Principled Autonomy Shift Training

The purpose of this training is to help you behave in a mature and constructive manner when facing disapproval from your intimate partner. It does this by training your brain to shift from a low consciousness state based on pride and appearance to a high consciousness state that ‘s focused on protective principles for your relationship.

The protocol employs vivid memory of a past conflict with your partner to initially induce a low consciousness interpersonal attachment state. Then body movement is used to disinhibit your system and to break your attention away from the interpersonal attachment state. Finally, meditation and body posture are used to stabilize your emotions with attachment to personal meaning in a high consciousness autonomy state. Repeated practice will train your brain to automatically shift to higher functioning when you face your partner’s intense disapproval.

You would best to view your relationship as involving 3 entities: You, your partner and then the relationship itself. At times you may feel love, hate or indifference toward your partner. During those times of ambivalent feelings your relationship will be protected if your internal attention is directed toward responsibly serving the third entity: your future relationship. Attention is not the same thing as the gaze of your eyes. It’s really the focus of activation in your brain. Sometimes when you drive to work you may be preoccupied with images of what you might expect in your workday. Your driving is automated. Your brain is attending more to your future work experience. This is the nature of attention. It’s not in the physical eyes. It’s your internal focus. The following exercise trains your internal attention to focus on protecting your future relationship instead of your immediate comfort or pride.

Pre-exercise Preparations

Complete these preparations one time only before you do any of the exercises. Then you do not have to repeat these preparations with each exercise set.

Choose an image to represent your future relationship in your training. One image is to imagine a castle or house up in the air. Another image is of a large garden in which you both sit. The castle and the garden are both workable images since they both require servicing to maintain. Whichever you choose, spend at least 5 minutes with your eyes closed to visualize your choice in as much detail as you can.

1) Choose an internal verbal command that you will pair with your attention shift during your training. You need an expression that connotes refusal. The two most effective choices are “No !!!” and “I refuse !!!” . The refusal is actually a form of healthy anger that’s necessary in having healthy interpersonal boudaries. When you’ve chosen your command, practice voicing it in your head for 5 minutes. When you practice, you won’t be saying it out loud. You need to create an auditory image instead. Try to feel the imagined sensations in your tongue, mouth and lips as you imagine shouting the command and hearing it’s imaginary sound.

2) Make a list of moments when you really “lost it” and reacted badly in your past relationship(s). These moments may be when you raged, froze, lied or capitulated out of fear. You only need one sentence to represent each moment but the memories need to be fairly clear.

3) Find a time in your routine where you can chain a 10 minute exercise each day. If you don’t make this a part of your routine then you probably won’t continue it. A good time is after you brush your teeth and before you get dressed. Plan on sitting on the floor with your back to your bed or else sit in a comfortable chair. It’s best to find a quiet and private place.

Phase 1 – Private autonomy shift training

1) Sit upright with the list of relationship welfare principles on your lap. Close your eyes except when you need to refer to the principles.

2) Visualize a “target” moment memory from your list of disturbing relationship memories.

3) Notice the most disturbing sights and sounds of the moment. What were the most disturbing words and phrases being expressed by the other person? What was the look on the face and eyes as he/she was speaking? What were his/her gestures and body posture? What was his/her tone of voice? The body language details are very important to recall.

4) Notice what the back of your mind is fearing when you conjure up the sights and sounds of the target. Are you afraid that you will be unimportant? Are you afraid you’ll appear weak? Try to find the hidden shame that your unconscious is secretly fearing. Remember that it’s not true. It’s only what your unconscious fears. This step requires courage to admit to this kind of irrational vulnerability but it’s important. Spend time to track this down.

5) Take your irrational fear and put it into a statement AS IF IT WERE TRUE. For example: “I’m weak”, “I’m unimportant”, “I’m dumb”, “I’m unlovable”, “I’m a victim”, “I don’t matter.”

6) Final target: Now combine the negative irrational statement from step 5 and hear it in your mind at the same time that you experience the sensory parts of the memory from step 3. Hold all of this together for at least 30 seconds. You will notice the upset feeling in your body. This is the indication that you have a viable target against which to practice. Try to not shorten the exposure just to escape the disturbance. This is a case of “no pain no gain.”

7) Now simultaneously perform 3 actions: a) Lift your arms and extend them only halfway out in front of you so that your elbows are still half-cocked. At the same time, open your hands with fingers splayed open and palms faced forward. This is an oppositional posture. b) Internally shout your chosen command “No !!!” or “I refuse !!!”. Make your internal shout loud and strong. c) At the same time that you lift your arms and internally shout, quickly turn your head facing up or facing down depending on whether your visualize your relationship as a castle in the air or a garden underneath you.

