Soul Metaphors: Contents

Chapter 18

Chapter 20


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Chapter 19: Sample Lifestyle Interview: Gary

            Gary, a healthy man in his early forties, volunteered for this interview for the purposes of this book. Unlike with the interview of Sharon, I have not provided any of my own comments interspersed with the transcript. Rather, as you read the transcript and proceed toward the interpretation at the end, I encourage you to search, on your own, for clues that might suggest Gary’s lifestyle.
            Consider whether each question being posed is a formative, survey, or confirming question. For formative questions, think about how such standard factors as birth order or unusual childhood circumstances might have influenced Gary’s motion in life. Particularly consider the unusual circumstance in his early life that he reveals. Once the early memories are presented, look for similarities between the memories. Then, try to find the patterns in the memories repeated in adult life by paying attention to the survey questions. How well do the confirming questions function to hone in on the lifestyle? As you proceed through the interview, also consider what questions you, yourself, would ask.
            I chose to present Gary’s session as the third and final example of a complete lifestyle interview for two reasons: First, we have devoted a good deal of effort to exploring Adlerian theory, so this interview offers yet another overview of key aspects of Individual Psychology; second, this interview provides an excellent example of how early memories may be used to guide psychotherapy. Later in Soul Metaphors, in Chapters 22 and 23, we will consider how early memories may be tapped into as tools for personal change. As you read Gary’s interview, observe how the lifestyle interpretation helps him therapeutically. My comments follow at the end of the transcript.

Transcript: Gary’s Interview

Q. Okay. Let’s start with where did you grow up?
A. In Connecticut and Arizona.

Q. Were those urban or rural settings?
A. Connecticut was a rural setting and Arizona was in a city.

Q. How old were you when you moved?
A. I basically grew up in Connecticut and I left, I think, in my middle school years in eighth or ninth grade to live in Phoenix. I was there for a few years and moved to Tucson and then returned back to Connecticut and spent the last two years of my high school in Connecticut.

Q. Would you describe anything about your childhood as particularly unusual?
A. Unusual… Well, my parents were briefly separated for a while in Arizona, but I guess that’s not unusual in this day and age with most American families. Unusual… No, my parents weren’t into drugs or alcohol or anything like that, you know. We had a decent life. I guess maybe unusual in the sense that one sister was born severely mentally handicapped, and so that obviously had an effect on everybody in the family.

Q. In what way did it affect the family?
A. Well, for example, my mother, it was very hard for my mother to see her daughter not be able to grow up. She had severe chromosome damage and could not use the bathroom, could not eat, could not talk. Basically, she was just a baby, and she lived until the age of twenty, which was a lot longer than the doctors had told my parents. So, my mom became depressed over that, naturally. Having to take care of a little girl and not see her grow up for twenty years has to have some sort of toll on anybody. And, to her credit she did the best that she possibly could, and she gave her all the love and caring that, you know, that she could possibly give – as well as my father.
            And as a result of that, you know, my other sister and I felt left out. We didn’t get as much attention that we thought in retrospect we should have received from our parents.

Q. So, how many kids were there in your family?
A. A total of three of us. I’m the oldest.

Q. You’re the oldest, and then who comes next?
A. My sister, Sandra, she’s a year and a half younger than me.

Q. And then the youngest one is the sister who was handicapped.
A. Yes, and she passed away in 1990.

Q. Okay. How would you describe your parents?
A. Good people. Not very ambitious, very kind of laid back, very friendly, very caring. I give them a lot of respect for the fact that, except for a very brief time, they never put my sister in an institution, which was common in the 1970s. So I give them a lot of credit for that. They obviously cared about my sister a great deal. They obviously cared about my other sister and I as well, although we really didn’t know it at the time.
            They had a very laissez faire attitude with us. For better or for worse, they never pushed us to work hard. I don’t ever recall my parents like making me sit at the table and study. You know, they just basically let me do what I wanted to. Probably at that age I had no issues with that. I liked that. But, now when I look back, I wish they had pushed me harder.
            So, they just didn’t seem like they had a lot of time for us, and that was because of my sister. I don’t blame my sister for it, although at the time I did harbor sometimes animosity or jealousy, because she was getting all the attention, and I found out that my other sister also felt the same way.

