Over the past few months, this blog has explored the roles, rules and characteristics of children raised in emotionally barren families. We’ve talked about your personal lives, families, friends and characters. But one constant has been the question: “Okay, that’s how I am, so how do I change myself?”
Psychologists seem to agree that change follows a specific process which I’ve outlined here. And they’re right. But there’s a simpler way to consider the process of change. A 3 1/2 step methodology to change your life. The simple process of change:
1. Awareness. We can’t change what we’re not consciously aware of. Do you know someone who lies compulsively? Or uses drugs and alcohol? Or works night and day? If they don’t see their behavior as a problem, it isn’t going to change.
So often in my work with wives of addicts, I hear a long list of things they’ve done to try to convince their partner to quit using. The irony is that, for the addict (likely the rebel) using is the solution to their living problems. So when anyone tries to talk them out of it, to explain why they should change, to show them the futility of their behavior, the rebel sees that as being asked to give up something that helps them make sense of life.
For the hero, all their praise comes from their accomplishments. Who would willingly give that up? Even if it’s causing health problems, alienating friends and/or families, or leaving you exhausted. Whenever we frame our behavior as the solution it becomes desirable. We won’t change it.
This is part of the underlying theory of the show ‘Intervention‘. The expert coordinates the effort of the family to show the addict the costs of their behavior. Hopefully, the addict will become aware and be willing to go into treatment, where the real healing can begin.
This is also why car manufacturers put a light on our dash: to make us aware that we’re low on fuel. Relying solely on the fuel indicator is an easy way to run out of gas, because it becomes part of the ‘normal’ dashboard and we don’t notice that which is normal. Ergo, the light.
2. Acceptance Once we are aware of the need to change, we have to accept that there is work to be done. Every dictionary, online and paper, including this site defines acceptance as “the mental attitude that something is believable and should be accepted as true.”
Once we see that the words of our friends could be true or that perhaps the outcome of what has been ‘fun’ (like hangovers) may not be as great as we thought, then we have are on our way to acceptance.
When you think about it, what is possible without acceptance? Nothing.
I was driving to work today and my fuel light came on. I accept that my little yellow light means I can drive about 50 kilometers (thirty miles) before I run out of gas. Most days, this is no big deal, but this morning I was driving to a meeting out of the city. I had passed the last gas station and they were 40 kilometers apart. Believe me, I was very aware of my location and fuel situation.
The other part of acceptance is knowing that only we can solve our problem. This means getting beyond blaming others (it’s dad’s fault or my bad luck, or….). Acceptance means we know that we are responsible and we have to own the consequences of our choices.
3. Action: The last step is the call to action. Once we know there is a problem and accept that only we can solve it, then we have to do something. We can take any number of actions, but we have to do something. Only when we start to move toward a solution, do we start to find peace and ease about the problem that started this whole process.
Action can be many things. If you’re trying to quit smoking, it may involve many attempts to put the weed down. During that process, we can focus on the failures or we can focus on our success and the next beginning. The latter is more conducive to resolving a problem. Action may be a course, therapy or reading a self-help book. It may involve admitting the problem to others. But always it starts with change.
The major criteria in the third step is honesty. If we accept the existence of a problem, and know that our choices are the reason for the problem, then it is important to examine our desire to change this behavior. The depth of our desire will determine the action we take and it’s probable success.
This morning, I watched the gas gage very carefully. (We all know that watching the gage will prevent the motor from stopping.) At the first sign of a gas station, I turned in and filled up. It didn’t matter to me that this station didn’t offer airmiles or loyalty points. Or that it was a truck stop. All I wanted was to fill up my gas tank and then get to my meeting on time.
I became aware of the problem, owned it (since I’m the only one who drives the car, it’s obviously my responsibility) and took action to solve it. I was determined to solve my immediate problem, regardless of all other factors. Problem resolution is that simple – we have to become willing to take the action to make the change. Regardless
3.5. Repeat the above The action step will need to be repeated over and over and over again. Some people have a spiritual experience and are cured of their problem, but most of us have to work on the new us. I quit smoking for the first time about 20 years ago. I got a year off the weed but went back. I did that a few times and then managed 3 years and went back. Then 7 and…yeah I went back. This time I have almost 15 years off cigarettes. And I think I’ve got them licked.
What’s different? I knew cigarettes were deadly, but I was willing to risk death for the supposed relaxation they gave me. Now I accept that it is only me who puts cigarettes in my mouth. My decision is the only thing that will take me back to cigarettes. I know today, that anytime I start fantasizing about the pleasure of cigarettes I need to take action and give Louise a reality check.
For children born in emotionally barren homes, these 3.5 steps are difficult, particularly the first one, because they live their roles. They don’t know anything else. Their behavior within the role is their coping mechanism for a stressful home environment. It’s not their problem, it’s their solution – even when it’s not working.
Have you made major changes in your life? What worked for you? How did you do it? Conversely, have you tried to explain to another or help another change their life? Did it work? What did you do?