Compulsion: Week 2
"Reward me ...""
Second session. I invite Sam to get a sense of that
metaphorical 'part' of himself which feels the compulsion to eat
chocolate. In a trance he identifies a feeling of isolation ... and
immediately goes back to problems associated with reading and writing
at school. Thirty years ago no-one called it dyslexia. The 7-year old
at his new school feels stupid and alone. "I don't have the
tools. I'm in a jungle, with no daylight. I want to disappear into
Sam has now come up with several metaphors related to his
dependency pattern, and I'm tempted to invite him into a
Grovian/symbolic modelling process immediately to explore them.
Instead I ask him to put a name to the part-self he has identified as
responsible for the compulsion. He finds himself calling it 'Reward
Me'. This is another revelation for Sam. The first was that the
compulsion he named only recently began almost 30 years ago. The new
revelation is that chocolate was a compensation - not
for having to work on a mass of facts and figures he couldn't make
head or tail of - but for the associated feelings of stress and
shame. And the further revelation is that he has been carrying these
idiosyncratic connections -
dyslexia = isolation = shame = hard work = need for
compensation = chocolate
- thoughout his adult life unconsciously .
For a moment I feel quite sad for this 7-year old. I ask Sam to go
inside and acknowledge 'Reward Me'. Many of us are reluctant to
acknowledge parts we don't like, or wish we didn't have, in case they
take acknowledgment for encouragement and the behaviour or feeling
gets worse. When of course lack of acknowledgment is
guaranteed to have the associated behaviour or feeling returning time
after time to haunt us.
When Sam has acknowledged 'Reward Me' I invite him to take a step
further and embrace this part and its needs wholeheartedly. It's been
an important, even necessary,
response of his system to the systemic experience. He has some
initial reservations about the idea of loving something he's been
ashamed of for so long and has been aching to get rid of, but can
accept that when it first came into being it was essential for his
survival. Without it the trauma of the time may have overwhelmed him.
Now comes the crucial stage of this neurolinguistic journey, as I
invite Sam to ask 'Reward Me' what it's positive
intention has been for him. Chocolate has been the vehicle for
an emotional need. What has the part-self with the compulsion
wanted for him all this time? Sam goes quiet and
After a minute or two he comes up with: "Getting my breath
back after struggling." At a cognitive level he can't
understand where this answer comes from. I remember the addiction
audit we undertook last week, when Sam had talked about the desire
for chocolate coming not while he was working, but when work had
stopped. His reward at that time had to be something more than rest
and relaxation. The last conscious connection he's likely to make as
an adult after hours on the phone or in highly charged meetings (he
has a demanding job as a film producer) is the memory of having to
struggle with dyslexia as a 7-year old and bingeing on chocolate as a
reward. Sam's need to get his breath back after struggling may date
back to difficulties in taking his first breath after the trauma of
birth. It may even have its beginnings before birth or in past
generations. I don't share this speculation with him because I could
easily be wrong. If these are appropriate connections for Sam he'll
make them for himself when the time is right.
I ask: "If 'Reward Me' were to be convinced there was
another way of getting its reward that would be at least as
effective, and hopefully more so, than eating chocolate, would it be
prepared to try it?" Sam goes inside to answer the question.
He reports, "'Reward Me' says slightly reluctantly it could
try" . I ask him to go inside again and thank 'Reward Me' for
its response. The invitation to 'go inside' is a simple and powerful
proposal that moves the client's attention from mental abstractions
to embodied experience. All our past experience has been embodied in
some way (otherwise where is it?), but too many of us believe the
only way to access it is by reason rather than feeling.
Next week I shall invite Sam to be creative.