Do you repeat the same patterns in every relationship? Do you and your partner experience the same reactions to each other over and over again? If your answer is yes to either, or both, of these questions, then you might be stuck in a trance. If you want to drop your relationship drama, read on and learn how you can break free of the unconscious trances that seem to rule your relationships.
What Is a Trance?
In the book, Trances People Live, author Stephen Wolinsky explains how many of our problems and symptoms are related to unconscious trances that rule behavior. Wolinsky defines a trance as “a narrowing, shrinking, or fixating of attention.” Being in a trance is like seeing only a limited, narrow spectrum. While in trance, our perspective and our sense of selfhood become constricted. Because our attention is so narrow, we are unable to draw on many of our inner resources. What we need to learn is that we are the creators of our own trances — and we can transcend them.
State of Trance
Not all trance states are bad. In fact, many are quite pleasant. Take, for instance, Wolinsky’s example of the “cute-kitty trance.” You’re walking along and see someone who has a box of kittens. You stop to admire them. Twenty minutes go by before you “snap” out of your trance and move on with your day.
Wolinsky asserts that we spend most of our time experiencing a “continuum of trance states — some pleasant, many not — in which we chug along in a bumpy series of identifications and attachments,” moving from pleasant trances, such as the cute-kitty trance, to less pleasant ones, such as a “fight trance.”
Isn’t it odd how a fight with a partner often seems to follow the same pattern? You lose your tempers over some issue. Accusations fly. The day now “ruined,” you march off to your separate places to stew. Eventually, you decide to forgive one another and make up by saying “I love you” or “you’re the only one for me,” as you reassert your identity as a couple.
Within this fight trance, there are multiple deep-trance phenomena — mini-trances that you experience within the larger framework of the fight trance. For instance, your partner saying something as innocent as, “I wish you would fold your napkin,” might immediately remind you of an unpleasant childhood memory, which brings to mind the phrase, “Why can’t you do anything right,” which then narrows your focus to being picked on and incites your anger. Your partner then goes into his or her own trance reaction and the fight trance intensifies.
Although painstaking, taking apart these phenomena through careful observation is the first step in breaking free from the web of fear and frustration you may be feeling.
Deep-trance phenomena are the means by which you shrink yourself down to limited states — this is when you mistakenly believe things such as ‘I’m a loser,’ ‘I’m not smart enough,’ or ‘I can’t get close.’ To break free, we must bear “witness” to our own trance behavior. The following exercises are designed to help you identify the symptoms of your trances, to take control of them, and, ultimately, transcend them. To help you get started, think of beginning the exercise as you would a meditation.
1. Find a comfortable position either sitting or lying down.
2. Settle in and begin to follow the ideas, thoughts, pictures, and dialogues that pass through your mind. (In this self-guided meditation, you can also choose to begin by focusing on a specific issue, for instance, the fight trance you experience in your relationships.)
3. Allow yourself to observe your mind’s activity without interference.
4. Once you have mastered this, begin to take notice of each thought, picture, or idea as symptoms of your trance, and assign each one a label. For example, if you start thinking about childhood, label it regression, or if you start thinking about the future, label it time-distortion. The point is to begin to take note of the different aspects of your trance experiences.
5. The last part of the exercise involves consciously recreating your symptoms. For example, if you hear an internal voice say, “I’m not good enough,” recreate the voice in your mind and repeat the phrase several times. Then let it go. You can do the same thing with a picture that pops into your head or a sensation you feel in your body. Recreate the phenomenon, and then let it go.
Once you see yourself as the creator of your trances, you’ll be able to move beyond their effects, and improve the way you relate to yourself and others.
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