Finding Comfort in Uncmfortable Situations

Comfort in Uncomfortable Situations

As a counselor, I have had the occasion to observe every form of human behavior one can imagine.  I have had clients with symptoms of what is being called Schizophrenic behavior, Dissociative Identity Disorder, all of the Personality Disorders, mood disorders, Substance-Related disorders, PTSD, sex and gambling addiction, just to name a few.

What I find most interesting, as well as most difficult to treat, are those who have adjusted to their life’s situation and have accepted it as their way of life.  In other words, they have become comfortable in uncomfortable situations.

No one will make any changes in their life as long as they fail to see or refuse to see a need to do so.  Added to this are those who have found a way for their situation to serve some form of relief, or even a benefit, and are not willing to give these benefits up.

Early in my career, and before I became certified in Choice Theory and Reality Therapy, it was my goal to “cure” all of my clients to make changes that I perceived would enhance their lives.  It never dawned on me that these changes were changes that the client didn’t necessarily want.  I was forcing my agenda on them based on my perception of how better their lives could be if they took my advice.  What I was basically saying was, “I know what’s better for you than you do.”

Fortunately, I was not the type of person to take other people’s problems home with me after work.  Yet, in counseling sessions, I often found myself feeling frustrated because these client’s were not making any effort to improve their lives.  They were behaving in ways in which I disapproved. What I was failing to see is that their current chosen behavior was working for them in some way or another.  People do what works or they wouldn’t do it.  Others just don’t see how it works for them so they attempt to get them to change.

Resilience and adaptation are traits that have existed all throughout evolution of all plants and animals.  While some individuals adapt easily, others have difficulty.  And those who have difficulty are more prone to seek counseling.  Others who come to counseling who adapt to their environment and situation usually do so at the request of others or court-ordered demands.  And the latter are the majority of the clients that come to my office.

I am not so naïve to believe that I can “fix” every client I see.  My successes only come from those who want to have a better life and are willing to look at other choices to make that happen.  The client makes change happen, not I. I only serve as an outside observer who helps the client to identify how they really want their lives to be, discover what they have been doing that may be helping or hindering their wants by the ongoing use of self-evaluation questions, and assisting them in creating plans to achieve their desired results.  And those are Choice Theory and Reality Therapy techniques that I have been using for the last 14 years.

I often see clients whose lives are slowly crumbling about them all because of their refusal to take responsibility for their lives and their reluctance do what needs to be done to improve their situation.  They are often depressed, lack truly happy emotions, procrastinate, and accomplish little to nothing towards daily responsibilities or duties. 

They may seek pleasure by way of alcohol or drugs, sex addiction, gambling, or the indiscriminate spending of large sums of money even they don’t have it, or what little money they have.  But even when the money is on the verge of running out, it is not motivational enough for them to make changes in their life to become happier.  Why? Because they have adjusted to their way of life.  The pleasures they receive, as short lived as they may be, are sufficient to them to continue doing what they have been doing.  They may be receiving minimal but adequate income in the form of Social Security, Disability benefits, and/or family and friend subsidies.  They barely stay afloat and that is good enough for them.

Their choices to behave the way they do meet the three reasons why people choose to depress:  Receiving unsolicited help from family and friends; avoiding angry encounters with self and others; not taking responsibility for their lives because they don’t want to or don’t know how to do so.  If they were to improve their life by acquiring employment, they stand to lose the subsidies and benefits of other sources.  They would be expected to take on more responsibility such as pay bills for food, shelter, clothing, transportation, alcohol/drugs, cigarettes, and other survival needs and they don’t want to do that.

They currently have a safety net of family and/or friends who continue to enable them to live the way they do.  (All it takes is one).  Why change and lose that?  They fear failure if they try and lack the courage and motivation to be self-sufficient.  They know what to expect as a result of their current choices but have a great fear of the unknown and what might happen should they make different choices.  To avoid failure, they fail to make an effort.

When clients who meet these types of behaviors come to me, they usually do so because someone else asked them to do so and is paying for it, or they are court ordered.  In either case, they don’t want to be with me and don’t want to make any changes in their life.  I find them open to telling me what they want and they are aware of how their current choices are not helping them get what they want.  But even with all of this upfront awareness, they still don’t want to do what will make their lives better.  Doing so would mean losing what they have been relying on for months or even years or losing some other benefit they are getting.  Certain wants and needs are relinquished for the sake of other wants and needs that they have determined are more important.

Even in the face of reality, the reality often scares them away.  They recognize full well what needs to be done and they don’t want to do it.  Many of these clients come to one session and then I never see them again.  The court ordered clients will continue to see me because they have no choice.  But they will make no effort to follow-up on the plans they choose while in session.  This is the type of client that Dr. Glasser refers to as The Workless.  What they currently have is good enough for them and they don’t want to have to give it up.  In their perception, its working well enough for them.  They use their neediness to control others into helping them.

If people don’t want to change or see a need to change, no one has the ability to get them to do so.  Trying to effect change in anyone who is unwilling will result in defensiveness and resistance to the external control methods used to get them to do so.  It’s their choice, not yours.  Allow them their right to choose what they do and back off.  Walk away.  

Accept them, respect their choices, and allow them to go their own way.  Don’t enable them.  If they want to hurt or live in a life that you perceive as non-productive or filled with unhappiness, that is their choice and it serves a purpose for them at the time.  If it is a family member, spouse, or close friend, you may have to stand your ground as one who cares but not as one who will continue to help them live the life they are choosing.

A person who does not take responsibility for their own life has learned over time that they don’t have to take responsibility.  They have too many other people who will do it for them.  So why change?  This is also very common in those who have substance abuse problems.  They may go to in-patient or out-patient treatment and declare, “It doesn’t work.”  They say this because they are so used to others doing for them that they expect the counselors to “cure” them while taking no responsibility towards their own recovery. 

.A young man was walking down a neighborhood street on a particularly sunny day.  He was enjoying the warmth of the sun and the cloudless sky, and the singing of the birds when he began to hear a mournful wail.  It bothered him to hear such a sad sound on such a beautiful and happy day.  As he continued walking, the mournful sound became louder and louder.  He soon found himself standing in front of a home with an elderly man sitting on the porch stoop reading a newspaper.  Next to the old man was a hound dog laying at his side.  The young man approached the older man and said:

“Excuse me, sir. Is that your dog making those moaning and groaning sounds?”

The old man replied, “Yup.”

The young man asked, “Why is he howling so mournfully?”

The old man said, “Because he’s laying on a nail.”

The young man, seeing the obvious remedy, asked, “Then why doesn’t he get up?”

The old man replied, “Cause he ain’t hurtin’ bad enough yet.”

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