By Terry Real
You are invited to view or download a copy of The Relationship Grid at this link. You can also read detailed examples of Terry using The Relationship Grid with his clients in the book The New Rules of Marriage which is now available in paperback and for sale at this link.
Several years ago, I developed a tool for both mental health professionals and the general public that gives an accurate snapshot of where you are and where you need to go at any given moment. It is an easy way to help you practice coming to center -- down from grandiosity or up from shame -- and likewise either pull yourself in from being boundaryless or open up from being walled off.
With the grid in mind, you can do a "mental freeze" and ask yourself, “Where am I, and where do I need to go?” To use the grid, you first check your self-esteem: Do you feel deflated and shame-filled, or do you feel inflated and grandiose?
Next, you check your boundaries, starting first with your containing boundary: “Am I uncontained and letting too much out, or walled-off and letting nothing out?” Then check the protective part of your boundary: “Am I too porous or not open enough?”
It is important not to over think your position when using the Relationship Grid. Simply place yourself in the appropriate quadrant. The beauty of it is that once you know where you are, the Grid will instantly and unfailingly tell you where you need to go in order to come to center.
For example, if you are boundaryless and one-down, chances are that your predominant need is for more protection and solidity. Close your eyes or look down at the floor and in your mind’s eye, see the protective part of your boundary grow stronger; feel how it shields you. Let yourself relax within this circle of protection. You don’t have to steel yourself against emotional upset or attack because your boundary will do that for you.
Conversely, if you are boundaryless and one-up, and If you’re feeling like a big, angry victim, stop it! Chances are that your predominant weakness will be containment. Strengthen the inside of the boundary. Feel it pressing in against you, like a hand on your stomach, sucking it in, reining you in. Do not offend from the victim position. It’s not warranted, it’s not attractive, and it’s not good for you. Use the Grid to help you come down into same-as, and let your boundary protect you from the stimulus you got yourself so upset about. Wait until you’re less reactive before thinking honestly and fairly, “Is there anything to this, or am I just ready to let it fly? Am I battling a caricature instead of seeing the life-sized issue in front of me?”
On the opposite side of the chart, there are those who react by being walled off. If you are walled off and one-down, you feel de-energized and disillusioned. If you’re like a lot of people who adopt a walled-off, one-down position, you’re often passive. Perhaps you’re depressed or just resigned to what you’ve decided is your fate. You don’t want contact, or you don’t know how to make contact. You have a sense of failure before even beginning. It’s too difficult, too overwhelming, or just too ungratifying. You’d rather be left alone to comfort yourself as best you can with your usual distractions. Perhaps you’re addicted to or dependent on some substance, process, or person outside of your primary relationship.
You must have courage to rouse yourself from limbo. The combination of shame and walls is hard to punch through. You have to make yourself start moving again, make yourself reengage. Your lethargy is like that horrible feeling of getting up in the morning when it’s still dark and making yourself go to the gym to work out. But that’s all it is. Your resistance is no more substantial and no more difficult to conquer than that. You fear commitment – to a person, to work, or ambition, or everything. You fear you will fail. Far and away the most effective remedy for such fear is simple action and repetition. Don’t stall.
For someone in this position, “trying,” “understanding,” or “working on things” may be little more than sophisticated procrastination.
On the other hand, if you are walled off and one-up, you have to ask yourself, “What are you being so high and mighty about?” “Who are you kidding?” I want you to really see the way you walk around as if whomever you’re with isn’t good enough, isn’t quite worth your while. I want you to let in just how mean you are being. Yes, overtly shaming of others and mean.
Simply put, lose the attitude and connect with your partner (or child or parent or co-worker). Bring yourself down from your superiority and out from behind those walls. Come back into engagement. You were dying in there inside your empty fortress.
Coming to Center
Like many people, you may find that you reside mostly in one quadrant of the grid. You may also realize that in a former relationship your behavior was in another quadrant. Or you may feel that you skip around quite a bit from day to day, or even from minute to minute.
Here’s the deal on using the grid: Keep it simple.
If you are in a shame state, bring yourself up. If you’re being grandiose, bring yourself down. If you are boundaryless, pause and reset your boundary. If you are walled off, take a deep breathe and get back into engagement.
That said, this does take practice. It also takes courage to look at yourself, recognize where you are and will yourself back to center. Like a beginner at anything, at first you will find this internal work stilted, arduous and largely ineffective. Press on! Wait until the first time someone says something provocative to you and you feel that whoosh against your psychological boundary and have it bounce off. Or the first time you feel a hot wave of shame, and rather than feeling rotten for hours and hours about it, you can breathe your way back into center in a matter of a few minutes.
I look forward to your excitement the first time you don’t just intellectually understand but have the palpable experience that this technique really does work – that you can directly and powerfully impact your own state of mind.