Discounting and Mindfulness
The Cathexis School of TA was developed by Jacqui Schiff and her co-workers; it centred on the therapeutic use of reparenting which Schiff claimed was able to cure schizophrenia. Schiff founded the Cathexis Institute which later gave its name to The Cathexis School of Transactional Analysis.
Another concept developed by Schiff and her co-workers was discounting. Discounting is an internal mechanism which involves people minimising, aggrandising, or ignoring some aspect of themselves, others or the reality of the situation.
Discounting as Reality Avoidance
Discounting is the process of denying or ignoring what is going on and this is done outside of our awareness. This might be through not seeing, hearing or feeling something. When we do we are reacting to something as if it were more, less, or different to how it actually is.
There are various levels of discounting:
Level 1: discount the existence of the problem
Level 2: discount the severity of the problem
Level 3: discount the solvability of the problem
Level 4: discount the personal power to solve the problem
It is natural for human beings to move toward self-actualisation. Therefore, when we are discounting we are preventing ourselves from self-actualising or attempting to prevent someone else self-actualising.
Discounting occurs when managers do the thinking for their staff. This develops passivity and invites symbiosis. Symbiosis prevents effective behaviour and maintains the homeostasis. The positive intention for the manager may be to ensure “that the job gets done”, to maintain their view of themselves as being important and so on. However, this can be at the cost of their team’s creativity and problem solving abilities.
Schiff and her co-workers identified four passive, non-problem solving behaviours:
1. doing nothing (relevant to solving the problem)
4. incapacitation or violence.
In a situation where there is a problem and the response is passively doing nothing (as opposed to being in Mindful mode and deciding to do nothing), all the energy is taken up inhibiting responses.
Over-adaptation is one of the most difficult passive behaviours to identify. It occurs when an individual does not identify a goal for him/herself in attempting to solve a problem but tries to achieve what he believes to be someone else’s goal. Over-adapted people seem obliging, so they get lots of reinforcement from others” (Rawson in Tudor, 2002:105).
Agitation is the term Schiff used to describe repeated purposeless behaviours. It occurs when there has been a build up of undischarged tension because a person has failed to act to get their needs met. The agitated person is uncomfortable and often their thinking is confused. A useful response would be “sit down and think about it” stated firmly and calmly. The aim is to restore over-adaptation thus avoiding violence.
Incapacitation or violence occurs in the discharge of energy built up from passivity, and is an attempt to enforce the symbiosis at the time of breakdown” (Schiff & Schiff, 1071: 75). The client accepts no responsibility for his/her behaviour.
For organisational interventions to be relevant they need to take account of current reality. Some people prefer to ignore current reality e.g. the COVID-19 pandemic, as this can be threatening. By ignoring reality they can avoid taking action and can maintain their frames of reference. If this occurs during change programmes it is likely that change will be superficial and temporary at best, or total stagnation occurs and change does not take place at worst.
The Awareness-Discounting Matrix
Macefield and Mellor have developed an Awareness-Discounting Matrix (ADM) and the awareness action sequence (AAS). They developed these tools for settings where the completion of tasks is the main goal e.g. in organisations.
By awareness, Macefield and Mellor mean that we consciously know or understand a situation or fact. This can also mean that we are aware of this knowledge in terms of our learning and experience. This awareness also includes both sensory and cognitive perception.
There are two different causes of discounting. One is our investment in playing games to further our script and the second is when we do not find out the information we require in order to determine the significance of a prompt.
A prompt is the cue for change within the Awareness-Discounting Matrix and the reason for using the ADM: problems, tasks, options, situations, issues, events, planning, learning etc.
Agreed Task(s): There needs to be some sort of change including what needs to be done, by whom, by when, and how it will be done and who else needs to be included in the actions.
Data: This includes statistics, reports of events etc.
Options: This is any task that is possible and relevant to the situation.
Responsibility: This refers to whose job it is to take the action, or who took the action, rather than shifting responsibility to someone else – “It didn’t work”. We can look at the significance of responsibility – the way we are taking responsibility; who does what; and who is generally responsible and the consequences of someone failing to do what is required.
So how do we account?
First we need to take note of the process, rather than the content. The Buddhist phrase for this is “mindful awareness”. When we stay mindfully aware we can pick up on nuances, and ulterior transactions at both the verbal and non-verbal levels. We are also able to confront contradictions and bring these to the awareness of others.
