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Thursday, April 2, 2009

Episode 4: Self-Distancing and Self-Transcendence

Welcome to Episode 4 of LogoTalk: Self-Distancing and Self-Transcendence.

Self-Distancing is the human capacity to step away from one’s self and look at one’s self from the “outside,” possibly with a sense of humor.

In my view, all psychotherapies make use of self-distancing. For example:

Freud's maxim of "where id was, let ego be" could be seen as a way to distance oneself from the symptoms.

Behaviorism objectively records frequency, duration and intensity of behavior, which distances the client from the behavior.

Cognitive therapy teaches one how to objectively observe their thoughts and replace them with more realistic thoughts.

Humanist's use of unconditional positive regard means that the person is held in high regard despite behavior, which helps the client to see himself or herself as distanced from the behavior.

Logotherapy has developed its own tool of self-distancing:

Paradoxical Intention
is using the human quality of self-distancing to help patients step away from themselves and their symptoms and to break the vicious circle caused by anticipatory anxiety. Paradoxical intention encourages us to do, or wish to happen, the very things we fear, making use of our sense of humor and our defiant power of the human spirit.

Because of this, I see Logotherapy as compatible with other therapeutic techniques when those techniques are used as tools of self-distancing.

Only Logotherapy, however, makes direct use of Self-Transcendence.

Self-Transcendence is the human capacity to reach out beyond oneself, toward meanings to fulfill, people to love, causes to serve. The human being is not considered a closed system, but a being directed and pointing to something or someone other than the self.

The goals of other psychotherapies do not do this. For example:

Freud emphasized the capacities "to work and to love." In Logotherapy, these capacities may be see as self-transcendence, but since psychoanalysis is a closed system, they are only seen as the result of the resolution of intrapsychic conflict.

The goal of behaviorism is nothing other than changing the target behavior.

Ellis is surprisingly close with the idea of the

Vital Absorbing Interest: "Let me repeat again that clients who are encouraged to acquire a vital absorbing interest, and get devoted to some cause, idea, activity, or even sport, for a long period of time, help distract themselves from their disturbances. At the same time, they acquire central meaning or purpose in life that adds considerably to their existence (Ellis and Harper, 1997). This is important perhaps for practically all self-disturbing individuals, but it is even more important if it can be achieved by those with personality disorders. They are so put-upon by their handicaps, and often so anxietizing and depressing, that anything that will thoroughly distract them will work temporarily and even on a long=term basis. So I encourage practically all my clients with personality disorders to try to come up with a constructive goal, purpose, or vital absorption that will unusually preoccupy them for preferably years to come. Even if they never eliminate their severe anxietizing and depression, they distract themselves so well from it that at times it doesn’t bother them very severely." (Overcoming Resistance, Albert Ellis, pp. 185-186, Springer Publishing Company, 2002).

This remains different from Self-Transcendence, however, because it is entirely internal to the individual, a mere preoccupation. It need not impact anyone else at all. As such, it is another tool of self-distancing.

Likewise, the humanist concept of Self-Actualization falls short.

Self-Actualization is, according to Maslow, the desire for self-fulfillment, namely the tendency for him [the individual] to become actualized in what he is potentially. This tendency might be phrased as the desire to become more and more what one is, to become everything that one is capable of becoming.

As with the solutions proposed by Freud and Ellis, this concept is entirely internal to the individual.

Clinical Interview

Mike has discovered the importance of self-transcendence on his own. In the interview that is part of this podcast, Mike states:

"By helping someone else it helps me to want to stay clean and straight."

"It gives me a desire to want to help more people, to hold myself accountable."

"It helps me to help other people."

Click here to download Episode 4: Self-Distancing and Self-Transcendence.

Thank you for listening, and may you have a meaningful day.