Saturday, September 22, 2012

Theory of contracts - Part 3.

In the previous post on contracts KYLady makes some good comments about lying to self, others and breaking them.

Thanx for that as it allows me to clarify what I mean by lying to self. In one sense people lie to themselves regularly and indeed one could say it is the role of the counsellor to ‘expose’ these lies in some way. Any time one packages off part of their thinking, feeling or behaving to the unconscious you could say they are lying to self. They are pretending to self that they are one way when they are in fact another. Every projection is a lie to self as is every denial that we all have.

For example, I was working with a woman recently and she expressed much sadness about being sent to boarding school as a child. Within just a few minutes it became obvious to me (as an outside observer) she also had considerable anger at her mother for doing such a thing. She was completely unaware of this and she had used the defence mechanism of denial. To be angry at her mother was unacceptable to her so she moved it into her unconscious and then could pretend to herself that she was not angry. 

For some of us our own inner angry child is unacceptable. To deal with this we place it in the unconscious and then can pretend it does not exist.

I suppose one could call this a lie, and one of my jobs as the counsellor is to expose the lie and bring it into her conscious which I did. I had to say it on 4 different occasion before she acknowledged what I was saying. Finally she did let in what I saying and then expressed some surprise that she felt such anger.

However this is not really what I am talking about when it comes to contracts. I often suggest homework contracts to the client at the end of the session. When they make them I will often ask, “Do you think there is any chance you will do it” and people generally can answer that question quite readily and easily. Sometimes they say yes with certainty and other times they will say no. If they say no then I suggest they forget the contract. This is what I am really talking about when it comes to lying to self.

If you know you are not going to do it or there is quite a probability you wont then don’t make the contract in the first place. What I am communicating to the client is - Contracts are not promises or statements from you to me. If you know you wont do it then don’t make it and most people quickly see that is a senseless task, as indeed it is. I not only do this with homework contracts but will do it with every contract including a no suicide contract. If a person will not make a no suicide contract that does not mean they are necessarily a current suicide risk.

Child smoker

In this sense the process of contracting is changed. Consider the contract, 

“I will tell my husband I am angry he wont keep to the budget each week”.  

Bill Holloway makes this point about contracts:

My preference is that the client elaborates the objective to include behavioral confirmation that the objective had been reached. A simple question by the therapist is often useful, “How will you know and how will I know that you have achieved the change you desire and intend?” (end quote)

Others would agree with him as this is not an uncommon thing to do with contracts. The client and counsellor define what behaviors will show the contract has been completed. This works on the basis that the client may or may not carry out the contract and effort is expended in the contracting to establish if they have or have not. For example the wife may say, “I will sit down with him after dinner on Wednesday and tell him about my angry feelings”. After Wednesday the client and the counsellor will know if she carried out the contract or not.

The contracting I am suggesting here is that even before the contract is made the client has established they are going to complete it so there is no need to ask the question suggested by Holloway. The ambivalence or reluctance to complete the contract is dealt with before the contract is made rather than setting the contract and then seeing if it is completed or not. 

If a contact is a statement the individual makes to self then this alternative approach has to be the case. They will not make a contract in the first place if they do not intend to complete it.

rain girl

Finally KYLady:

If you break promises to self all the time I would suggest  you don’t make them. If you break most of them what is the point. If you stop making them, after some time you may find a new attitude developing in yourself about this.



  1. Thanks for explaining this better. I’ll give some thought to what you suggest, but it’s hard to imagine living life that way.

  2. Well you could make a contract like that KYLady. That you wont make promises to yourself any more. If you made such a contract do you think you would actually do it?


  3. No. I’m pretty sure my life would fall to ruin quickly, but it would be tempting to try it if I had no family responsibilities. I don’t know any other way to make myself do things I don’t want to do.

  4. There are ways and means to do these things KYLady. If I could have an example of a promise you made and then broke. I imagine that if you can modify this a bit you are going to feel better Tony

  5. Now that I am really thick in the middle of therapy I can really appreciate a lot of the posts you do. Because there are many things that I am going through with the therapist that have been spoken about on your blog. While I understand your explanation of lying to oneself isn't that really just being unaware.

    My trouble with making promises to myself is that I make a lot of them and then follow all of them up which is stressful.

  6. Yes Linda, you could rephrase it as being unaware or being in the unconscious.

    Well maybe you could make a contract not to make so many promises. Or at least have a promise free zone or time


    1. Another contract? I have a few on the go. ha ha

    2. You are right not too many contracts all at once!

  7. Tony - I could give you thousands of examples, but I’ll pick something less incriminating :)

    The only thing I hate more than sitting through teleconference meetings at work, is scheduling meetings that I have to facilitate. It’s a real war with myself to get the task done. Day after day, I promise myself I won’t leave the office until it’s done. Day after day, I leave without getting it done. Usually on the last possible day, I just do it because it’ll make me look bad if I don’t.

  8. That does sound very emotionally draining KYLady, something needs to be done about this. Maybe next time you could make a contract to do it on the last day and then you don't have to break all those promises on the days before.

    The other thing of interest to me is your comment

    'war with myself'


  9. Your reply made me laugh. Don’t put off until tomorrow that which you can do today. It’s the mantra of effective time management. Maybe my war is with the clock and calendar more than it is with myself. If only I had a time machine...but since I don’t, maybe I will run a test with something less critical than a big meeting and see what happens.

  10. That sounds like a good idea and let me know how your test run works out

  11. Tony - it seems that forcing myself to not make promises about getting things done ahead of a deadline makes me abnormally productive. I’m afraid I’ll forget to do the task so I just go ahead and do it. Maybe this is some sort of Hawthorne Effect. It’s kind of a good thing though…I’m not complaining.

  12. Well I am glad for you KYLady and it does seem like a good thing. It could be the Hawthorne effect or it could be that you have allowed me to take control in a little way of how your ego states relate to each other.