Accounting is also important when relating to employees whose performance may be inadequate. When managers and supervisors challenge they need to account that the employee is likely to be already stressed. By asking the employee for their perception of the situation the manager is accounting the employee.
As games start with a discount it is important to be mindfully aware so that we are not involved in furthering our own script or that of others (in areas that are within our control!).
Employee: I do not know what you want of me. Whatever I do you say I should have done it another way.
Supervisor: It seems to me you are resisting changes to your project
Employee: I spent ten weeks finishing the reorganisation project – I presented it and you said that it does not make sense.
Supervisor: You are forgetting that I told you that your writing is unclear and with that kind of writing it is difficult for me to approve your project. As I am your boss, you are clearly having a problem here.
Employee: I do not believe this. If I have to pattern my writing after yours I might as well quit this job.
Supervisor: You are clearly not grasping what is at stake. I want some improvements, and I can’t be much more specific.
Tempers flare, and previous memories about similar problems are recalled. The employee concludes he will have to exaggerate the facts so that X does not discount him. This is likely to lead to more attacking and defensive behaviours.
Consider the following alternative:
Employee: I do not know what you want of me. Whatever I do you say I should have done it another way.
Supervisor: Perhaps you are frustrated not knowing what I want from you. I understand that you require clear guidance. I am having some difficulty thinking that lack of clarity on my part is the only reason for your frustrations, I have a hunch that you are sensitive to criticism and that makes it difficult for me to give you constructive feedback.
(Example amended dialogue from Chawla, 1983)
What would the remainder of the conversation sound like?
The key is exploring the grain of truth in the employee’s perception. Even where there is a grandiose process it is likely that something was discounted early on and was never resolved. When this occurs patterns of communication develop and each person becomes more and more defensive and/or attacking.
This is one problem with grievance procedures. The person taking out the grievance may well have started to exaggerate their claims in order to be heard and therefore the grievance official writes them off as paranoid or trouble-makers.
When discounted in the organisational setting Chawla notes three categories of reaction:
1. Blaming of supervisor regardless of who is actually responsible – “If it weren’t for them…..” The supervisor does the same in return
2. Employees continue to invite a symbiotic relationship with supervisors “Since I am having trouble understanding what you want, will you do it instead?”
3. Employees give up using their energy constructively and instead inhibit their responses when discounted – do nothing. In this passive behaviour they rarely consider what might be causing the problem.
Therefore, exaggeration needs to be seen as a normal part of the problem and not just about this employee. Thus, minimising the discounting and optimising the accounting of feelings and perceptions needs to occur.
Further difficulties can be seen when employees procrastinate about commencing a piece of work. Procrastination is a discount. It may be that they have grandiose expectations of themselves (i.e. have a Be Perfect Driver). The length of the procrastination period plus the pressure by their internal and/or negative Controlling Parent mode equals the degree of investment in the discounting process. The supervisor or manager involved will need to encourage the employee to account the reality.
To account at the macro level of the organisation we need to ask ourselves questions such as:
Ø What works well around here?
Ø How do we want to be?
Ø What is the gap between how the organisation is and how it would like or need to be?
Ø What therefore, are the long, medium and short-term goals?
Ø What are the biggest challenges in this organisation?
Ø What will it take to face these: skills, attitudes, behaviours, resources etc.?
Ø Other questions...
It can therefore be seen that in order to “account” we need to remain in Accounting mode.
Chawla P (1983), Why Employees Exaggerate Their Complaints, TAJ, 13:3
Macefield R & Mellor K (2006), Awareness and Discounting: New tools for task/Option-Orientated Settings, TAJ 36:1
Mellor K., & Schiff E., (1975), Discounting, TAJ 5:3
Mountain, A. & Davidson, C. (2011) Working Together - Organizational Transactional Analysis and Business Performance Gower Publishing
Rawson D (2002) Cathexis: Brief Therapy in a Residential Setting in Tudor K (2002) Transactional Analysis Approaches to Brief Therapy, Sage Publications
Schiff J and Schiff A (1971), Passivity, TAJ 1:1
Schiff J et al (1975) The Cathexis Reader, Harper Row