Friday, June 7, 2013

Not Just Pumping Iron - Part Nine

Personality Styles and the Experience of Lifting

Thus far, we have explored several "paths" of lifting, including their various surface motives, as well as the deeper psychological motives which interact to over-determine an individual's lifting activity. Beyond all this, there is still another area which I find interesting, that being the relationship between certain personality styles and the experience of lifting. The question I want to answer is, what is lifting like for some particular types of people?

The key to understanding this question is the idea of "body scripting." A body script refers to the messages which a person accepted early in life about how he is to act and to be with his body. As children, we are all told what things to do and what things not to do by our parent and other adults who assume a parenting role such as teachers, older brothers and sisters, neighbors, relatives, clergy, and so on.

They may say "You'd better be careful!" Or, they may say, "Go ahead and have fun," or even "Don't be a sissy," implying that one should go ahead and do something beyond one's capability. These things are not always said so explicitly. They may be implied by what is said. It may be an interesting experiment at this point for the reader to pick one of these three examples of script messages and say it aloud to himself several times. Now, sit with that experience for a couple of minutes and feel what the impact is. Remember, imagine yourself as a child being told this message by a parent or other parenting figure. Say it, again, if necessary. Feel the impact. Now, do the same with one of the other two messages. When you have explored the impact of that one sufficiently, try the third message. This simple experiment may give you a feel for how body scripting happens.

The script message may have been repeated over and over. The exact wording may have changed, buy the theme may have been presented many times. The variations on the theme may include non-verbal as well as verbal messages. A grimace, a smile and an approving nod, or a mocking look of disgust in response to a child's body play could carry the same meaning as the verbal messages which I suggested above. The non-verbal messages may actually have had a stronger impact than the messages spoken. The important factor is what meaning the child makes of the messages, verbal and non-verbal. Is the meaning one of caution, support, or dare?

Sometimes these rules are given to us with enough force, or with enough threat of punishment or actual punishment that we record them indelibly. The organized sum of the rules about our body behavior constitutes our body script. The script may be more or less unconscious, but it is followed nonetheless. So, it is as if each of us is playing out a part which is called for by our particular body script. For some, it is a lifelong script written in early childhood. For others, it is a revised script, the revisions coming about through impactful life experiences, either positive or negative.  

The body script is one facet of the more encompassing "life script." Because life is embodied, the body script is a necessary facet of the lift script, and is reflective of the larger script. To the extent that the messages accepted are in support of one's aliveness and growth, the script is life enhancing or "biopositive." To the extent that those messages are toxic and not in support of aliveness and growth, the script is deadening or "bionegative."

In the quest to understand the psychological dynamics of the human being, many typologies have been developed. Each one attempts to classify people into several "types" and delineate the characteristics of each. This approach has been of immense value, but also has some serious limitations, not the least of which is that no individual is a pure type. I want to avoid this trap of trying to fit people into neat compartments by acknowledging the limitation of "typing" people, and by emphasizing, instead, personal "styles" which reflect certain body scripts. I want to discuss three major styles of "living one's body." 

One style is based on a biopositive body script, and the other two are based on bionegative body scripts. These three styles can best be thought of as the middle region (biopositive body script) and the two extreme regions (bionegative body scripts) of a continuum. The styles represented in these three regions may be called the "phobic" style (bionegative), the "self-actualizing style" (biopositive), and the "impulsive style" (bionegative).

Let us explore, first, the self-actualizing style. The self-actualizing style is an expression of a natural urge, as discussed in earlier sections of this book. The natural urge to realize one's potential is supported by a biopositive body script. This self-actualizing body script calls for a living of one's body, the experience of being alive and embodied. A person who lives his body uses body sensations as input for perceptual and cognitive processes, has a high level of body awareness, experiences the locus of self in the body, using it fully, but neither damaging it through misuse nor allowing it to deteriorate through disuse. The lived body is regarded with an attitude of respect and excitement. The script is "Use your body."

The person with this script which gives permission for, and supports the use of the body, tends to live passionately. This means to feel strongly. It also means to respond to the natural urge for experience. Experience comes from expanding into the world, from going out and beyond what is familiar and certain. This means the willingness to take reasonable risks.

And, now, to address the question of how someone with this self-actualizing style approaches lifting weights. This person's "Use your body" script calls for the realizing of potential. This person will enjoy using his body and will find deep satisfaction in physical progress. Each gain in strength of size or definition will bring meaning and pleasure to this lifter. He will have respect for the body's real limits and the actual dangers of lifting, and so will exercise appropriate care and caution. This person will probably appreciate the nature of his "growing edge" and work near it, neither wasting time with workouts which are too easy nor unnecessarily risking injury by forcing beyond a limit. Respect for the limits and excitement about the activity of lifting, as well as its results, make this style the one which most often bears the most fruit. This person enjoys his workouts and makes the most of them, since the body script supports pleasure in physical activity.

