Homepage of Claes Janssen    
  Home > Books > The Four Rooms of Change  

The Four Rooms of Change, first chapter


This book describes a simple, practical psychological theory of conflict, change, and problem solving, colloquially known as the 4-Room Apartment, and the effects this theory seems to have, as personal knowledge and as common knowledge in organizations.

Scientifically, the theory is original in that it is made by consensus. Whenever I present it, I always do so by making the participants create it themselves.

I ask them to answer a questionnaire, and then to characterize, with key words, two hypothetical persons, one who answers no to all or almost all the questions, and another who answers yes. The collected key words, describing the two hypothetical characters, with the plus and minus aspects of each, bring to light a conflict between two attitudes to life, or existential stances. The key words are then shown to be »convertible« into a theory of change, and the latter again into a problem solving / decision making tool.

In all change, we move from a Contentment, which is lost, via a period in Denial, which is a defense of the old, through Confusion, which ends when we give up whatever it is of the old that had to be given up. The giving up is the turning point, making us open to the possibilities, the new, whereby we move on to Renewal.

I have done the theory-making by consensus hundreds of times. It never fails, and the participants always end up with the same theory, independently - as far as I can judge - of who they are. Seventeen-year-old youngsters, technicians, organizational leaders, women (in a particular project in Norway, called »I want, I can, I dare«), psychotherapists, salesmen, all make the same theory - connecting it, however, with their specific problem situations.

Thus, the theory is of the nature of crystallized, common experience - or common sense, if you will.

So far, it is OD consultants who have been most appreciative of the theory, probably since it describes both personal and organizational realities and connects them. If you are a »change agent« - a leader, an OD consultant, a psychotherapist, in short, one whose task as a professional has the character of idea salesmanship - the theory will probably deepen your communicational skills, as well as give you a number of creative ideas. Independently of this, it might make a difference in your personal life. In fact, there is an approximately 90% probability that you will find it definitely useful to you, both in your private life and in your work, almost whoever you are.

I was originally inspired by Colin Wilson's famous book, The Outsider. Interpreting the Outsider's experience (and in particular, the sense of unreality, which I saw as a paradigm of it) I ended up with a simple, practical psychology: a fascinating paradox. If you are an Outsider - in essence, one who gambles on experiencing his/her experience, without self-censorship, although it might bring considerable Confusion, triggering both internal and external conflicts - you might not like the idea of a consensus psychology, and you might prefer the complex to the simple and practical. So I tell you this connection, hoping not to lose you.

I glimpsed the theory, roughly, as a young man of 24. It was to take me ten years to make it right, to make it feel good. It took another six or seven years to perfect the consensus technique, making it both simple and pleasant enough. Since then, I have for a dozen years or so alternated between feeling good, when presenting the theory - delighting in the predictable enthusiasm, the good mood, the aha-experiences it triggers - and feeling confused, when considering the nature of this enthusiasm.

- It is strange that four simple words can tell so much, said a manager who had used the theory for three years and had every reason to feel content, just as I had, considering his good experiences with it, of making it common knowledge in his company in particular. At the same time he drummed irritatedly, probably without thinking of it, with his collapsible pointer on the diagram, as if he was whipping the 4-Room Apartment to force out of it an explanation of its effects, of this strangeness.

I recognize this. I feel like that too.

Judging by numerous extravagant comments the theory seems to make a vast spectrum of difficulties unnecessary, and I don't quite know what to do (or recommend others to do) as a consequence. Possibilities confuse. But this problem situation is easier to describe when you have a picture of the theory.

Chapter I describes the theory-making by consensus, filling the four frames (Contentment, Denial, Confusion, and Renewal) with their psychological content. It presents three dialectical matrices, which summarize the theory.

Chapter II defines the aim of the book and comments the danger of a simple, practical, everyday psychology, which is, in a sense, »too good«, has too many possible uses, so that one use might, in effect, »eat up« another.

Chapter III aims to deepen the understanding of the conflict between the two existential stances I have described as those of the Self-Censor and the Outsider.

Chapter IV concentrates on personal problem solving.

Chapter V is personal and describes my difficulties with the theory-making as an intellectual adventure, which began one day in 1964, when I discovered Colin Wilson's book and read there the words: »He is an Outsider because he stands for Truth.« I felt that the question was in what sense this was so, for I suspected that the Outsider was not right in everything but probably also wrong in much, if I was an example.

Chapter VI describes connections between the consensus theory and numerous other theories within psychology.

Chapter VII interprets the power of the 4-Room Apartment in personal integration.