8) Clearly visualize your future relationship in the form of your garden or your castle.

9) While visualizing your future relationship, change the posture of your hands. With your arms still half-outstretched, turn your hands over so that your palms are facing up. Gently and slowly move your fingers in a beckoning motion. This sends a stream of sensory information to your unconscious to begin shifting into a new attachment state.

10) While looking at your future relationship and while keeping your hands in an open beckoning posture, spend 5 minutes in contemplation. Contemplate which relationship principles might apply to protect and promote your relationship given the circumstances of your target memory. You can refer to the list at the back of this document for help. Contemplate what principle(s) your partner might have been violating with his/her irresponsible behavior. Consider whether your partner’s behavior was setting a dangerous precedent for the future. Contemplate whether your partner was in a compromised emotional state that would have precluded a beneficial confrontation.

11) After you are clear about which principles would have been most relevant to your partner’s behavior then contemplate what principled actions you might have taken to protect your relationship. You may be aware that your own impulses would have violated other principles if you had acted on them. You especially want to avoid the “righteously entitled victim” role that many partners claim in order to justify a vengeful counter-attack.

– End of Phase 1 exercise –

Note – Before starting Phase 2, you will want to have practiced Phase 1 so much that you intuitively know how to apply your relationship principles to your different target memories. You should also have practiced to the point that your autonomy shift is fairly automatic. This typically takes place somewhere between 20 and 40 practice sessions. It may realistically take a couple of months of training before you are ready for Phase 2.

You will probably notice that your target memories lose their potency (become less disturbing) after you use each one for awhile. Treat them like used-up lemons. When it loses its potency for disturbing you, discard it and start with a new one. Your feeling of disturbance is like putting a weight on the barbell. You need to practice against challenge if you want to get strong.

Phase 2 – Autonomy shift training with your partner

1) Inform you partner of your private work and ask him/her if he/she will assist you with this next step of your training. Explain that you are asking for him/her to witness your work without responding or giving any feedback. Ask your partner for a firm commitment to merely listen without responding. Explain that your exercise is to train your internal state shifting so that you can better protect your relationship in the future.

2) Ask your partner to sit on the floor facing you with both of your legs crossed, knees almost touching. Explain that the first part of the exercise will require you to meditate and be silent for a couple of minutes so you would like his/her patience while you do so.

3) With eyes closed, visit a target memory involving your partner when you faced his/her disapproval and reacted in an immature or destructive way. Focus on the disturbing images and sounds of that moment as well as your feared negative belief about yourself. You learned to put these together in Phase 1.

4) With eyes still closed, internally shout your command to break attention from your partner and shift your attention to your relationship image. (You will not need to move your arms in a refusal gesture as in Phase 1. Neither will you move your head)

5) While focusing on your relationship image, lift your arms to the side in a palms up position.

6) Contemplate which relationship principle you violated in your target memory. Be aware that you are strengthening your character by prioritizing truth over pride.

7) With palms facing up, open your eyes. However, keep your relationship image in your mind so that your partner’s face is not your primary focus of attention.

8) With palms up, tell your partner about the memory of when you acted irresponsibly. However, even though you may think that your partner was partly to blame, Do not refer at all to your partner’s faulty behavior. Only refer to your own. Share the truth about what you did and what principle you ignored when you acted irresponsibly in your target memory. Tell your partner what hidden shame or discomfort you were trying to avoid. Do not apologize with the customary “I’m sorry” routine. You’re doing an exercise that’s much more important than apologizing. Sharing your “regret” is OK but don’t seek forgiveness from your partner. Share what you wish you had done instead that would have been more responsible and principled. Then thank you partner for listening.

9) Congratulate yourself internally for your courageous work. You’ve just prioritized truth and responsibility above pride and comfort.

– End of Phase 2 exercise –

Note – It’s best to do this exercise from 6 to 10 times, not on consecutive days but spread out over several weeks.


The preceding exercises employ some auto-hypnotic semantic and body posture techniques to help you shift emotional state. The use of a refusal command (“No” or “I refuse”) along with a palms forward rejecting gesture both help induce an “autic-negativisim” meta-motivational state (Reversal Theory term). This posture is to help break attention away from the mirror-neuron system that we use to attend to someone else’s mind. This break of attention inolves one neurological system mapped out by Michael Posner’s work at Cornell.

