A FIRO® Internal Dig

Intent: To use the FIRO theory to get a better understanding of yourself


When I was 28 years old, I had the privilege of working with people who were many years my senior, had reached the pinnacle of success in their careers, had a lot of money, and were extremely influential. Even with these feathers in their caps, they felt unsatisfied with their lives. Much to my surprise at the time, I found that they experienced the same fears and internal conflicts that I, and the rest of the folks with whom I worked, also felt.

This experience had a profound impact on me. I realized that we are all human with the same longings, fears, hope, conflicts, etc. No one gets a pass. It was enormously freeing for me.

I found that the FIRO theory was a lens through which I could look to learn more about my behavior, beliefs and feelings, as well as internal drivers. No matter what someone's status or accolades, the same holds true. Though I might be impressed with someone's accomplishments, I am able to look deeper into their particular drivers using the FIRO theory and support them in doing likewise.

To learn more about the FIRO theory, read:

Today's activity focuses on using the FIRO theory to gain a deeper understanding of ourselves.


Similar to this month's first activity on doing an archaeological internal dig (AID), in the FIRO[1] Internal Dig (FID), you will follow clues, get curious, and let thoughts, images, memories, and feelings bubble up in response to an experience. However, this will be directed through the FIRO theory dimensions.

Set Up

Find a comfortable place to sit or lie down where you will be undisturbed. Have writing materials present that you can use for the second part of the activity.


Part 1:

Close your eyes and focus on your breathing. As you inhale, notice where your breath goes in your body. Notice how your rib cage expands with each inhalation. Notice other movement throughout your body as a result of your inhalation. As you exhale, notice how this affects the movement in your body. Pay attention to the changes in your rib cage, belly, shoulders, back, arms as you exhale. Continue to do this for a few minutes, noticing more and more subtle movements.

For the FIRO Internal Dig, reflect on an experience in which you felt annoyed, put out, offended, left out, disrespected, or upset in some way. It could be the same experience that you used for the last activity or it can be something different. It could be something that was recent or long ago. As you reflect on it, let your body experience it fully. Think it, feel it, sense it, experience it.

Now, begin to capture your reactions with descriptors that most reflect your experience to which we will apply a FIRO filter shortly.

Part 2

Slowly sit up and write descriptions of what you remember or experience now as you reflect on it for each item below. Use “spontaneous writing,” meaning that you allow whatever pops into your head to come out. Write without censoring or even understanding why you are writing what you write.

  1. The behavior (or lack of behavior) that you experienced from someone that was upsetting to you. Example: Person x didn't listen to me.
  2. The manner in which you thought the person was treating you. Example: Person x treated me as if I were a non-person, as if I didn't exist.
  3. The emotions that emerged in you as a result of that person's behavior. Example: I felt hurt and disappointed, then angry.
  4. The bodily sensations that you notice now as you think about this past experience. Example: My stomach is getting tight as I remember it.
  5. The concerns or fears that ran through your mind. Example: I thought I was being ignored.
  6. The images or metaphors that arise as you are reflecting on this experience. Example: It feels as if I am a ghost who no one sees.
  7. The memories that emerge from your past. Example: I feel just like I felt as a child. I was supposed to be seen and not heard. My parents ignored me until they wanted something from me.
  8. The survival strategy I developed when quite young. Example: I became very quiet, self-sufficient, and kept to myself.
  9. The beliefs that I formed about myself when quite young to maintain the survival strategy. Example: what I think doesn't matter. I have nothing valuable to offer.

Part 3:

Now, to apply the FIRO Internal Dig filter, put an I, C, or O next to each descriptor that you wrote. Use the following criteria to determine if it is an I, C, or O:

Put an I if you have words, ideas, or feelings that relate to being or feeling:

alone worthless invisible like a nobody dismissed as unimportant
boring unworthy cheated not adding value not listening to anyone else
ignored forgotten excluded demanding attention wishing you could disappear
left out not valued abandoned deserving of attention more important than the others
unnoticed passed over seen through wanting to hog the stage entitled to everyone's full attention

Put a C if you have words, ideas, or feelings that relate to being or feeling:

used pathetic aggressive powerful like a pushover
rigid coercive humiliated dictatorial having no impact
a wimp ridiculed submissive dishonored above the others
stupid incapable unassertive embarrassed demanding submission
shamed tyrannical like a failure irresponsible smarter than anyone else
powerful like a fool beneath you the authority entitled to a position of power
put down inflexible incompetent confrontative more capable than anyone else

Put an O if you have words, ideas, or feelings that relate to being or feeling:

mean judged unlikeable like a rotten apple from another planet
weird an ogre despicable the most desireable discriminated against
spurned unkind unaccepted the best person ever entitled to everyone's affection
disliked bad blood undesireable treated with contempt entitled to everyone's appreciation
rejected unwanted a horrible person

Part 4:

Going further with the FIRO Internal Dig filter:

  • Count the number of times you marked an I, a C, and an O.
  • If you have a predominance of I, consider that your feel most challenged (or triggered) when something happens to you that revolves around inclusion, signficance, and your level of aliveness.
  • If you have a predominance of C, consider that you feel most challenged (or triggered) when something occurs that revolves around control, competence, and your level of self-determination.
  • If you have a predominance of O, consider that you feel most challenged (or triggered) when something occurs that revolves around openness or self-disclosure, likability, and your level of self-awareness.
  • If you have a mixture of two or more dimensions, consider that the two or even three dimensions are areas that trigger you. When Will Schutz created the theory, with his dry wit, he remarked that, "It's good to know that I only have three problems."

There are advantages to knowing which dimensions present the biggest challenges for you.

  1. You can prepare yourself when you are about to enter a situation in which this dimension is likely to play a large part.
  2. You can do self-work to change old, archaic, and dysfunctional beliefs you developed about yourself.
  3. You can develop a set of skills to quiet your nervous system and become less reactive during these challenging situations.
  4. You can create situations in your work and personal life that support you in developing aspects of yourself that you have left unattended.
  5. By following PeRL into Acceptance and Appreciation over the next two months, you can shift your perspective so that you come to realize that even your survival strategies are worthy of your appreciation.

Part 5:

Give yourself an internal pat on the back for taking this adventure into an AID (Archaeological Internal Dig). If you feel so inclined, go to the blog and write about something that was important to you about engaging in this activity. If you would prefer to send a private message or ask for feedback, feel free to contact me at [email protected].

[1]: FIRO is a registered trademark owned by CPP.

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