The lifter who has a self-actualizing style is likely to lift with care and awareness. The "Use your body" script invites a tuning into one's embodied self with an attention to body sensations. This lifter will value body sensations as a rich source of information as well as a source of pleasure. To lift with care and awareness is an expression of discipline.

In terms of motive lifter with a "Use your body" script will tend not to lift because of a "Should" or even a "Have in order to," but will lift out of a genuine "Want," or as a path of growth. He or she would not feel driven to lift. Instead, his or her lifting would flow out of a genuine desire to lift. the natural urge for body experience, body use, is supported by a body script which allows for the actualization of that urge.

In contrast to this self-actualizing style, the phobic style comes from a bionegative body script. More specifically, this body script is "Disuse your body." In this case the natural urge for self-actualization is perverted into an urge to avoid. Those who express this phobic style retreat in anxiety from their growing edge, afraid of discomfort, pain, embarrassment, and the "too muchness" of a life fully lived. This phobic style defines the timid and the shy, the spectators of life.

If the "Disuse your body" script is extreme, the person so oriented is not likely even to walk through the gym door, let alone chalk his hands. The result is an undeveloped body or a body showing muscular atrophy. If the severity of this body script is not so extreme, the person may lift, but in a manner reflective of the "Disuse your body" script. The core symptom of a lifter with this script is a lack of vigorous and sustained effort. Such a person shows a phobic reaction to discomfort, let alone pain. Therefore, he will avoid muscle burns and painful exertions, and eschew post workout muscle soreness. In order to avoid these discomforts, this lifter will tend to use workout routines which lack sufficient intensity. These less than optimally intense workouts leave this lifter in the region far shy of his growing edge. Rather than seeking and tolerating the discomfort of burning and sore muscles, knowing that these are hallmarks of muscular growth, this person will use physical discomfort as a tocsin to slow down, ease off, or stop.

We can recognize a complex or pattern in the lifter who has a "Disuse your body script." First, workouts lack optimal intensity. This is accomplished by using a combination of weights which are too light, too few sets, sometimes too few exercises per workout, and sometimes rest periods between sets which are too long. Second, the strength development or body development in evidence seems small relative to the length of time the person has been lifting. Third, this lifter expresses how much he hates to work out. Often this is expressed by relief when a workout is over. Fourth, many of these lifters drop out, not sustaining interest for more than a few months. In a word, the lifter who has a "Disuse your body" script is undertrained.

The lifter having a "Disuse your body" script is most likely to lift from a motive of "I Should." being phobic about vigorous physical activity, discomfort, or pain, this lifter does not really want to lift. He is doing so because of an external "should," not because of an internal desire. So, he or she may be compliant, but his heart is not in it. He may feel guilty about missing a workout, or feel relieved at having gotten out of one. But, he would neither long to work out nor feel a loss at a missed opportunity with the weights. This lifter, having a phobic style, is not a disciplined lifter. Compliant, at times, but disciplined, no.

The other toxic body script which is relevant here is "Misuse your body." This dictates to an impulsive style. When this script is operating, the person tends to ignore actual limits and real dangers, and to push beyond the growing edge. We might call this person the fool. His pushing of the limits without adequate circumspection and caution inevitably results in some degree of self-destruction. "Look before you leap" has little meaning to the person scripted to misuse his body. Such a person tends to act on impulse, his action not benefiting from adequate awareness.

The lifter who has a "Misuse your body" script may at first be impressive. He may be displaying a good, high-intensity workout, carried out with enthusiasm and vigor. A real workout animal, it appears that this lifter is an example of what lifting weights is supposed to be. On closer examination, however, it can be discerned that this lifter is overdoing. In his quest for development, undermined by a script which calls for abuse of the body, he will tend to do some combination of using weights which are too heavy for performing the exercises correctly, using too many sets, using too many exercises per workout, not resting sufficiently between sets, and working out too frequently, not allowing the body adequate time to recuperate. In a word, this lifter simply overdoes it.

In addition to overdoing everything, the lifter with this impulsive style is likely to try most anything. It has been said that fools rush in where angels fear to tread, and so it is with such a lifter. This is the lifter who may walk up to the new machine, drop the pin to the lowest position on the weight stack, and try to lift the whole stack first try. Likewise, he may pick up the barbell someone else has been using and try to duplicate the lift without a warmup.

