Synopsis: If You Say It’s Impossible, It Is — what we tell ourselves is the most important factor regarding shifting behaviour.
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I don’t think I’d have any trouble at all “selling” the validity of today’s topic
We all know that, to put it colloquially, “Everything is impossible… until it isn’t.” Everything you see around you was yet-to-be-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 this.
Problems arise when we move from the realm of physical reality to the individual, personal realm. When the topic is “me and my behaviour,” we forget that life is all about flux and change and choice, and we set our minds in concrete.
It’s all “I can’t do that.” “It’s impossible.” “It’s not in my nature; I am how I am.”
Now, for sure, each person has his or her own “impossible” list. This stuff is hard-wired in. And it leads to repetitive, dysfunctional behaviour.
Yet, we declare ourselves to be incapable of doing something differently. Even worse, because we live in an era of “being a victim,” we want an exemption from responsibility for our choice not to change while “blaming” all and sundry.
The hardest work I do is finding the language that will persuade my readers (both of my blog and readers of my books) to actually start listening to themselves; and once they hear what they are saying, to 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. If I think that certain things are beyond me, that thought precludes my acting in a different way.
For example, one I hear a lot is, “I’m working on myself.” Or, “I’m finding myself, getting to know myself.” Sounds good, right?
Nope. It’s based upon the erroneous belief that I have to do a long series of “somethings” before I can shift my behaviour. The fixed belief is, “I’m broken.” The erroneous belief is, “See? I’m taking time (4 years, perhaps???) to figure myself out; eventually I’ll start living my life differently.”
If You Say It’s Impossible, It Is. If you say it will take time, that’s just a polite way of saying it’s impossible.
Thank god it didn’t happen often, but I did have a few clients who came for therapy for only one reason. They wanted me to confirm just how stuck they were. They’d come in with some tale of woe and they’d have an excuse for not attempting any option I’d point them toward.
They were in therapy for only one reason: to have someone to witness how sad, pathetic, and hopeless their life was. They wanted to pretend that doing therapy was “progress,” despite the fact that they had no intention of acting differently.
Here’s an example: I worked with a client whose marriage had ended, and she had moved back in with her mom and dad. She had never gotten along with them, and she especially did not get along with her father. He picked fights with her, and endlessly told her he thought she was irresponsible.
Despite knowing what he thought of her, she told him each of her thoughts and plans, hoping for his blessing. Each time, as he had always done, he shot her plans down. She’d get defensive and angry. He’d call her a baby.
She came to therapy, she told me, so that I would agree that her father was a self-righteous a**-hole. She was certainly honest about her motivations!
I wondered aloud, “And even if that is so, how will that help you to do your life differently?”
She’d sigh, and say, “You just don’t understand!”
As time went by, it became crystal clear that all my client wanted from therapy was for me to agree that she, at age 39, was the helpless victim of a self-righteous father. She refused to consider any alternative descriptions or behaviours.
One time, I asked her, “Why do you need to get your father’s permission to arrange for a ride to work?” She shook her head ruefully and said, “When he doesn’t support me, I feel miserable.”
I said, “First of all, you’re 39, and second, you know that he always disagrees with you or criticizes you; so 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.
Her belief allowed her to feel normal (normal, for her was miserable.) It also allowed her to abrogate responsibility for how her life was going. She believed, “I am the helpless victim of my father, and also of all the men I’ve been with. They 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 story, with a positive outcome. It’s about a long-term client who had lots of relationship and sex issues. For several sessions, we talked about her sex drive… or more precisely, her story about not having one.
One day, she said, (and I love this line,) “I just don’t have the sex gene.”
I asked her to explain. She said 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 sexual experiences from her teens, and finished by describing her feeling of being pressured to “put out” by her “over-sexed husband.”
Then, almost without drawing a breath, she described a recent “topless-and-touching” 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 had been a big turn on.
I asked, “How does that fit in with your story about lacking the sex gene?”
She looked at me blankly, then said, “Well, this was different… I never get turned on!”
And she refused to discuss it further.
A month or so later she told me she didn’t like porn, and that her husband did. She’d get pissed off at him for watching. “That stuff is such a turn off.”
I suggested she buy some porn DVDs (her choice) for an Xmas present for herself and her husband. She did, but wouldn’t discuss her reaction to watching.
Some months later, she mentioned that she was the proud owner of a satellite TV. She said that she’d been channel surfing and had found a porn channel and had 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. She owned her “turned-on-ness, and soon was enjoying both sex and orgasms.
You see, dear hearts, nothing is as it appears to be. All that’s “up” for you is whatever story you are telling yourself. If you tell yourself that you have no options, or “worse” if you tell yourself that you are the helpless victim of another person — or of your circumstances — or of “your genes,” that will be enough to keep you stuck in your story.
On the other hand, if you look at what you are telling yourself, and then apply the “utility question,” (“How is this thought, and my current behaviour, working for me?”) you can begin to gently let go of the beliefs and behaviours you are troubling yourself over.
The hardest, most adult thing we can do is to let go of the beliefs that limit us. And the biggest one to get rid of is “blaming.” Blaming others is the clearest indicator of immaturity, and one of the hardest to get rid of.
You have to get rid of it anyway.
This week, ask yourself the utility question, and remind yourself that you don’t have an eternity to sort your life out. Own who and where you are, and own your “impossibilities.” Loosen your grip on them and make them “improbabilities,” (so you don’t scare yourself. 😉 — and then come up with a concrete new behaviour. This gives yourself some wiggle room.
Because squirming on the couch beats immobility any time.