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Thursday, October 31, 2019

My Tremendous Issues with Byron Katie's "The Work"


Byron Katie 2
Byron Katie, author of The Work

There's this thing called "The Work" written by a woman named Byron Katie that has gained traction in the world in general and more recently among my social circles, with people talking about how much they love the book, and others giving classes in it, trying to teach it to others.

The basis of her teachings is this epiphany she had:
"I discovered that when I believed my thoughts, I suffered, but that when I didn't believe them, I didn't suffer, and that this is true for every human being. Freedom is as simple as that. I found that suffering is optional. I found a joy within me that has never disappeared, not for a single moment."
She calls this process of her epiphany, "The Work".
"Katie's experience, as described in her book Loving What Is, is that all suffering is caused by believing our stressful thoughts. This, she says, puts people into painful positions that lead to suffering, as she recognized to be the case with herself. Through self-questioning, she describes how a different, less-known capacity of the mind can end this suffering."

As someone who talks about mental health and therapy a lot, you'd probably think that I'd be a big proponent of this. Why not promote something that increases your mental well being?


And you know what? On the surface, it actually sounds like a good idea. CBT therapy talks a lot about cognitive distortions, lies we tell ourselves. There are 15 main examples of cognitive distortions regularly used. Examples include:
  • Filtering
  • Black and white thinking
  • Overgeneralization
  • Jumping to conclusions
  • Catastrophizing
  • Personalization
  • Control fallacies
  • Fallacies of fairness
  • Blaming
  • Shoulds
  • Emotional reasoning
  • Fallacy of change
  • Global labeling
  • Always being right
  • Heaven's reward fallacy
Some of these are pretty straight forward and understandable, but others need explanation. See more here for explanations about each of these. 

One of the things done in CBT is that when you have a thought that is hurtful to you or otherwise causing you pain, you examine it to see if it is one of these cognitive distortions, and if it is, you work on seeing how accurate the situation is.

I strongly believe in this, and I just bought myself a children's book that teaches these CBT skills among others in a child friendly way.

So that seems similar to what "The Work" is talking about, no? Our thoughts make our life worse, so lets get rid of these negative thoughts and improve our life, no?

But nope. I am not a fan of "The Work".  At all. 

Because I think it's dangerous. Really dangerous. And can be used badly in the wrong hands. And I see that happening regularly.

Before I talk about my issue with it, why don't we go to the site for The Work and see the steps described there.

The work has a few steps, each with a few parts.  I am going to copy and paste from the site so no one thinks I'm misconstruing any words or didn't understand things properly.

First step in The Work, you notice things that are bother you.

Then you: 
Capture your stressful thoughts on a Judge-Your-Neighbor Worksheet using short, simple sentences.
Staying anchored in the situation, at a specific moment in time, write down your responses to the questions on the Worksheet, using short, simple sentences. Write without censoring yourself. Allow yourself to be as judgmental, childish, and petty as you were in that moment. This is an opportunity to discover the cause of your stress and emotions in that moment.

Then question.

Isolate one thought. Ask the four questions. Allow the genuine answers to arise.
To begin, isolate a statement for inquiry. Now apply the four questions. Begin by repeating the original statement, then ask yourself each question. This Work is a meditation practice. It’s like diving into yourself. Contemplate the questions, one at a time. Drop down into the depths of yourself, listen, and wait. The answer will meet your question.

Here are the 4 questions, which are considered to be the basis of "The Work".

Question 1: Is it true?The answer to the first two questions is just one syllable: either yes or no. Be still and find your honest yes or no as it arises to meet the question. If your answer shows up as a yes, move to question 2. If it’s no, then experience that no for a moment and then move to question 3.
Question 2: Can you absolutely know it's true?If your answer to question 1 is yes, ask yourself: “Can I absolutely know that it’s true?” Take this opportunity to look again. Shine the flashlight on that moment in time again, and see what reveals itself to you.
Question 3: How do you react—what happens—when you believe that thought?With this question, you begin to notice internal cause and effect. You can see that when you believe the thought, there is a disturbance that can range from mild discomfort to fear or panic. What do you feel? How do you treat the person (or the situation) you've written about, how do you treat yourself, when you believe that thought? Make a list, and be specific. (This is from Oprah's website's write up on The Work.)Close your eyes and witness the feelings, body sensations, and behaviors that arise when you believe that thought. Notice and report the answers to any of the following:
What images do you see, past or future, and what emotions or physical sensations arise as you witness those images?
How did you treat the other person?
How did you treat yourself?
Do any obsessions or addictions begin to appear when you believe that thought?
(This is from the site of The Work.)
Question 4: Who would you be without the thought?Closing your eyes, return to the situation. Take a moment to reflect, observe, and experience the situation again, this time without the thought. Who or what you would be without the thought? How would you see or feel about the other person? Drop all of your judgments. Notice what is revealed.

