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Discovering Fixed Ideas

By Peter Shepherd

In practice, life for most of us falls far short of what it could be. We experience negative feelings and emotions - hate, pain, jealousy, grief. Our thinking can be distorted or even delusional, as when we grow paranoid about others' intentions or attitudes, or overly pessimistic about our own abilities and worth. Also, our behavior can be destructive. Too often, in a fit of rage or despair, we say or do things we very soon come to regret. These unwanted aspects of life tend to fall in three categories:

Negative feelings - inappropriate attitudes, emotions, sensations and pains.

Distorted thinking - misconceptions, delusions and fixed ideas.

Dysfunctional behavior - self-defeating compulsions or inhibitions.

Without these factors we would have a planet full of people who were basically happy, productive , and loving and helpful to one another; willing to give another their own space, to be tolerant of their differing views, beliefs and feelings. In the presence of these aberrative factors we have war, twisted relationships and broken dreams - in short, the human condition.

When a person adopts a safe solution to the problems he has achieving the survival, belonging and self-esteem needs of life, he clings to it as a new identity, and the ideas connected with this way of being become fixed. Because fixed ideas are not necessarily appropriate in changing circumstances, conflicts arise with others and mistakes and indiscretions occur about which the person feels guilt or shame. He may then seek to justify (rather than take responsibility for) these actions and so the ideas become further entrenched, causing long-standing problems and life stress, and greatly restricted tolerance and willingness to communicate with others. A person can become very out of touch, even with physical reality, and retreat into a schizophrenic unreality or depressive illness.

Sometimes past traumatic events are brought forward into the present by a similarity of circumstances. The excessive stimulation of the original event is regenerated by the current one. This restimulation can cause a reliving of the original emotional trauma and also a 'dramatization' of the negative decisions and conclusions that may have been made as a result of the original incident; again the identity of the time is acted out, in a fixed way that is regardless of the changing circumstances.

Restimulation also applies to factors mentioned above, such as certain situations in which fixed safe solutions are plaid out, or that remind of past bad actions, or stressful situations, failures, or upsets with others. When you REACT you become a different person! You are taken over by a programmed identity/way of being, you are no longer objective nor truly sane.

A fixed idea may become an obsession, a compulsion or inhibition that is hard to keep at bay. This neurotic condition can deteriorate into psychosis if the individual is no longer aware of the behavior problem, but is totally identified with the way of being that is unknowingly and reactively being dramatized.

A psychotic, even a child murderer, is still a person trying to do the right thing, but his solutions are inappropriate, hopelessly misguided and dramatized totally reactively, in a mechanical stimulus-response fashion, so the real person - with his innate senses of ethics and empathy - is pretty much buried.

These are the things of life, and every approach to therapy and development - whatever the intellectual waffle that surrounds the issues - has to deal with them to be effective.

Practical: Discovering Fixed Ideas

Finding fixed ideas is both a sport and an art, and not at all a rote procedure. The key way of tracking down the actual fixed ideas is by challenging any kind of logic your mind presents you with, demanding explanations and asking what is behind it. You need to be very direct and inquisitive. You don't waste time listening to stories or reactions that the mind throws up, you are after pieces of frozen logic. Some of the questions that can be useful for this are:

"Can you explain that?"
"What principle is behind that?"

You need to challenge or investigate the ideas you are most sure about, not the stuff you are aware of having problems and reactions about. These are some general questions that can be used to weed out fixed ideas:

  1. "What things do you say to put others in their place?"
  2. "Do you have ways of dominating others?"
  3. "Are there any ideas that make your life better?"
  4. "Are there things about which you are sure you are right?"
  5. "How do you prevent anybody else from getting the upper hand?"
  6. "What ideas and beliefs do you firmly consider to be true?"
  7. "What ideas are constantly with you in your life?"
  8. "What things in your life would you not be willing to change?"
  9. "What principles do you use in dealing with other people?"
  10. "What are your principles for evaluating things?"
  11. "What don't you want to get involved in? Why?"
  12. "What don't you like? Why?"
  13. "What is an acceptable level of activity? Why?"
  14. "What bothers you about others? Why?"
  15. "What routines do you follow in day to day life? Why?"
  16. "Is there anything you do to prove you are different?"
  17. "What basic ideas about life guarantee your personal survival?"
  18. "What do you use to make people feel sorry for you?"
  19. "What weaknesses have you shown to get people to do things for you?"
  20. "What must people think of you for you to feel alright about yourself?"
  21. "What ways do you get people to pay attention to you?"

You can also systematically go through what the you are doing in different aspects of your life. Consider how you go about things, what your routines and operating principles are. Notice what you are avoiding and how. Notice what isn't subject to change. Dig into it.

If you get hold of a clear-cut fixed idea, that you can see is something you've been holding onto blindly as a safe solution, these are a series of questions you can ask to help you release it:

  1. What would (fixed idea) get a person into?
  2. What would (fixed idea) get a person out of?
  3. How would (fixed idea) help a person win?
  4. How would (fixed idea) make others lose?
  5. How would (fixed idea) give a person power?
  6. How would (fixed idea) make others less powerful?
  7. How would (fixed idea) make a person feel right?
  8. How would (fixed idea) make others feel wrong?
  9. What might be the advantages of (fixed idea)?
  10. What might be the disadvantages of (fixed idea)?
  11. How would (fixed idea) make a person feel strong?
  12. How would (fixed idea) make others feel weak? (or overwhelmed)
  13. How would (fixed idea) make a person feel in control?
  14. What is right about (fixed idea)?
  15. What could (fixed idea) be a solution for?
  16. What could (fixed idea) be used to justify?
  17. How would (fixed idea) aid a person's survival?
  18. How would (fixed idea) hinder the survival of others?
  19. How would (fixed idea) help a person to dominate others?
  20. How would (fixed idea) help a person escape the domination of others?
  21. How would (fixed idea) make a person feel free?
  22. How could (fixed idea) be used to enslave others?
  23. How could a person use (fixed idea) to help others realize they are wrong?
  24. How could a person use (fixed idea) to avoid the influence of others?
  25. What would (fixed idea) allow a person to do?
  26. What would (fixed idea) allow a person to have?
  27. What would (fixed idea) allow a person to be?
  28. What would (fixed idea) allow a person to produce?
  29. What would (fixed idea) allow a person to feel?
  30. What would (fixed idea) allow a person to sense?
  31. What would (fixed idea) allow a person to accomplish?
Once you get a realization and feel the fixed idea is released, do not continue asking these kind of questions; just let it go and move on - enjoy your new freedom of thought!

Peter Shepherd is the founder and producer of the Trans4mind personal development website, author of 'Transforming the Mind' and producer of the Mind Development courses (free to download). Read Peter's biography page and send a message.
More articles by Peter Shepherd in the Counterpoint Article Library as well as the Inside Out Blog, plus listen to his regular Podcasts
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