Dereflection – A New View


When life presents us with challenges, in whatever form, they may seem like insurmountable hills. If you are standing at the foot of a mountain chances are, unless you’re using a periscope, that you will not be able to see anything but the mountain.  That’s the perspective we often take when viewing our problems: we focus almost exclusively on the problem and, consequently, the problem fills up our whole range of vision.  It’s hard to see solutions or meaning when all you can see is a problem.

Viktor Frankl describes two processes that lead people to this kind of “stuckness”:  hyperintention, when a person focuses all of his energies on bringing about a certain result, and hyperreflection, where a person turns his focus inwards and is unable to transcend himself towards a greater value. An insomniac may be described as a person who is so obsessed with the desire to fall asleep that she makes it impossible to do so; that is a classic example of hyperintention. Sometimes you’ll have someone who is very preoccupied with his ability to be a father, who takes parenting classes, reads every book, and still somehow never gets down to the business of parenting; this might be a case of hyperreflection.

A technique used in Logotherapy to address both of these issues is dereflection.  Let’s return to our insurmountable hill for a moment.  Imagine standing before a challenge in your life that looms so large that it blocks out all other possible views.  You can’t even think about anything else.  Now imagine that you have a helicopter that you can comfortably board and pilot.  Take yourself upwards until you are above the mountain.  As you climb even higher, you will notice that the big hill that occupied all of your visual space is joined by many other aspects of the landscape: other hills, lakes, forests, valleys.  You can shift your focus to any one of these items and, while the big hill you couldn’t get over is still there, it is in perspective, no longer dominating the horizon.

In much the same way, dereflection calls upon a person to shift his focus, lift his gaze, and recognize that he is not his problem. His problem is not his life; it is one of the many features of his life’s landscape. Shifting the focus to the other parts of one’s life enables a person to see where things are going right and what talents, insights and resources are available in many other aspects of life–and eventually,  how those endowments may be brought to bear on the current dilemma.

Recently, I listened to a presentation by Dr. Gordon Neufeld in which he said that sometimes it pays to reformulate a question because by doing so, you can tap into the type of information and insight necessary to answer a question. For example, instead of asking, “Why is parenting children so difficult?”, one can ask, “What makes some children so easy to parent?”.  When facing an existential challenge, it may very well be that our success at making it out of the vacuum depends on our asking a better question–or being open to being asked.  Dereflection opens up new possibilities for traversing the hill,  tapping into these resources, getting un-stuck, and ultimately, harvesting the meaning potential of the challenge itself.  When that happens, the challenge is no longer an unwanted roadblock on the path leading to our destiny but is an essential part of the journey.  If we get above it, we will be able to see the meaning it brings to our lives.

About Tanchum Burton

Rabbi Tanchum Burton is a psychotherapist who works with a wide range of clients, from individuals to couples to families. In addition to his private practice, he has served as the therapeutic director of a program for at-risk youth and their families, as well as a group therapy facilitator with an organization that focuses on sexual abuse in communities. He is currently finishing his training at the Victor Frankl Institute of Logotherapy. Rabbi Burton finds much inspiration in Logotherapy, which emphasizes meaning, consciousness and responsibility as the primary concerns of all human beings. Read more about Rabbi Burton's thoughts and activities at:
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