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John is a 45-year old married father of two.  He has been a mid-level manager for 25 years and lost his job 6 months ago. In the dialogue below, (J) is John and (OMT) is the Option Method Teacher.

OMT: What are you unhappy about?  How can I help you?

J: I just can’t seem to get myself motivated.

OMT: Motivated to do what?

J: I really need to get out there and look for a new job. I got laid off last month from a job I’ve had for 25 years. I feel like I don’t even know where to start.

OMT: How do you feel about that?

J: Confused, frightened, angry – you name it – I’m all over the place. I guess mostly I’m just worried all the time. I wake up in the morning. I feel good for a minute and then I remember, I’m still unemployed and I immediately go into a tailspin of worry.

OMT: What are you worried about?

J: Everything. That I won’t be able to find a job. That I’m not doing everything I should be doing. That the kids are looking at me, like Daddy, why can’t we go on that skiing trip, or have birthday parties. That the unemployment will run out before I get a job. That my wife will have to go back to work. The list is endless.

OMT: So let’s start with one thing – the thing that you are most worried about.

J: I guess that would be that I will just never find a job.

OMT: What do you mean?

J: Well, I guess I don’t mean never. I mean that there wouldn’t be anything in my field.

OMT: And if you couldn’t get a job in your field, what is there about that you’d be worried about?

J: I know a lot of people are talking about reinventing yourself. But I don’t want to reinvent myself. I loved my work. I really want to find a job in my field.

OMT: OK, so that is really what you want, but if it happened that no jobs are available, why are you worried about that?

J: I think I’m afraid I can’t make a successful transition to something else. Or it will take too long and we’ll run out of money.

OMT: And if that happened, if you couldn’t make a successful transition and ran out of money, what is there about that, that you’re afraid of?

J: Well, it’s obvious, isn’t it.

OMT: What is obvious?

J: I couldn’t take care of my family. That scares the heck out of me. It’s the worst thing that can ever happen. I could lose everything, don’t you see that?

OMT: I hear that you believe you could lose everything, and I understand that you don’t want that to happen, but let’s look further at why you are saying that would be something to be afraid of.

J: Because so much is at stake; It affects everyone in the family. We could lose the house. We may have to move in with relatives, or worse, end up in a shelter.

OMT: And if that happened?

J: It would be devastating for everyone. I can’t even begin to imagine. OMT: And in all of things that you imagine, what is the worst thing – the thing you are most afraid of?

J: That I let everyone down. Their whole lives are changed because of me, and not for the better.

OMT: And if their lives changed as you describe, what is there about that that you’d be afraid of?

J:  I’d be a loser, a failure. OMT: What do you mean by a loser and a failure?

J: Well, I failed to provide for them.

OMT: And if you failed to provide for them, what would you be afraid of?

J: It would mean it was a terrible person.

OMT: Why would it mean that?

J: Because of me, they have to do without, they have to suffer. I can’t stand thinking that I might be the cause of that.

OMT: What can’t you stand about it?

J: I feel ashamed. I should have seen this coming. I should have hedged my bets somehow.

OMT: Okay, so now, looking back you see that, but if you didn’t see it at the time, and you lost your job perhaps as a result, why are you ashamed?

J: All I want is for my family to be happy.  Everyone we do is so that they’ll feel safe and secure.  Now I’ve taken that away.

OMT: What do you mean by that? What have you taken away?

J: How can they feel safe and secure when they don’t know if we can even still live in our house, if they’ll be going to the same school, even if we’ll have food on the table?

OMT: If they didn’t feel safe and secure because of the financial difficulties of the family, why are you ashamed about that?

J: I’m responsible.

OMT: Responsible for what?

J:  Everything. Making sure they have a good life.

OMT: What do you mean by a good life?

J: Giving them what they need to be happy.

OMT: And if you can’t give them certain things, why do you believe they would have to be unhappy?

J: I guess they wouldn’t have to be,  but I think they would be.

OMT: Why would you feel ashamed if they were?

J: People would look at me and say, I’m a bad father, look at how unhappy my children are.

OMT: What people?

J: I don’t know.

OMT: What’s the worst you can imagine?

J: It sounds crazy but I just keep thinking of what my father would say.

OMT: What would your father say?

