This page describes a case with an executive named "Gary" (not his real name) in an executive development program sponsored by Rockhurst University.
By Kelly Patrick Gerling, PhD, © 2000
First published in The Spinal Column, NMHS, Nelson, New Zealand. 1999.
I appreciate people writing in with feedback and suggestions. Several people wrote and I thank them. One of the NMHS VBL News readers wrote, "Talking about the 'harmed self', I related to the term immediately. . . . Please give us more practical advice and steps to take on how to heal ourselves." I'll make an attempt by exploring a process called the VBL Grid.
Imagine each of our unhealed values violations as rocks in our shoes as we walk on the journey of life. Too many of us have shoes full of rocks. Each step can be painful! Yet there are a limited number of these "rocks". Each one that we take out of our shoe takes us that much closer to smooth, comfortable walking.
Whether the memories of unhealed psychological wounds from painful events are an unhealed event of betrayal, a conflict with a family member or co-worker, a dream that died, or a childhood tragedy, each one is an opportunity for growth.
I'd like to illustrate this with a real case.
The Case of Gary
"Gary" was a 50 year-old executive with a complaint. He worked for a large Fortune 500 corporation. He was a leader in the company and the community. He was respected. He was also intensely competitive and strongly driven to succeed. Gary was a participant in my two-week executive retreat on leadership. About the time the group had been together for just a few days, he began complaining that the program was not having the significant impact that he was hoping for.
After thanking him for his feedback I naturally asked him what kind of impact he wanted.
He said that he wanted something to happen that was new, different, even a breakthrough in leadership for himself, and for the other two executives from his company. He wanted a major, wow-type of transformative experience.
I was at the place in the program where I wanted to demonstrate the process for healing and growth called the VBL Grid. So I asked him if I could use him as a demonstration subject for this process. He said fine, and came up in front of the group.
I said to him, "Earlier I observed that when you are on the tennis court and you make a bad shot you become very self-critical." I asked him, "What happens inside when you make a mistake, like hitting a shot into the net?"
He said, "I say to myself, 'You are just an idiotic, hopeless failure'".
I said, "Ouch". "It must be painful to hear yourself saying that". He said that it was painful, but that he motivated himself that way. I asked him if he used the same kind of voice to talk to other people as well. He said, "Yes, but not as much as I use it on myself." I asked him if he also talked about other people that way too when they made mistakes. After pausing to think about it, he said, "Yes, I guess I do".
I said, "Let's use that critical voice to track back and find an unhealed wound to heal. Then we'll work with the memory using the VBL Grid and see if you can learn to be less critical and highly motivated". He said, "Fine".
Then I asked him to describe his self-critical, inner voice - what it said, its tempo, volume and tone, and when the voice spoke.
He described it in detail, not as some disembodied voice, but as his own inner critical voice. Then I asked him, "Where did you learn this inner, self-critical voice?" He smiled, and said, without hesitation, "I learned it from my father, that's for sure."
I asked him for a good example when his father used his critical voice with him. He immediately recalled a pivotal, key event.
I then placed some sheets of paper on the floor that corresponded to the boxes in the VBL Grid. I explained that the VBL Grid is a format for leadership development that makes it easy to use many of the VBL leadership skills within yourself. (The VBL Grid is illustrated by the graphic with this article.)
I told him that each of the nine pieces of paper represents each of the boxes in the grid. As a whole, the grid represents the present, the past and the future along with yourself, other people, and an outside, objective observer.
Then I said to Gary, "Let's go back to how he taught you to use that critical attitude and that critical voice inside your head".
So I had him stand in the center of the VBL Grid in the 1st Person present box and look to the past. He saw himself as a kid. I said, "Picture a noteworthy interaction with your father related to the critical attitude and voice."
He picked the interaction with his dad that was the most painful event, after which he left home and they rarely spoke again.
I said "Okay, lets use that event".
He described the situation. He was 16 years old, in his room at home. His dad said, "Go out and wash the car." in a stern, strict way.