A recommendation to the reader might be worthwhile. The book is constructed like a wheel with Chapter I as the hub, to which the rest of the chapters are connected like spikes. They are to a considerable extent readable independently of one another.


Chapter 1


»If we cannot agree, the only honest beginning, or even end, is to agree upon our disagreements.« Reading those words, by R.D.Laing, I saw that they might be a key to a dilemma I was in.

As a social psychologist, I had been wrestling with the task of making a theory. I was concerned with a particular disagreement - a conflict between two attitudes or existential stances. I had made a questionnaire, which was my operational definition of the two attitudes. One item will serve as an example.

If you were asked what your life is about, what the strongest motive for you has been (whether you have thought it out or not) could you then answer something like this: a search for truth, or, a search for personal freedom and a heightened sense of existence?

I had correlated my questionnaire with measures of creativity, authoritarianism, conventional/ unconventional conception of reality, preference for status quo versus change, art taste, and a number of attitude scales, one, for example, measuring sex role attitude. I had talked in depth to persons at both ends of the scale. I had made experiments. I had read the psychology books, searching for parallels to my theory.

My theory was not good enough, I felt. It did not make me feel good. It seemed that however I described the two existential stances and the conflict between them, it was in words that made one of them seem preferable, right, and the other wrong. If I entered intuitively into one of the stances, describing it sympathetically, with respect for that choice, it was as if I thereby questioned the alternative one - and vice versa. It was a Scylla or Charybdis dilemma.

I was at a loss. Then R.D. Laing's words gave me an idea. Probably everyone had experienced the conflict between the two stances. Why not simply ask people: What is your theory?

I collected anonymous, written descriptions of hypothetical persons, scoring at both ends of my questionnaire. They made fascinating reading. What agreement, and what disagreement, both! The descriptions showed the conflict, making it alive. Taken together, they gave me the objectivity I had almost given up all hope to reach - in fact, a complete, almost absolute objectivity, made up of conflicting subjectivities.

Now, what might happen, if I brought a group together, asking the participants to agree on a common description - thus to create, in effect, a psychological theory together?

This experiment was a break-through. I had been wrestling for nine years, scientifically, with my theory. I discovered that for the group to make a fair approximation of it was an easy task, taking hours, not years - when I showed them how to »agree upon their disagreements«. This did not feel like an anti-climax. My work had given me an understanding in depth of the two existential stances. Some aspects of the picture I had discovered were missing in the common theory, but the essence of it was known, a collective experience, even though it was reflected somewhat fragmentedly in each person's perceptions. It was as if we put together a broken mirror. The theory-making by consensus seemed a promising scientific break-through in itself; it convinced. And above all I discovered that the task was integrative. It created »a thought storm«, as one participant said.



Thus, the theory as I will now describe it is a consensus psychology.

I have now brought the minimum time for making the theory down to an hour, three quarters of an hour. The questionnaire serves as the spark. The participants' descriptions of the two existential stances, given in key words, are shown to be »convertible« into a psychology of change, and then again into a problem solving/ decision making tool. This chapter will describe how I do this. The presentation can be combined with practical problem solving work, private/personal or collective, as in organizations.

The common theory-making characteristically creates a good collective mood, an immediate enthusiasm. A written presentation of the theory as created by consensus is not quite as effective, probably, despite the fact that the message is intellectual, the experience one of seeing things, perhaps, in a new light. It feels to me somewhat like showing you a picture of a horse, instead of making you ride the animal, or a picture of a dog, instead of making you play with it. The difference no doubt has to do with the »live« experience of participating in the making of a psychology, which a written presentation cannot give you.

When the participants have answered the questionnaire, they are given this task:

Describe a hypothetical person who answers NO to all or almost all the questions, henceforth called a NO-sayer, and another hypothetical person, who answers YES to all or almost all the questions, henceforth called a YES-sayer! Make your descriptions in key words. Draw a matrix like the empty one below. Write positive key words, describing the NO-sayer in the square NO+ , negative key words describing this hypothetical person in NO-. Write positive key words describing the YES-sayer in the square YES+, negative key words describing this person in YES-.





Note that the participants are gently drawn to a both/and thinking, being encouraged to search for both positive and negative traits for both the hypothetical characters or »types«. We are used to this and it is probably not experienced as a »manipulation«. It is, however.

