Perceptual Positions & Flexible Identity
Flexibility is the Healer’s most valuable skill, and the most useful kind of flexibility is being able to change at will our point of view, and therefore our identity. There are three basic positions from which we perceive reality. Ordinarily we move among these perceptual positions unconsciously, and although it seems we are always the same person, there is a subtle shift in identity with each change of position. The three perceptual positions are:
1. Self Position is a feeling position where you are associated in your own body, looking out through your own eyes. Looking down, you can see your feet. You can hear sounds and feel your bodily sensations and emotions. If you are triggered, you will automatically be in Self Position, feeling what is triggered in you. Use this position to know your own feelings and desires.
To better understand this position (and the rest of the article), take a moment now to experience yourself in your body. Curl your toes and then feel into the energy down there as you relax them. And now remember a time when you were with another person, and you were feeling good. If you can, close your eyes for a moment and remember what it was like being back there, looking out through your own eyes and seeing what is around and beneath you. Remember the feel of the air on your skin, and the pull of gravity on your body, and what you are feeling back in this time. This is Self Position, associated in your own body, either in the present or in an inner remembered or imagined experience.
2. Other Position is also a feeling position where you are associated, as if you are in the body of another person. You are identified with the other person, as if you are looking out through their eyes, hearing the sounds they are hearing, and feeling some of their sensations and emotions. You are able to feel what they’re feeling and able to see things from their point of view. When you want to know another the way they know themselves, use this position. A sense of compassion for the other is a sure sign you are here. Use this position to come into greater rapport with another, or to learn what they are experiencing and what they want.
To experience Other Position, see yourself and the other person back in the time you just remembered. Now go into the position of the other person, as if you are them. You are in their body, looking out through their eyes. As the other, you can see what is around and beneath you, and you can and feel what they are feeling back in this time. This is Other Position, associated in the body of another. At first you may think you are making it up about how they feel, however a little practice will show you that you can indeed know what another is feeling.
3. Observer/Field Position is a neutral position where you are disassociated from both Self Position and Other Position, and instead you are associated in the field, sensing the energy of those you are observing. In this position you’re able to see both Self and Other from a viewpoint midway between them, and observe the patterns of their relating. Here you are the loving yet neutral observer who can see what is happening in the field of the relating and sense the energy of the whole situation with loving awareness. This is your perceptual position when you are the Healer.
Awareness of the energy in the field is tremendously helpful for any interaction with others. In Observer/Field position we are able to feel, sense and observe the energy of the whole system and become more aware of the dynamics in a relationship, a family or any group. Use this position to keep track of states and behaviors in both self and other, and to sense the energy in the field of your relating.
To experience Observer Position, remember again the memory you just revisited in Self and Other, and see the two of you back there in that scene. Be halfway between yourself and the other person so you can see them both equally. And sense the quality of that moment. This is Observer/Field Position, disassociated from both Self and Other while associated in the field, sensing the energies of the combined experiences.
Perceptual Positions awareness and flexibility is an important skill in Process Coaching. We are very grateful to Neuro-Linguistic Programming developers and trainers Judith DeLozier for discovering this previously unconscious process and Robert Diltz for further developing it.
Our sense of self in the moment, ‘who we are’ is unconsciously determined in a large part by our point of view in the moment. When we bring our perceptual position to the foreground of awareness we become conscious of our previously unconscious movement among the three perceptual positions. Practicing this enough to remember it when triggered enables us to free our attention and awareness and more easily and quickly get ourselves unstuck.
Becoming aware of the point of view we are coming from in the moment gives us the ability to change our perceptual position, and therefore our identity. With a little practice we can decide which position is the most advantageous in each moment, and then simply move into it.
For instance, when you want to know more about what another is experiencing, move into Other Position to be with them. When you want to know more about what you yourself are experiencing or what you desire, move into Self Position.
When consciously moving from Self to Other or from Other to Self Position, always move through Observer Position. This keeps your feelings and perceptions as either Self or Other ‘clean,’ and not mingled with the feelings or perceptions from the other associated position.
Often there has been a habitual, unconscious movement directly between Self and Other. This unconscious movement can easily cause confusion about who is feeling what in the short term, and enmeshment in the long term. Becoming aware of this previously unconscious habit of attention, and instead moving consciously through Observer/Field position when going between Self and Other creates a new habit, making it much easier to have a clear sense of yourself and the other person, and therefore making it easy to maintain healthy boundaries.
