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Dr. Romance on the Loss of a Hero

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Dr. Romance writes: On Dec. 12, the world lost Rev. Denton Roberts, the person who taught me everything I know about therapy and just happened to save my life while doing it. If I have been able to help people, it is because Denton taught me how to be an effective therapist and healer. In his honor, I’m going to quote some of his work:

On Autonomy:

Autonomy can be described as the power we possess, used or unused, to direct our energy to create our individual lives. The question of whether we will to take advantage of it, claim it as our own, is the most persistent and recurring issue we face. Claiming this power is both a difficult and rewarding task. Autonomy is also the freedom to make of our lives what we will, to spend our energy in any manner. Will we choose to use our limited time building nourishing structures, responsive and respectful societies and creative environments, or will we use our limited time to move in the direction of self and societal destruction? 

When our sense of autonomy is stimulated, our natural movement is toward creative solutions. Autonomy is stimulated by the recognition of our ability, and through contact with caring, nourishing people… When our sense of autonomy is unrecognized and unstimulated, we feel hopeless and lose our capacities for self-direction. Autonomy is the knowledge that we are the owners of our lives. We are not owned by parents, bosses, government, church, neighbors, spouses, children or cars. The attendant fact of this self-possession is that we are not, sometimes much to our dismay, victims of people and institutions. No longer being a victim means we determine our lives and what to do with them. Our ability to respond to life is both and asset and a challenge. Without the indulgent feeling of being victimized by the world or circumstances, we take possession of life.

The knowledge of our autonomy produces joy, once the befuddling veils of victimization are lifted. We are able to address circumstances directly and deal with them—change them, use them, overcome and transform them—when our autonomy provides the bedrock of our lives. 

One of my favorites of Denton’s writings, which I use with my clients all the time, is:

My Technique for Staying on My Side 

I carry a picture of myself as a child in my wallet. It is one of those “School Days, 1941-42” pictures of a little boy I know more intimately than any other person in my life. Everywhere I go, he goes, and everywhere I’ve been, he’s been. He’s always wanted people to understand him, care for him and cherish him. He’s never wanted people to mistreat him. Many times he hasn’t known what to do, or precisely what would satisfy him. Many times he’s bubbled with enthusiasm, been consumed by curiosity, petrified with fear, overwhelmed with grief, filled with rage, warmed with love. This boy that I know most intimately has been through a wide range of human experiences. He wants someone to understand, appreciate and care about him at all times. I carry his picture to remind me of his need and his sensitivity. I’m the one who knows him best. I’m with him at all times, and I’m the one he is most free to rely on. He depends on me to treat him well. Unless I pay attention to his feelings, unless I nurture and support him, he is in serious trouble. When I care for him properly, he will get his needs met. When his needs are met, he lives in a state of health, experiencing the world in a relaxed manner. On the other hand, this boy whose picture I carry will become more and more desperate if I don’t pay attention to his needs, wants and feelings. He will feel stress if I ignore or mistreat him over a period of time. He will resort to desperate acts for relief. Just as people who are cut off from contact with others take desperate action to meet their need for human contact, so the boy in me will become desperate if I constantly ignore his needs. Just as this boy was dependent on parents to pay attention to his feelings and to treat them properly when he was young, so too my feelings as an adult send messages requiring attention from me. My sense of health and well-being is determined by how I respond to those messages. My choice of being on my side or on my case is critical to my sense of well-being. Since I relate to me every moment and in every situation of life, it is imperative that I recognize how I am relating to myself, and that I be on my side. Further, and equally important, is the recognition that how I relate to myself determines what I am willing to give and receive from others. In other words, I will not let in from others that which I am not giving myself, and I am not adept at giving others what I am not giving myself. The way I relate to me prepares me internally to give and receive. Until I have an appreciation of myself I will not fully receive another’s appreciation.

Denton was a cowboy from Missouri (pretty tough), but he understood gentleness:

Gentleness

Through the years, I’ve witnessed much unnecessary human suffering because people have learned new methods of personal and social change and used these new and effective methods in a self-critical manner. I want to caution against such abuses. For example, often when people learn that parenting deficits contribute directly to the problems they encounter in adult life, they use the information to blame their parents for their adversity. They feel anger and even rage toward their parents, thereby heightening their sense of alienation and separation. This alienation is usually greatest from parents, the very people who helped establish the basic ego strength necessary to recognize problems in the first place…What my years as a therapist have brought home to me is that even the best methods of understanding can be, and frequently are, used in a detrimental, hurtful way against one’s self or others. This has taught me that it’s of critical importance to decide to use new information/or me and not against me. Gentleness is one of the most powerful components in the learning process and the first and most important ingredient of change is learning to be gentle.

By gentleness I do not mean syrupy sweetness or con- descending one-upmanship. I mean sensitive acceptance of ourselves. With sensitive acceptance, creative options for dealing effectively with our situations will eventually occur to us. Gentleness is the lubricant of learning. We like to be touched, talked to, and engaged gently. When gentleness is the rule rather than the exception in life, we have a wondrous sense of well-being, value, purpose and a general enthusiasm and zest for living. This is true of both psychological and physiological functioning. When gentleness is indeed the rule rather than the exception we maintain a deep appreciation of life and experience.

His insight into psychotherapy was powerful:

In psychotherapy, confronting individuals with the right question is an art…
Defensive energy (feeling and acting defensively) is protective and reactive. Creative energy is pro-active and venturing. Criticism is an inefficient tool for change—it feels lousy and anyway, it doesn’t work. This being the case, I decided to look for positive, creative processes to facilitate change. In general, those who come to therapy have usually had any number of people tell them what they really “should” do, with plenty of discussion about everything they are doing “wrong” thrown in for good measure. They are usually in pain and arrive with detailed lists of what is wrong with them. They almost always come after having been on their case; they feel miserable, victimized and are without hope They report having tried to make changes and may even have experienced initial success, but find they are unable to sustain those changes, Finally, they come for psychotherapy to unscramble the past and discover how that past impinges on the present. While the people coming for therapy do indeed have circumstances and events in their past that need to be unscrambled, the circumstances and events need to be seen as symptoms rather than causes. The cause of their esteem problems is the accustomed practice of self-criticism — being on their case. The process of psychotherapy tracks symptoms to cause. Once the cause is established, people begin the work necessary to restore their systems to healthy functioning.

(Excerpted from Able & Equal: A Gentle Path to Peace by Denton Roberts, Frances Thronson) 

Godspeed, Denton. If anyone deserves to go to Glory, it’s you.

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