Problem #1: Invalidation

Posted on April 19, 2012


A coaching colleague of mine wasn’t really a big fan of The Work. Although she completely understood the process intellectually, and she witnessed a lot of changes in others who tried this tool, she kept getting stuck when she tried it on her own lizard thoughts.

“I don’t get this. This seems to work for others but not for me. And I’m a life coach!” she told me. But as she continued to describe her struggles, I realized what the problem was.

The problem wasn’t the four questions or the Turnaround. The problem was that she was using The Work to invalidate the way she felt. Since then, I keep an eye out for clients who, in their quest to clean-up their lizard thoughts, may do the same thing.

Although this tool is Byron Katie’s brainchild, it is by no means all that original. Cognitive-behavioral therapists have been using variations of Katie’s thought-challenging questions for years.

The whole point of this tool is to get you to accept reality and yourself. Invalidation is a form of rejection so if you try to use The Work to invalidate yourself, you will come up against some resistance. And you should. Invalidating yourself isn’t part of the process.

Here are some examples of how you could get stuck using this tool and what you can do instead.

Situation: Something happens and you feel sad, angry, hopeless, rejected or some other negative emotion. You apply Byron Katie’s “should” philosophy to The Work, but when you turn it around, you come up with something that reads like: X should have happened.

For example: I should have lost my job. My dad should have died. My childhood pet should have been put to sleep.

You’ve done The Work correctly. It’s just that the Turnaround isn’t something you can quite accept.

You don’t feel like you should have lost your job; you were one of the best employees! You don’t believe that your dad should have died-you wanted him to walk you down the aisle. And it seems cruel to state that the loyal companion who has been there for you unconditionally since you were six years old should have had to be put to sleep.

So don’t accept this reality. You’re not ready to yet.*

Those of you who are familiar with Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’s model of the stages of grief know that there are a couple of feelings to fully process before you can get to acceptance, mainly denial, sadness and anger. I’ve tried to skip the uncomfortable feelings of grief and anger that accompany a loss and rush right onto acceptance but for me, it doesn’t work.

If it works for Byron Katie’s clients, then good for them. That’s their business. But your feelings are your business. If you try to reject them or invalidate them, they will surface again.

If you’re realizing that this is happening to you when you try to use this tool, stop using it. In fact, stop using any and all cognitive-behavioral tools because they won’t work. Let yourself feel whatever you need to feel, for however long you need to feel it.

Feeling the way you feel is part of self-acceptance. It is part of accepting the current reality. Accepting reality is a path to healing. Which is, actually, why Byron Katie created her tool in the first place.

*You can actually use The Work do undue The Work when you are putting pressure on yourself to accept something you’re not ready to accept. Try putting the thought, “I should do The Work” up to inquiry and see what happens. 

Posted in: Thought Work