Why I am writing this website

Many people resist seeking psychotherapy because they believe that they are smart enough to solve their own problems. I don’t disagree. Most people are smart enough. The dilemma isn’t brainpower. The dilemma is that most people have neither the inclination nor the time to study psychology, so most people are unable to recognize what an expert therapist will recognize on their behalf.

What a well-trained therapist sees in a client’s painful situation is this: how the client got stuck and why they remain so. Clients always get stuck due to a disruption in their relationship with themselves. They remain stuck because they are confused about why what they’ve been trying to do so far hasn’t been working.

Disruption in our relationship with ourselves arises when we don’t know ourselves, we don’t trust ourselves, we don’t listen to ourselves, we don’t control ourselves or we don’t like ourselves. These states of internal disorder are caused when people in our early lives treated us with disrespect or disinterest, and by doing so, corrupted our relationship with ourselves. It’s not necessarily that these participants (parents, peers, teachers, coaches, etc.) were doing us harm intentionally, it’s that their own poor relationship with themselves left them incapable of training us with the care and expertise we deserved.

Any compassionate individual (a significant other, minister, therapist, friend, relative, etc.) who allows us to attach to them can help us heal these disruptions, both by caring for us and by modeling a solid self-esteem that we can imitate. Over time, if we surround ourselves with a loving community, we learn to relate to ourselves in wholesome ways. For folks with grim childhoods, however, treatment by a dedicated professional is most likely required.

Our confusion about the failure of our current efforts to get ourselves back on track has a similar cause – a less-than-perfect childhood. We remain stuck in ineffective patterns of behavior simply because we cannot see what else to try. So we try the same thing again and again. I routinely do this when I hit a technical problem with one of the many computers that plague my life. If the smart aleck chip in my phone, dishwasher or car rejects my first attempt to order it to do something for me, I simply tell it the same thing repeatedly, hoping that if I punch in the entry with enough confidence the machine will submit. As we all know by now, no matter how earnestly we try the wrong thing (control/option/squiggly thing), if it is not the correct code, the machine simply won’t work.

The same can be said for psychological constructs. There are complete and effective ways to engage with the world from a psychological standpoint, but if we don’t know this, we will be repeatedly signaling our world incorrectly or incompletely.

Here’s a small example. Most adults realize that if they need someone to sincerely pay attention to them, an order of “Listen to me!” accompanied by finger pointing is rarely effective. Accordingly, most of us try “I” statements. Unfortunately, many times the “I” statement comes out sounding like “I need you to LISTEN TO ME!” The quandary many people face in this situation is that they don’t understand the components of a complete “I” statement or the reasoning behind the concept, so they can’t tell what is missing from their honest attempt to communicate well or why that component is important.

They don’t know what’s broken, so they don’t know where to start the repair process. If there are enough little broken or incomplete psychological skills underlying our daily life, we will start to cycle back into our old, disrupted relationship with ourselves. We will end up not liking ourselves again even if our community is a loving one.

Therefore, the purpose of this website is twofold:

First, to prove to you that, through no fault of your own, there were missing parts in your upbringing. The proof is accomplished by consistently juxtaposing the components of a good childhood next to what probably happened in your less-than-good upbringing. My job is to try to communicate as clearly as possible what you were entitled to growing up. Your job is to try to believe you deserved better.

Second, this website is designed to provide a compendium of life skills that you can review quickly to find those skills in your repertoire that have missing parts. My job is to gather the most current psychological knowledge available concerning the life skills that run our lives and present it in a straightforward and accessible manner. Your job is to skim through the material, circle back to those skills that appear to be currently tripping you up (for it is much easier to learn something new when the new material can instantly make things a little easier for you) and then spend some serious quality time with yourself learning the skill. Together, you and I will uncover the missing pieces that have left your understanding of self-construction a little spotty.

Who I am

I am a licensed psychologist in private practice and have served as adjunct faculty at two universities, University of California, Santa Barbara, and Antioch University. My Ph.D. is in Counseling Psychology from the University of California, Santa Barbara. I am lucky to have been able to devote over 20 years of scholarship, clinical practice, university teaching, writing and speaking to my passion – developing strategies for optimizing existential intelligence. I have taught the model of existential intelligence to lay people, undergrads, advanced doctoral students and colleagues. Over time, wise clinicians start to customize their style of therapy to match their unique strengths. For me, I came to realize that there were two aspects of therapy that appealed to me the most and that I did best – reassuring people that they are not horribly flawed and sleuthing out the little pieces of knowledge that my clients didn’t know that they didn’t know. In my experience, when clients are released from the strangle hold of the shame they feel when they stumble in life and when they are filled in on the little life skills that underlie adulthood, then they were able to solve their own problems and motivate themselves to succeed. Meme by meme, this website is designed to help you provide these empowering lessons for yourself.

Note: This website is not meant to replace therapy. When you are in a crisis in your life, it is not the time to be doing self-directed growth projects.


To contact me, please send an email to jan@self-construct.com.
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