by Elaine Childs-Gowell, M.N., M.P.H., A.R.N.P., Ph.D., C.T.A.
This paper describes the “Healing Rituals” known as the Self Care Contracts. These contracts serve to close the escape hatches (Holloway, 1973, Boyd and Boyd, 1980) which people use to further their core beliefs and script behaviors. The article defines Escape Hatches, and Self Care Contracts and describes how the process of “Accountability Work”, “The Think Chair”, or “Time Out” help therapy clients think through their core beliefs and how to challenge them therapeutically. For people whose socialization was inadequate or meager, the process assists clients to think about feelings, feel about thoughts, and order their thought processes around their limiting belief systems. It is an empowering intervention for thought disordered, and other clients, and much appreciated by those who engage in it.
An article by Brook (1996) with regard to permission, reminded the present author that the use of Self Care Contracts is a form of permission. One of the regressive therapies developed from re-parenting over the past twenty years is a therapeutic process known as corrective parenting or rechilding. Permission and safety are provided in corrective parenting through a number of processes which are known as “Healing Rituals” (van de Hart, 1978).
A “healing ritual” is a process in which clients may re-experience archaic and traumatic events, and change the experience from the old system (trauma) to the new system (healing). These rituals provide the clients with a structure within which they can grow away from their old script behaviors. Many of these rituals provide the permission needed to break scripts and become “warriors of the heart.”
Among the very important processes, or if you will “healing rituals,” are the Self Care Contracts. Many of the people who come for therapy have defined themselves as Adult Children of Dysfunctional Parents. Many of them lack the socialization skills which accrue to persons growing up in healthier families. They simply do not have good self-care skills. Most clients in psychotherapy are suffering profound grief over the mistreatment, neglect, or over-indulgence they had as children; grief over how heavily they were DISCOUNTED (Mellor & Sigmund, 1975). The Good Grief Rituals described by Childs-Gowell (rev. 2005) are examples of “healing rituals” which can be self-directed by the reader. Other resources for healthy parenting are Weiss and Weiss (1988), Weinhold and Weinhold (1992), James (1981); and recently the Energy Therapies such as EFT.
Among the Rituals which work better in a group setting, and are offered to our clients, are the Self Care Contracts. When personally participating in this process for my own healing and growth, to heal the frightened and traumatized child who governed my adult life, the Self Care Contracts were invaluable. Some of the traumas I experienced were at the level of deep shock.
As an adult child of a battering mother and a fearful passive father, I had a deep need for a therapist who would offer a strong “healthy parent” from whom I could model and incorporate my own healthy parent. This healthy parent had to have the power to protect my frightened child and also be powerful enough to give me the protection and permission (Crossman, 1966) to go into the terror and horror, and to find the healing resources inside myself. The healthy parent I selected had to be more powerful than my archaic crazy and abusive parent. The therapist who would model a new healthy parent had to be able to provide protection from my internal abusive parent. I needed someone who could “take care” of the archaic parent’s crazy child parts (the child within the archaic parent within me). A therapist who would give permission to LIVE, to BE, to DO, to THINK, to FEEL, to be real, and to be empowered to succeed in life from a personal and spiritual depth, rather than from script. This permission had to be powerful enough so that all the old unfinished and painful pieces of archaic business that were still blocking life could be explored.
My therapy offered me the opportunity to live life as fully as my birth right demanded, fulfilling de Chardin’s (1965) invitation to be “a spiritual being on a human path,” not be a human being searching for spirit somewhere. The need to become fully bonded with SELF, loving SELF unconditionally, and interdependent with others is very powerful. This process offered me an opportunity to let go of being filled with self-hatred, to let go of the constant fear of making a full commitment to life and to others. This bonding is probably the most important part of Being a human being, and yet so many parents do not, and did not understand that “giving their children everything” was no substitute for the deep spiritual bond that all human babies and adults seek. I discovered that many clients who lack this bonding and attachment have to attach and bond with their therapist at a deep “baby” level before they can truly examine and correct what “went wrong.” From the bonded place, a client is then able to bond with self and come to love and cherish their own “baby self.”
There is considerable evidence from practice that the “baby self” is the part of us who is closest to the spiritual self. This self is also closest to the “past lives” memories. The bonding process takes clients through the steps of checking out whether this therapist is “competent” to model a healthy parent for their child. For some people this checking-out and trusting process takes a fairly long time, and they sometimes have to go through several therapists before the “right” one is found. Some clients never complete the healthy positive transference that they need to be able to successfully carry through with their therapeutic experience, to go the whole distance, all the way to total spiritual and physical health and happiness.