Each of us typically feels most comfortable in one of the three positions, and sometimes so comfortable, we get ‘stuck’ there. Being able to consciously move among the perceptual positions gives us more information about a given situation and much greater flexibility of point of view, and therefore identity. For instance, being able to come out of a triggered state in Self by going into Observer enables us to become the Healer and gather resources so we can be there with loving acceptance for the hurt part of self that had been stuck in Self Position.
Although most of us have favored one perceptual position over the others, we can learn to intentionally move among them at will. Because of the additional flexibility we gain and the new information we can gather by intentionally moving among the three positions, communication and understanding become greatly enhanced.
The Gift of Observer/Field Position
Observer/Field is the perceptual position where we can become the Healer of ourselves. Rather than being identified with what we are feeling, in this position we’re able to be the observer who can feel into our body and locate specific feelings. Here we can easily become aware of patterns where we were previously trapped, and notice both triggered feelings in the body and habits of conditioning in the mind that have held us captive. We can do this both for ourselves and for the whole field we are sensing and observing.
Also, from Observer/Field Position we are able to bring the resource of loving acceptance to the most triggered parts of ourselves, and at deeper layers of Being, to the most lost parts of Creation. True self-healing is possible only when we are able to find ourselves in the identity of Observer. Observer/Field Position is also referred to as Third Position.
The Gift of Self Position, Desire, Passion, Triggers and Joy
The gift of flexibility allows evolution to happen. If we were only the observer, we could not be engaged or have a deeply felt experience of life the way we can in Self Position. Nor could we access our true desires–which we must feel in order to know. When in Self Position we can feel feelings and identify with parts of ourselves that are in need of healing. Self Position is where we experience triggers that inform us of where healing is needed. Also after doing some healing work, it’s good to come back into Self Position and feel the newfound love in the places we had not known it before. It is in Self Position where we can be childlike, have fun, play and best experience passion and joy. Self Position is also referred to as First Position.
The Gift of Other Position, the Doorway to Compassion
We can be trapped observing life in Observer/Field Position, or stuck in Self Position taking everything personally. Being able to go into Other position with another is the essence of rapport, and by doing this we can experience what it is like being the other person.
Learning the skill of consciously moving our perceptual position to that of the other person is an effective way to have deeper rapport and excellent communication. Further, it opens the door to loving the other. It is only through knowing someone else the way they know themselves that we can truly love them, and not just what they are reflecting of ourselves. This position also allows us to experience another’s gifts first hand and helps us become better learners. Other Position is also referred to as Second Position.
The purpose of this exercise is to develop the ability to move easily between Self, Observer, and Other positions, while experiencing well-sorted perceptions. This typically results in clear boundaries, respect for self and others, greater resourcefulness, more choices and deeper wisdom.
You can do the exercise alone, or if working with another you can read the following instructions to your partner. In either case, pause each time you see (Pause) so you can complete the inner task before going on. If you are working alone, place a finger on the paragraph you have just read, close your eyes, and then do what is suggested. When you finish doing that step, move to the next step, and so on.
1. Remember a situation where you were in the same space with another person and you were having difficulty in communication. (The first time you do this practice, choose a situation that is only mildly or moderately intense.)
2. Replay this situation in your mind from Observer/Field position. From a point of view midway between, you can see yourself on one side and the other person on the other. (Pause) In this position you can sense the energy in the field and see the patterns of the relating between the two. (Pause until you feel complete here.)
3. Now go into Self Position in this situation. Be in your own body, looking out through your own eyes. When you look down you can see what’s below you; when you look up you can see the other person across from you. Feel the air on your skin, and any other bodily sensations you are having here. And feel your emotional feelings of this time. (Pause until you feel complete here.)
4. Now move back into Observer/Field position, sense the energy in the field and observe the patterns of relating from this position again. (Pause until you feel complete here.)
5. Now go into Other Position. Imagine yourself in the body of the other person, looking out through their eyes. When you look down, you can see what’s beneath them. When you look up through their eyes, you can see yourself over there. As the other person, feel the air on your skin and any other bodily sensations that are available. And feel their feelings. Feel what the other is feeling while relating with you. (Pause until you feel complete here.)
6. Return to Observer/Field position and notice again the energy of the field and the patterns of the relating between the two people.
7. Now bring it all back home by coming into your body here as you are here reading this. Feel the seat under you, and the air on your skin. As you return to the present moment, notice any additional understandings about this situation that came from moving through the different positions. Write down any notes you may have. Or if working with another, find out what they experienced.