To solve the mystery of your suffering, you have to do some detective work. You also have to gather your courage and your wits as you embark on this hero’s life-changing journey.
Guided by the three exercises below, you’ll be taking a plunge into your psyche and the emotions and memories it holds to explore hidden recesses for clues and insights into this mystery.
You’ll be looking at your emotions and motivations, your relationship and family history, and the deepest feelings and beliefs you hold about yourself.
If you’re serious about learning something complex—and you are very complex—you have to put in study time. Your choices are to solve the mystery of your suffering, or to condemn yourself to a life half-lived or worse.
It’s a good idea to make notes and keep a journal. You might even want to have a spreadsheet to organize all the evidence and clues. Keep in mind that some emotional discomfort—resistance especially—is involved in doing these exercises.
To expose inner truth, we have to overcome denial and resistance, and be prepared to shift away from our old identifications. Such discomfort, while usually fleeting, is a prerequisite for personal growth and insight. In previous posts, I’ve written explicitly about this process here, here, and here.
So gather up your detective wiles, set aside some evenings, and dig in. It’s time to bid adieu to suffering.
We start by producing an inventory of information about our past and present emotional states and personality characteristics.
1 – List and describe your positive characteristics and attributes.
2 – List and describe your major weaknesses and limitations. Is there something you’re rejecting in yourself?
3 – What would you like to change in yourself? What inner qualities would you like to manifest in your life? What are the excuses you give yourself to explain why you’re not feeling fulfilled?
4 – How would you like your life to unfold? What are your positive goals or outlooks?
5 – What are the negative outcomes that you imagine occurring as your life progresses?
6 – List your five biggest fears. Why do you think you have these fears? What’s the worst thing that you imagine could happen?
7 – I’m angry because… (complete).
8 – I’m tired of… (complete).
9 – I want… (complete).
10 – How would you describe yourself from a mental or intellectual point of view?
11 – How would you describe yourself from an emotional or feeling point of view?
12 – How would you describe yourself physically? What do you like about your body? Dislike?
13 – Describe the major successes in your life. What contributed to your success?
14 – Describe and list your failures? How and why did you fail?
15 – Describe a situation(s) where you really felt good about yourself. What feelings were present? How did you feel toward others and the world? How does it feel to recall these memories?
16 – Compose a scenario that describes your situation in five years, from an external or material standpoint as well as from an inner-development standpoint.
Next, it’s helpful to develop some conscious awareness of how you felt as a child. This is done not to suffer in the present moment, of course, but in order to understand more deeply the emotions that remain unresolved from your past. Keep in mind that we tend to be most similar in personality and temperament to the parent with whom we had the most difficult relationship.
Try to answer the following questions without thinking too hard about them. In other words, if possible, let your first thoughts or feelings speak for you. When finished, answer the same questions, this time with respect to your father.
1 – What kind of person is (was) your mother?
2 – How would you describe your relationship with her?
3 – What was your mother’s favorite saying about life?
4 – How did your mother praise you? What did she say?
5 – How did your mother criticize you? What did she say?
6 – When mother was upset, how did she show it?
7 – How did you react when she was upset?
8 – What were her expectations for you? How did she hope you would turn out?
9 – What did your mother like best about you?
10 – What did she dislike most about you?
11 – How do you wish your mother might have been different?
12 – What would you like from your mother? What did you need from her?
13 – Imagine being your mother right now. As your mother, how would she describe the son or daughter you are? Have her talk about the kind of relationship she had with you.
14 – Make a list of the strengths or positive qualities you see in your mother. Note how these are reflected in yourself, either through manifesting them now or because, in rebellion, you have cultivated the opposite traits.
15 – Write a list of your mother’s major traits, good and bad. Note how these are reflected in you. Are you accepting of these traits in you, or do you hate them? Describe the pain and problems that are created for you by any adopted traits.
16 – Make a statement that you would like to say to your mother, a statement that you might feel nervous about presenting to her but which summarizes what you have always wanted to say to her. If she is deceased, imagine making the statement to her at some point when she was alive.