Perhaps one of the reasons some therapists cannot offer total healing is because they themselves have not gone the distance. It is understood that it is difficult for some therapists to accept the Self Care Contracts as prescriptions, and some clients “feel contained” (Mothersole, 1996) by the agreements. Nevertheless the experience among the corrective parenting community therapists has been that there are some who need and welcome this “containment” as a safety measure. Even the rebellious ones will admit that it “saved their life” to be offered such containment.
My choice of therapists was unerring, and like many I was fortunate to have the “right” therapist for each part of my process. When it becomes imperative for the client to face their very deepest fears, their deepest somatic traumas, and their “baby needs,” they are fortunate if they find a therapist who is able to say to them in essence: “I will be a Healthy Parent for your baby. I will take care of your baby under contract, until you can do it yourself. I can handle your archaic parent’s crazy child so that you can be free to be a healthy child and to experience a healthy childhood.” In essence what is said to them is: “it’s never too late to have a happy childhood” (Landsman, 1984). The structure provided by the Self Care Contracts empowers them to proceed towards challenging their old script, and provides the therapeutic process with added protection and empowerment.
The Life Script Interview
In general, in the practice of the process of corrective parenting, therapy starts with a general Life Script Interview as exemplified by Holloway (1975), a Developmental Life Script Questionnaire (Levin, 1982), and the format for eliciting this information taught by Muriel James (1980). These are powerful tools which permit the therapist to elicit important information for their client’s process. These questionnaires and interviews have assisted many therapists in their own process.
The ability to acknowledge that our families were truly dysfunctional in ways that have impacted us adversely is empowering, (Miller, 1978) and a vital first step. In the beginning of treatment clients are asked to take responsibility for the changes they need to make their lives better. An exploration is undertaken of the steps that are necessary to be able to meet personal life goals, fulfill the life vision, and actualize the self fully. These tools help the therapist, and are invaluable to clients to get past denial and the mistaken beliefs that their family was “healthy.”
As therapists we have clients review their life goals, and what their expectations are of the therapist. These are couched in the language of long-term and short-term contracts. The contracts are underwritten theoretically by the therapeutic intervention known as “closing escape hatches” (Holloway, 1974, Boyd and Boyd, 1979, and Boyd, 1986). This process offers a profound level of protection from their “escape hatches.” These “ways out” are devised by the desperate and despairing child at stages when the world is not clear to them. It is not unusual for abused and battered children to vow that “if things get bad enough, I can always run away, kill myself, get sick etc. and then they’ll be sorry they ever abused me.” These vows, also known as “decisions” (Goulding, 1979), become a part of the unconscious motivation for being unable to face life as a grown-up. Probably one of the most important structures of permission to come out of the early Transactional Analysis theory is the development of these Self Care Contracts.
The Self Care Contracts
These contracts are couched in negative language i.e. “I do not…” because they speak to the part of the person who made the early decision, the vow; i.e. the defense/survival system. (“I will not” implies in the future and “I won’t” implies Child). These contracts make it clear that this form of therapy is serious and safe, and that the therapist really cares and is truly powerful (i.e. more powerful than the crazy parts of one’s parent within).
Over the years, clients have claimed these contracts to be the most powerful tool for guiding them to achieve their goals in life. In many ways the contracts provide the same level of empowerment that the Twelve Steps do. These contracts address the underlying issues in the personality structure.
When clients have difficulty keeping any one of these contracts, they become aware of what the script issues or “mistaken beliefs” are which are generating the contract-breaking behaviors; that is “self-sabotaging,” and which need to be worked on and cleared up. Often the “mistaken belief” is couched in the language of “lies we tell ourselves.” When a contract is broken, which is an expected outcome, a time out is called. This is also known as “the think chair,” “Accountability Work,” and “going to the West.” In the Medicine Wheel teachings west is the direction in which one faces issues of personal integrity (Villoldo, 1988). Some of my clients call this “soul searching.” Time is set aside so that the client can figure out what the therapeutic issues are and which regression technique or therapeutic intervention is needed in order to make the necessary script changes on a deeper psychological or somatic level (see appendix 1). The client, group, and therapist collaborate in devising the most effective intervention needed. In some therapeutic communities this time out is known as the “corner” where the individual takes time to think about the issues involved in breaking the contract. The “work” devised can be anything from a psychodrama to a past-life recall (See the book Stages of Ages by Childs-Gowell, 2005).