He responded to his dad's command by saying, "Yeah, I'll get to it after a while."
His dad yelled back to him that he wanted him to "do it now".
So Gary went out and washed the car immediately. Then he came back inside to relax as he had been before.
His dad went out and looked at the car, came back in and said, "Go wash it again, it's not clean enough!"
Something snapped in Gary. He looked at his dad without wavering and for the first time in his life said, "NO."
His dad was so angry that he walked in and confronted him. Gary stood up to him. His dad reared back and threatened to hit Gary. Gary said, "Go ahead, hit me." His dad backed off. Gary yelled at him. His dad yelled back. The confrontation turned into a battle of words. Gary's father told him that he was a dirty, rotten, worthless kid and that he will never amount to anything.
Gary's response was to say to himself, "I'm done with this jerk." He resolved not to speak with him again. Shortly after this confrontation, Gary left home.
Back to the VBL Grid. This description of the event resulted from Gary standing on the 1st person, present part of the grid, looking back at his 16 year old, younger self and describing what happened back then with his dad.
After getting the description, we began replaying the situation differently. He then came from the present time as a 50 year old "older self" to talk with his 16 year old self back in the 1950's. They had this conversation:
Gary at 16 to the 50 year old Gary: "So how did you do after you left home? Did you do well? Did you talk with dad again? What happened?
Gary at 50: "I did great. I went to school and got advanced degrees. I got good jobs. I saved money, got married, bought a house, had a family, and now I'm succeeding in my career. I did everything I could to prove HIM wrong that I would never amount to anything. In fact I spent my whole career up to now proving that I was better and more successful than he ever was.
Gary at 16: "Did you do it? Did you show him"?
Gary at 50: "Yes, I most certainly did. I made him eat his words".
Gary at 16: "Did you ever make up with him"?
Gary at 50: "No. I just exceeded, him. I proved that I was better than him. But no, I never reconciled with him."
Gary at 16: "So what happened to dad?"
Gary at 50: With a sad, deep breath, he said, "He died".
(Gary starts to cry and feel overwhelming sad, and continues for a few minutes.)
Gary seemed a bit embarrassed by crying. He commented that he regretted "breaking down" in front of the group. We had a discussion about the language people in our society often uses when talking about crying and feeling sad.
Gary began to recognise that crying is a process for genuine, deep healing. He had apparently never grieved about his father's death. Gary came to realise that crying in this kind of situation means that you are healthy and is an act of healing. He began to realise that healing means you are having a breakthrough. Healing means that you can make new choices about what motivates you and how to motivate others. Healing means you can be a better father and better husband.
We spent the next half an hour using more positions on the VBL Grid to help him expand his thinking about the event, his relationship with his father, and the consequences to his career and on his family life.
Gary did very well, even stepping into his father's shoes to deepen his understanding of why he was so strict. While there, he thought of his grandfather's strict attitudes and how they must have affected his father. He forgave his father, and his father forgave him.
By moving into the future part the grid, we also explored his future.
(Of course, this process of using the VBL Grid is not hocus pocus or channelling or anything out of the ordinary. It is just re-arranging the inner memories and thoughts in the mind and body, like people in outer life do every day. Doing this makes our inner life more peaceful, calm and fulfilling. It is re-integrating separated parts within a person that have been too scary to deal with.)
Results for Gary
Gary realised that having a conflict with his father, not speaking with him again, and then neglecting to heal the mental/emotional wound caused by such an event, all adds up to a genuine trauma. Then using success as a form of revenge for decades in response to the trauma is not the approach to life he wanted to continue to take.
He came out of this session using the VBL Grid with a number of changes for the better. What he wanted to do was to somehow reconnect emotionally with his memory and live life a bit differently.
He made up with his father. He no longer had to feel driven to be successful by beating his father in some kind of race for success. What was important was to live a different kind of life.
He was always competitive, trying to be better than others.