This method for the theory-making - we might call it the both/and technique - shows the conflict, which sparks the theory, without triggering it in the theory- making situation. With an alternative presentation technique, which does not encourage both/and thinking, an either/or thinking characteristically shows itself, triggering considerable disagreement, which is then slowly, tortuously worked through, agreement being reached in the end by »agreeing upon one's disagreements«.

Consider, Reader, answering the one question I gave as an example, and write the key words it makes you think of. What characterizes the searchers for truth and/or freedom, and what characterizes those who answer no to that question?

When I work with the both/and technique, I simply draw the empty matrix and ask, after about a quarter of an hour, for suggested key words, always beginning with NO+. Someone will say, for example: »Realistic!« I say: »Realistic! Good!« and write it in. Continuing like this, all suggested key words are brought together in one matrix. This, now, is the group's theory - or, more correctly, the first stage of it.


The matrix might look like this:

Matrix 1. The Matrix of Disagreements


  • realistic
  • calm, strong, confident
  • content, well adjusted
  • stable, reliable
  • practical, sensible, matter-of-fact
  • friendly, cooperative
  • takes it easy


  • independent
  • sensitive, imaginative, artistic
  • a seeker, open to change
  • courageous, wants challenge
  • non-conforming, radical
  • open, honest, spontaneous
  • creative


  • controlled
  • conventional, shallow, hypocritical
  • boring, stiff, tight-assed
  • afraid of change
  • cold, not in touch with feelings
  • authoritarian
  • mechanical, robotic, unreal
  • cynical


  • eccentric
  • unrealistic, a dreamer, out of touch with reality
  • a loner
  • selfish, self-centered
  • a trouble-maker, a pain in the ass
  • moody, uncertain, lacks self-confidence
  • lost, drifting
  • Bleeding Hearts

The suggested key words seem, for both YES-sayers and NO-sayers, to have a certain »Godfather« quality of »an offer they cannot refuse«.

I have done this now hundreds of times. It never fails. Certain key words are almost always suggested, like realistic and well adjusted in NO+, boring in NO-, dreamer in YES-, questioning and creative in YES+. Any particular group will not suggest all the key words in the example, but the character or flavor of each frame will be the same. »A pain in the ass«, which is good, was suggested by social workers in Edinburgh; its infrequency in my experience might be due to the fact that we lack its equivalent in Swedish. Relatively seldom a - seemingly - »wrong« key word is suggested; I will then just comment that it is infrequent. Questions when the matrix is completed will sometimes show that such a seemingly »wrong« key word makes good sense, indeed, when the suggester explains what he meant - as, for example, »self-aware« in NO+, when it is defined further as »aware of own limits«.



Now, are those two characters real? If not, why does everyone seem to agree on their descriptions? Of what nature is this truth, on which there seems to be such a massive consensus?

The common answer to the question: »Are those characters real?« will be both yes and no. The agreement reached is that it frequently seems as if they were real. This truth is relative. We are all of us a mixture of both, but some might seem to be »nine tenths NO and one tenth YES«, some »nine tenths YES and one tenth NO«.

Situational factors are emphasized, as a rule. We act as NO-sayers or YES-sayers in particular situations - so even the »nine tenths YES« person will act, now an then, as a NO-sayer.

Consider where you stand, Reader. Are you more of a realist, or more of a creative person? When you do not feel good, are you more likely to fall into NO- , being perceived as boring, stiff, conventional, or are you more likely to fall into YES-, being perceived as self-centered, out of touch with reality, »a pain in the ass«, etc.?

Abraham Maslow, the humanistic psychologist, expressed a particular danger perfectly, when he said: »Pathology dichotomizes, and dichotomizing pathologizes.« By seeming to create a dichotomy, I hope to show why it pathologizes.

The fast agreement, »both/and« procedure for making the Matrix of Disagreements, which I have now described, masks the conflict between the YES-sayers and the NO-sayers. It masks the fact that NO-sayers characteristically create a NO+/YES- theory, and YES-sayers a YES+/NO- theory. They each create an either/or theory, or what Marvin Weisbord calls a »good guys/bad guys scenario«, with one another as the »bad guys«. In the »slow agreement procedure«, the disagreements are instead brought into the open.

Interestingly, in the conflict, both typically experience a sense of inferiority. This is the feeling, »s/he has a hand in my soul«. One feels this, but not one's own hand in the other's soul. In dreams, one's shadow has this characteristic, strange, devilish power. The NO-sayers and the YES-sayers are one another's shadow, in C.G. Jung's sense; that is why they feel so threatened by one another, and yet seem to know one another so well - that is, know one another's faults so well.

I have shown you a dialectical conflict.