J: That the most important thing a parent can do is take care of the family.

OMT: OK, so that’s important, but if for some reason you aren’t doing it, why do you believe you have to feel ashamed even if your father thinks that?

J: I know this sounds funny, but I feel as if I’m letting him down.

OMT: Why does it sound funny?

J: I’m a grown man – why do I care so much what my father thinks?

OMT: Why do you?

J: I just keep hearing his voice in my head.

OMT: What do you hear him saying?

J: Just that he is disappointed in me.

OMT: How do you feel about that?

J: I don’t know, it’s just the feeling of disappointing him. I just feel bad I guess. Bad that I let him down.

OMT: What is there about letting him down that you feel bad about?

J: I want him to love me and be proud of me.

OMT: So if you want that, when you think you don’t have it, why do you believe you have to feel bad?

J: You mean I don’t have to?

OMT: What do you think?

J:  Maybe I don’t, but something is tugging at me.

OMT: What is tugging at you?

J: It’s like I’m saying what he thinks doesn’t matter.

OMT: And does it matter?

J: Yes, very much.

OMT: What are you afraid it would mean if you didn't feel bad?

J: (laughs) I can't separate the two things. If I didn't feel bad? I guess I'm afraid it would mean I didn't care.

OMT: Why do you believe it would mean you didn't care?

J: I guess it wouldn't have to mean that. I just always thought it would. But what occurs to me now is that maybe I actually don't care.

OMT: So let's be clear. What do you care about and what don't you care about?

J: Well, generally, I do care about Dad's opinions. I know he cares about me and has my best interests in mind. I go to him to ask his advice all the time. But what I don't want to care about, really, I guess, is if he might be disappointed in me. I don't want to get hung up about that.

OMT: What do you mean by "hung up?"

J: I don't want to feel bad if he is disappointed but I want him to think well of me.

OMT: So you want him to think well of you, but you don’t want to feel bad if he doesn't?.

J: That’s right. I guess I’d like to respectfully disagree with him.

OMT: How do you feel about that?

J: Actually, really great.

OMT: So, do you still feel ashamed about being out of job?

J: No, I see that I don’t have to, that that has more to do with what my dad thinks. But I’m not sure I can say that I don’t feel bad at all.

OMT: What do you feel bad about?

J: I guess I can see that I don’t have to feel bad, but I feel reluctant to drop it.

OMT: What are you afraid it would mean if you dropped it?

J: If I didn’t feel bad, I just want people, especially my dad, to know that I am doing my best, that I take my responsibilities seriously.

OMT: Why do you believe you need to feel bad to do that?

J: I guess I just never thought of it any other way.

OMT: And now?

J: I can only do my best.

OMT: And if they don’t know what you want them to know?

J: I guess that will just have to be okay.

OMT: Is it okay? Why would it be okay?

J: I’d like them to know it but if they don’t, I don’t have to agree with them that I’m a bad person.

OMT: How does that feel?

J: It feels good. I like remembering that I’m allowed to feel good about myself.

A woman in her late thirties came to me with a complaint of initial panic attacks.  She was rapidly becoming unable to travel out of a very circumscribed area and this experience was threatening every aspect of her everyday life. Upon opening up a dialogue with her about her situation several things came to light. She was in a long term relationship with a man with whom she had had a child, but with whom she was no longer in love. Instead, she was involved with another person whom she found much more compatible and loving. She was filled with guilt about her feelings and this was exacerbated by family members warning her of dire consequences should she surrender the financial security of her first relationship. The crucial pieces of the dialogue centered around how “bad” she felt for this man, who had not shown any real interest or affection for her in years and who often was away from home for long stretches of time. The dialogue went this way: F being Frank Mosca and S being Sally.

F: What is there specifically about your past that upsets you?

T: Well, you know, you have heard me speak of it. I had a stepfather who had his hands all over me when I was in my very early teens and this continued till I fled home at sixteen. And, I had a mother who was forever wringing her hands and entering a mental institution when the whole mess would be brought to her attention. So where should I start?

F: Where does it seem best for you to start?

T: Well, I really feel bad about what happened with my stepfather.

F: What do you mean?

T: You know, I felt dirty and ashamed and angry all the time and there didn't seem to be any way of escaping it or him.

