At first glance, the Three Principles might look like another form of self-help.Actually, they’re the complete opposite. So many of us who eventually find the Three Principles have been down the self-help road. In an upcoming episode of the Stop Suffering About podcast, Jonelle Simms addresses this, referring to herself in the past as a ‘self-help junkie’.
I can relate. Name a self-help strategy and I’ve done it. (Talk therapy, EMDR, EFT, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, self-compassion practice, radical acceptance, traditional life coaching…) I think the only thing I didn’t try was NLP. I probably would have got around to it eventually.
When I stumbled across this understanding I noticed right away people were saying it wasn’t self-help, which puzzled me. From the outside it looked a lot like self-help. What was the difference?
It’s all about the foundational beliefs
In self-help, aka traditional (or old paradigm) psychology, the premise (and innocent misunderstanding) is that adult humans are broken, to one degree or another.
We have troubling or traumatic experiences and those experiences damage our psychology, our well-being, our sense of self or self-esteem. In order to get back to an unbroken state, or a state as close to unbrokenness as we can get, we need to focus on those traumatic or troubling experiences, pull them into the present day, and apply healing to them, the same way we apply salve or stitches to a flesh wound.
Often the psychological wound may seem healed for a while, but it was my experience that when I used this approach, my wounds would fade into the background for a while, but then always resurface.
It didn’t matter how much work I did to heal myself of the pain of those experiences, they could always reappear, like a scar suddenly tearing open again.
Managing all my wounds and past trauma, and fearing they might resurface, was a full-time job. And all that managing actually compounded my problems, like overeating, because I needed to soothe myself from all the managing I was doing.
No Self-Help Needed
In this new paradigm of psychology, the foundational belief is that we are all, always, whole and healthy. There is never anything broken about any of us.
Our experience of life comes from the inside-out, rising up within us, moment to moment, each thought and feeling followed by another fresh one in the next moment.
We live in the feeling of our thinking, not in the feeling of our experience.
Because fresh thought is always available to us, there’s no need to ‘process’ or hold onto our thoughts about our past trauma. Sure, we may have thoughts about troubling events come up, and that’s okay. We’ll feel sad, scared, lost – all the things humans feel.
The difference is that we can be fully present with those feelings without having to do anything about them. Thoughts rise up. We feel the resultant feelings from those thoughts. And then the next thought rises up.
I love Amanda Jones’ metaphor from her book Uncovery, which explains the difference between the approach of these two paradigms so beautifully. She points out that the flow of Thought (the energy of the universe coming to life within us) is like a river running through our lives.
At times the river can be muddy, with bits of debris floating in it. And at other times it is clear and clean and fresh.
We don’t have control over what the state of the river is at any given moment.
Sticking with this metaphor, in the old paradigm we would go to the river with a bucket, scoop out some water and carry that around with us. If the river was churned up that day, we might end of carrying around a bucket of muddy water filled with leaves and sticks and other crap.
In the new paradigm, we see that we don’t need to do that. The river will keep flowing. We don’t have to grab onto any part of it. Sticks and leaves and other debris will still float by (difficult experiences) but we don’t have to latch onto them. We can notice them, knowing that at some point, coming down the river is fresh water.