The palms up beckoning poture is to help induce a “sympathy” meta-motivational state (Reversal Theory term) that means ready to join or connect. In the exercises, the “sympathy” state is induced to help the emotional system become more stable and flexible once separation has taken place. Attachment to valued principles helps open up one’s higher consciosness with more flexiblity. It also helps the brain to better model future possibilities. So, the basic operation of these exercises is to practice separation from a partner’s mind and then reconnection to principles that support mindfulness of future welfare.

The practice with a partner in Phase 2 allows the you to practice priotizing truth and responsibility over pride and appearance. You will have to fight your fears in order to do this. However, the phenomenon of “reciprocal consolidation” (my own term) dictates that whatever you fight for you grow to love. This phenomenon has been found to be true in social psychology research and has been employed in all of the 12 step programs for enhancing spiritual growth.

Even though Phase 2 is designed primarily to strengthen one’s integrity it will also have a profound effect on the relationship. When one partner witnesses the other placing relationship responsibility over pride and comfort then a tremendous amount of affection and respect is released. Interactions change and become more positive as a result.


Principles for Promoting Relationship Welfare

The following principles or transcendent values often compete against hedonic values such as pride, appearance, comfort and pleasure. While the latter are pleasurable condiments in safe circumstances they will damage a relationship when they conflict with and eclipse the following principles.

Inviolacy – Personal boundaries are protected against the urge for physical or emotional violence. There’s a restraint from hitting, blocking, undesired grabbing, mocking, sarcasm, or other emotional manipulations that are designed to shame the other.

Respect – Preferences and beliefs are not imposed on others. Respect is an appreciation of people’s differences. One’s own perspective is not divine and should not set rules on others. There’s also a valuing of other people’s choices that are different and may be at odds with one’s own.

Honesty – Both internal and external truths are held in high regard and are not misrepresented. External truths pertain to the external world (e.g. JFK got shot, Armstrong walked on the moon). Internal truths pertain to personal experience (e.g. a person prefers a certain color or a partner is afraid that if he/she asks for what he/she really wants that his/her partner will painfully disappoint him/her). Honesty doesn’t mean that a partner must disclose. It would be honest if a partner declares “I’m going to keep this private and I don’t want to talk with you about it just now.”

Fidelity – Agreements (contracts) are faithfully kept. The person has a sense of honor in being consistent and fulfilling responsibilities. When he/she forgets to fulfill an obligation he/she follows due-diligence to repair and plan for corrections.

Equity – Intimate partners are viewed as being equally deserving of benefits from the relationship. This principle of equality also extends to equalizing sacrifice. Division of labor, equalizing of leisure time, turn-taking in choices for fun may also be managed with the principle that one partner doesn’t deserve more than another.

Accountability – This principle involves the valuing of objective truth about one’s actions. A person who is willing to be accountable is willing to have his/her behavior measured against objective evidence that he/she is being responsible. Making available phone records, bank statements or even expert consultations are all examples of applied accountability. One’s ego and secrecy don’t rule.

Fostering Closeness – In order to maintain affection and love, you need to keep reinforcing it with a certain kind of experience. It’s the feeling of being “close” in the here and now.” This is not done when you and your partner engage in tasks and responsibilities. Affection and “closeness” are reinforced when you listen intently to each others’ thoughts and feelings. It’s also reinforced when you both voluntarily share touch.

Creative Contribution – In an intimate relationship, there’s a responsibility to both nurture closeness and contribute meaning. It doesn’t work if one partner merely depends on the other partner’s authority. Being close doesn’t enrich a relationship if a partner only shares his/her dependence. It’s not enough to be a rule follower and only comply with what’s expected. There’s a responsibility to think up new ideas of what to share together. This reinforces respect and attraction to each other.

Self Maintenance – Your relationship depends on two people maintaining their separate identities and their own separate integrity. This sometimes requires servicing a separate interest that’s too important to the person to ignore or sacrifice. Not all needs are joint. It’ s a responsibility to maintain your own separate identity by maintaining and expressing your own separate interests. Of course this is true as long as other principles are not being violated at the same time. If you don’t maintain your separate identity then you will lose attraction and affection for your partner.

Dynamic Balancing – This principle means that a relationship is like an organic being. Its needs are constantly changing and will require different servicing at different times. At one time it’s important to do business, to engage in methodical conflict and to allow emotional separation. At another time it’s important to share leisurely relaxation and connection. At one time one partner make take care of the other. At another time the other partner becomes the care-taker. Both partners have a responsibility to monitor both their own and each others’ states to determine what’s needed for the relationship’s welfare at that particular point in time.