F: If you are telling me that you still feel that way now, then which of the feelings you mentioned seem to be most distressing.

T:  Yeah, I guess I still do in many ways. And, I guess, the dirty, ashamed feelings are the worst.

F: In what way do you feel dirty and ashamed over what happened to you.

T: Well, I mean, shit, this guy was hitting on me all the time. I couldn't even do my homework for Christsakes. Why the fuck did he have to latch on to me?

F: What about his choosing you as the object of his physical desires is disturbing to you?

T: Well, come on now. Who needs this overweight, drunken jerk putting his hand in your pants, slobbering and feeling insulted when I would tell him to fuck off?

F: I do hear that you did not want his advances to you in any way. Still why do you feel disturbed that he made them?

T: (becoming angry and animated). Listen, you are damn straight I didn't want his advances. And I didn't do anything to egg him on. Get that straight too. Whatever happened came out of his head, not mine, do you understand!

F: Understood quite well, and therefore, why would you feel upset, or dirty and ashamed at the advances of a man whom you had no desire for in any way?

T: Where did he get off pulling that shit with me in the first place?

F: Are you asking why he was the way that he was?

T: Yes (now becoming more sad than angry). Why couldn't he just have left me alone?

F: Are you saying he was being a way he "ought not" to have been?

T: Sure, that much at least.

F: When we had spoken in earlier dialogues about your mother being a way she shouldn't have been, did you not come to feel a different way when you discovered that she was just being the way she knew to be given her own upbringing and beliefs at each moment of her life?

T: Yeah, I know, that was hard enough, but I could see it and feel it in her case, 'cause she went through a lot of shit like this herself as a kid. But somehow it seems different for him.

F: In what way is your mother being exactly who she knows to be any different from your stepfather being the way he knows to be?

T: Yeah, but damn it he was wrong and his being how he was was no excuse. F: What do you mean "excuse"? Does that mean anything other than you didn't want him to do what he did in any way shape or form?

T: Yeah it means that, okay. But I did not want that to happen; that's what I really mean.

F: Okay, Terri, I understand that, but since it did happen, what about it having happened is so distressing to you?

T: (now sobbing intermittently). I just feel sometimes so to blame as crazy as that sounds for all this having happened, like somehow I should have been more forceful. But, Jesus, things were so chaotic and sometimes even a hug and the promise of affection was better than the uncertainty going on all around, especially when my mother was having one of her "spells" and was so damn unavailable.

F: What about having felt some of his affection to have been comforting is so discomforting to you?

T: Well, it sort of pokes holes in my argument about being so adamant about this guy in the first place.

F: How does liking some of the things that you would like in any event, and not liking the things that you really don't want mean that you really did want what you did not want?

T: (quieter now). Well, I guess it really doesn't have to, but somehow I just can't get past this anger at being stuck with this whole mess.

F: In what way are you stuck?

T: I can't unstick this shit from out of my life. It's like it's just got to go on and on and everyone seems to feel like I've got to be all pissed and agonized over it. I'm just sick and tired of kicking it around again and again.

F: What are you afraid would happen if you were not unhappy about what happened to you with your stepfather?

T: Oh, come on now, how could I do that?

F: I am asking, would it mean anything about you if you were not unhappy about what happened with your stepfather?

T: (silence and a fairly long pause). Hmmm. Would it mean anything about me... Damn, you know, I really truly want to be rid of this thing. But how could it not mean anything about me if I wasn't upset. It would almost seem as if without that upset that I was saying that I didn't have the right to say I didn't want it. Almost like a betrayal of myself somehow. Seems like years and years of investing in the "situation" as we used to call it. Just a lot of people really feeling bad about it, about me, for me. Seems like almost that I would be kind of like "letting them down" you know, as nutty as that sounds when I say it.

F: Do you believe that?

T: I don't want to believe that.

F: Then, what would it be like for you to actually feel okay about what happened, especially knowing you didn't want and didn't like  what you didn't want and didn't like.

T: (begins to smile cautiously). I do feel better and I do feel more like it would be okay. Carrying that baggage around hasn't done anything for me. Running from what I thought it meant about me put me through two crazy marriages. No, I say it's okay to stop running. I can feel good and hell, I know what I know about what happened. I don’t have to feel bad just because others think that is the appropriate way for me to feel. Yeah, it feels good just to be rid of it.