The impulsive lifter, because of the underlying script which calls for abuse of the body, tends to ignore pain as a danger signal. He may not recognize the difference between muscle burns and muscle soreness which are hallmarks of muscle growth and the sharp pains which warn of tearing in the muscles and tendons. This lifter recites in slogan fashion, "No pain, no gain," as he takes two more aspirins and picks up the bar again, to "work through the pain."

The lifter of impulsive style is not a disciplined lifter. Again, to the casual observer, this lifter may appear disciplined. But he is driven to lift. This driven quality is revealed on closer observation. he pushes and forces beyond what is reasonable. The over-intensity of this lifter bespeaks both a driveness and an underlying motive of "I have to in order to . . ." He is unreasonably goal directed. This lifter is willing to sacrifice personal well-being and take foolish risks in the driven pursuit of the goal.

One of the frequent results of the impulsive style is, of course, injury. Another, which is not quite so blatant, is the accumulation of exhaustion overtime and its resultant overtraining. Both of these results are thoroughly consistent with script of "Misuse your body." Overtraining is the result of accumulated abuse. This "overtraining" does not happen overnight or in the course of a few weeks, but takes prolonged lengths of overwork to occur.

There are several symptoms of overtraining which can appear in various combinations. First, with respect to workouts, the lifter may experience a lack of progress and eventually, regression. After a period of good progress, this lifter will continue to pound away, become "stale," reach a plateau, continue to pound away, and eventually become overtrained. For long periods of time poundages do not increase, or size is not gained. Over time with continued training without respite, strength and/or size are lost. So, alarmed at the loss, this lifter works even harder, only to exacerbate the problem and possibly inflict an injury. Generally speaking, staleness will set in well before actual overtraining. Closely related to this halt in progress is another symptom of overtraining -- aversion to working out. The lifter may find the he doesn't feel like working out, feel like doing much of anything, and begins to dread workouts and much of his daily life. So, the overtrained lifter pushes himself all the harder to work out and work out longer and harder, and continues to exacerbate the problem, often causing damage that can take weeks or months to repair.

Other symptoms of true overtraining can affect the lifter in his life in general. One of the most common is an unquestionable feeling of constant and chronic tiredness and fatigue. This is not simply the feeling of tiredness that can occur after a series of exceptionally hard workouts, this is a chronic condition that takes weeks, often months to develop. The lifter has a continual feeling of being worn down and burned out, which doesn't go away. This can cause insomnia, difficulty in sleeping for any length of time, which can further add to the problem.

There will likely also be symptoms of easily noticed nervousness and irritability. The lifter will feel "jumpy" and have great difficulty relaxing in any situation. He may have a very low tolerance for the common daily frustrations he once handled with ease. This often leads to a severe strain on relationships with family and friends, if left unchecked and untreated.

A physiological symptom of this "keyed up" state is a highly elevated pulse rate. A monitoring of the lifter's resting pulse rate may reveal that it is much more rapid than usual, however, by this point the symptoms of overtraining will be easy to see.

If overtraining continues, the symptoms will eventually escalate to true illness, constant body aches, and overuse injuries. The overall malaise is usually reflected in the lifter's eyes, looking dull, without sparkle and without energy.

These symptoms of true overtraining are caused by long periods of overwork coupled with insufficient rest, diet, lack of stress, etc. Good workouts require hard effort and pinpoint concentration. This can deplete the entire organism, and if repeated over weeks and months without sufficient regeneration, can create overtraining. There is, of course, a price to pay for repeatedly not respecting the balance and rhythm or working out and regenerating.    

Call it burnout, severe overwork, or overtraining. In each case it results from a disrespect for one's self, a motive of "I have to in order to . . ." is usually found. Rather than doing what one "wants" to do, one does what he believes "has to" be done in the service of pursuing some image. This is a situation of attempted self-image actualizing rather than self-actualizing. 'I have to push, push, push if I'm ever going the have the leg size and strength of Tom Platz." Sorry, that is not the way.

The overtrained lifter may look and/or lift more impressively than his counterpart at the other extreme, the undertraining lifter previously discussed. Neither of these two lifters will develop optimally, however. Both are living out a bionegative body script. With the "Disuse your body" script come undertraining and underdevelopment. With the "Misuse your body" script come overtraining and compulsive actions which lead to staleness, then overtraining, and eventually injury. In both cases, the scripts show negative regard for the body. The "Use your body" script calls for a positive regard and living of the body. The choice is to participate in an embodied life, to shrink from life (disuse the body), or to be the careless fool, burned out or broken down (misuse the body).

The self-actualizing style calls for a constant, exquisite awareness.
The path is narrow, with a steep descent to either side.
Getting off the path means easy descent to the side of misuse or disuse.
To follow the path of disciplined living is to traverse the razor's edge.

Next: Apollonian and Dionysian Orientations.  



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