Dialectics, dialectical, might be difficult words, but dialectical thinking is not. On the contrary, it is probably the natural way to think, as I hope this book will show. Dictionaries give the words two, interrelated meanings: 1) the tension between opposites; 2) the art of dialogue, penetration of a matter with an emphasis on the different perspectives it can be seen from. My understanding of dialectics was taken from C.G. Jung, who considered that creative change happened through the conflict between opposites, when they were equal, seen as equal. This is a key idea of this book.



»In the end, everything will be shown to be true of everybody«, writes Pursewarden, the philosopher/poet in The Alexandria Quartet by Lawrence Durrell.

If the words YES and NO are given a content, we might say that what the NO-sayer says no to, and the YES-sayer yes, is change. »Open to change« is a frequent key word in YES+. My early correlations showed that there is, in fact, such a thing as a non-specific preference for change, and that it characterizes the YES-sayers. But in practice, the correlations - although statistically significant - will not tell us enough for making predictions. In reality, one can only say yes or no to a particular change in a particular situation. A YES-sayer who feels good in a particular situation, liking things as they are, will say no to change in that situation, and a NO-sayer will be open to change in a situation, which s/he consciously experiences negatively, if/when s/he is convinced that there is an alternative, and that s/he can probably reach it.

Switching perspective, we might see the key-words as describing frames of mind, experienced from within, instead of persons, seen from without.

If you are seen, in a certain situation, as calm, realistic and »taking it easy« (NO+) - how do you feel? How do you see yourself, others and reality, when you are in the NO+ state or frame of mind? I suggest we call it Contentment. So, what characterizes this state, in your experience? The NO- state, where you are seen as boring, mechanical, and so forth, I call Denial. How do you feel, when in this state? The YES- frame of mind I suggest we call Confusion. There, you are seen as out of touch with reality, as a trouble-maker, a pain in the ass, and so forth. How do you feel? The YES+ state we will call Renewal. What characterizes this state?

Exercise 1:3. Write key words to describe the experience in NO+ , NO-, YES- and YES+ !

Examples of key words suggested are - but please wait, Reader! Stop reading! Don't look at the list until you have written your own!

OK. Thank you!

The converted matrix might look like this:

Matrix 2:1. Frames of Mind



confident, calm, effective, liking myself, relaxed, willing to compormise, uncomplicated, resting, »a good girl«, collected, useful, industrious, belonging, comfortable, optimistic, satisfied, sleepy



eager, strong, open, alive, able to do what I want, light, »like a balloon«, intelligent, independent, growing, warm, glowing, vibrant, creative, »high«, insightful, »groovy«, in touch with God, in touch with the Devil, ecstatic, »faith, hope and love«, courageous, rich, infinite



irritated, tense, bored, calculating, with drawn, married (!), tough, determined, stating the facts, square, superior, delibe rating, poor, mean, like an impostor, abstract, hard, hidden, frozen, hesitant, en- tangled, gnawing, fettered, »a prisoner of necessity«, harsh, indifferent, cynical, uniformed, critical, hostile, pornographic, condemned



troubled, alone, frustrated, split, anxious, misty, different, confused, no self-confidence, restless, worthless, helpless, a failure, raging, ambivalent, rootless, inferior, uncertain, doubtful, afraid, sad, left out, »no one understands me«, burnt out, paralysed, »why do I live?«, torn, lost, fragmented, in chaos

As you see, this matrix has the same character as the original one. The »mood«, or the psychological energy and tension pattern, within each frame is the same, although now seen from within. You will notice, in particular, how the NO- picture changes, when seen from within. The mechanical aspect is there, but we now see a person who is struggling, tense, frustrated, feeling like »a prisoner of necessity« - someone with whom we can empathize.



This is how I describe the four states as rooms in an existential 4-Room A-partment we all live in.

Matrix 2:2. The 4-Room Apartment



Adjustment. My present situation feels good enough as it is. Relaxed, effortless self-control, as when riding a bicycle. Attention focused on the here & now, no marked self-reflection. »I am OK, you are OK«. Feeling »average« in the sense of not special. Being there.



Creative change. Integration. A sense of »getting it all together«-. Insights, aha-experiences. Feelings freely felt and expressed. Intense experience of the here & now, with self-reflection: I participate and observe that I am participating. St-rong feelings of community. Self-confidence. Energy. Radical ideas, a desire to make things happen.



