How You Can Change (And Save Your Relationship)

American relationship therapist Terrence Real believes that we are too busy with ourselves, so we often lose sight of what we have in common, even in relationships. Contrasted in his new book “We”.

You may have heard a variation on the idea that before you can love another person, you must first learn to love yourself. Family and Relationships therapist Terence Sr. disagrees. The way to save your relationship is not to work on improving yourself, but by working together. Continuing to focus on yourself will only make the problem worse. Using psychology, history, and couples stories, Real helped his practice, in his new book helps readers transcend trauma and stress and shift from thinking in terms of you and I, to awareness. to become “we”.

The text below is taken from the “The Myth of the Individual” chapter of “We”.

For centuries, the idea of ​​the individual has dominated Western culture. I’m present. I, Terry, this guy sitting hunched over his laptop is different from the others. I am an entity, bound by the circumference of my body. The word ‘individual’ actually comes from the word ‘individual’.indivisible(indivisible). I stop at my skin. or not? Within the confines of my body you will find my mind. Is this where my soul also lives? Does my mind have a shape and does it end with my body? The great anthropologist Gregory Bateson gave us the example of a blind man who used a stick to find his way through the streets. According to Bateson, the wand and the information he received from it must have been part of his mind. The famous philosopher and cognitive scientist Thomas Metzinger began his investigation of the nature of consciousness with a detailed description of the well-known “rubber hand” experience, which he again tried with himself as a subject. Describe it this way:

Participants saw a rubber hand lying on the table In front of them, their hands (like rubber Hand, i.e. left or right hand) behind a curtain. The The visible rubber hand and the hand that the subject is not It can be seen, he was hit by a sensor at the same time … After a certain period of time (sixty to ninety seconds in my country case) the famous rubber hand illusion occurs. suddenly Do you feel that the rubber hand is your hand, And feel the repeated caresses in that rubber hand. You also feel a full “virtual arm” – that is, a connection From your shoulder with the fake hand in front of you.

He may have ended up having Thomas on his fingertips – but at which fingertips, the real fingers or the rubber ones? We know from cognitive science that what we think of ourselves does not come from direct experience, but from a set of feelings and images – the images we have of ourselves. We also do not experience the world directly, but it is filtered by our accumulated knowledge. We acknowledge the chair for being a chair. It falls into a category we already know. Without that cultural knowledge, we would see the world as a newborn sees it, as light, shadow, shapes, and smells come to us without or with little definition. In this respect, we are all kind of narcissists. No one sees himself firsthand – our subjective experience is filtered through the accumulated knowledge. Most people see themselves as their physical bodies and selves. But that same image is being assembled by our mind.

Your personality is subject to change

It is clear in cognitive science that what we ourselves see is really a variable figment of self-representation, of images. The good news is that the way we see ourselves and the world can change drastically very quickly — and with the necessary support, even permanently. In the past, psychologists believed that it was difficult to change personality once it was formed. They hypothesized that the neural pathways created in the brain were repaired. That all changed with the discovery of neuroplasticity. We realized that mainstream neural networks can open up and take on a new form – that is, they can take in new information and restructure.


The expression that is often quoted is, “Neurons fired together communicate with each other.” Then the neuroscientist says, “Stage becomes a trait.” Neuroplasticity is most important in psychotherapy today. I have seen in my practice that unlocking neural pathways can lead to profound change, entirely new traits and new behavior, sometimes even in a matter of minutes.

“Then I will stop immediately.”

Ernesto, a fifty-six-year-old Latino, was a monster. Not physically, fortunately, but it was a yell, someone who took a stand and bit you in the face with nasty things. Someone who has committed verbal abuse. “It happens to me too quickly,” he says, after we had about three-quarters of a ninety-minute consultation with his wife Maddie — also a Latina and a few years younger than him. Ernesto sounds like a lot of the verbal abuse agents I’ve listened to over the years.

The conversation lasted about an hour, and I finally asked him a question that hit the mark: “Who taught you to be so obnoxious and mean?”

“Do you mean family or something?” stutter. “Well, my mother died when I was eight, and my father remarried. Yes, I think she was my stepmother.

“how are you?”