Then the "big part" of the work, the part that is supposed to be the most life changing, is the "turn around".
Turn the thought around:The "turnaround" gives you an opportunity to experience the opposite of what you believe. Once you have found one or more turnarounds to your original statement, you are invited to find at least three specific, genuine examples of how each turnaround is true in your life. (This is also from Oprah website's write up.)
To do the turnarounds, find opposites of the original statement on your Worksheet. Often a statement can be turned around to the self, to the other, and to the opposite. Not every statement has as many as three turnarounds. Some may have just one or two, and others may have more than three. Some turnarounds may not make any sense to you. Don’t force these.
Finding Opposites:The Original Thought: Paul doesn’t listen to me. Turns around to:
  • I don’t listen to myself.
  • I don’t listen to Paul.
  • Paul does listen to me.
Turnaround to my thinking:As you do The Work on subjects such as the body, disease, career, or God, when you come to the turnarounds, substitute the words “my thinking” for the subject. Example: “My body should be strong, flexible, and healthy” turns around to “My thinking should be strong, flexible, and healthy.” Isn’t that what you really want—a balanced, healthy mind? Has a sick body ever been a problem, or is it your thinking about the body that causes the problem? 
Turnaround to statement 6The Original Thought: I don’t ever want Paul to lie to me again. I don’t ever want to see him ruining his health again. I am willing to… I am willing for Paul to lie to me again. I am willing to see him ruining his health again. I look forward to… I look forward to Paul lying to me again. I look forward to seeing him ruining his health again. 
Finding Examples:Consider how each turnaround you find is as true as or truer that the original judgment. Find at least three specific, genuine examples of how each turnaround is true for you in that situation. This is not about blaming yourself or feeling guilty. It’s about discovering alternatives that can bring you peace.
Avoiding Turning around the Turn AroundThe original statement “He shouldn’t waste my time” may be turned around to “I shouldn’t waste my time,” “I shouldn’t waste his time,” and “He should waste his time.” Note that “I should waste my time” and “I should waste his time” are not valid turnarounds; they are turnarounds of turnarounds, rather than turnarounds of the original statement.

Anyone see a problem yet?

Ok, before I become immediately critical, let me give an example of when "The Work" would actually be helpful.

A person makes a statement that "I am a worthless individual."

So then they ask themselves "Is it true?" They might say yes, but then they're supposed to ask "Can you absolutely know its true?" and hopefully a person will be aware enough to say no, its not.
Then they ask themselves "How do you react when you believe that thought?" And then they might notice how they don't take care of their body, they speak badly about themselves, they get into relationships that hurt them, etc... and they think they deserve it, because they are worthless. Then the question "Who would you be without that thought?" the answer would hopefully be a happier individual, one who respects themselves and takes care of themselves and their body, etc... Then the turnaround to "I am a worthwhile individual" and "No one is a worthless individual" would be helpful.

Ok, this is pretty much the only time I actually promote using this process. When you have negative thoughts about yourself.

Because the rest of the time, it can get pretty downright dangerous.

I'm going to give an example of how dangerous this can be.

Lets say a person named Bonnie is really upset with her life. She writes in her journal:

"My husband never treats me respectfully. He always puts me down. He can get violent and ends up being scary. I don't feel safe around my husband.
In addition to that, my husband refuses to live within our means. We can't survive financially. My husband needs to start spending within our budget. I'm already doing as much as I can to survive financially and I just can't do anymore."

And then she tells her friend that she is upset by how her marriage is, and her friend tells her "Bonnie, you have to hear about "The Work!" It's a really amazing program that helps you turn around your life. It'll help you really improve things. Give it a shot!"

Then Bonnie listens to her friend who recommended the work, because for years, she's been told by her husband how all the issues in her marriage are her fault, everything is always her fault, and part of her believes that.
And then when a big "guru" is basically telling her that she can change her life around just by changing her thoughts, she says "Yea, that must be it. The only problem in my marriage is my attitude."

So she does The Work, and writes down the following statements:
1. My husband never treats me respectfully.
2. My husband usually puts me down.
3. My husband gets violent.
4. My husband can be scary.
5. I don't feel safe around my husband.
6. My husband won't live within our means.
7. We can't survive financially.
8. My husband needs to start spending within our budget.
9. I'm already doing as much as I can to survive financially.
10. I can't do any more than I am already doing.

Then she asks herself the 4 questions.

1 and 2. Is it true? Can you absolutely know it's true?

Let me tell you something.