Pseudo-adjustment. Self-discipline with focus on completing a certain task or defending a certain pattern or status quo. No clear feelings. I am in control but uptight. The here & now (if experienced at all) feels empty and mechanical. Irritation. Attention concentrated on the task felt to be necessary, on the rules and/or my image in others' eyes, on not to lose face, on tactical considerations, etc.



Maladjustment. Something is or feels wrong here & now, but I do not know what, or what to do to make things right. Tense, negative self- consciousness with feelings of inferiority and doubts; »self-centred«. Chaos. Dialectical YES/NO-conflicts within and/or without. Feelings in a clinch. A sense of unreality.

CONFUSION, continued:

I am angry/afraid/sad, but then I am afraid of the anger, and too angry to feel I am sad. I am afraid of this chaos of conflicting feelings. I feel as Erik XIV (a Swedish King), »half mad and plagued by bad advisors«. Frustration triggers negative »old feelings«, memories of old failures, and create an unconscious double exposure of past and present. In conflict, doubting my interpretation of the situation, and questioning my feelings, I do not know how to act.



In a personal crisis, and I think in all change, one characteristically moves from a Contentment, which is ruptured, via a Denial phase, when one pretends every thing is as it was, pretends that one is still content, and »censors« one's perceptions that it is not so, through Confusion into Renewal.

From there, if one takes the consequences of whatever truths one has seen in this inspired frame of mind, making them real in action, one moves to another Contentment, which is frequently richer, more effective, more fun than the old one. And happiness - earthly happiness, circumscribed by compromises, but nonetheless real, or personal effectiveness, if you prefer to call it that - is simply to have the doors open, so that one can move freely through the rooms.

For this latter insight, in particular, I thank Ernest Rossi, who in a paper, The Break-Out Heuristic, described the parallels between the creativity cycle, the cycle of personal change, and the »monomyth«, discovered by Joseph Campbell - the cycle of adventure that heroes of myths characteristically go through.

What is Contentment? »State of satisfaction (with something)«, according to the Encyclopedia Britannica. You like things as they are. The woman you love is to you Woman, capitalized. Your work gives you whatever work experiences you desire. When you sail your boat, if you have one, you don't glance enviously at other boats, thinking: »Ah, if I had that one instead...« but concentrate on sailing your own, knowing that the wind, the sea, the islands and the sun are what really matters, and they are equal for all.

But things change. Something happens. You are moving into a crisis - that is, a turning point. Psychologists have concentrated their attention on traumatic crises, brought about by a sudden, dramatic loss, like the death of a loved one, a sudden blow of fate. In them, the Denial phase will be shorter, for the harsh reality is too undeniable.

As frequently, the change which brings a crisis is slow, cumulative.

Things go wrong. Then everything seems to be OK again - but not quite. You have a violent quarrel with your wife. Then she seems to be in a good mood again. But the next quarrel is worse, and the »state of the union« after making up is not what it once was, not quite - ah, well, how does one measure such things?

So it goes.

Things are getting worse, not steadily worse, but unsteadily, by ups and downs - unfortunately, for this makes it possible to ignore the signals and pretend that you are still in Contentment. You tell yourself that your marriage is still quite happy, as marriages go. No radical change is needed. You tell yourself, like a certain Swedish company, when faced by the competition of the electronic mini- computers, »Ah, well, they'll still want to hear the rattle«, and go on, making the old-fashioned mechanical computers. This might be nothing but a malicious rumour - the actual words, I mean, not the way the company acted, which is a fact - but it serves as a good example.

A significant characteristic of NO-, or Denial, is just that when there, one denies that one is there. For to clearly state this, to oneself, to others, would equal moving to the next stage, into Confusion. Instead, one defends the old pattern. It is that stance of defense/pretense which gives to Denial its mechanical character. If the change is a significant one, it has the character of a »little death«. Little deaths are frightening. They threaten one's sense of identity.

In YES-, in Confusion, the giving up of whatever it is that one has to give up is the turning point. As soon as the old is given up, one can perceive the new - the alternatives, the possibilities - thereby moving to the next stage, into YES+, or Renewal.

Thus, there is in each phase a critical step, whereby one moves forward. In Denial, it is facing reality, in Confusion it is the giving up of the old, and in Renewal what I call the »creative compromise«. In the inspired frame of mind of Renewal one sees so many truths, so many exciting possibilities. But it seems that one has to act upon an aha-experience, and do this - do something, take a first step - within, let's say, three weeks, or else it will be lost. So, frequently it is a question of choosing one possibility that seems realistic enough, and about which I can do something right now.