Q. You found out later in life?
A. Yeah. But now, in retrospect, I’m like “Duh, I’m an idiot.” She obviously needed more attention than my sister and I, but we definitely felt left out…. My parents did try to do the best they possibly could. They put a roof over our head, and they fed us. They made sure we went to school and everything, and they provided for us the best they possibly could with their limited income. My mother didn’t work, but my father had a decent job and so… We didn’t always get the things we wanted, which is the case with many kids. I remember being in high school and having to go to school with a sneaker with a big hole in it. It was a really traumatic experience for me, because people would make fun of me. That’s probably one of the reasons why I love clothes, looking good, looking proper. It probably has something to do with the fact that I was so embarrassed to have to go to school with the sneakers that had a big hole in them. It took weeks before my parents replaced them with new shoes.

Q. Okay. You’ve already alluded to one thing that happened in childhood. I want you to think back to as far as you possibly can, and tell me what’s the very first thing that you remember.
A. [Long pause.] Oh, probably when I was three or four, you know, playing in the backyard in the pool. We had a little plastic pool that my parents put together. It was about this big [gestures to show a pool about four feet across]. It held about two kids. It was about this deep [gestures to show about a foot]. They would just fill it up with water and put it in the back yard, and my sister and I would play in it, and I remember playing in it. I guess at the moment that’s the earliest memory I have.

Q. Do you remember anything else? Was there anyone with you? Do you remember what you were doing?
A. Not exactly. I just remember playing in the pool and my mom was sitting by. She was probably drinking a beer, and my sister was in there as well. We were just having fun, splashing water on each other.

Q. So do you remember what you were thinking? Did you have any other emotions? You mentioned having fun – were there any other emotions?
A. No. Not that I can remember. I remember it mostly as a positive thing.

Q. Okay. Let’s move forward. What is another very early incident that you remember?
A. I remember we lived in this development called Snow Goose Creek, and I was probably eight or nine, maybe ten, and I was up the street playing at a friend’s house. My sister was there, and we were all there with this pocket radio that I had received as a gift. It was just a regular two inch by four inch radio with an antenna that came out. I think they were popular in the seventies. And I was playing with it, and I remember one of the kids was upset with me for some reason. I think he just wanted to tease me, and he took the radio out of my hand and threw it on the ground and it burst open, and it basically killed it. I remember being very upset about it. I remember confronting the kid, and I was basically letting him know that I was upset, and then I remember him punching me. And then I just cried and I ran back to my house.

Q. Let’s do one more memory. Something young, something in grammar school.
A. Positive or negative?

Q. Whatever you want.
A. I remember sitting in the principal’s office with my parents and I remember the principal telling my parents that he thought that it would be best that I be kept a grade back, to repeat the grade. It was first grade. I remember it distinctly, because the principal thought I wasn’t progressing as much as the other kids, and, in retrospect, I’m just shocked that they had me in the room for this conversation, because for me it was a very unpleasant experience to learn that I had to repeat the first grade. And, my parents were basically in agreement because they never fought what anyone else said.

Q. So, you ended up repeating the grade?
A. So, I repeated the grade, and in retrospect it was the best thing for me, but at the time it was traumatizing.

Q. If you were to go through your life and you had to narrow it down to three decisions that were the most important ones, what would they be?
A. Up until the present?

Q. Yes.
A. By far, deciding to go to the University of Kansas which did wonders for me. Do I need to elaborate?

Q. Just tell them to me and then we’ll elaborate later.
A. The second one was buying my apartment, which meant security, and number three was deciding to hire a personal trainer.

