clinical example

I am replying to David Goldstein's recent clinical example. I not only
suggested that the man who slept with the babysitter was controlling
for sexual gratification but for a higher level perception of controlling
his own experiences. From memory, this man's wife seems to try to control
her husbands experiences by overtly restricting his degrees of freedom.
She may be considered aggressive at times. An example is when he was
going to but something at the movies and she embarrassed him in front
of their friends so that he would not buy what he intended. She gains control
of him by directly and overtly puting restrictions on him and he yields.
Until he wants to gain control back. Then he passive-aggressively gains
control of his expereinces by staying on the computer all night or
sleeping with the babysitter. It was more than sex that he wanted by
sleeping with the babysitter; he wanted control that his wife could not
have. But when he did this he experienced a big woppin error signal
at the priniciple level. He acted against the "don't cheat on your wife!!!"
rule and that was very uncomfortable. But he gained control.

I am writing from internet, and I don't have an edit function. But note that
the man did not want to but something at the movies but wanted to

buy something at the movies.

Certainly this man's problems seem amenable with PCT. He said he would
spend whatever time it took. But she restricted him again buy saying she
gave till the end of the summer to works things out. ^by
It seems that this couple is in a never ending battle to gain control by
controlling the other whether it be aggressively by her or passive-aggressively
by him. Both need to learn how to communicate their desired perceptions and
through quality time they can aid each other in achieving their individual
and shared perceptions. But this cooperative action requires communication to
direct it so both may attain their intended results. Well good luck David
with this couple. I wonder how bad she would resist to you asking her to
give up some control?

have a good weekend CSG!


[From: Bruce Nevin (Mon 920411 08:36:38)]

I had written some comments on David's clinical example but David said
he had not seen them, and I can't turn it up either in my files, so I
guess I never posted that message. I will reconstruct what I can.

A key question for me was, how did the wife know he had to be seduced,
and how did the babysitter know he had to be seduced, with that peculiar
threat "you'd better!"

It's useful to distinguish between sanctioned, overt communication and
other concurrent communication which is covert and not consciously
acknowledged. It seems to me that there is a lot of back-channel
communication that has the effect of people advertising and trying out
for parts in one another's psychodramas. The patterned transactions
that Eric Berne and his students so cleverly describe I think have this
function. (Berne thought they served only to "structure time" and
alleviate anxiety about being caught purposeless, so to speak.)

Another question is, why are so many of us anxious when we have freedom,
so anxious that we rush to construe ourselves as victims or products of
circumstance as quickly as possible? Rather than as authors and products
of our own purposes. Could it be that we learn about this kind of fear
and apparent safety as children in our families, schools, and other
social institutions?

Is this not at the core of being passive-aggressive?

Is he seeking control that he generally lacks in his life? Or is he
seeking to control his perceptions (as all control systems must) without
acknowledging that he is doing so? Without revealing any clue as to his
inner reference perceptions which might make him subject to

The last post from David is more revealing of the wife. Instead of
being a cardboard cutout character in the husband's account of the drama,
representing a figure of some ominous power who robs him of his freedom,
she reveals herself as a woman who feels herself to be the loser in a
relationship that she is nonetheless fearful of losing.

The social role of being a woman requires following the dance partner's
lead. Reading inner reference perceptions from outer signs and
controlling for one's own only while accomodating those of others. This
can work well only with a partner who knows what he wants and
communicates it well. Lacking either of these requisites, the feminine
partner can suffer awkward collapse and embarrassment, or help her
partner to conduct the pair of them in a purposeful way. It is hard for
this not to be manipulative at best. When she has purposes of her own
that she wants to further, then almost anyone would so construe it.
The husband here seems to lack both requisites, he doesn't communicate
his purposes well, not even to himself, with the effect of not knowing
his own wants.

An acquaintance many years ago put it to me this way, speaking out of
her experience as a new mother. The baby expresses some desire in an
inarticulate way. The parent does what she can to figure it out. Even
the best parent can't always. In bad situations the net outcome is a
decision by the child: if I express a desire, I won't get what I want,
I'll get punished for fussing. At best I'll get a pacifier or some
other substitute palliative. If I don't fuss, I might get what I want.
(When the parent is ready. Maybe the diaper smells too ripe.) So I'd
better not even know what I want, lest I start complaining about not
having it. That's an extreme portrayal, but I think there's a germ of
truth in it.

It seems to me that it would be helpful to get down from higher levels
to the immediacy of lower levels of perception. It's suggested that we
resolve intrapersonal conflicts by going up a level. I think we can
undermine intrapersonal conflicts by going down a level as well. In
most communication problems I know about, something is being ignored.
Very often something is being imagined, too, but always something is
being ignored, and it is easier to get acknowledgement of perceptions
that are there than it is to get relinquishment of perceptions that are
not there.

The stair which they both traverse many times every day accidentally and
unexpectedly made a noise. She called his name in the dark hallway. A
key communication transaction. For each, certain perceptions constituted
input for comparison with higher-level references, and other perceptions
were ignored. They live in very different construals of the same
events, construals that are in many ways complementary to each other.

Where one ignores some particular perception that is a key ingredient
for the other's construal of events, perhaps ways can be found for the
other to acknowledge having that perception too, though it may be
irrelevant to the second one's higher-level perceptions or (more
challenging) though it may be inconsistent with them.

