Two Articles on "Understatements"

The Intensive Use of  “Understatements”

This year, 1998, brings us to a second major change in the development of Re-evaluation Counseling. We’ve accomplished a great deal in the first forty-seven and one-half years of RC. However, we have accomplished this in spite of our beginning unaware assumption that the most effective way of discharging our distress was to put attention on the distress and then contradict it by finding, furnishing, and putting attention on other information that was contradictory to the distress. We did this in hundreds and even thousands of ways that we were able to develop, invent, and discover. We called some of these ways techniques.

Particularly in recent years, there were many indications that our counseling worked better and better as we began to experiment with putting our attention “off of” or “away from” our distresses.

We had started out, we are beginning to realize, in a situation in which adults in our entire culture had most of their attention in most situations on their distresses. We grew up into these situations and tended to take them for granted. If we were not rehearsing our distresses unawarely or awarely, we were engaged in a search for situations or directions or information that would tend to distract us from the distress that habitually preoccupied us and dominated our lives.

Recently I speculated about how and why the intelligence of people became so distracted in this direction. I thought of a possible explanation. My speculation was that once our ancestors, in our evolution as a species, developed intelligence, they came to realize that in some experiences their survival was enhanced by “thinking” about the difficulties they had to handle. They “learned” something from their “successes.” Faced with a real problem in actual reality (for example, how does one fasten a stone arrowhead to a wooden arrow shaft), they would put their intelligent attention on the problem, and the more attention they put on the problem, in general, the more quickly they would “learn” from their experiences and come up with a “solution” to the problem. Generalizing from this, it would have come to seem to our ancestors that the way to solve problems was “to put attention on them.”

At some point in their lives, however, they would find themselves faced with a “problem” which arose, not from reality, but from a distress pattern they were wearing from a previous hurtful experience which they had not discharged.

Not having any understanding or suspicion of the phenomenon of a rigid distress pattern severely limiting their ability to think, our ancestors would innocently put attention on that particular kind of problem in the same way that had proven useful in solving the attachment of an arrowhead to an arrow shaft.

The results would be quite different than with the problem from reality, but they would not easily “catch on” to the difference, because what they needed in order to be able to notice that difference, that is, having their intelligence functioning, would have been interrupted by their being in a pattern.

In spite of occasional accidental insights, this confusion would persist for thousands of years of human pre-history and history (until it began to be the object of sustained attention during the activity that began in the summer of 1950 and developed into Re-evaluation Counseling).

If this conjecture is valid, our cultures have taken the many-times-noticed usefulness of “thinking intelligently” and confused that with “directing attention toward.” We have been pushed by this confusion to imbed almost all of the population’s attention almost all of the time in the individual distresses superimposed in chronic layers on our minds.

For forty seven and one half years we have struggled to discharge the huge accumulations of distress and have only accidentally or intermittently contradicted the assumption that we must necessarily start out with our attention tied up in the usual background preoccupation with distress.

I propose that the year 1998 be dedicated to establishing the primacy of putting our attention away from distress and to learning and practicing every possible way of doing so with consistency.

We have been in touch for over two years with a promising process for moving in this direction. We have called this process the “Understatement.” We have used it mainly in two forms, which we have called the Short Understatement and the Long Understatement. It has worked very well most of the times when I personally have tried using it as a counselor with other people as my clients. It has also worked well when other enthusiastic people have taken a firmly insistent attitude of requiring people to actually try the workable forms of the Understatement (instead of letting their clients’ confusion identify these forms with previous Co-Counseling techniques and so distort them from their actual function).

I think that the use of the Understatement can be an entering wedge for a much wider exploration of the general approach of keeping our attention away from distress.

This year should see the effective development in RC of a turn away from the hard work of “contradicting distress” to the relative ease (once one gets over the initial resistance) of ignoring distress and rapidly regaining of one’s inherent courage, initiative, and vigor. This can bring about a very rapid change of the situation in the world (which is certainly ripe for change).

The use of the Understatement will seem to many experienced Co-Counselors, when they first try it, to be simply a “direction,” such as we have used extensively in the past. The purpose of these “directions” was to “furnish a contradiction” to the distress that was operating on the client’s thoughts and behavior in anti-survival ways, to contradict the patterns which tended to discourage or invalidate the client or lead him or her to carry out non-survival activities.