F: Can you really feel that in your gut?

T: No, I'm really there, it's clear and I haven't felt this way since, well since never I guess. It's a new feeling.

Once Terri put to rest the sense that her present reality was in any way controlled by some hypothetical entity known as the past, she quickly put aside major unhappy beliefs about herself, many of which have already been and will be further described in this work. Again check the appendix for an outline of the belief paths in this and other dialogues. We can see these beliefs at work controlling us and feel the sense of liberation as we put them aside. Terri moved to another part of the country and began studies in an area that she had long thought she had not enough intelligence to qualify for. Her progress has been very gratifying to her as she looks forward to an exciting existence free of encumbrances of "past" pains and grievances; she is also living  without the dubious, useless mantle of victimhood to burden her free explorations of  happiness, a mantle our contemporary social mind seems to value so highly.

Allen was a young, successful lawyer who came in great distress because his wife had just left him. He was full of tears of anguish alternating with rage at his wife and the situation. He admitted all kinds of sins of neglect of his wife, even though he was a hardworking individual. He really wanted to be a way his wife wanted him to be now, but she had already withdrawn her affections and was adamant that she wanted a new life without him. He felt helpless; frightened that he could not have what he felt he so desperately needed, the love of this individual, the integrity of his family, the life that, despite his long hours of work and distraction, he felt he had been building all these years. What follows is a crucial portion of some weeks of option dialogues:

F: What about your wife's having left you do you find so painful?

A: What the hell do you mean? Wouldn't you feel pain if your loved one left you?

F: If I did, I would have my own reasons for doing so. What I am asking is what your reasons are for feeling that way.

A: Jesus, isn't it self evident. My god damn wife walked out. I fucked up and now there is no way I can put it all back together. How am I supposed to feel about all that?

F: Even though it may seem that you have no alternative but to feel the way you feel, still, what specifically seems to rankle you the most about your wife's leaving?

A: (now breaking down into tears). Ah shit, I fucked up. She kept telling me that she was unhappy and I kept ignoring what she said. I should have listened, I should have responded and now it is too late!

F: What do you mean when you say "you should have listened?"

A: Just what I said; she gave me warning and I ignored it.

F: When you were ignoring her warnings, as you put it, were you not doing in those moments exactly what you knew to do given all that you understood and believed to be important in those moments?

A: What difference does that make, I should have done otherwise.

F: How could you have done other than what you knew to do?

A: Well, I guess I couldn't have, but still now I feel I should have.

F: To what do you refer when you say you should have, the time when you were actually doing what you were doing, because that's what you knew to do, i.e., ignore her, or now, after the fact when you see the results of your choices at that time?

A: Ah shit, I don't know. Well, I know that I couldn't do anything other than I did, otherwise I would have, I guess, but somehow I still feel now that I should have. Just look at what happened as the result of what I did.

F: So you’re saying that if you knew then what you know now then you would have done differently?

A: Yes precisely.

F: But you just got through saying that you didn't know that, otherwise, as you said, you would have done differently. So then what could it mean when you say that you should have done things differently?

A: I guess what I mean is I wish now I had done things differently.

F: But since you didn't why are you unhappy about what you did do?

A: Damn it again, because of what happened from what I did. How many times do I have to say I fucked up!

F: So you are telling me that you love your wife and know that you want her in your life. Then let me ask you this, do you think it would mean anything about you if you were not pained about the loss of your wife from your life?

A: What the hell kind of question is that? If I wasn't in pain then how the fuck would I know she meant anything to me!

F: So then are you saying that your way of making sure that you stay in touch with  loving your wife is the degree to which you feel intense pain at her departure from your life?

A: (stops weeping and takes his head from between his hands and looks up more thoughtfully). Say that again, would you.

F: Are you saying that your way of making sure that you know you love your wife is the degree to which you feel pain at her leaving?

A: (considerably more sobered). Well I hadn't thought of it that way. Yes. But isn't that normal. I mean a wife walks out and I'm supposed to feel okay about that?

F: How do you want to feel? Even if you feel pain at her leaving, how would you want to feel if somehow, magically, I could create any feeling in you right now that you want to feel?