Even in NO+, in Contentment, there is a critical task, though it might seem easy enough to some, not like a »task« at all. It is to say to yourself, as God did, when He was through with Creation: This is good. To feel, this is enough. To rest. To take it easy.

To some, this is the hardest of all.

The four phases can be seen in a »mini-crisis«, taking an hour or so, for example when you are facing a decision - or in a deep identity crisis, stretching through up to five years.

The actual experience of change might well feel like an irregular hop-scotching between the rooms, NO-, YES-, and YES+ , back and forth. It is only afterwards one can clearly discern the pattern.

In NO+, you say no to change for the excellent reason that you like things as they are, in that particular situation. In NO-, you say no to change, but in »bad faith«, feeling like a »prisoner of necessity« - you do not see a realistic alternative, or you doubt that you can reach it, or you see change as failure, as a giving up or giving in, so instead you censor your feelings. In YES-, you say yes to change in principle, for you know you do not feel good in the situation as it is, but you do not know what to change, or how. In YES+, you are changing.

If happiness/personal effectiveness is to have the doors open, conversely, unhappiness is when they are closed - when one is frozen in Denial, when one does not get through Confusion, when one glimpses the existential riches in Renewal but falls back, never making it to Contentment.



There is a third, dialectical matrix.

The difference between the first and second matrix was the time perspective. The YES/NO matrix described attitudes or existential stances, seen as relatively permanent. The second, converted matrix described states, or frames of mind, seen a stages in a change cycle. If we take one more step, and see all four frames of mind as present at the same time, they can be perceived as functions, or aspects of a problem situation.

Thus, we get a third matrix. This is a problem solving and decision making tool. I call it the Problem Situation matrix, or sometimes, more poetically, the Matrix of the Will.

We change the headings of the frames again, and the key words to questions.

Matrix 3. The Problem Situation Matrix



What is the problem situation?

Who am I, who has P?

What is good enough as it is in P - what am I content with?



Factors of strength. What am I good at? Success memories.

Alternatives of action, ideas. Brainstorm! Alternative reactions?

Who can help me?

Courage that furthers is the courage to ...



Weaknesses. What am I bad at?

Obstacles, reality conditions, »alienation factors«. What knowledge or know-how do I lack?

Transference roots? Conflicts, external: YES/NO? What is »lagom«, or just right, self-censorship in PS?

Risks? The worst that can happen is...

What (self-) discipline is necessary?



What do I, who am in PS, want? Suggested motto: »I have a dream ...«

What are my feelings in PS? Peripheral associations?

Moving to a time in the future when P is solved: How will I feel? What will I do? What will I lose?

Conflicts, internal: YES/NO? Temptations. What do I not want? What am I afraid of?

What do I have to give up?

This matrix was not created by consensus - or I have not, so far, figured out how to do so. It is certainly common sense, though, that when one is in a problem situation, it is good to ask oneself what the difficulties are, what the possibilities are, and what one wants.

When you work through a problem with the PS matrix, you will free-associatively zig-zag among the frames, as if hop-scotching. The questions and suggestions in each frame are meant as »association-triggers«. The answer to one question will trigger an answer to another, and so forth. The WILL is discovered in its situational context of DIFFICULTIES and POSSIBILITIES.

Observe that you are asked to describe the problem situation, not the problem. This is a key difference. By defining problems, we all too frequently »define out« aspects of the problem situation. This has a Denial effect, fragmenting our perceptions. In fact, it is preferable to see the problem (P) as unknown. When it is gone, you might consider (idly) what it was.

The connections with the two prior matrices are fairly easy to see. If I am in Denial, I have probably equated one difficulty or another with an impossibility; the difficulties hide the possibilities, and I have turned off the will, telling myself: »Forget it!« If I am in Confusion, it is one (hidden) will or another that has drawn me there. In a problem situation, the will is necessarily first experienced negatively, since whatever I dream of is not what is, and I must feel the tension between the situation as it is and my dream, if I am to discover my will.

For working with the PS matrix, some Contentment is a condition - simply to feel good enough to think systematically. As a tool, it is intellectual. Nevertheless, it frequently gives a new perspective on whatever problem one works through with it. Comments are: it is a simple, it gives an oversight, and one is gently forced to give attention to aspects of the problem one had forgotten, or not thought of. My personal experience when working with the PS matrix is that it feels, sometimes, like the brain cross-fertilizing itself.

Nor is this accidental, I think. For the PS matrix mirrors the brain.

