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Personal Iceberg

A tool for self reflection

· emotional needs,therapy tools,psychology tools,coping tools,self love

What Lies Beneath

The Personal Iceberg utilizes the metaphor of an iceberg to represent human experiencing; the small tip represents visible behaviors, which is often what we focus on as we move through life because it is so easily accessible to us. But as goes the Iceberg, this is only the (10%) tip of human experiencing. Each layer under the water represents a part of personal experiencing that is unique to each individual, and if explored, gets us closer to who we each are in the world.

Behavior is observable, measurable, and normative: this is the domain of right and wrong, of justice, of morality. But below the water’s surface, there is no need for judgement, there is not a right or wrong thought, feeling, etc. As we journey down the Iceberg, release the need to judge what you find. Behavior Based Example: “I am having an argument (behavior) with my wife about money I spent on games.

Copings are defenses that exist to shield our inner workings from being know, as a way to protect the self, but sometimes we hide even from ourself. Examine what thoughts you are having about the current situation via introspection (a quiet kind of internal listening) to discerne the type of coping defenses you might be engaged with (see other blog post called communication stances for labels). Thought Based Example: “She is such a controlling bossy pants!” would indicate Blamer stance. 

Feelings, for some, are more challenging to discern than thoughts. In part, this is because feelings occur in a region of the brain thought to have difficulty accessing temporal information, which is why sometimes a feeling that occurred long ago can be re-experienced as if it is happening right now (a trigger). Additionally, we may not have been taught how to talk about feelings. Sometimes this is evidenced by confusing a thought with a feeling; you don’t feel like someone is bossy, you think it. What you feel is… Feelings Based Example: I feel angry and unhappy with the way I am being talked to about money, like a child. “ 

Feelings about Feelings often include anxiety, fear of our underlying emoitnal experiences. IF anxiety is present, we must dig underneath that to see what other feelings are there and learn mre about where those feelings come from (deeper in the iceberg). Do we like some feelings more than others and hide them less? Do we feel shame about certian other feelings? What about the feelings we handle badly?

NOTE: I like to flip the order of the enxt two levels as I find expectations are easier for most people to describe than perceptions, which would mean perceptions are more depth oriented and further "under water" so to speak. 

Expectations often are built from our past experiences, but also from family, friends, media, legends, stories, religion, myth, culture, race, gender, caste, etc. Interestingly, violated expectations are rarely voiced in conflict although they are playing a large role in how the experience unfolds (notice how the base of the iceberg widens as we go down the layers). Sometimes our expectations even predict our behaviors directly! Check this out… Expectations Based Example: “I expect to be yelled at -because she always does- for buying a new video game, so I will just not tell her about it for a few weeks.”

Perceptions/Values are the assumionts we have, biases we carry, and importantly, the ideas we have that make life worth living, the ideas that we believe are fundamentally true, our values. It is from our values that we judge our self and others. The interesting thing about values is that we can have behaviors, thoughts, feelings, and expectations that do not match up with what we hold to be true about life. When reflecting on how your values are activated by a particular behavior, allow for any noted contradictions as they emerge… Values Based Example: “I value keeping it real (being authentic), yet I hide my game playing to avoid fights, which just makes me feel worse.”

Yearnings are our wishes, needs, hopes, and dreams, some of which we are born with, like needs for food, clothing, shelter, and love. But some develop over time, like our career goals, our sexual fantasies, and our partner needs. These experiences show up in our behaviors regularly but often go verbally unacknowledged. A powerful practice at this level is naming the yearning and meeting the need, either via the self, or asking for others to help (you must be willing to take no for an answer though). Yearnings Based Example: “I wish you would surprise me sometimes. I have always fantasized about being picked up by limo and taken out to dinner with no idea what is going on. Do you think you could ever do anything like that for me? If “no” you might ask “Is there something kind of like that you would be willing to do?” or “I think I will do it with my friends, then.”

The Self is who we are, who we have always been, and who we will always be. This is not to say the Self is static, or unchanging, it is more like the entirety of your existence from birth to death. It is, existentially speaking, being you. This is your core; it is the base from which all the other layers are born. Poor self-concept can be a result of not getting our yearnings met, or not knowing what we think and feel. To be truly known by self or other, this level must be explored and communicated. And for couples, this is where the deepest intimacy can occur. Self Based Example: “When I am disappointed, I often say to myself ‘No one that I love appreciates me’. I wonder where that comes from for me?”


 I love myself and all my complexities for they make me who I am.

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