Q. Okay. Now let’s go into each of these and tell me why each one was important.
A. Well, regarding Kansas, I read a book about that state junior year, and I thought “Oh, cool, this sounds like an interesting place,” and I decided to go there. And I wanted to get away from my parents. Not that I didn’t love them, but I needed to be away from them. I wanted to get away from Connecticut. I didn’t like my life. I felt, you know… I was very shy, very introverted, had very, very low self esteem.
            I thought that what I needed at that time was just to get away, and it sure was. Because the day I arrived in Kansas and found out I had an international roommate, I was just happier than I could imagine. I just thought it was the coolest thing to finally have that exposure to people from around the world. And, Kansas is where I developed my first very strong friendships, and it is also where I came out to myself as gay.
            It gave me a confidence that I’d thought I never had before. I started feeling good about myself – joining international students’ clubs. I had lots of friends from all over the world. I even joined a fraternity. And, the friends that I made in my college days are some of my closest friends today.

Q. Then you mentioned buying an apartment. Why is that important?
A. Just to have that feeling of financial security. Knowing that I have my own place. To know that I have something to go home to on a nightly basis. You know, it felt good to be able to buy an apartment and instead of throwing money away every month in rent, I was putting that money to good use. Building equity, and so forth. Financially, that was by far the most important decision I have ever made.
            One of the other reasons why this was so important for me was because in the past I was very loose with money. I had a huge credit card debt, because I have champagne tastes on a beer budget. Financially, I was in a mess, so buying this apartment helped me to start cleaning up that mess. I refinanced a couple years after buying this place and took some money out and paid off all my debts. That financial security is very important to me because I need that basis.

Q. I’m going to go back and have some follow-up questions, but I want to finish with the third decision, which is to have a personal trainer. Why is that decision an important one?
A. This goes back to my whole lack of self esteem issues which I had, which were pretty major in my whole high school and middle school years. Basically, my whole life up until my first year of college. I never liked my body. I never felt strong. I never felt like I was able to do anything athletic. I was never encouraged by my parents to do anything athletic, to work hard, to believe in myself on a mental and physical level.
            And while things improved a great deal when I went out to Kansas, I never really felt good about my body until a few years ago when I hired a personal trainer. And working out with him made me quickly realize that I can do anything I want to, physically speaking, that anybody else can do – despite my back issue, which is not a major issue. I finally learned that, hey, if you work hard you can achieve anything you want. It was really good for me to hear that, to experience it, to see results. Not only did it help me physically, it also helped me mentally to believe in myself.

Q. I want to go back to what you said about buying your apartment, and I wanted to ask you how you feel about your home. How do you feel about your living space?
A. Oh, I love it. It’s my home. I feel comfortable. I feel great when I come home. I know it’s mine.

Q. And what kind of a person are you in terms of taking care of your home?
A. Oh, I want a nice-looking apartment. I want nice things in it. I want people to feel comfortable when they come over here, and also to see a little bit of who I am – my personality reflected through the furnishings I’ve purchased.

Q. Because I just want to reflect, as an outsider, as we’re conducting the interview here in your home, that I see a beautiful, really well tended-to apartment. I see that furniture carefully matches, décor carefully matches. There are fresh-cut flowers, there are plants, and it looks like you lavish a lot of attention on the place you live. I get the impression that it’s very important to you the atmosphere you are living in.
A. Absolutely. There’s no doubt about that. I need to live in an environment that’s pleasing to me, that’s comforting.

Q. The other thing I wanted to ask you about, you mentioned being in a financial mess. How did you discover that you were in a mess, and how did you feel about that discovery?
A. Well I always kind of knew I was in a mess, but I wasn’t working that hard to clean it up. It wasn’t until one of my closest friends, Diego, introduced me to Suzy Orman, she’s a big financial advisor. And he recommended to me that I purchase one of her books. And, I read that book and it just kind of hit me that I have to make some changes here, because I don’t want to be poor for the rest of my life, and having all that credit card debt with those huge interest rates was just unacceptable.
            So, I started paying off a lot of my debt. I even got a second job to pay it off, and I paid off most of it. This was prior to buying my apartment. But, I still had some credit card debt when I bought this apartment, and still had it a couple years later when I refinanced and paid off the remainder of that debt.

