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Emotional Symbiosis: Definition — 2 Comments

  1. Dear Jeff,

    This is a great question that fascinated me many years ago.

    I find myself in your situation, not necessarily with Born-Again Christians, but with people who are absolutely confinced of their beliefs to the exclusion of their awareness of other peoples' beliefs. All that stuff I've written on Master/Slave and Power of Passivity, etc., represent my solutions to the problem. 

    But I think you have a specific question here – how to deal with it. So, let me be serious. There are two things I wanna say.

    I think it easy to Validate someone. And let me go further. I think that to Validate someone you must feel free to be and think differently. I don't think you Validate anyone when you think you agree. It could be that I am pretty picky about that word "Validate." (Look this up elsewhere on my website.) Thus Validating this person is a matter of listening, seeing their points of view, reflecting to them you grasping of their points of view. In doing this I am maintaining my point of view happily in my hands, while the other person isn't getting to hear it. "Oh, I get it. You really value such-and-such, and believe that all people should do so-and-so, because you believe that behavior is what you call right, and you want them to be happy. Did I get you?"

    I think the other part of your question is "how to skillfully get them to also see your point view as valid, too." This is more tricky. What I have done with these people is to

    1. never attack them or their beliefs,
    2. mirror and validate them, and
    3. provoke them (very gently) to be curious about my beliefs.

    I did that with a wonderful client some years ago who was a very strong narcissist. It took quite a while. I mirrored and Validated him for hours and hours. He talked a lot. Every 15 minutes or so, I would drop into the conversation a brief and gentle comment that "I see things differently. But go on…" I saw myself as tickling him with my diversity. On he would go, chattng. Then again I would drop in that little note, "Well I don't agree with you but please tell me more." This went on for about 7 hours of therapy time. Then, once, he asked me, "Well what do you think?" I didn't think he was really seriously curious, so I just deflected him by,  "Well, but your last story was so interesting. Please go on." Finally at the end of 9 hours he stopped dead in his tracks, verbally. He was quiet. Then he said, "Look, Al, I didn't come to you to have you tell me I was all ok. I am messed up. I really need help." (Mind you in all of the 9 hours he had never referred to himself as being a problem or having difficulty. Everything was always someone else's trouble.) My response to his stopping and asking for help — "Well, I think that now therapy can begin."

    I believe these self-centered people have to be invited into contacting our diversity, and cannot be pushed. Good luck.

  2. So – how to skillfully handle it? I am reminded of this problem as I am engaging an old friend who is now a born again christian. She continues to raise the idea of me becoming a born again christian as well. She is determined to change my 'sense' about it. I'm imagining this all makes perfect sense from where she is looking, but for me things are different. Is there a way I could validate her while at the same time maintaining my own diversity?

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