Bonnie is an abused woman. One of the big things in abuse is gaslighting. Doubting oneself. So she may say to 1, yes, it's true, but then when she's told to question that, can she absolutely know its true, she may say "Well, I'm not so sure anymore."
But even if she says she absolutely knows its true, with number 2, she's still supposed to continue to number 3. How do you react when you believe that thought? And then to those, she probably answers to all of them that she's miserable and frustrated. Then question number 4. Who would you be without that thought? Of course, if she didn't believe she was disrespected, didn't believe he was violent, wasn't scared of him, wasn't upset at him for spending too much, wasn't worried about surviving financially, didn't want him to spend less, she'd be a "happy wife and be happily married".  And if she didn't believe she was already doing as much as she could, and that she couldn't do anymore, she'd then try harder to improve her situation. And since she wants to be a happily married wife, she's encouraged to drop all those negative thoughts and be a happier person. "It's all in your mind, all a matter of attitude!"

But if that wasn't bad enough, she's then encouraged to do "The Turnaround."

This is probably the most dangerous part of all.

Here's the turn around for those 10 statements.

1. My husband always treats me respectfully.
I don't treat my husband respectfully.
2. My husband doesn't put me down.
I usually put my husband down.
3. My husband doesn't get violent.
I get violent.
My husband is calm.
4. I'm not scared of my husband.
My husband is scared of me.
5. I feel safe around my husband.
My husband doesn't feel safe around me.
6. My husband lives within our means.
I don't live within our means.
7. We can survive financially.
8. My husband already is spending within the budget.
I need to start spending within the budget.
9. My husband is already doing as much as he can to survive financially.
I'm not doing as much as I can to survive financially.
10. My husband can't do more than he's already doing.
I can do more than I'm already doing.

As I mentioned before, a big issue in abusive situation is gaslighting, psychological manipulation making people question their own memory, perception, and sanity.

This is exactly what the turnaround is. Gaslighting your own freaking self. Because once you turned around these statements you made, you're then supposed to find proof that these turn arounds are true. And I'm sure you'll be able to find some examples of these being true, because no abuser is horrible every single second. And no abused person is perfect either. A common feature of abuse is someone being abused so badly and so consistently that they then snap, and then their abuser says "See, look, SHE is the abusive one." And this is basically what this turn around is.

In case you think I'm doing an extreme example, trying to "debunk" The Work using an abusive situation, my issue is specifically that. The people I've heard lauding The Work specifically use bad and unhealthy marriage situations of things in "The Work." And someone even read quotes from the book about how to deal with an abusive situation by using "The Work" to become more content with your life.

No!

If you're in an unhealthy situation, don't just "change how you perceive the situation". Get yourself out of the situation. Don't blame yourself for other people's bad behavior. Take responsibility for your own behavior when applicable, but then get yourself out of a bad situation.

Maybe if done with a therapist this can be done in a way that is more safe. But this encourages you to do it on your own, and by doing "The Work" on your own, you're likely to stay in unhealthy situations instead of fixing them. And if you recommend The Work to others, you're probably also encouraging them to hurt themselves.

Sorry. I don't believe in blaming people for the way others treat them. People who treat others badly are to blame, not the abused one.

The Work is, in short, victim blaming, gaslighting, and manipulative.

And I will speak out when I see people talking about it.

Because this is scary and dangerous.

12 comments:

  1. I think it does way more good than harm. If someone has trouble they can call for trained people to help them. Plus it's free. Often abused women can't pay the $50 + it costs. Plus this can be quicker than once a week therapy sessions.

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  2. Of course your logic is correct. However the work doesn't condone in any way staying in bad situations. Its purpose is only to reveal that the situation actually is happy or happened and that is reality. When you accept the situation you can then change it but it has to be seen as what is happening or did happen. The turnarounds are to expand brain neurons to help get you out of reverberating thoughts...not to condone violence or any type of abuse. The work says yes.you are being abused. Now do something about it

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  3. Wow! I had never heard of the book, and your explanation is frightening.
    I trust you're right. Miriam Adahan is very experienced in helping emotionally abused people. An article of hers I read about thirty years ago was a total game changer for me. I wonder what she says about the book.

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    Replies
    1. Unfortunately the writer of the article believes her thoughts that Byron Katie's method is bad. I attended a weeklong seminar she led in 2002. It provided a great method for me to instantly check my beliefs, and it has brought me much peace. I highly recommend The Work.

