Friday, November 20, 2009

Becoming a "Self Whisperer"

Well, you may accuse me of having sentimental tastes in film, but I really did enjoy the 1998 movie with Robert Redford, called The Horse Whisperer. It's about a reclusive Montana rancher who has an almost mystical ability to gently connect with and rehabilitate horses (and humans?) who are wild, traumatized, or out-of-control.

Since 2002, a dog trainer named Cesar Millan has called himself "the dog whisperer," and has a TV show, website, and has sold millions of books. His approach is basically one of gentle, calm authority: maintaining clear and consistent boundaries without losing one's cool or becoming excessively punitive. Mind you, I see that there is a little bit of debate about some of his techniques. And it's a bit dicey to apply animal training ideas to humans.

Recently, however, people have been trying to generalize these ideas a little bit, to the subject of parenting. Hence the idea of becoming a "child whisperer." Many parents have unhelpful interactions with their children: perhaps there are behavioural or discipline problems, but often times the parents are losing their cool, the parents are resorting to excessive and ineffective punishments, or the parents are giving a lot of praise but without any discipline. Sometimes the timing of praise or discipline is out of synch with the child's behaviour. Some methods of discipline may be harmful to both child and parent. Sometimes misbehaving children seem to be ruling the house, leaving the parents frustrated and exhausted. An exhausted parent in this situation may end up just spending less and less time parenting, in order to find distractions from the problems, or in order to escape. While respite is necessary, this tactic would of course make the parent-child dynamics even worse.

Here's an article from the New York Times on this:

I would like to generalize this idea one step further, to consider ways to become a "self whisperer."

This may involve nurturing a sense of calm, gentle understanding and authority over the various forces within your own mind:

-in this sense exercises to relax or meditate need not be considered exercises in tolerating an unhealthy state, but rather exercises to produce a stance of calm, loving, gentle authority, which is ideal in "self-whispering."

-part of the process may involve setting very clear boundaries within your own mind, without becoming excessively punitive, bossy, critical, or authoritarian towards aspects of yourself or others. Various therapy styles can help in this sense, including cognitive-behavioural ideas. Methods of non-harmful self-discipline may need to be learned and practiced.

-it can be important to have "respite", but it will be important "to do activities together" with the more challenging aspects of your mind, to be an effective "self whisperer." There needs to be time for reflective, empathic dialog with self, provided there is a benevolent structure, healthy boundaries, and clear safety rules.

--I'll have to edit this posting a bit, I think it's in a formative stage right now, but I thought I'd put it up here as the start of an idea I found enchanting in the moment--

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Cesar Milan, the "Dog Whisperer" had some amazing insights into training dogs. I use many of his techniques with my dog and since doing so have seen huge improvements (though there are still some challenges and room for's hard work training a puppy)

I now see, after having read this post, many of his ideas could be very useful for "retraining" a critical/authoritative tendency I have when it comes to self-talk/training.

On his show and website the best advice he gives is that when training a dog to"..always project a calm-assertive energy". As soon as I realized this, and stopped getting super stressed out when my dog challenged my training, his learning fell into place and I was able to correct a very difficult behavioural problem in less than a week, after months of failed training sessions to correct the unwelcome behaviour.

I am going to try to become a calmer, more assertive and loving "self whisperer"...thanks for the inspiring idea.