Where memories disagree perhaps ways can be found for experiencing some
lower-level perception just as itself, rather than in light of the
higher-level construal; perhaps its ambiguity at the higher level can
emerge; perhaps behind that its essential simplicity, prior to
interpretation in accord with higher-level expectations. Maybe this can
happen where one remembers some lower-level perception and the other
does not. The same lower-level perception can have different
significance for each. Lack of memory on one side can be the limiting
case, where "significance" on one side drops to zero. Or it can be that
the perception on one side was supplied by the imagination loop.
("Screen memories" are a more extreme example.) Or it can be that lack
of memory is due to denial, because the perception is inconsistent with
and implicitly challenges the higher-level construal. In this case
there should be other indicators of a conflict to which the particular
"blanked out" perception is a clue.

Was his heart beating fast as he was sneaking down the stairs? Can he
acknowledge such a perception?

Have you interviewed the babysitter? The wife revealed a bit about the
relationship of the two women. If she's a live-in babysitter who
challenges the wife at her role of seducing the husband, she's very much
a member of this family system.

Hope this is suggestive. Good luck! I have the greatest respect for
you guys who are applying this stuff with troubled people in real time.


David Goldstein (05/11/92)

The rage made reference to the following kind of thoughts--I
wanted you to protect me and the children. You allowed this woman
to come into our life. You didn't care about me or the children.

she is angry at herself for being so stupid and gullible.

Discovering oneself stupid and vulnerable can be amusing when there is
no fear. What is she afraid of? What does she want a man to protect
her from? It sounds like the babysitter is a threat only insofar as
loss of her husband would make her vulnerable to something else.

Ignoring perceptions is hard work. Puts one under a lot of stress.

Waving semaphor flags can be hard work too. "This is what I need, but I
can't risk saying it explicitly." The threat of abandonment or eviction
is a big flag to wave. Responding to the need of one who denies having
it, and for whom exposure of the need (vulnerability) is a threat, is
itself a risk.

What kinds of perceptions are these needs and responses and threats and
semaphor flags? Imagined? At least partly, I think.

I think you undermine the imagination loop by focussing attention on
perceptions at a level below the loop. Gendlin's approach depends on
sensory anchoring. So does NLP. Probably many others. What were the
physical sensations in the body when she was enraged? When he was
grieving? When she was comforting him? How does it feel to recall
those physical sensations now? Do you find that anchoring in
lower-level perceptions is helpful in your therapy sessions?


[From Rick Marken (990908.0800)]

David M. Goldstein (9/8/99) --

Most clinical situations are rich in context which may
substitute for some of the testing. Most clinicians don't
feel the need to be as rigorous as you suggest.

I didn't mean to suggest that clinicians be more rigorous;
just that they develop the proper approach to testing for
controlled variables. Clinicians do have to do the test on the
fly and this testing must be fairly informal (non-quantitative).
For example, the only system measuring the state of the
hypothetical controlled variable is the clinical him/herself.
But I think it's important to understand the basic goal of
the test, even if the test is done quickly and qualitatively;
the goal is for the tester to notice which of his/her own
perceptions (hypotheses about a controlled variable) corresponds
to a variable being controlled by the client. This is quite
different than noticing S-R relationships. S-R relationships
certainly suggests that _some_ variable is under control but
you can't tell what that variable is by just noticing isolated
S-R relationships. For example, the S-R relationship you
noticed is consistent with many possible controlled perceptions:
the perception of a committed relationship (the one you guess),
the perception of being seen as a sensitive person, the
perception of having no problem with commitment, the perception
of ending the sessions as quickly as possible, etc.

What I think I learned from the man's delayed three week
reaction was: In spite of his high level of distrust and
anger, he wants to have a committed, attached relationship
with a woman.

I see it as strong evidence of a conflict; the guy wants a
committed relationship and he _doesn't_ want one. It looks
to me like the guy is not in control of whatever perception
he is controlling relative to sexual relationships. If the
client were controlling (successfully) for perceiving himself
as wanting a committed relationship, he would have reacted
to protect this variable from your disturbance immediately.
The delay suggests that the client had no output available to
do this; his "committed relationship" control actions were
being used to fight the system that wants "no commitment".
After he went home alone (where there are apparently no
disturbances to "no commitment") this side of the conflict
relaxed; so when the guy came back to your office the
"committed relationship" control actions were available to
say "I really want a committed relationship". My guess is
that this guy needs to understand that he's in conflict about
sexual commitment. If this is the gas, a nice dose of MOL
might be just what the doctor ordered.

Rick, how to you see this example as different from the
study Dick Robertson and I did on the self-image?

As I recall, you guys asked the subjects to describe their
self-image in advance. This description constitutes your
hypothesis about what the subject is controlling for. Your
disturbances were statements (I think) that either contradicted
what the subjects said about themselves or not. You were
looking to see whether _all_ your contradictory statements
were "resisted" and all your confirmatory statements ignored.
So you were basically testing to see whether the subject's
description of himself was an accurate representation of the
variable the subject was controlling. So the difference
between what you and Dick did in the self-image study and
what you did here in therapy is that you hypothesized a
controlled variable _before_ applying disturbances in
the former but not in the latter.




Richard S. Marken Phone or Fax: 310 474-0313
Life Learning Associates mailto: