Read the article:

  1. Introduction
  2. Brain and context
  3. Other theories
  4. Examples
  5. Chaotic emotions
  6. Left and right
  7. The observing self »
  8. Organising idea
  9. References

The REM state

Caetextia and CFS

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The observing self

For some years, whilst teaching psychotherapy, we have been using the term observing self — awareness of awareness itself. The observing self is different from our thinking self, emotional self or functioning (physical) self. It is outside these, yet experiences all of them. Arthur Deikman expressed this beautifully as follows: “The most important fact about the observing self is that it is incapable of being objectified. The reader is invited to try and locate that self to establish its boundaries. The task is impossible; whatever we can notice or conceptualise is already an object of awareness, not awareness itself, which seems to jump a step back when we experience an object. Unlike every other aspect of experience — thoughts, emotions, desires, and functions — the observing self can be known but not located, not ‘seen’.”10

The observing self is a waking state in which we dissociate from the external world and become aware of being aware, entering the daydreaming (REM) state just enough to allow us to review different aspects of reality — to see multiple contexts. But if we were to become absorbed to the same extent as when we are dreaming, our sense of reality would disappear. While daydreaming, our brains are still contextually aware, so that, when we stop introspecting, we know very quickly where we are and can reorient ourselves. Whereas, in the dream state, we are totally ‘associated’: completely lost in the dream.

Accessing the observing self is something that caetextic people have great difficulty doing because it involves focusing on something specific and then defocusing, to see a bigger context; then, whilst holding the bigger focus in mind, focusing back down again. When we give our lectures, for example, we are totally focused on the point we are making at any one time but, every so often, we have to defocus: we must open up our minds to see where we are in terms of the work that has to be covered that day, assess whether we are being fully understood, whether it will soon be time to stop for lunch, etc. This continual process of focusing, defocusing and refocusing keeps us aware of the bigger context.

Those who struggle to see context cannot detach or dissociate. This is why certain psychotherapy techniques are ineffective with at least some caetextic clients. The powerful technique we know as the rewind technique, which can effectively neutralise even the most severe symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD and phobias), involves guided imagery and dissociation. First, we deliberately emotionally arouse the client, by momentarily focusing them on the traumatic memory that is bothering them, and then help them to achieve a state of physiological calm in which they are guided to defocus, so that they can view the traumatic memories in a dissociated way. The technique requires the client to set up two different streams of attention: seeing themselves on a screen and ‘fast forwarding’ through the traumatising event(s), and going backwards very fast through the same event(s), until there is no longer emotional arousal associated with the memories. This technique, when correctly carried out, is highly successful for most people, leading to a cessation of their post-traumatic stress symptoms, such as panic attacks and nightmares; however, it doesn’t seem to work for many people with caetextia. That must be because the process is dependent on the patient’s ability to maintain different perspectives simultaneously.

Organising idea »