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  4. I understand what you are saying here. I do have to state I do not believe in victimization without self created patterns having some inherent part to play . Please understand this is NOT blaming the victim .. if someone was raped I would NEVER blame them , but an attempt to give them back their power and dignity is something the old victim abuse western therapy story never fully accomplished . Many in the old mental health professional models believe in the victimization of others who are predatory. The abused and abuser paradigm is crumbling under the weight of old therapy of "me vs. Them " . Ultimatley , We do create our perceptions and beliefs and have to take responsibility for that at least at some point along our journey to end our suffering . It's no easy task, and I understand it's easy to blame the bad guy. Our entire culture runs off this premise from cradle to grave . The disease of the western mind . Byron Katie is Buddhist and it's a different mentality than the victim vs hero archetype the west is familiar with .I do not practice " the work on clients" yet have found the turn arounds incredibly helpful personally and have seen unhealthy relationship patterns fall away in others . When the victim realizes they are co creators of their experiences . They begin to awaken to this consciously and archetypally they realize that it is "they themselves" , that are keeping this abusive pattern alive , then , and only then do they have the power to change it . Abuse starts from within, this may sound cliche yet true . If she is being abused it is because her mind is telling her it's okay. In some unconscious way she deserves it( even though we realize consciously this is not true ) . Her own realizations and the reversal work concerning how she treats herself can only help her . It does not make her more a victim of abuse as I felt you were implying . If someone is being abused I would definitley attempt to get out of the situation immediately. Yet , we have to work on ourselves ; if she believes as you say.. shes being abused , then she is allowing a reality of abuse into her life , your modality only tells her shes a victim . A poor wounded bird, nine times out of ten she will meet a second abusive male in her life .. this is statistically fact . So she herself is abuse.. victims are powerless . Aware and responsible souls who awaken to what they are creating can be set free . This is not victimizing the victim . The good guy bad guy paradigm will only go so far . There is another way . If you try not to look at the reversal work from a concious place of choice or power or victim vs abuser . You may have a different understanding . Thank you for bringing your attention to this .

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  5. You are clinically correct in raising these questions, and this type of work may not be appropriate for someone in situations you describe, but you grossly misunderstand the premise which is to deal with one's *own* thinking about any given circumstance and then proceed from that point. If the answer to question #2 is still "Yes this (abuse) is true." Then The Work is done and other decisions need to be made (like planning an exit strategy, couples counseling, etc., depending on the details). The Work is a means of taking responsibility for what *is* one's own thoughts/actions and to hold others accountable for theirs - Byron Katie even states, "There's my business, their business, and God's business." And "my business" is what's explored in any individual's work. If abuse is happening, the first step is leaving the situation, the recovery afterwards, as you know as a counselor, will be years of work in which The Work can be a great tool, among others. As with any modality, it will not fit every situation. The issue is not The Work itself; it is with the potential for it to be misused or misunderstood - so using a platform such as this to describe its limitations is an excellent idea.

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  6. I would live to talk with you more about your feelings and the ideas you have about the work. When I inquire about my thoughts add beliefs and meditate on the questions my experience is illuminating. I would invite you to watch some of the videos on the website to see if seeing the process in action is useful for you. Or not. Either way is fine. Thank you

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  7. I hope people would use common sense. Dont use the work if it makes you crazyer.

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  8. Skilled facilitators would not proceed as you described, but instead urge the person to question why she would stay. Katie says to meet your thoughts like little children, and if you have a thought like 'This hurts' then how do you respond? The best turn around to 'he's violent' might be 'I'm violent (to me)' if I stick around. Get safe first, then question the thoughts that lead to emotional pain later if you like. I notice the majority of your feedback suggests to find a good facilitator rather than try to make inquiry work when you don't get it.

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  9. Sometimes people are unhappy and afraid for perfectly valid reasons and no amount of positive thinking can solve some problems totally outside of our control. Indeed simplistic solutions can compound the issue by adding guilt and a sense of failure to control the situation into the mix. Moreover, the more strongly we adhere to our own belief systems whether that be religious or philosophical the harder it becomes to avoid judging others for not succumbing to our world view. You are right to call out blinkered-thinking Penny. Positivity and CBT can only ever go so far and has its limitations some of which can be dangerous. Well done.

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  10. I get what the author is trying to say, but I don't agree with the extent of her methods. I've done successful self-evaluation without the need to say negative things to myself. Who wants more of that?!
    I do understand exactly what you're saying, and thank you for saying it. Analysing your thoughts about problematic situations and then turning them around into more negative thoughts about yourself is not helpful. Ask anyone who's been depressed, abused, misunderstood, bullied etc (all of those for me) and the last thing they want or need is to add thoughts of more self doubt. Our thoughts need to be lifted up. We need to hear others say "it's NOT your fault" and to tell us the good things they see in us. Positivity is so much more powerful than negativity to someone who's been hurt, confused and downtrodden.

    ReplyDelete

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