intrigued by his warm, easy-going energy and engaging personality. We chatted about all manner of things and at the end of the evening he invited me to take a trip to Tucson to visit him. I thanked him for his kind offer, but told him that a trip to the South West USA was not on my itinerary. “I think that surely you are not a slave to your own schedule,” he replied, “In life we should be flexible and accept what life brings, no? Who knows what fate God has decided for us? Here’s my number, if you decide to come give me a call. Mi casa es su casa!”

And so it was that ten days later I took an unplanned detour.

Tucson is surrounded by mountains - as if sitting in the hollow of a huge crucible. Native Americans consider it a sacred site where the energies of Mother Earth are strong. It is supposed to be a good place to experience personal transformation. People entering the crucible are of two kinds: those who find it hard to settle down and cannot stay; and those who are drawn in and cannot leave.

Arturo was a great host and introduced me to lots of his Mexican and Hispanic friends. I loved their attitude to life and was fascinated by their values and beliefs. Their emphasis was very much on relationships. “A man may work hard and become a millionaire, but if he has no friends he is poor,” said Arturo. The days unfolded in a leisurely way and I never knew ahead of time what we would do, who we would meet or where we would end up. Time slowed and I began to relax and unwind a little. The hot desert environment with its weird and wonderfully shaped cactae was a world away from my life in Germany. My sabbatical was drawing to a close but I knew that it would not be long before I returned to this magical place.

Within six months I had given up my work in Germany, and was living in an old adobe house on the edge of Tucson. A friend of Arturo employed me part time in his small consultancy business and I became acclimatised to a very different pace of life. I hiked in the mountains, explored the canyons and learnt how to respect the desert flora and fauna. Everything was going well with my new life until I started to get more deeply involved with Mexican culture.

The Mexican border was only an hour away and I became romantically involved with a series of Mexican nationals. To my dismay, each relationship followed the same pattern. At first I would be entranced by their laidback approach to life and in awe of their ability to go with the flow. But sooner or later their behaviour would begin to drive me crazy and my judgements would start: “You are never on time.” “You are so disorganised.” “You keep changing plans.” “You waste a lot of time talking instead of getting the job done.” “You are over-emotional and totally irrational.”

I struggled to understand what kept going wrong. Why was I both attracted to and judgemental of all the people I met? Was there something wrong with me? What could I do to change these painful patterns? In my search for answers to these questions I tried many different modalities and techniques - Psychodrama, Rebirthing, Holotropic Breathwork, the Hoffman Quadrinity Process, the Sedona Release Technique…. I read all the latest self-help books and visited counsellors and shamans, tarot readers and astrologers. The heat was on and the crucible would not let me escape. I was by turns grilled, boiled, fried, baked and roasted!

After two intensive years of introspection I was starting to feel burnt out. How could this be? Wasn’t this the same feeling I had had in Germany? I had left the intensive seminar circuit behind and yet here I was feeling stressed again! I was on the point of despair when someone recommended a new therapeutic process called Voice Dialogue. Would this be any different to all the others? I was very sceptical but decided to give it a try.

The facilitator was called Gail and in my first session she spoke to two parts of me - my Pusher and my Organiser. To my amazement I discovered that not only had they been running my life in Germany, but that they had continued to run it in Tucson as well! It was they who got me involved in so many different therapies, trying this one and that one, and never letting me rest. Along with my Perfectionist and Rational Mind, they formed a formidable team whose job was to have me be the best at whatever I did – whether it be management training or personal development.

As I did more sessions and discovered more of my selves it slowly dawned on me that the qualities I was both attracted to and then judged in my Mexican friends and lovers were those of my disowned Carefree, Easy Going, Spontaneous, Emotional and Intuitive selves. Gail explained that it was actually my Pusher et al who were doing the judging. With this new perspective, I could see that my Mexican friends were in fact my teachers, helping me to become aware of my disowned selves. I realised that if I was to break the cycle of burn-out and disillusionment I needed to consciously embrace all my many selves - the more relationship oriented Mexican ones as well as the more task oriented Germanic ones.

How perfect that Arturo had invited me to Tucson. The crucible had worked its alchemy and could now release me. I left the dry desert of Arizona and moved to the moist coast of California. I had found a new path and taken my first steps on the journey of selves discovery - one that continues to this day.