In the development of our theory, there has been a more-and-more-clearly-stated and committed-to assumption that the client, once having evolved in his or her ancestral line into the possession of intelligence, is best treated as excellent to the point of near-perfection and that it is only the accumulation of distress patterns which create a negative distortion away from such excellence. The use of the Understatement brings this situation into bold relief.

It was, at the time, a surprising discovery that a statement (the Short Understatement), which was totally positive in any possible reference to the client, when repeated over and over by the client, would eventually begin to have an effect upon the client that went beyond simply contradicting his or her distress.

The first Short Understatement was tried with a young
woman who was chronically dominated by negative feelings that she was disliked. Reassurances that members of her family “loved” her brought indignant denials. Praise for her accomplishments left her cold.

It seemed to me at that point that some positive assertion was needed, but reminders that individual acquaintances of the client held a positive attitude toward her were not “believed.”

I then decided to try being gently and generally positive and, without identifying any particular person, asked the client to repeat “It sometimes happens that someone likes somebody.”

At this point the angry resistance and arguing by the client seemed to abate somewhat, and actual discharge occurred in small amounts. After a few minutes, the client, pleading shortage of time, left the session, traveled about a half-hour to her residence, and then phoned me with an announcement: “The whole world has changed!” Asked over the phone to repeat the phrase, “It sometimes happens that someone likes somebody,” discharge occurred with each repetition.

In discussing the impressive change and the dependable discharge, I began labeling that particular sentence the "Understatement.”

Many subsequent sessions have taken place with this client, and by now hundreds of others, using this first wording of the Short Understatement.

With many clients, the repetition of the Understatement tends to bring up resistance at first, but with good-humored insistence from the counselor, discharge eventually tends to occur. Some clients will explode into intense continuing discharge. Others will resist repeating the statement and will appear to want to argue. They will sometimes say the exact words of the Understatement and then say a sentence contradicting it. They may even conduct a verbal debate, repeating both the Understatement and words which contradict it. If the counselor persists in cheerfully insisting that only the Understatement itself be expressed, clients will increasingly discharge, though they will sometimes say, “It’s not a bad direction, but it’s just another direction.”

Resistance will sometimes continue for a long time (but never in my experience for longer than two hours, and usually for only a few minutes).

A large number of clients who have tried working in this way with me, who are already quite successful in their re-emergence from distress, simply burst into steady discharge of one kind or another and continue to discharge without seeming to need any action from the counselor except the persistent expectation that they will restrict themselves to the words of the Understatement and to the thoughts that each repetition of the Understatement produces.

What tends to happen then is a new, exciting development in the general use of Re-evaluation Counseling. Clients seem to shake off the until-now chronic submission to the almost universal habit in our cultures of keeping one’s attention on and “looking for” distress. Some kind of realization seems to take place that the client is free to choose to put his or her attention on the enjoyment of discharging. These clients begin to move their attention to topics which will bring discharge as soon as they think of them.

For a while, the relaxed, confident expectation of the counselor that this will take place may play a helpful role. However, as the client gains confidence in the continuing discharge, and discharges more and more easily, he or she will become a self-motivating discharger, enjoying the continued self-directed “cruising” over all the topics available to him or her in his or her mind, discharging with persistence and apparent efficiency as much distress as is conveniently available on a particular topic. As discharge cleans up one topic, the client then moves his or her attention to the next topic that is ready for discharge, tackles that, and stays with it, usually without any consultation with the counselor—in fact, this often continues when the client is by himself or herself, driving in a car, taking a walk, or relaxing in the evening.

Clients become very enthusiastic about this process and about the results of it in their lives.


The Long Understatement

The Long Understatement, as far as it has been used, leads to effects similar to those achieved by the Short Understatement.