The Self Care Contracts are as follows:
I DO NOT KILL MYSELF ACCIDENTLY OR ON PURPOSE, NOR DO I CONTRIBUTE TO MY DYING (Boyd, 1986). This contract addresses the existential issues which many clients face. Sometimes the regression work has to do with decisions made at death in a past life. It has become evident in the practice and personal process of therapists who use it, and in that of many of the clients, that if there are underlying pre-conception, (Emerson 1992), pre- and perinatal, or very early childhood issues, the management of this contract can become deeply challenging to the client and therapist.
This contract was very important to me because through it we discovered that a very young part of my personality was in a rage at my mother for not lactating at birth, for not feeding me, and then angry at her for turning feeding over to a wet nurse. We discovered that despair over these issues is often very deep and contributes to the client’s failure to be fully committed to this life. I succeeded in life by using my rage at my “abandoning mother” in order to succeed, rather than succeeding from a deep spiritual commitment to life. This seems to be true for many clients as well. In confronting and dealing with the behaviors around breaking this contract it is possible to uncover the decisions made that were impeding a full commitment to life.
I DO NOT HARM MYSELF OR OTHERS, NOR DO I PROVOKE OTHERS TO HARM ME. I STAY SAFE, I RESPECT OTHERS AND MYSELF, AND I ACT IN A RESPONSIBLE MANNER. Through this contract clients have succeeded in facing up to a number of harmful habits they have developed. Among these are habits many clients come into therapy for: obsessive compulsive and co-dependent behaviors which make up many life scripts. Obviously, those whose families were abusive will find that not harming self or others is a large challenge, and breaking this agreement often directs them to a great deal of their therapeutic process. Occasionally a regression will uncover a past-life decision around provoking harm from others.
I DO NOT GET SICK OR GO CRAZY. I STAY SANE AND HEALTHY AND WORK THROUGH MY PROBLEMS RESPONSIBLY BY STRUCTURING MY WORK WITHIN A THERAPEUTIC CONTRACT. As children, and later as adults, many clients do not have permission to express their feelings freely or appropriately. My own experience, for instance, was with an explosive mother. This habit of storing up feelings until they cannot be contained anymore, ending in an escalation, is a common experience for many clients. This is not a healthy adult form of functioning. It is true for many people in this culture, that people do not believe that they can get their needs met in healthy ways. They unconsciously use sickness and crazy acting-out behaviors in unsuccessful attempts to get some of their needs met.
This contract creates a climate in which the client can start facing some of the issues around getting their needs met appropriately. Clients find it very helpful to learn how not to escalate around getting needs met, and how to take care of themselves so that they are able to express their thoughts and feelings appropriately.
The interventions constructed around the breaking of this contract are numerous and deeply healing. Imagine having to deal with the ways in which one gets sick, colds, the flu, headaches, and not take a cavalier attitude, but actually look at what script may be operating when one does get sick? It is a fact of this society that the only time many of us could get nurturing from a parent was when we were sick, and then the parent was very good to us. Getting sick is, for many of us, one way to get nurture and positive strokes from very busy parents. I have healed many an illness by exploring my past-life experience around the pain or sickness.
I DO NOT RUN AWAY PHYSICALLY OR PSYCHOLOGICALLY. I STAY, WORK THROUGH MY FEELINGS, THOUGHTS, AND BEHAVIORS AND SOLVE PROBLEMS. This contract is very important to many as it helps us to focus on the ways in which we avoid doing what is needed to be done in the therapeutic process. Clients find that the habits of script are so strong that it is easy to side step, run from, or slip by some important issues.
Those whose lifestyle is that of the “workaholic” recognize how they use working hard to run away from issues. Running away serves many people well in modern urban society and, until the clients start living by the Self Care Contracts, it seems normal behavior to run away or engage in running behaviors. As a child, running away is very effective in an abusive environment because one can avoid many a beating or tongue lashing. When the child returns to the household the parent may have forgotten their rage; they escape another punishing thrashing. This behavior also interferes with intimacy. This contract helps clients to become aware of all of the slick and sneaky ways they have of running away. Learning about running behaviors helps to raise consciousness about life style, life programming as sneaky behaviors.
I AM NOT SNEAKY, AND I DO NOT LIE. I DO NOT STEAL. I AM HONEST WITH MYSELF AND OTHERS BOTH INTELLECTUALLY AND EMOTIONALLY. This contract means that the client will be honest about their thoughts and feelings, and not sneak or fudge or twist the truth in order to get by as so many of us had to do in our families of origin. This contract is of importance to most of us in that we have to recognize the ways in which we are out of integrity with self, family, and associates. The client comes to realize how defensive they have become to cover their fear of being “found out.” This is often the last contract for a client in ongoing treatment to address. It is often a benchmark that the individual is finally individuated and able to behave in ways which are not symbiotic or co-dependent. They are able to recognize and deal with all of the ways in which they are being, and have been, sneaky in their lives.