The right and the left hemispheres of the brain are now known to work with a certain independence, each at its own tasks. »The Left Hand is the Dreamer« was the suggestive title of a book I once read and have now forgotten. The left hand is commanded by the right hemisphere, which is, indeed, the source of dreams. The left hemisphere is rational, objectively realistic, analytical, and systematic; it perceives details, one after another. The right is symbolic, subjective, characterized by divergent thinking, feeling, and intuition; it perceives wholes.



So far, I have sought to make my presentation of the theory short, simple, and matter-of-fact. Its contents are summed up in three dialectical matrices, each describing four frames of mind. Picture them as a ladder, like this:

3. The Problem Situation Matrix. Praxis

2. The Matrix of Change. Synthesis.

1. The Matrix of Disagreements. Thesis and antithesis.

Each matrix describes the dialectics at a higher level of integration.

Concerning the nature, mood, character of the four frames, there is practically zero confusion, it seems. It is as if the patterns were felt »in one's bones«. One interpretation of this fact is that they are tension patterns, anchored in one's birth experience. Stanislav Grof has suggested that the birth experience is a paradigm for all later experiences of conflict, crisis, and change. He has described four characteristic patterns of experience, each one connected to a particular stage of birth.

Grof characterizes the four BPM:s - basic perinatal matrices - by their phenomenology when they are experienced with maximal intensity. My collected key words read like everyday miniatures of them. For example, the BPM I, corresponding to the nine months in the womb, is characterized by a sense of »cosmic unity« or »bliss«. Such magnificence is not mirrored in the key words for Contentment. Nevertheless, with a slight stretch of unconventional thinking we can perceive the echoes of the good womb experience in them: »confident, calm ... resting ... belonging ... comfortable ... sleepy«. In Contentment, I am in a sense contained in and protected by my culture, living comfortably within its arrangement of reality as in a »protective cocoon«, to use an expression by the psychoanalyst Ernest Schachtel.

Grof's BPM II - which corresponds in the birth experience to the stage when the uterine contractions have begun, but the cervix is not yet opened - is characterized as »entrapment«, as an experience of »no exit« or Hell. The entrapment aspect is shown, quite regularly, in a number of the key words of Denial, such as »a prisoner of necessity«. The parallels between Grof's BPM III and Confusion is again harder to discern in the key words, but central in it is the experience of »ego death«, which has its analogy or everyday miniature in the experience of giving up, a »little death«.

I was aware of these fascinating parallels - and considerably inspired by them - when making the 4-Room Apartment, but since the latter is now created as a consensus psychology, I see it as an independent confirmation of Grof's thinking.

9.2. I think it is the YES/NO conflict which gives the »raw energy« to the theory. In my book, Personlig dialektik, I called the two types the Self-Censors and the Outsiders.

I do not particularly like the word type, which gives associations to that dichotomizing, which pathologizes. They are »ideal types« in Max Weber's sense. That is, they are abstract patterns. Any concrete person will seldom, if ever, have all the characteristics associated with the type. I remember Gurth Higgin, author of that most interesting book, Symptoms of Tomorrow saying to me, jokingly, in an Edinburgh bar: »Claus, you are no real Outsider!« Meaning, no doubt, that he missed in me one or two significant characteristics which he associated with the Outsiders. »I never said I was«, I replied - but of course I am, in the sense I am using the word.

The questionnaire, which served as the spark for the common theory-making, is a measure or operational definition of the Outsider's experience, as described by Colin Wilson. I happened to read his clasic book, The Outsider, in the context of a study I made for the Swedish Film Institute, in 1964-66, concerning attitudes to film censorship. From this emerged the two existential stances, rooted in a Scylla/Charybdis-like dilemma: whether to »censor« one's experiences, so as to feel and/or be seen as normal, so as to belong, or to fight this self-censorship, but then suffer from the confusion and sense of being different, or »odd«, which the non-conformist stance of the Outsider frequently creates, at first.

9.3. Although I prefer creating the theory by consensus, the central matrix, Contentment/ Denial/ Confusion/ Renewal, can be described in five minutes, alone, and will trigger immediate aha-experiences. So it is frequently described alone. This has made my theory known, in Sweden, as the 4-Room Apartment (Fyrarummaren). In Swedish, that name is short and agile. I do not feel as good with its English equivalent, which has, however, already been used by Marvin Weisbord in his two books Productive Workplaces, 1987, and Discovering Common Ground, 1992, and thus in a sense »crossed the Atlantic«.

In practical problem solving work, one will switch, consciously or unconsciously, between all three matrices. This is probably why it feels natural with one name for both the central matrix and all of them,together, even though intellectually it is confusing and so not permissible.

