Results vs Intentions

First a few definitions:

Many people in our culture believe that the key to 'being good' and having a 'good life' is to have the right intentions and the right ideas. This is not cause for criticism if results in relationships and in the world are generally in line with intentions or ideas. However, in life, and in therapy, it is common to meet people who are able to complain (accurately) of poor results in relationships despite the best intentions and abundant well-meant ideas.. However, there is a tendency to attribute this to either the ideas needing only a bit of a tweak, or to having uncommonly bad luck in never having found others who respond "as they should" to the intentions.


What is important, is that intentions and conscious ideas leave out many aspects of character, such as the unconscious, 'the shadow' (disowned traits), and very often, the body. Results, on the other hand, over time include the effects, on others, of those parts of a person of which he or she is otherwise unaware. That is not to say that results are always just or fair, often they are not. However, results, and the state of the body, are also not an aberration. Overall, results 'say' something.

The Defense of Splitting

The psychological defense of splitting consists of seeing ourselves or others as all good or all bad. All people employ this defense sometimes, to decrease anxiety. At it's strongest, splitting leads to the firm denial of actual behavior of ourselves or others that does not fit into the picture of all good or all bad. This distortion of reality testing can be impressive and demonstrates splitting at its most visible.


However, most people keep reality testing intact but still employ splitting by attributing intentions to the actions of ourselves or others. In general, others are seen as entirely good-intentioned or entirely badly-intentioned. Any action or result that is not in line with this image is negated in importance by describing the result as contrary to intention. People that are deemed (split) bad are avoided or confronted indignantly in a way that stops communication. People that are deemed (split) good are not confronted.


But intentions are never clear cut, and rarely 'pure', and often not really knowable. Speculating upon or judging the intentions of others can be a mental device to make splitting seem rational. The defense of splitting decreases anxiety, but it decreases contact as well. What paying attention to results does is to bring people and things into real relationship.

The Role of Principles

There is the possibility of being too outcome oriented. This arises when anxiety makes it seem that a particular result must happen, even if other people, or chance, have a role. Attention to results is not the same as a willingness to pursue results at all costs and by all means. For an adult, pursuing something usually means following principles that have been developed from experience--that is from feeling and past results. Principles are meant to be firm but not rigid. Unlike 'rules', principles are applied with some feeling for the situation. Principled behavior provides a feeling of integrity and consistency even when the outcome in a particular situation is not typical. Principles however must conform to overall results or they lose their reality. Chasing a particular outcome results in unprincipled behavior. So result primacy does not mean obtaining a particular outcome at any cost.


Some work in the helping professions does a disservice by re-assuring clients that: 1) they have indeed been injured by being among others more receptive to results than intentions, and that 2) the helping professional will respond to the client's intentions, not the client's whole actuality. The second is in fact an impossibility--the helping professional will respond to the client's whole, whether he or she is aware of it or not. The belief that any relationship can be a cocoon--totally protected and different from the ways of the world-- is an illusion. When self-concepts develop contrary to results, it results in illusion. Illusions buffer suffering somewhat, but they also prolong and mystify the suffering.


The Reich and Lowen tradition encourages squarely facing repetitive results. Only this can dispel illusions and expose unconscious and armored attitudes. Of course, all good psychotherapy traditions do this. But Reich and Lowen, by bringing the body into therapy, gave results a concrete and felt anchor. The state of the body tells a story in which intention has had only a minor role.