Q. So you just decided this is a problem and I need to take care of it, and you did.
A. Exactly.

Q. Are you in a better place now?
A. I am. I am, but unfortunately I’ve put myself back into debt by taking out a home equity loan. I wasn’t intending to use the money. Basically, it’s credit. The bank gives you credit against your apartment. So it’s a loan, but it’s a very, very low interest loan. It’s like four or five percentage points. So, I took some money out and I did some renovations, to my closet and my kitchen, and I bought a suit, which I probably shouldn’t have done, and I bought a watch that I couldn’t really afford. So now I owe money on that, so now I’m basically back in almost the same situation I was eight or nine years ago.

Q. Just on a different note, what about personal life? Do you have a significant other?
A. Not at the moment, no.

Q. Is that something that you want?
A. Absolutely. No questions about it.

Q. Have you ever been in any serious relationships? Can you point to one and say – What I’m trying to find out is what you have liked best and least in a partner.
A. I had two relationships where I could answer that question, but neither of them lasted more than three months. One of them was with an individual who was only here for three months and then had to move overseas, and that was a very long time ago. And then, last year I had a brief relationship with a Belgian at the UN who happens to be married and has children.
            So, what I liked about the Belgian relationship was he was a very attractive man, and he found me attractive and I obviously was really cool about that. He was also a really nice sweet kind of guy. Masculine, but also in touch with his feelings to some extent and just kind of easy going. He brought me a great sense of peace because he was kind of on the quiet side. I don’t generally like to be around people who are very, very chatty. I prefer somebody who respects my space and is kind of low key.

Q. What didn’t you like about him?
A. The fact that he couldn’t commit to me, and I had known that from the very beginning, because I knew he was married from the very beginning. He was already in an intimate relationship with another human being and I knew that I would never, probably, top that. Since I wanted more, and he knew I couldn’t have more, we both decided to end the relationship.

Q. I want to go back to your early memories now, and I’ll start by just focusing on the first two that you told me about, because usually the order that you remember them in indicates the depth of their significance to you. I haven’t told you much yet about Alfred Adler, but this interview is taking place in an Adlerian style.
A. Oh, really.

Q. And Adler was a colleague of Freud’s, and later they went their separate ways and ended up strongly disliking each other. But, while Freud liked to interpret dreams, Adler liked to interpret memories. Adler said that everything you remember is significant – even though it seems trivial, and it’s just splashing in a pool, well, there are tens of thousands of trivial things that happened between your birth and when you were six or seven years old, but you only remember three or four of them.
A. Right.

Q. So why do you remember these three or four? Well, Adler says you remember them because they are memorable to you, because they resonate, because you think, yes, that’s really the way life is.
A. Right.

Q. So, when you talk to me about playing in a pool, you are actually talking about more than playing in a pool. You are talking about what is your personal approach to life.
A. Okay.

Q. So, the first memory is actually very positive. You are playing with your sister. You mentioned that you made a lot of friends in college. The fact that you remember playing with someone could mean that you are a social person. Are you?
A. Now? Oh, yeah. Now I’m very social.

Q. And even though you weren’t necessarily social as a child, you still have a memory of being social – of playing – with your sister. Even though these are memories from your childhood, they are things that you remember now, as an adult, so, what they are actually telling us about is how you are now, as an adult.
A. Well, there’s no doubt I’m a social person. I know a lot of people now. Most of those are acquaintances, of course, but there’s a core group of people who are very close friends. But, I have a very wide circle of acquaintances.

Q. There’s a real contrast between the first memory of being happy in the pool and the second memory where the radio is destroyed. It’s almost as if you’re saying that life has two sides to it. There’s the side where we are enjoying ourselves and we’re relaxed, and then there’s the side where something shocking happens.
A. Right, right.

Q. That’s why I wondered about when you lost your money, if you saw that as something shocking to you. How did you feel when the kid threw the radio to the ground?
A. Well, it was one of my prized possessions, and I was like how could you do that? How could anyone do that to me, or to anyone for that matter? It was very upsetting. When I was at that age it was just really traumatizing. I just loved that radio and for that kid to break it was really hard for me to deal with, because I didn’t have a lot. My parents weren’t wealthy.