In the beginning of the creation of a Long Understatement, the counselor assumes a creative role. He or she asks the client to repeat words offered by the counselor which are a description of “a person” whom the counselor says is “a friend of a friend of mine” who “reminds me of you in some ways.” This non-identification of a client with the subject of the Long Understatement seems to play an important role in the flexibility which the client’s mind can assume. The client is not deceived by the “non-identification,” but any patterns of the client’s which would lead him or her to feel embarrassed are deceived. Thus the usual self-consciousness that might become an obstacle to working with the client is bypassed.

The counselor then describes certain praiseworthy, positive characteristics (which the client would probably be very pleased to assume are characteristic of himself or herself) as being true of the “friend of a friend of mine.” These could include that the person is intelligent, brave, responsible, “admirable,” and “successful,” in spite of difficulties that he or she has had to confront in the past.

Regardless of the background of the client, it seems to be universally useful if the character in the Understatement is described as “sexy” in nature (although also very respectable and well-respected). This is a place where the discharge of embarrassment can easily begin.

If the counselor is aware of any particular struggles which the client has successfully overcome in the past, the counselor will praise the person described in the Understatement, with great respect and enthusiasm, for having triumphed in such struggles. Sometimes after describing these struggles, the subject of the Understatement will be spoken of as “fi-i-i-nally realizing that everything about her (or him) is just exactly right (and always has been)!”

This last phrase is best said in a tone of excited satisfaction.

Discharge ordinarily will occur at several places and should be greeted with smiles and admiration from the counselor. The counselor allows and encourages the client to repeat the Understatement from the beginning many times, memorizing the text of the evolving Understatement along with the client. Any time the creation or repetition of the Understatement is interrupted by discharge or discussion, the counselor asks the client to “start over.” From various clues furnished by the client’s demeanor and discharge, the counselor and client continue to polish and improve the Understatement and experiment with various tones of voice, as the two of them go over and over it, again and again.

Because of the lack of support which every client is certain to have experienced as a child, it is helpful for the counselor to describe the character in the Understatement as having powerful allies who are completely supportive of him or her. These allies are totally committed to the triumph of the character in the Understatement. Ancient gods or goddesses; the Great Spirit of Native tradition; saints from the Christian heaven; the pantheon of Hindu gods; Oden, Thor, Freija, of the Norse tradition—any of these may be used.

As the client discharges, he or she will furnish many hints as to what will strengthen the scenario of the Long Understatement in ways which will bring continuing discharge and the resulting confidence and effective thinking.

As this works well, use of the Long Understatement will become an increasingly enjoyable activity of the client, resorted to in sessions, in solitude, in groups.

Harvey Jackins
Reprinted from Present Time No. 111, April 1998.
An Unbounded Future, page 21.


Useful Understatements/Useful Procedure

Useful Understatements

It sometimes happens that a man realizes that he is completely human, without any flaws or limitations. (And he successfully encourages women to join him in this realization about himself and other men.)

It sometimes happens that a woman realizes that she is completely human, without any flaws or limitations. (And she successfully encourages men to join her in this realization about herself and other women.) 

It sometimes happens that someone likes somebody.

It sometimes happens that a person has everything turn out just exactly the way she (he) wanted. 

It has been known to happen that a black person in the United States feels happy. 

It has been known to happen that someone completely attained a goal he or she had set. 

Useful Procedure

The counselor proposes a suitable Understatement from the above list or creates a new alternative Understatement. The counselor then repeats it with the client, while modelling a very positive, confident tone of voice, until the client has accurately heard and understood the Understatement. The counselor then asks the client to say the statement and not to inhibit any discharge that wants to occur. When the discharge comes to an end, the counselor asks the client to accurately report the thought that occurred. The counselor then asks and expects the client to repeat the statement, allow any discharge to take place, and report the thought. Continue this over and over as long as the time available for counseling permits.

If the client discharges immediately on hearing the proposed Understatement, the counselor postpones any more directions and waits patiently with the attitude of seeming to expect the client to eventually say the Understatement. This seems to allow hours of discharge to take place without any further explanation, while the client thinks of saying the Understatement.

An Understatement needs to be positive, impersonal, believable on repetition, and not obviously related to a client’s difficulties.

Harvey Jackins
Reprinted from Present Time No. 103, April 1996.
An Unbounded Future, page 29.



Last modified: 2022-12-25 10:17:04+00