Re: cognitive awareness

Josh Soffer (
Fri, 18 Sep 1998 06:20:21 -0500 (CDT)

When I expressed my preference for self-directional approaches to pcp
over neo-Freudain or social constructionist, Tim Connor replied "I'm not
sure what you mean by 'self-directional' since, as Kelly said, in PCP
there is no self, only a self/not-self construct."

Yes, but all constructs belong to a system, and the key to the
organization of a construct system is self-consistency. This is what I
meant by self-directional; each new event is experienced because it is
incorporated as an element of an integral organization. The self is not
an entity but a process of ongoing conservation of a knowledge
organization's internal coherence. My use of the word 'self' is meant
to capture the profound nature of this internal consistency., which is a
mor radical notion of coherence than I believe is understood by Tim
Tim says" Kelly does not, in my view , claim that superordinate
consistency is required, at least not in the sense that the construct
system as a whole must always be coherent when viewed from a "top-down"
perspective. An optimally functioning system would be, but construct
systems don't always function optimally--thats why there's
Superordinate consistency is not always achieved, but it is required
in order to construe at any signifcant level of meaning. Kelly Kelly
says (p.78,pcp)"'s personal constructs [can] be changed only within
subsystems of constructs and subsystems changed only within more
comprehensive systems".."even the changes which a person attempts within
himself must be construed by him.. if he is to make any sense at all out
of [them]. Indeed, he cannot even attain the new outlook in the first
place unless thereis some comprehensive overview within which it can be
construed. Another way tof expressing the same thing is to say that one
does not learn certain things merely from the nature of the stimuli
which play upon him; he learns only what his framework is designed to
permit him to see in the stimuli."
A non-idealized construct system is not perfectly permeable. But what
does this imply? When a superordinate system becomes rigidly
impermeable, it virtually shuts down new construing.The role of
psychotherapy is to focus on initiating and optimizing personal movement
after it has been temporarily interrupted. Does this mean that a Kellian
denies that people experience inner conflict? What I think it comes down
to that Tim and I differ on the fundamental definition of conflict.
Conflict, opposition, antagonism,: these terms of negative affect are
treated by Kelly as constructs of transition. Specifically, they herald
the incipient failure of our crumbling superordinate structure to
embrace new meaning. That event which 'conflicts' with our modes of
understanding is more fundamentally understood as that event which we
cannot make sense of , which represents a profound unanswered question
to us. The locus of crisis and conflict lies not in a presumed power
play between our own substantive beliefs and some intrinsic property
of an 'event in-itself' which we contrue , but in our as yet inadequate
grasp of an event. We only believe in Freudain or behavioral notions
of a conditioning biological or social environment, what kelly referrred
to as push and pull theories of Inner conflict, when we fail to
recognize that tensions between meaings in our lives is not a
substantive and to some extent irreducible roperty of those experiences,
but a temporary absense or inadequation in my efforts to construct a
meaningful event out of what I experience.
You bring up a hypothetical case of a person who has two construct
subsystems consisting of 'mother being cruel' and 'mother being kind'.
You then suggest that these subsystems "lack a superordinate construct
for 'mother and my response to her' that is sufficiently permeable to
encompass both sides of that pair." If ,you argue, at a superordinate
level I constellate 'mother' with 'kind', and she behaves in an
ambiguous way, I may end up with a conflict between subordinate signals
of my mother's cruelty and my superordinate framework which is teling me
she is kind, forcing me to repress or deny the subordinate information I
am receiving about her.
Here's my take. Lets say that i initially construe my mother as
always behaving kindly toward me. To me kind might me her being
supportive of my endeavors (to be simplistic), and dealing with me
in a negative manner only when I 'deserve' it. Now suddenly her
behavior is changing. She increasingly berates me for things that I
construe as NOT deserving of chastisement. Why is she doing this? Is it
oncoming senility?Lack of sleep? These expanations I believe I can
handle under my superordinate understanding of her relationship to
me,and how I am seen by her (my role). They wont throw me into a state
of threat . But what if it is something more profound in its
implications for me? What if she is right and I deserve this severe
treatment? Now I am suddenly confronted with the potentially
devastiating psychological possibility that I am not the good person I
thought i was. my superordinate sense of myself is now threatened with
the possiblity of chaos in self-identity. I desperately don't want to
think of this as a real possibility. So do I unconsiously repress, deny
this thinking? But what is it I would really be doing by 'repressing' a
realization which has already entered my thinking and reshaped it as a
whole, as all contructs do by defintiion? If at a feeling level i am
anxious and hostile , then at a basic level I am also consious of the
meanings framing these ominous moods. I may not be able to adequately
put into words what is changing within my self-perception, because of
its very nature as incipient confusion. i may also resist sharing this
situation with others for fear of plunging into deeper confusion. What
if they ,too, will judge me harshly? Even my so-called 'not-admitting
to myself' that my mother may despise me for good reasons can be better
understood as a symptom of my incipient attempts to verbalize an
unfamiliar situation for me. I do not at first know how to put into
words what is foreign to my way of thinking about myself, not because i
am hiding a real fact from myself, but because the new situation is not
fully coherent to me. It is only in this respect that we can say that we
'denied' or 'repressed' the truth. It is murky, half-formed territory
and the last thing I need is to be pushed over the brink becasue a
therapist thinks I need to 'admit' to my conscious self what he
assumes my subconscious has already figured out. In this case the
therapist who diagnoses my 'repression' has his own unanswered
queastions, such as 'why is the client saying one thing but seemingly
doing another?' It is only in retrospect that we can say we denied or
repressed. Such labels are a convenient weapon for the therapist to use
when the client hasn't yet arrived at the realizations the therapsit
thinks he has. The client in apparent denial is fully aware of being in
a state of transtion which is too chaotic to articulate effctively. The
unconscious for Kelly is not that which is hidden from awareness but an
awareness which has as its focus poorly understood material (impermeably
construed). Inner conflict, then, is not about my hiding facts from
myself which I have already incorporated at some level, but my fully
aware movement through a period of loss of coherent identity

Sincerely, Josh Soffer.