Gordon David Wolf, Ph.D.

You may be interested to know the person behind the ideas.

Since the 1960’s, I have worked to answer the question: Why can’t a person just change their behavior when that behavior is creating outcomes they don’t want…outcomes that hurt them?

For example, why is it so difficult for some to stop being so judgmental, or angry, or for others to stop pleasing people, or, for some, to allow themselves to be emotionally vulnerable or to be less controlling…when each wants and has made a decision to change those very behaviors.

Why can’t we just be different when we want to be different?

This seemed to me to be the essential question that Psychology must answer.

I believed that answering this question would unlock why we act as we do in general…and how to change our behavior when we wish to do so.

I had no idea how many years of study and research it would take me to complete the task I’d naively set for myself. But, it was worth it. Answering that question has led me to be able to help many people who are struggling with their lives which has in turn allowed me to create success as I define it for me: a life spent helping others achieve what they need with peace of mind.

Through 30 years of study, research and practice, it has become clear to me:

  • Why we can’t just easily be different,
  • Why we act as we do, and
  • How to change our behaviors when we want to do so.

The programs you are reading about here are the result of finding the answer to my original question: Why can’t we just be different when we want to be different?

How the quest started

By my mid-20’s I realized I had an incredibly uncomfortable feeling in my chest and stomach. It had been there all my life, I guess, but I was not conscious enough to recognize I felt it. I was on autopilot.

First I believed that that feeling would go away when I got what I wanted. In my late 20’s, I believed that other people’s behavior was causing me to feel this feeling for which I had no name. Finally, in my 30’s, I realized the problem was me…but I didn’t know how to change me, no matter how hard I tried.

Back to my early 20’s: I began to realize I was burning through a lot of relationships. I didn’t treat people very well, but my behavior seemed justified to me. I was very sensitive to what occurred in relationships and I believed that if a thought came into my mind then the right thing to do was to say what was in my mind…I “was just being honest”.

From the outside, no one knew about my internal discomfort, but most everyone knew about how difficult I could be on occasion.

I was sure that making enough money, owning a fast car and dating beautiful women would make the terror in my chest go away. Really, you can laugh at my naivete’. But I was the product of an immigrant home, filled with chronic turmoil and abuse of various kinds; a household life saturated with the belief that enough money and buying things cured all ills…Enough money would make you happy.

After graduating from college, I went to NYC to start a business; which was successful…then I stared another business. However, no matter how much money I made or what I bought or did…the terror in my chest never went away.

One afternoon, I got a look at my future. I was celebrating a big sale with a man with whom I worked. He had bigger and more expensive versions of everything I had…including 3-divorces. He was 30-years older, was a very successful salesman, an alcoholic…we were celebrating by drinking in the early afternoon. My future snapped into focus, this was me in 30-years.

I’d become conscious enough and successful enough to realize that simply making money, or being with the beautiful girl or having the most desirable car…or anything external…was not going to get rid of the terror I lived with constantly. I wanted to change my life.

I knew I wanted to help others. I saw myself helping others even when that wasn’t what I was being paid to do. Helping others seemed to come from within me. So, I trusted what was within.

I began to go to therapists. I say therapists, because no one that I went to could tell me why I felt the terror or exactly what to do to fix it. What I heard to my very direct questions was a lot of vague “answers”.

Then, something happened that changed my life: One day my then current therapist said something and the terror in my chest disappeared for several minutes. I do not remember what he said…I wish I did. The terror came back, but as I walked down the hall from his office to the elevator, I made a pact with myself I would do whatever it took to have a chest free from that feeling…to feel, what I now call, peace of mind.

Since I knew the path of being in sales was closed and I wanted to do something that would help others, rather than focus on ‘just making money’, I sought a different occupational path. Being the son of Jewish immigrants. I decided to become a professional…a Dr. of some kind…but one who would help others. OK, you can laugh again.

Studying Psychology: Nature or Nurture? It turns out it’s both…and more

It took me several years to get into a graduate program at NYU, as I had been a terrible student in high school and college. But, at NYU another fateful thing occurred. I became a student of Dr. Phillip Shaver who was beginning to experimentally study Attachment Theory as it applied to normal people. Up to this point Attachment Theory had primarily been a method of understanding serious psychopathology.

My key takeaways from my first 3-years of studying psychology, from Dr. Shaver and from Attachment Theory were:

1) Much of our attachment or relationship behavior is genetically based,

2) We endure developmental processes that effect our genetics making us more or less secure in who we are, and

3) We each have a personal working model of ourselves, and of our personal world, and that we create our lives using that personal working model.