A: Well, put that way, yeah, I guess, no, I'm sure I would rather be okay with it.

F: Do you want to create pain to know that you love your wife? Do you not know you love her without the pain? When you first saw your child at birth, was it pain that you felt upon seeing her, or just the pure joy of knowing you loved her?

A: Yeah, no, well, I do. No, I know I love her without the pain.

F: Yes but I sense a hesitation in your voice. Is there any sense at all that to be okay with your wife's leaving would be wrong?

A: Well, it's more that I still find it hard to believe that she doesn't love me anymore.

F: Do you think it means something about you that she doesn't love you?

A: Well, yeah. If I hadn't been such a shithead then maybe she would have still loved me.

F: Are you saying that there is something wrong with you that she doesn't love you?

A: Yes, yes, that's it.

F: But weren't you being just exactly the person you thought you should be during  your marriage? And, although it may have turned out to be a mistake from her point of view, weren't you doing what you knew to build a life together, at least as you understood it over those years together?

A: Yes, but it didn't work. All that time at the job, I was too busy being successful and making us financially secure. (Pause, as he ponders that) But, as you helped me see, that's what I thought was important then.

F: And are you saying that now, at this moment, and from now on, which is the only time there is, that you might be wanting to do other than you did in the past?

A: Definitely. I have learned some new values, even if they may not, or will not save my marriage and I intend to live by them.

F: And how does it feel? Are you feeling freer in your gut about your wife's decision?

A: (taking time with an evident clear facial and body expression of growing lightness). Yes. I'm not yet sure that I accept this as okay, but there is no doubt about feeling so much better than an hour ago.

F: And what seems to still hold you back from giving full vent to your good feelings?

A: Well, shit, you know, it isn't as if my wife was all sweetness and light. There were things about her that I didn't like. She always played the role of the victim, the aggrieved party and I always seemed to be the unfeeling, insensitive schmuck. Then she would shut down, shut me out and refuse to discuss things even when I would take the time to pursue what was going on. "It's too late," she would always say, "Now it’s too late to talk about it and you'll just have to live with having caused me and the children all this distress, as always." And bingo, doors slammed and I'm standing there like a complete asshole.

F: Are you saying that you don't feel okay with not liking about your wife what you don't like?

A: Yeah sort of. You know, I know I fucked up and well, but… wait. I know that my way of being with her was not conducive to making the kind of marriage she wanted. But I was doing the best I knew to do, given how I was brought up and the values I adhered to. You know, work hard, build a family, be secure. But still I don't feel comfortable with not liking Marie, it's like I'm not supposed to not like her. After all, I'm here crying that I love her, so how can I not like her!

F: Why, if there were and are things about your wife that you definitely did not like, does that mean that you did not or do not love her?

A: You know it’s funny. I was always afraid to admit, even to myself that I did not like anyone. And in this case, it seemed even more frightening not to like, because I felt it threatened my love for her. But all during those years, I felt I repressed my dislikes and secretly blamed Marie for my not liking her. Isn't that screwy?

F: You mean she was being a way she "ought not to be" and therefore despite her doing from her perspective exactly what she thought was good for her to do and to be, that you were pissed off at her because by being a way she shouldn't be for you, she made it impossible for you to like/love her?

A: Yeah, yeah (smile breaks out). I guess, no I know, I could have shared what I didn't like, or I could have been okay with it. Lord knows there was enough about me she didn't like (more sober now). Yeah, I loved her anyway.

F: Isn't love that which is freely given . And can't you be happy with what you like or don't like and be as loving as you would like in any event? Would you want any other kind of love than that?

A: Not really.

F: So if your wife no longer extends that freely given gift to you, would you want her in any way without that?

A: No, no, I would only want her if she wanted me freely.

F: And is it okay not to like what you don't like, I mean really feel good about that, just as about what you do like? 

A: (smiling now). Yes, yes. You bet. It's a terrific feeling!!

F: And how do you feel right now.

A:(broad grin). Damn good. I mean, thanks, thanks so much.

F: You’re more than welcome, my friend.

Allen came to accept his wife's decision with equanimity and without judgment; this aided in directing his efforts at supporting and maintaining a good relationship with his children. He ultimately changed his work experience around and made much more space for himself and eventually for another person with whom he set up a more satisfying existence.