Ernesto smiles and shakes his head. “Oh, it was the worst and the worst and the worst-“

I interrupted him, “So it was her.”


“I taught you to act like this?”

‘Yes I think so.’

“And what does it look like to see it?” I try to look into his eyes, but he looks at the ground. I sit in front of him and feel ashamed. Blush. “Welcome?” I ask quietly. not say anything.

‘Where are you now?’ I will ask him shortly. ‘What is happening?’

“Oh,” he said, no longer smiling. ‘I feel ashamed.’ I feel ashamed for anyone to see me the way I see her. He shakes his head and looks back. I wonder what he sees and what he remembers.

“I’m ashamed of myself,” he says.

We call this shame a healthy feeling of guilt or remorse. If you had sensed it earlier, it would have stopped you. Does this make sense?’

He nodded, still looking at the ground.

“Do you have a picture of your stepmother?”

‘with me? number.’

“Can you put your hands on one?”

“Yes, it works,” he says.

“Well, I’d like you to do the following: You can keep attacking your wife, I can’t stop that. But the next time you feel a seizure coming, I’d like you to take a picture of your stepmother, look her in the eye, and say, ‘I know I’m about to hurting my wife. But being like you now is more important than my wife to me.” Say that, and then you can start cursing if you have to.

Ernesto’s head rose, and he looked at me. ‘this is not true. Then I stop immediately. She is no more important than my wife. He is silent and extends his hand and puts her in a physical lap. He held his hand and they looked at each other for a moment.

That was about fourteen years ago. Ernesto has not been scolded since.

From an adapted child to a wise adult

According to neurobiologists, it takes two things to open and open a neural pathway. The first is that the implicit must be changed to the explicit. Sometimes you need help figuring out what you don’t see. But you have to be open to feedback. Second, there has to be some kind of reaction; There has to be a feeling that something is missing, a feeling of, “Oh no, I don’t really know if I really want to keep doing that.”

In my conversation with Ernesto, I helped him clarify what was implied by expressing his repetition of his stepmother’s behavior. Ernesto provided the reply. Once he did, according to the latest studies, it took about five hours to absorb the new knowledge and form a new neural pathway: “Oh my God, I won’t repeat that misery I grew up in!”


The moment he winced, Ernesto woke up We. This was the woman he loved and yelled at. What was he thinking? With my help, he moved from his left hemisphere to both hemispheres. He was guided by the relationship of his right hemisphere, but the practical wisdom of his left hemisphere also joined. With my help, he remembered the relationship he was a part of. This is our optimal state in a relationship. Ernesto transformed from his devoted child – the immature part of him that internalized and released his stepmother’s wrath – to the wise adult. He borrowed my prefrontal cortex until he woke up. Quite simply, he borrowed my mind. We often do this to others. The current research clearly shows that we are not isolated, confined individuals. Our human brains – and in fact the brains of most mammals – are built to put things back together.

relational brain

Interpersonal neurobiology is the study of how our brain and nervous system are shaped by our relationships during childhood, and the way relationships influence our neurobiology as adults. We discover that the brain exists in a social context. Partners in intimate relationships regulate each other’s nervous system, cortisol (stress hormone) level, and immune response. Safe relationships improve immunity and reduce disease, not to mention reduced depression and anxiety and increase overall well-being. Unsafe relationships make you tense and can make you sick.


Studies have confirmed what most parents already intuitively know, that the neural development of infants and young children depends on love and stimulating interaction. From the first weeks after birth, babies are actively trying to provoke interactions. Parents provide what one psychoanalyst called “a sufficiently supportive environment for the child.” A child falls off his bike and watches a caregiver’s expression to see how bad the scratch is. Parents automatically comfort children and teach them to see perspective – the pain will go away – and to regulate their emotions. According to pioneering child monitoring researcher Ed Tronic, “Developmental researchers use the phrase ‘neuroskeletal’ to describe caregivers of young children. A child’s first relationships determine the nature of communication—they literally build the brain.”

Every day in my office I see what happens to people who were not helped as children to regulate their emotions. They are generally isolated from their emotions. Without additional help from an adult’s nervous system, they find (and still find) emotions — their own and often those of another person — overwhelming.

Read more? weTerence Real (Spectrum, €22.99, ISBN 978900383665)

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