Q. So, you had something you valued and you lost it.
A. Yes.

Q. The other interesting thing about this memory is that you go a step further. You don’t just lay down and take it, you confront the kid, and then he turns around and wallops you.
A. Right, he punches me.

Q. So what you’re saying here is life can be lovely, sometimes, life can be a romp in the pool, but at other times, life can be downright brutal.
A. Of course, yes.

Q. It can be lovely to have a radio, then brutal to have it destroyed, brutal to be punched, and then you return home, presumably to a place of safety. Taken together, the two memories show a very cyclical pattern.
A. Of course, yes. Absolutely.

Q. Well, you say, “Of course,” but other people don’t necessarily focus on life in that way.
A. Really?

Q. That’s your philosophy. Now, the interesting thing about these memories is that they tend to serve as self-fulfilling prophecies. Because we think life is the particular way it is, we tend to only see that side of life, or we even tend to create experiences to reinforce our beliefs about life.
            Now this story you’ve told, life is good in the pool, life gets bad when the radio is smashed, life gets worse when I confront the problem, then I return home where presumably life is more comfortable again, this story reminds me of your financial difficulties. You got yourself in trouble. With credit card debt, you got yourself into mounting, worsening trouble, then you got yourself out again, then you got yourself in again. Good, bad, good, bad, and you made that happen.
A. Right, right, right.

Q. It’s no longer the kid in your memory who is smashing and punching and making things bad. You are creating this situation, and these memories show us our self-fulfilling prophecies. Life, for you, is cyclical. Good, bad. If that’s not happening on it’s own, you have to find a way, unconsciously, to make it happen, because that’s what you believe in.
A. Interesting.

Q. Can you see that in your relationships? That something starts out positive, then becomes disappointing, and then you maybe even retreat?
A. Of course, I see it all the time. In any of the relationships I have. For example, I met this guy in Portland, and I thought we had a really strong connection. And, I think we still do, actually, but now there are starting to be some problems. I want him to come visit me over Memorial Day weekend since I don’t have a job and can’t afford to go back there, but he is being hesitant about it, so now I am having my doubts. I always have doubts in my mind: Why does he like me? So I still have those self-esteem issues. But, one day I’m feeling fantastic about this guy, and the next day or the next hour I’m questioning whether he really wants to be with me.

Q. Adler would say that your memories also provide a blueprint for who you’re attracted to, and you are attracted to people who allow you to repeat the emotions of your memories. So, you’re attracted to someone who lets you feel that life is like a romp in the pool, but then can make you feel as bad as your radio getting smashed. And that same person can take you through that cycle over and over again. The unconscious way you look at life right now makes you find people who will take you on that ride.
A. Right. Right. I can totally see that.

Q. I also wanted to talk about self-esteem, because you brought that up a few times, and it seems like you do have self-esteem.
A. Because I stood up for myself.

Q. Exactly, because a kid dashes your radio to the ground and you do confront him. But then, when you do…
A. He punches me.

Q. So you do confront people, but then you might well get punched.
A. Of course.

Q. So that’s actually pessimism. I stand up for myself, and then look how much worse it gets. How do you value yourself as a person?
A. I value myself, absolutely. No question about it. With weaknesses, of course, but I think I’m a very good person.

Q. So, it’s not a question of how you value yourself. It’s actually a question of how you anticipate people are going to react. Do you expect people to hurt you in relationships?
,A. Yes, that’s to be expected, because nobody is perfect so at some point you’re going to be hurt by that other person.

Q. But how badly? Like a punch in the stomach?
A. Not all the time, but it can certainly happen. It’s in the back of my mind.

Q. The thing to be aware of is that we typically assume that we think like everybody else thinks, but actually each of us thinks about life very differently.
A. Interesting.

Q. I’ve interviewed people that it would never occur to them that they might be hurt in a relationship. They see the world through rose-colored glasses, and if they are hurt they are surprised and they think of it as an anomaly. You say, “Of course it’s in my mind that something bad might happen.”
A. Of course [laughs].