However, this kind of pain-based motivation can also lead to great energy and productivity. It also often has a cost. The problem is that this wears a person down. It gets old.
When Gary understood the nature and origins of his prior direction in life, it created a kind of vacuum. What would he now live for?
After a lot of reflection, he decided that he no longer wanted to live life trying to prove to himself and others that he was better than his father. Instead, he wanted to live his life as an shared adventure - an adventure that he enjoyed with his loved ones.
Use the VBL Grid
The painful events of life can erode the health and wholeness of the self. Each unhealed values violation chips away at our inner health. This is especially true if we don't heal the wounds left by each event along the way. The unhealed psychological wounds are the ones that lead to important conclusions that may be limiting or damaging about our self. That's because our reasoning process and access to knowledge in childhood is much less sophisticated than our current, adult reasoning and knowledge.
For example, as adults we know that when a child is verbally abused by an adult, that abuse is not a reflection about some truth about the child. Rather, it is a reflection of some pain and victim behaviour in and from the adult doing the abusing. However, the child being abused does not usually know this. It is this lack of sophistication that leads us, as children, to come to conclusions, consciously or unconsciously, that are limiting and damaging about who we are.
The VBL Grid, as in the case with Gary, may help you to use what you now know to reexamine the conclusions you came to in the past. It will help you to create a framework within which you can revisit past painful events, resolve conflicts, and heal the wounds these events created. Healing then will allow you the freedom to reverse conclusions you came to if you so choose.
Healing allows you to re-chart your journey based on where you want to go, not where you've been. A conversation with your fulfilled, future self can be very revealing, luring you to a desired future, and guiding you to handle situations in the present.
Take a look at the box below that describes the VBL Grid and how to use it. If there is a part of your thinking or your behaviour that is getting in your way, creating an obstacle for healthy relationships or fostering a direction in life based on past pain, use the VBL Grid. That way, you can remove any remaining "rocks" in your shoes, and walk with a bit more comfort, fulfillment and enjoyment, and in doing so, be a better, happier leader.
For more information about VBL skills (Values-Based Leadership), contact Marian Richards, Training and Development Facilitator, at ext. 7281.
1st Person/Integrity is your point of view, looking through your own eyes, feeling your own feelings, hearing your own internal voices and what your ears hear in the world.
2nd Person/Empathy is another person's point of view. When you occupy their square on the grid you look through their eyes, feel their feelings, hear their internal voices and you hear what their ears hear in the world. When you pretend to be in their position, by occupying their box on the grid, you naturally develop some empathy for them.
3rd Person/Objectivity is an observer's point of view, looking on or at the others who are in the integrity and empathy positions. There, as an observer, you can see in a detached, objective way. You can look though various lenses of analytical thinking such as cause and effect, and see the looping, cyclical nature of interactions.
Past, Present and Future modify each of the above points of view according to different places in time.
Steps To Use the VBL Grid
Start in the middle at 1st Person/Integrity in the Present . . . that is your point of view, now.
Be aware of your outcomes, values and deep self as well as the overall situation you want to work on. There may be unhealed values violations.
Move your mind to each part of the grid, past, present and future, objectivity, empathy and integrity, as needed to expand your thinking. (In a group situation, others can play yourself and other people in the integrity, and empathy positions.)
Once on the grid, you can have a conversation with yourself in the past or future by shifting from present to the other time and playing both roles. Another alternative, in a group situation, is to coach someone else to play you to carry on the conversation across time. That is what Gary allowed me to do. I played him at age 16. You can talk with someone else in a box different than the one you are in. It can be yourself in another time, another person in the same or different times, and an observer in the objectivity positions. You can also occupy any of the other boxes. The best thing to do is to move around.
Make sure you heal your values violations, and deepen your understanding.
Continue until you develop a set of wise solutions that will benefit you and others. Then you will enjoy a bit of healing, some extra peace of mind, and perhaps the fulfillment of some of your important values.
The VBL Grid