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SEE SAW THINKING

I was in the shop the other day waiting to be served. I smiled at the sales assistant and she ignored me and carried on talking to her friend. I smiled again. With the same result. I suddenly felt very helpless and was hit by the thought, 'I'm never going to be served. I'll never get this thing I want. It's all hopeless!'

A friend who was with me started to talk in a loud voice saying what bad service there was at this place and that we should go elsewhere.

The above scene illustrates discounting - ignoring information or options related to solving a problem. When we have a problem which we are not solving there is always some discounting. I was exhibiting helplessness. Perhaps I went back to a time when I was a baby and my mother was not responding to me. I mistook the present situation for the time and childhood. I discounted my adult abilities and some awareness of the present situation. I became a helpless baby again. My friend, on the other hand was grandiose. He puffed himself up and began to judge the sales assistant and to talk in a boastful manner.

Whenever there is discounting, there is always grandiosity. Grandiosity is magnifying some aspect of reality. For example, we are afraid of the boss at work. We credit the boss with more power and options than the boss really has. We discount the abilities that we have to deal with the situation. A child dealing with an older and bigger bully, is discounting somewhat. For us as adults to be afraid of the boss (unless she is an active Mafia leader) indicates a lot of discounting.

Back to the shop.

To feel helpless I had to discount certain options. For example, I could have done many things to get the shop assistant's attention and got served. I could have shouted, 'Look a mouse!' or fallen on the floor and started to moan. As an adult I have many options that I didn't have as a child. Similarly, my friend was being grandiose. Talking loud about bad service might have been a problem-solving technique to get the shop assistant's attention. In this case it was just as ineffective as my helplessness. The intention was not to solve the problem but to feel superior, and to discount the shop assistant. For example, she might have been talking about a serious problem she had, which made her less efficient than normal in her work. Perhaps her child was ill.

Boasting often indicates grandiosity. When we boast about some aspect of our lives, we are usually discounting other aspects where we have problems. If someone boasts about their wealth, for example, then they are probably lacking something else in their lives. They are being unaware of this problem, and magnifying the importance of their wealth. They are probably lacking power or appreciation in other parts of their lives. Why else would they wish to impress us and gain our admiration? When people think they are a famous person, such as Napoleon, they have to discount a vast amount of their present lives. Such as being in a mental hospital and not speaking French!

Grandiosity and helplessness are like ends of a see-saw. They are both ways of not-solving-problems. They both involve magnifying and minimising some part of existence. To be helpless we need to credit some other person with more power than they really have. To be grandiose, we have to minimise other parts of our lives. To be helpless, we have to minimise our own abilities and magnify those of others.

We can be grandiose in various ways. For example, we can daydream about having great power or being a hero. We can talk in a puffed-up way about a situation without doing anything to solve it.

When we do nothing effective to solve a problem we are being passive. There are four types of being passive.

The first is doing nothing. We do not respond. We experience ourselves as unable to think. Our energy is used not to solve problems but to discount all of our ability to solve the problem.

A second type of passivity is over-adaptation. A parent notices that the children have created a mess so he or she cleans it up, without saying anything. A manager notices that no one is answering the telephone, so the manager answers it, and says nothing. Sometimes we think that the other person will notice what we did and behave differently in future. However, we are usually discounting our ability to do something about the problem. People usually don't notice!

A third type of passivity is agitation. The manager gets agitated. Drums his or her fingers on the table, or becomes angry. Instead of saying, 'Answer the telephone, Bob', the manager sits there and gets upset without doing or saying anything.

The fourth type is violence or incapacitation. When we encounter a problem we get violent, perhaps to someone or something unrelated to the problem. Violence sometimes follows agitation. It is passive in that it doesn't do anything to solve the problem. When we are violent we try to incapacitate another person or thing. When we get ill, we try to incapacitate ourselves.

In all the above the behaviour shows discounting - unconsciously ignoring certain parts of reality. When we do this, we magnify or minimise certain parts of reality. When we magnify a part of ourselves, we are being grandiose. When we magnify the problem or the other person, we may be making the other grandiose, and feeling helpless ourselves.

You might like to think about a problem you didn't solve in the past. Did you notice grandiosity or helplessness. What were you discounting. What options did you have which you unconsciously ignored at the time?

Grandiose thoughts can entertain us. We might enjoy daydreaming about being extremely powerful. In one way, there is nothing wrong with being grandiose, but it isn't problem-solving. Sometimes when we are being grandiose it is worth discovering the real problem. And becoming aware the discounted problem-solving options.

Although the solution to the problem might not be the one you have in mind now, there is always a solution to all problems. This is the why: Because you created the problem, you can solve it.

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Most Recent Revision: 20-Mar-99.
Copyright 1998, 1999 Ken Ward,
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