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  • Matt M.

The Two Paths and the Compensation

The Two Paths and the Compensation is a metaphor used within Holistic Counseling to help to illustrate to the patient what choices they are operating under.

There are many useful metaphors used in Holistic Counseling, however The Two Paths and the Compensation is probably the most used one, mainly because everyone is operating under some sort of compensation.

I’ve written this article to help to illustrate this idea to patients who I work with on Holistic Counseling. If you haven’t also read my article explaining exactly what Holistic Counseling is, check it out here.

So first to start, what exactly do I mean by a compensation?

A compensation is an act a person undertakes to satisfy an underlying fear. This is an important first point, because we should note here that a compensation cannot exist without the underlying fear.

As always let’s take an example to illustrate.

Bill, a little boy grows up watching his mother get physically abused by his father. He is little so he can’t do anything about it, however he wishes he were stronger so he could save his mother. In his little mind he believes that “if only I were stronger I could have protected her”, and blames himself for not being able to help.

The mother eventually leaves the father and is ok, however the boy’s belief stays. He becomes a teenager and starts lifting weights. He starts to feel strong and it feels GOOD. The stronger he gets the better he feels. He feels useful, as though he can protect the innocent if they gets in harms way. He fantasizes about being a kind of Superman type figure.

When he gets sick and can’t work out he becomes depressed. He starts to feel weak. When he feels weak he feels useless. Missing even a day of working out SUCKS and really kills his mood. He doesn’t fully realize this, but feeling useless is the same he felt as a child when his mom was being abused.

If we can further illustrate this example, let’s picture a fork in the road (see the picture above). The abuse of the mother serves as the fork. The road to the left serves as the path of truth, and the road to the right serves as the compensation.

For the boy the compensation is getting stronger. Making that little boy inside of him feel better by packing on muscle to feel powerful, to feel like he could have done something to help his mother. Although the abuse is not still happening, the compensation is there and exists until the choice is realized. Compensations like this develop in many of us as children because we don’t know any better.

We can call this perhaps an Error in Innocence, another tenet of Holistic Counseling. An Error in Innocence is an “error” in belief or choice made by a child. Although it is an “error” (i.e. not true) the child believes it because he or she doesn’t know any better at the time. They are innocent in the situation, but have taken on this falsehood which sometimes stays with them for decades and decades.

The child is in no way to blame, but as an adult they can be made to see this error. There is nothing to do here other than to give love to the younger self and allow them to let go of the error.

So, let’s get back to the example. Reading this example is may seem like “of course that’s what you would do in that situation… who wouldn’t?”, or “this guy is a hero, getting stronger to save those who can’t protect themselves”.

But we have to ask… is this compensation serving this person well? His life now revolves around going to the gym. Five days a week. Eating huge amounts of food to maintain his muscle. If he misses a meal he gets anxious because he feels like he’s getting smaller. When he misses a few days of exercise he gets depressed. He looks great and feels strong, but maintaining this lifestyle is exhausting.

*Before moving on with the story I’d like to add an aside. There is of course nothing inherently wrong with going to the gym. With wanting to stay fit, to build some muscle, to look good… to do it for whatever goal you may want to accomplish. I workout myself a couple times a week.

Problems occur when these things becomes needs. I need to go to the gym because otherwise I feel shitty. I need to do well on this math test because otherwise I will feel stupid and have a panic attack. Having desires and goals to do well, to pass that test, to get a good job and make a good living, to be fit, to be attractive, etc. etc… nothing wrong with any of that. But when you need them… when you need this thing because your self worth is dependent on it… that’s when we have problems.

Ok so let’s continue and take a look at the path to the left… the Path of Truth.

Bill has a Holistic Counseling session. We start in the present and he says that he feels “stressed”. It turns out the stress is related to the feeling of the need to constantly go to the gym. When he doesn’t go he feels depressed and anxious. After some exploring for about 90 minutes we finally trace those feelings back to the time when he was a child, feeling the need to protect his mother.

We have Bill contact his inner child (that scared little boy inside of him who still feels like he needed to protect his mom). We ask Bill what could you have done differently in that situation? What can he tell himself with his awareness now as an adult?

He enters the memories of that time and as his older / wiser self he reassures the boy:

“You’re OK. You did everything you could to help mom. You’re not a failure. You’re a brave boy who was just in a very hard situation.”

Bill feels a huge release and lets out a lot of tears. He understands the choice he made as a little boy to go down path number two, and now sets the boy down path one… that he’s ok just as he is. Bill understands the choices he made both as a child in the past, and in the present as himself to follow path number two. Both Bill and his inner child are now on path one.

Upon follow-up 4 weeks later Bill is doing much better. He still works out but it is not a stress for him. He has cut his workout time down significantly and spends time doing other things he loves. He doesn’t stress about missing workouts or get depressed anymore. Sometimes he feels the draw to path two just a little, but he doesn’t follow it.

You may not currently be aware of what your path two is. It is difficult to understand without being asked the right questions to help understand exactly what is going on inside of you. But we all have a path two, and we all have a path one.

Following path two is quite ironic because everything you could ever want and need is right at your fingertips in path one, but we ignore it to try to be “better”.

The irony is deeper even because when you ignore what is there, when you push it away and say it’s not good enough and you need to be better, you are not fully connected with it, and therefore don’t even fully realize what potential you really have inside of you.

Path one can be called the Path of Truth. It is our total and complete connection to ourselves. It is existing without the need to be anything. At the centre it is devoid of any fear. It is a connection to all the weird and unique things about yourself… to the way you inherently see and experience the word. It is the truth because it simply exists without the effort to try to make anything of it. It is naturally beautiful and happy.

Path two is the opposite of this. It is avoiding situations where fears and insecurities arise. We as people are drawn to path two because we want to be “better”, but the irony is that it is the exact opposite direction of where the deepest parts of you truly wants to be.

Path two is always done in relationship to a wound, and therefore constantly feeds that wound. For example going to the gym for Bill is to make himself stronger so he doesn’t feel weak and useless. It is done in relation to himself feeling weak and useless, therefore constantly feeds and gives energy to that feeling inside of him.

The further irony with path two is that that need can never be fully met. We can never be big and strong enough, or smart enough, or make enough money. We can meet these needs temporarily, but they are fleeting, i.e. once I miss a day at the gym I start to feel weak again. I felt great at the gym, but not today.

What happens when you can’t get this need met? What happens when you lose it?

Path two can often manifest as lack of energy, which in reality is not lack of energy, but energy spent on following path two. Although many a times the compensation is done only in your mind, it is physically exhausting. Constantly chasing the need to be enough can drain a person. I certainly did for me.

No matter how long you’ve been following path two, path one will always will always be there for you if you decide to surrender to yourself. You may be amazed of what you truly have to offer if you allowed yourself to go there.

Thanks for reading, and feel free to check out my other articles, or to book a session with me.


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