Q. Well that’s “Of course” for you, but somebody else might not think that way.
To go back to the third memory, I think it’s a nice way of summing up. In the third memory of the principal’s office, we also see this cyclical pattern. It was traumatizing to hear that you needed to be held back, but in retrospect, you say, it turned out to be the best thing for you.
A. [Bursts out laughing.] Right, right, right…

Q. Does that work for you as an interpretation of your philosophy of life? Life is cyclical? Good then bad then good again? Or, to use your words, traumatizing, then positive, then traumatizing and so on?
A. Absolutely, no doubt about it.

Q. I see that as a very Buddhist, yin-yang way of thinking. Are you attracted to Buddhism?
A. I am, and I’ve read books on it, but I’m not going to convert. But, it’s not really a religion, it’s more of a way of life. But, yeah, I do totally find that fascinating – all the books I’ve read on the Dalai Lama and by another Vietnamese author. So, there’s no doubt that I see life as a cycle of positive and negative. Like, walking down the street today and listening to music and knowing it was a beautiful day, and I was looking good, and I was on cloud nine. But, I know there will be other days when I’ll sit at home and be depressed because I don’t have a job, and I’m going through this mess with my previous employer. And, I always thought that people had those kind of days and that kind of life.

Q. Everybody has those days, but everybody doesn’t have that focus. Not everybody thinks that life is a cycle.
A. Really.

Q. Like, I could tell you a memory of a woman who remembers walking up a hill. She doesn’t remember reaching the top, she just remembers walking. Life is a constant upward climb for her.
A. Really.

Q. We’re all very different. Is there anything else we should cover, or are we satisfied now?
A. Very satisfied. I have to say I’ve gotten more out of this one hour than I’ve gotten out of four sessions of therapy. Why doesn’t every therapist do this?

Q. Thank you for saying that.

            It is not possible to cover everything in a one-hour session, and a person who is being interviewed can only absorb so much. Since Gary felt that our interview was better than four sessions of psychotherapy, I was certainly satisfied. If I were to continue further with Gary, there would be two points I would like to revisit. First, he comments that his mother was probably drinking a beer in his earliest memory. Such a recollection might include an element of reproof, and it would be good to explore whether or not Gary feels any resentment toward his mother and, if so, whether such feelings are expanded toward general feelings towards authority figures or even women. Similarly, it is also noteworthy that Gary experiences Adler’s classic “dethronement” of the oldest child. In his case, not only is he dethroned by a two younger sisters, but, more intensely, both elder siblings suffer from a lack of parental attention due to the special needs of a mentally handicapped youngest child.
            Because of the sharp contrast between Gary’s first memory of happily playing in the pool and his second memory of losing a prized possession and then, moreover, being punched, I chose to use the approach described in Chapter 13 of interpreting a compound memory. Clearly, this interpretation of life as a dichotomy worked well for Gary, and he even posed a question when I asked for a third memory from him that proved quite telling: He asked whether I wanted to hear about a good memory or a bad memory, implying that he divides his memories into these two categories.
            As noted, Gary’s interview provides yet another overview of key concepts of Adlerian psychology. With his tendency to dig himself into a hole with money problems and then be required to dig himself back out again, and his ongoing choices of lovers who ultimately disappoint, Gary repeats the cyclical pattern between the comfortable and the traumatic evidenced in his early memories. While striving for his goal of material comfort through “champagne” purchases on a “beer budget,” he creates his inferiority feeling of being traumatized by lack of money. In his love life, he also experiences constant cycles of being genuinely happy and deeply disappointed.
            This final interview, I also hope, demonstrates that early memory interpretation can be quite therapeutic without being significantly disturbing or upsetting. It is possible to examine inner goals and motives without digging deeply into painful experiences from the past. We can focus teleologically on what direction our beliefs about life are taking us, and it is possible to pinpoint those behaviors, attitudes and beliefs that we wish to change.
            Now that you are armed with three complete lifestyle interviews and numerous exercises in early memory interpretation, it is time for you to take the plunge and learn to interview other people. Your goal, in your interviews, will be to uncover the lifestyle and open the door to deeper self-understanding while maintaining a constructive and respectful tone.


(Copyright Ellen Alderton, www.WeLoveAdler.net)