Poker Strategy

Reparenting Your Inner Poker Child

Reparenting Your Inner Poker Child

Shadow Work As A Strategy For Explosive Tilt

If you were interested by the title of this article, you likely know the feeling. You’ve just taken your third consecutive bad beat to bust on the bubble of the biggest tournament of the day. You instantly feel an explosion of rage welling up inside you. Your blood boils with feelings of fury, injustice and/or hopelessness. Maybe you yell, or curse, or chuck your computer mouse at the wall. Maybe you hop in a cash game far above your limits, or load up a blackjack table to try to make it all back, or bang your head against the table – disgusted with yourself, your opponents, or even the poker gods. Regardless of the distinct way explosive tilt manifests for you, the result is the same: more pain.

It is in these moments – the ones that psychologist Dr. Viktor Frankl calls moments of “unavoidable suffering” – that warriors are bred and “tourists” are eliminated. That’s because between stimulus and response, writes Dr. Frankl, rests our growth and freedom.

So what’s the answer? What do we do when we can’t stop tilting? When no matter what we do to try to prevent it, we inevitably find ourselves out of control again, our bankroll, once again, en route to bustsville?

Perhaps it is then, when all other strategies have been exhausted, that it is time for us to turn our attention away from the externals – what cards we get, what our opponents do, what the poker gods decide is fated for us – and turn inward, first towards the beliefs we subconsciously express in those volatile moments, and then even deeper – toward our inner child and his or her ancient wounds.

History of Reparenting Your Inner Child

The concept of Reparenting the inner child was first introduced in the 1970s by Dr. Lucia Capacchione – who used it with patients doing art therapy. In her work, Dr. Capacchione emphasized the need to heal the part of ourselves that carried the wounds, fears, and insecurities from our childhood. Under this philosophy, our most extreme and uncontrollable reactions at the poker table must be viewed through a lens that takes our whole history, our entire being, into consideration. With that perspective in mind, let’s look at some core concepts of Shadow Work and theorize about its application for poker players.

Before we do, a note to point out that I am not a licensed medical professional and that the process of deep self-analysis and inner-child integration should only be undertaken with a good support system in place.

Awareness: The First Step to Understanding

Before we can tackle our explosive tilt, we must first become aware of it. We accomplish this by asking ourselves: What situations or players trigger the worst reactions in me? When do I feel overwhelmed with rage, regret, or shame? Is it when I get bluffed, when I make a mistake, when I start worrying what my family or friends will say? Recognizing these patterns is crucial.

As the psychologist Abraham Maslow wrote:

What is necessary to change a person, is to change his awareness of himself.

Analyzing the Root Cause

Once you’ve identified these moments, dive deeper. What if you could know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that your explosive reactions at the poker table weren’t actually about poker at all? Where would you look for a root cause then? What memories, or self-beliefs come up when you focus your attention not on your present moment experience, but on the emotions themselves? When else do you remember feeling the way you do when you’re in the throes of poker tilt?

By excavating these memories and thought-patterns from our subconscious, we can begin to disentangle our struggles in the present from what’s been left trapped inside us from the past.

Reparenting Yourself

Once excavated, it is time to turn even deeper into ourselves and get in touch with our inner child. The one that, in those moments of poker heartbreak, feels scared, feels angry, feels like the world is unfair or that they are not good enough. This is when it is time to channel the parent we’d wished we’d had, or better yet, our better, higher self. Now is an opportunity to find out what they would tell you in these moments of frustration and self-doubt? What advice would they give that scared child?

Likely, that you’re okay. That hey, everything’s going to be fine. That you can do this – no matter what this is. They’d likely say that those unconscious beliefs – I’ll never be good enough, or I’m forever unlucky, or if I can’t provide for my family I am not worthy of their love – are nonsense. They’ll tell you that even though you don’t have the power to change your past, you are the only one with the power to change your own mind. You are the only one who can manage your reactions. That it absolutely is within your power to decide how to perceive and engage with the world in a manner that serves your interests, not pushes them further back.

And so begin reparenting your inner child first by instilling counter-points to your most frequent self-limiting beliefs – counterpoints such as:

  • My losses don’t define me.
  • Progress isn’t linear.
  • I can handle any adversity, any bad beat, any downswing, that comes my way.

And then repeat them to yourself – no matter how inauthentic they feel at first – each and every time your mind tells you the opposite (plus any other time you can). Be obsessive enough with the repetition and, soon enough, automation will take place and you’ll no longer even need to try.

Like going to the gym, each exercise making you a little stronger, each rep increasing your power, even if only beneath the surface.

By understanding our past, reparenting our inner child, and consciously reshaping our beliefs, we can turn even the most explosive bout of tilt into opportunities for personal growth. With perseverance, self-awareness, and some work on the Shadow self, we can master not just a game of cards, but our very minds.

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