Another name is wanted. I end up considering a bold one: The Common Sense Theory.

The theory seems to be there already, unconsciously, in practically everyone's mind, somewhat like a photographic negative - I have simply discovered the »development method«. So it is common sense, that is, as my dictionary tells me, »normal understanding, good practical sense in everyday affairs« - although it was not known to be (whereas what is thought of as common sense is frequently Denial-studded, and, although it might be common, not particularly sensible).

As an alternative, I will call it the consensus theory. I know that in the matter of names, the originator of a theory is not in control. If a name sticks, it sticks.

There is a third alternative. I have made the theory by consensus in the manner described in hundreds of presentations through the years. Thus, if I henceforth now and then call it simply our theory, this is not to be taken as the somewhat presumptuous author's »we«, and »ours«. It rests on the consensus. You might have de facto joined in the theory-making, Reader, as one of the thousands of participants.

The objectivity of the theory is practically complete.

This objectivity is created through an equilibrium of subjectivities. The theory is a psychology with a lowest common denominator, on which NO-sayers and YES- sayers will agree - it transcends the YES/NO conflict.

It is simple; nevertheless, it has considerable depth, scope and complexity.

It is strong, too, in that it describes the conflict and the change cycle within persons, in dyadic relationships, in organizations, and in societies, with the same words.

9.4. A psychological problem solving/decision making tool can be used in four, principally different ways:

1) as private knowledge »in one persons head«, for self-understanding and personal integration.

Here, two effects seems particularly noteworthy. One is a greater opneness to change, connected with a different attitude to Confusion. My favourite example is a comment of a young man of seventeeen.

  • It's like, you discover you've got a thumbtack stuck in your foot. Before, you'd have told yourself things like, ah, it doesn't really hurt that much, you can live with it, once you get used to it ... All that stuff. Now, you realize that what the hell, you don't want to live with a thumbtack in your foot, and just pull it out!

It is fascinating that the knowledge of the Common Sense Theory alone seems to be enough to trigger personal change. Consider this simple formula: well-being = plus time/ minus time.

Plus time is time in Contentment and Renewal, minus time is time in Denial or Confusion.

Knowing the change cycle lessens one's minus time. You will go faster through Denial, since you will notice the signs earlier, and since you know there is no alternative. You will go faster through Confusion by asking yourself: What is my hidden will? What do I have to give up? Also, while you are in Confusion, its »totalizing« effect is lessened. As you feel like a failure, a loser, all your past failures will come back in memory, since the present mood is the light in which you see the past. This is what I call the »totalizing effect«. It is inherent in Confusion (just as in Renewal you will mentally roll out the red carpet, remembering all the times you have triumphed in the past). But it is lessened by the knowledge that you are in Confusion, for this makes the other frames of mind present too, somehow, even if out of focus. Thus, you will be more centred.

Another integrative effect is a move from »either/or thinking« to a »both/and thinking«. This has considerable power in numerous problem situations, as I hope you will experience for yourself, Reader. The nature of the integration depends on what particular either/or thinking it transcends. This is one example:

Two unquestionable existential facts seem to be in conflict. We are all of us ordinary, and we are all of us special, unique. No person quite like you, with your genes and your particular life experiences, has ever lived, and no one will. Your life is an experiment you make alone. At the same time, we are all of us ordinary, and the differences between us are, in another perspective, negligible. You are just another variation, among millions and millions, of the same theme: the art of living, of being human.

Specialness, experienced negatively, as the unplesant sense of being »different«, is a characteristic feature of Confusion, just as the comfortable sense of ordinariness is central in Contentment. NO-sayers, apparently, give priority to ordinariness, searching a comfortable adjustment anchored in it. This, however, turns into a danger if they thereby lose touch with their specialness. The YES-sayers characteristically give priority to specialness, hoping to reach a vitalizing creative expression of it. This turns into a danger, if they lose touch with their ordinariness. Vincent van Gogh is a well known, tragic example of this. Some people exemplify what might be called the »miserable neither/ nor« ; they lose touch both with their ordinariness and their specialness, neither reaching a comfortable adjustment, feeling normal, nor a creative life alternative.

The magnificent both/and in this matter is to know that I am both ordinary and special and to go for more of both. The more ordinariness I conquer, the more vigorously and inspiredly can I express my specialness, and the more I do that, the more comfortable will I feel in my ordinariness.


  © Copyright Claes F Janssen, 1996-2011. All rights reserved.