It seemed to me that the personal working model, which initially comes from the interaction of our genetics and developmental processes, would be strongly effected by how our brain takes in information, and remembers it. But, establishing that was years ahead of me.

I really didn’t understand the components of a personal working model, as they are not well defined in theory…but it sounded like a path to follow in order to find out why we can’t just become different when we want to become different. My thinking was: To be different, we’d have to change the components of our personal working model. (Jumping ahead, the 5-patterns that I describe on this site are the patterns of our personal working models.)

After gaining my MA from NYU studying the behavior of Normal people for 3-years, I switched to the study of psychopathology at California School of Professional Psychology (CSPP). There I studied Attachment Theory again, but from a completely different perspective.

CSPP was a graduate school set up by the California Psychological Association to solve a problem. At traditional schools such as NYU, students achieved a PhD in Clinical Psychology with only 1-year of supervised clinical internships. CSPP was set up to provide the students with 3-years of supervised clinical internships, personal psychotherapy, and classes were taught by working clinicians rather than researchers.

At two very different graduate schools I found one of Psychology’s real problems

What was common about both traditional and more practically oriented graduate schools then, and is still true today is: Psychology does not have, and does not teach doctoral level students an integrated model of human behavior, a generally agreed upon Theory of Personality. Psychology is a jumble of disparate theories with no cohesive thread or center holding it all together.

So, in graduate school, you learn a lot of theories. Then each PhD practices and treats others based on some compilation of theories they must develop on their own.

There is no other ‘science’ where each practitioner determines their own practice reality. Imagine an Engineer in 2015, arguing to build a wooden bridge across a bay, because wood appealed to them. It may shock you, but that is essentially the situation in Psychology. Each practitioner studies and applies what appeals to them.

So, like every other PhD in Psychology, I had to choose a theory and figure out how to apply it. I choose Attachment Theory because it was and is the most thoroughly researched Theory of Personality. It is amazing, I can tell your Attachment Strategy from talking to you, or giving you a brief test, or looking at a functional brain scan of your brain. Attachment Theory is not just a psychological theory I’m comfortable with, it is extremely well researched and respected across many scientific disciplines.

Another meeting that changed my life

At CSPP, I met a wizard: Dr. Fred Cutter. Fred taught me how to think. If we ever talk personally and you ask me about Fred, I will tell you some stories. I have a small compilation of his wisdom on this site: Fred’s Rules. These are the sayings that taught me how to think.

What I learned is:

  • We create our lives based on how we interact with others,
  • How we interact with others is based on how we relate to ourselves.

So, I have a relationship with myself that sets the tone for how I relate to others…and how I relate to myself and to others creates my life. This is another way of describing a personal working model and to describe the effects of the 5-patterns.

What I learned at CSPP reinforced what I’d learned at NYU: Our genetics and the way our brains manage incoming data and memories have far more influence on our personalities and behavior that most people realize.

So, what I learned at CSPP and at NYU dovetailed and provided me with the basis for broadening my understanding of Attachment Theory and a path toward answering the questions I believed were so important.

Growing up as a Psychologist

I’ve practiced Psychology since 1980. Most of my work has been as a Police and Public Safety Psychologist. And, that lead to working with many organizations in the private sector and the Enterprise. My CV will describe this in greater detail if this interests you.

In summary, I’ve conducted assessments of over 20,000 Normal people and written legal reports based on those assessments. I’ve had an adult lifetime of figuring out how to understand why people act as they do and predicting how they would act at work, on the job. Further, I’ve helped thousands of working adults change behaviors that were negatively impacting their personal and professional lives.

What you won’t get from the CV is that my work with others has always served as a laboratory to answer the questions related to: Why can’t we be different when we want to be different…What I do has always been based on my developing understanding of our personal working model in specific and Attachment Theory in general.

Over the years, based on client needs, I’ve been able to develop the approach you are reading about here, and a model of leadership: Transparent Leadership…As leader, you have only one choice; to be transparent or seen trough. As leader, if you understand your personal working model, you will be transparent and have the ability to create the emotions of respect and trust in those you wish to lead.

At a more personal level

I’m very happily married to a woman who is a Hospice RN. We have a son; the apple of our eyes. We live in Napa, CA. My hobbies are endurance bicycle riding, running and until recently I was a member of the Sports Car Club Of America and raced in the GT-3 regional class in cars I built and worked on.

What I am doing now is trying to teach you that what I’ve spent my whole life learning can, perhaps will, help you create success as you define it with peace of mind.