Finally, this exercise provides an opportunity to survey your adult relationship history, your childhood relationship with your parents, as well as your relationship with yourself. You’re trying to see patterns and correlations here that help you see how you are unconsciously repeating (with people currently in your life) those unresolved negative self-concepts and emotions from your past. The intention is to see yourself more objectively. You don’t want to blame anyone—especially yourself—for what happened in the past. As mentioned, you want to uncover the unconscious choices you make to replay the unresolved negative emotions and attachments from your past. This insight empowers your intelligence and enables you to make choices that are much more aligned with your wellbeing.
It is important to go slowly—do the inventory over a period of one or two weeks, for instance—so you don’t feel overwhelmed with the amount of reflection. If you do get bogged down, set it aside and return to it later.
1) Write a history of your primary relationships. Describe each individual and how you related to him or her. Describe his positive characteristics as well as flaws or weaknesses. List the emotions triggered in you by each relationship—for example, rejection, disappointment, frustration, boredom, and so on. Did you experience similar feelings or issues in each relationship? What needs were not being met in these relationships?
2) What are you feeling in your present relationship? For example, “I feel rejected by him or her when…” Or, “I feel controlled when he or she…” What needs aren’t being met? Do you feel any of these same emotions in other contexts of your life, such as at work, with children, friends, co-workers, and so on?
3) Lists the traits and behaviors you like in your partner. Do you exhibit similar traits? How are these traits similar to those of your parents?
4) List the traits and behaviors you dislike in your partner. Do you express similar negative traits? Are they similar to those of your parents?
5) Did you experience the feelings you’re now having with your partner with a) mother, b) father, or c) siblings? Describe the emotional similarities between your family and your adult relationships. Bring up specific memories of your past in which you experienced the same feelings. What needs were not being met with your parents or siblings? Are these needs now being met in your relationship?
6) How have you played the role of your mother in your relationship(s)? How have you played the role of your father? “I am like my mother in that… I am like my father in that…”
7) List the major complaints against your present partner. In what ways do you manifest the same traits or behaviors?
8) Write how you feel about yourself, positive and negative. Compare with how you feel about your partner. What do you want or expect from you partner?
9) Be your partner for a moment. Express what you imagine would be his or her complaints against you. How do you think he or she is experiencing you? Would there be any validity to his or her complaints?
10) What do you believe is preventing you from achieving your ideals in your relationship?
11) What is your contribution to the disharmony?
12) In what ways do you feel deprived, denied, and refused? How do you deprive or deny your partner? How do you deny or refuse yourself?
13) Describe the ways you feel controlled by your partner? Why do you let him or her control you? How do you control your partner? How do you limit or restrain yourself?
14) Give examples of when you have felt rejected, pushed aside, betrayed, or abandoned by your partner. How have you done the same with this partner or others? How do you reject or push aside yourself?
15) If you speak the truth of your feelings to your partner, what do you think will happen? If you listen to the truth of your feelings and thoughts, what do you think will happen?
16) List the ways you express intimacy or closeness with your partner. How do you let your partner know that you love him or her? If you don’t openly express these feelings, why not? How do you express compassion and love for yourself? If not, why?
17) What makes you feel happiest in your relationship?
18) Describe the ideal person you want to be with. Have you just described your own ideal self? How are you succeeding at living up to (and failing to live up to) your ideal of yourself?
19) If you were really to fall in love, what would that be like?
20) How do you expect your partner to regard your feelings when you are open and vulnerable? “I expect my partner to react to my vulnerability by…”
21) Free associate on the following: “Men are… Women are…”
22) If you were to live by your own vision of life and love, what would happen? What would happen in your relationship?
The information produced from these exercises can now be processed into self-knowledge by applying the tenets of depth psychology. Some individuals will need the help of a good psychotherapist to undertake this process. Others can, if fully committed, undertake and succeed at this process on their own.
The nice thing about these emotional exercises is that you don’t have to keep doing them. We are well advised, of course, to keep doing physical exercises throughout our life, but emotional exercises such as these can be abandoned once they have served their purpose of raising our self-awareness. Once our intelligence processes the information into self-knowledge, we’re good to go. We retain all the insight derived from this process because we’re now applying it with natural ease on a daily basis.
These exercises and many others are available in my books in the shopping cart and at Amazon.com and BN.com.