Universal Rules: If You Say It's Impossible, It Is
This is one of those truisms that have pretty much universal acceptance. What I mean is that we all know that, to put it colloquially, "Everything was impossible until it wasn't." Everything you see around you was un-invented at some point in history. Every social convention was, at some point, "born." Nothing is real until it's discovered and brought into being. We know all of this.
The oddness starts when we move from the realm of what we consider to be neutral, physical reality to the personal realm. Then, we forget about how all of life is in flux, and we set our minds in concrete. It's all "I can't do that." "It's impossible."
Now, this has to do with a lot of life – and each person has his or her own "impossible" list. Much of it has to do with two realms – what I think and what I do. And what it boils down to is that I declare myself incapable of doing something differently. And then, because we live in an era of victims, I want an exemption from responsibility while I "blame" all and sundry.
It's sort of like lying and then expecting people to accept your lie because then your lie ceases to have consequences for you.
The hardest work I do is trying to find the language that will allow clients to truly hear what they are saying, and in the hearing, choose to let go of what they are telling themselves. Better choices are simply that – choices. Yet, to make a better choice, I first have to understand that I have options. And if I think that certain things are beyond me, that thought precludes my acting in a different way.
Thank god it doesn't happen often, but occasionally I get clients who want me to confirm just how stuck they are. They come in with some tale of woe and have an excuse for every option I might point them toward. I worked with a client last summer whose marriage had failed, and she had moved back in with her mom and dad. She had never gotten along with them, and especially did she not get along with her father. He never agreed with her and thought she was irresponsible.
So, like clockwork, she told him each of her thoughts and plans, and he shot them down. She'd get defensive and angry. He'd call her a baby. She came to therapy to convince me that her father was a self-righteous a**-hole. I wondered aloud, "And even if that is so, how will that help you to do your life differently?"
Now, as time went by, it became crystal clear that my client wanted me to assure her that indeed, at age 39, she was the helpless victim of a self-righteous father. No matter how I pressed, she refused to see another option. I would ask her, "Why do you need to get your father's permission to arrange a ride to work?" She'd shake her head ruefully and say, "You don't understand. When he doesn't support me, I feel miserable." I'd reply, "If you know he pretty much always disagrees with you or criticizes you, then why ask?" Reply: "Because he's my father."
She wouldn't allow for the possibility that 39-year-olds do not need their father's permission to go to work. Actually, her belief was quite helpful. It was, "I am the helpless victim of men, who make me miserable and never support me. There is nothing I can do about it, and even my male therapist doesn't get it."
"If you say it's impossible, it is."
Another client, this one long term, monthly. Lots of relationship issues and a fair amount of skirting around sex. In the last six sessions, we've talked more directly about her sex drive, or more precisely, her story about its virtual non-existence.
One day, she said, and I love this line, "I just don't have the sex gene." I laughed and asked her to explain. She indicated that sex was dull and boring and that she never got excited, let along had an orgasm or ten. She then detailed some really rough happenings in her teens, and her feeling of being put upon to put out by her "over-sexed husband."
Then, almost without drawing a breath, she described a recent topless escapade she and her husband had with another couple. I asked her how that was for her. She turned red, started squirming on the couch and said that it was a big turn on. I said, "How does that fit in with your story about lacking the sex gene?" She looked at me blankly, then said, "Well, this is different."
Another time, a month or so later, she told me she didn't like porn, and her husband did. She'd get pissed off at him for watching. "That stuff is such a turn off." I suggested she buy some for an Xmas present. Some months later, now the proud owner of a satellite TV, she mentioned that she'd been channel surfing and had found a porn channel and watched several. I asked her how that had been for her. Again, she turned red, started squirming on the couch and said that it was a big turn on.
I said, "Tough admitting you're sexual, eh?"
"Me?" More blushing and squirming.
"What are you feeling right now, as you think back and remember the movie?"
Even more squirming. "Turned on."
"I guess you tripped over your sex gene."
It was impossible, until it wasn't.
You see, dear hearts, nothing is as it appears to be. All that's "up" is whatever story I am presently telling myself. If I tell myself that I have no options, or "worse" if I tell myself I am the helpless victim of another or my circumstances or "my genes," while non of this is true per se, it will be enough to keep me stuck in my story.
On the other hand, if I look at what I am telling myself and apply the "utility question," ("How is this working for me?") I can begin to gently let go of the beliefs and behaviours I am troubling myself over.
The hardest, most adult thing we can do is to let go of beliefs that either limit us or blame how we are the fault or responsibility of others. This belief is the clearest indicator of immaturity, and one of the hardest to get rid of.
I've never met a content, wise and happy soul who holds the belief that others are controlling their life.
This week, ask the utility question, and remind yourself that you don't have an eternity to sort your life out by making others behave. Own who you are, and own your "impossibilities." Loosen your grip on them and make them "improbabilities," (so you don't scare yourself… J ) and give yourself some wiggle room.
Because squirming on the couch beats immobility any time.