I AM NOT PASSIVE, I AM PROACTIVE TO MY OWN AND OTHERS’ THOUGHTS, FEELINGS, AND BEHAVIORS. The passive behaviors are outlined by the various people who wrote about them in the 1970’s; Schiff et al (1972) and Mellor (1975). As outlined in these writings, passivity and the discounting engaged in to remain passive is described as four behaviors which invite symbiosis. As listed here, the client expends an increasing amount of energy to carry each one out: do nothing; over-adapt; agitate; and escalate (either implode or explode).
Passive behavior is learned very young, probably in the womb and thereafter. It is difficult to overcome without careful attention to archaic issues. It often has roots in past-life memories. Attending to passivity and discounting is a very dynamic guide to cognitive restructuring. Paying attention to these behaviors helps the client deal with what is going on in the moment. It makes it difficult to redefine, to remain silent, to ignore, minimize, or aggrandize whatever may be going on in the present. Attention to passive behaviors reinforces personal accountability. It is the basic contract for everything one does in a healthy and accountable adult life. Passive behaviors are seen to be the dynamic which underlies everything we do that may be codependent or symbiotic. Passive behaviors are found to underlie all of the above contracts, since one has to engage in passivity to utilize any one of the escape hatches.
In the author’s and clients’ process it is frequently evident how fortunate we were to have been guided through this process by healthy therapists and teachers in Transactional Analysis. In the Seattle community there are a number of therapists who have personally benefited from this process, having personally experienced the Rituals involved in Corrective Parenting and Rechilding. The Healing Rituals arising from the close attention to the passive behaviors in ourselves and our clients have aided many people to free themselves from their scripts.
ACCOUNTABILITY WORK: WEST WORK: THE THINK CHAIR: SOUL SEARCHING: These are terms used to cover the process of confronting the breaking of a Self Care Contract. In this process the client usually self confronts and takes “time out” to THINK ABOUT the how, why, and underlying issues in the breaking of a Self Care Contract. It also is followed when a peer or a therapist confronts the breaking of a Self Care Contract. The client is expected to accept the confrontation and do their “thinking” without defending or rationalizing. (BDDREJJ = Blame Defend Doubt Rationalize Explain Justify Judge) (Childs-Gowell, 1992). The clients are given a structure for doing this because often the issue is generated in “script,” and is often in the client’s “blind spot.” The process which is recommended is as follows:
The contract I broke is _______ (one of the Self Care Contracts or a contract they have attached to accountability work).
How I broke it is_______ (outline the manner in which it was broken).
The CORE Belief or Script issue underlying the breaking of the contract is____________.
The Adult work I will do to challenge this CORE Belief (Cognitive Restructuring work, affirmation exercises etc.) is _______________.
The Child work I will do is ____________ (Regressive work which addresses the developmental stage of the early decision and challenges it; or the past life which generated the decision).
What I learned from breaking this contract is___________.
Clients find this ritual/process empowering for learning to use their Adult (think), and take charge of their own therapy. It is a powerful tool for the therapists, particularly if they themselves are actively engaged in confronting these same issues.
These Healing Rituals are offered by paying close attention to the “Self Care Contracts” and to the processes revolving around “breaking contracts.” Checking out one’s thinking and becoming clear about the underlying issues have been found to be the major dynamic in helping a client to discover core issues where they need to do their healing work. In finding ways to challenge the “mistaken beliefs” underwriting so much of the breaking of the contracts, they find that they are in charge of their own healing process. Clients who learn more and more about their own psychological structure have more and more psychic openings and increasing freedom from Script. Those clients who release themselves from their Script are able to take more responsibility for their lives.
As one engages in the process of agreeing to and breaking contracts and of recommitting to SELF and the Self Care Contracts, this process itself becomes an empowering experience that constitutes an opportunity for individuals to gain social skills useful in family and the workplace. The Self Care Contracts make it possible for people to parent themselves in healthier ways, thus creating better parents out there in the world for the little ones who are coming along behind them. The use of Self Care Contracts is a profoundly political and spiritual intervention for “Adult Children” with any negative history. This process works in profound ways, and has healed many clients who have undertaken the “Warrior-of-the Heart” Path.
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