This is it! Some more from Counseling with Choice Theory!
I’m still in chapter 1 here, with Jerry, whom we met in an earlier entry. Jerry, like many of Dr. Glasser’s patients, starts focusing on his apparent problems–and wants Dr. Glasser to focus on them–before he even enters the room. After entering the room, he has to straighten the pictures, won’t step on lines in the carpet, won’t sit on the comfy chair–because there is a pattern on the chair and he doesn’t sit in patterned chairs.
What is a good response for somebody who is so clearly focusing on the maladaptive coping? Dr. Glasser makes no mention of the behaviours at all. He says,
If I acknowledged his obviously compulsive behavior, I would be giving it more important than I think it’s worth and tacitly promising that I could do something about it.
This is a beautiful response and really something we can do with any number of people in our lives. Something we can do when looking at our own behaviour, too. Stop being focused on the results! Focusing on these maladaptive results only furthers our unhappiness, encourages us to continue in such behaviour. It’s the same thing with certain behavioural issues with our children. If you keep focusing and commenting on a certain undesired behaviour, guess what? It’s going to continue!
Dr. Glasser starts talking with Jerry, which actually makes Jerry mad. Why? Because Dr. Glasser asks Jerry to tell him why he’s called. Jerry flips–it should be obvious, shouldn’t it? Again, Jerry is focusing on the behaviours. Dr. Glasser is smart enough to know that there is an issue in Jerry’s life that he is coping with by engaging in these behaviours. Dr. Glasser adeptly directs the conversation away from the behaviours Jerry’s just exhibited, and Jerry brings the conversation back to the behaviours and how “crazy” they are. Dr. Glasser directs the conversation specifically to what has happened recently that has brought Jerry there. Jerry starts to get into what’s happened–and then brings it all back to all the crazy stuff he does.
See what this does? How is he getting anywhere by focusing on these crazy behaviours? There’s no magic word to make them stop. He somehow has in his mind that Dr. Glasser will help him stop the behaviours, like the behaviours just happen for no reason. But that’s not Dr. Glasser’s philosophy.
It actually takes over 3 pages of conversation–not including anything Dr. Glasser might have left out–for Jerry to finally start talking about what really brought him to Dr. Glasser’s office! He’s had these behaviours for years and Dr. Glasser just wanted to know what has happened that now he wants help with them.
Turns out it’s because of a girl. 🙂
There are some other great things in the chapter, including Jerry not needing to use his own silverware at Starbucks for the entire time he was there with this woman. Isn’t this a huge hint? It ought to be. He didn’t use his own silverware because his brain chemistry made him. He used it–and stopped using it–because of something else within him causing him to choose differently.
Finally, we find out that he is desperately afraid that as he gets closer to this new woman, Carol, that he’ll do what he’s done in the past: get crazier, she won’t be able to handle it, and she’ll leave him. Dr. Glasser then sees that there is something seriously wrong with the man.
More interesting dialogue and follow-up ensues. Dr. Glasser eventually calls Jerry on his need to impress the doctor with his crazy behaviours. “All of you (his patients) are trying to keep me away from focusing on the real problem, which is always a present relationship.”
And this is the heart of it: unhappy with a relationship in their lives (or the simple lack of a happy relationship), people can make themselves do crazy things. Oh, they don’t see that they’re doing crazy things necessarily, or don’t make the connection that they do the crazy things because of how they’re feeling about the relationship. It’s almost too painful to focus on the real problem. But our minds have a way of being creative, of making sure we’re aware that something’s wrong. But the crazy behaviours are just the symptoms, not the problem itself.
To prove his point a bit, Dr. Glasser asks Jerry if he’ll participate in a little experiment. He asks Jerry if he could choose to get up from the plain (uncomfortable) chair he’s in and move to the other one.
Jerry, convinced that he is obsessive-compulsive and can’t help himself, fights the idea. “Why? I like this one.” The excuses start. A bit of back-and-forth. Jerry says he can’t help it. Dr. Glasser challenges him again: “Could you choose to move to that chair?”
It’s not really that hard of a question, is it? And yet, it’s such an important one for all of us if we find ourselves or someone close to us trapped in a maladaptive way of being. “Could you choose to do something different?” The more we find ourselves feeling disempowered, the more we feel that life is just happening and we have to go along, the less we are going to focus on the truth of the matter:
We have a choice.
Like so many people who go, “But I have to!” or “I can’t help it!”, Jerry fights this idea. “What do you mean, ‘choose’? Why do you keep saying ‘choose’?” Dr. Glasser lays it on thick and tells him he’s choosing all of his crazy behaviours. This is met with excuses again: “I don’t choose it. What are you talking about? I’m sick. I’ve got obsessive-compulsive disease. I can’t help myself. Two doctors have told me that.”
This makes me sad. This is still the common way of looking at all kinds of issues today: we’re mentally ill and can’t help it. We can’t help being stressed, depressed, manic, what have you. Well, we might not be able to turn off a whole host of habitual thoughts and behaviours overnight and not have them come back, but for the most part, we can help it. It’s our own thoughts and behaviours that get us into these kinds of messes. “I can’t help it” is nothing more than an excuse to allow us to not have to change ourselves, to not have to change what we do. It can be hard to change–but when needed, that’s where true happiness will come from. By choosing better behaviours, we live better and live happier.
Some more interesting dialogue between the two of them to see how Dr. Glasser gets to the heart of the counselling. I won’t get into that here. I will bring up this part: Jerry ends up asking why he is the way he is. Dr. Glasser has already told him it’s how he deals with tension, but Jerry wants to know why. Dr. Glasser essentially says it doesn’t matter. It could be rooted in his childhood, and if so, his childhood is long gone and it doesn’t matter. Yes, this is contrary to many counsellors who want to dredge up the past and have you deal with it. It can take serious time to get everything out and come to terms with it all when really, these people need to start changing things now, and knowing about the root of it has nothing to do with choosing to do something different now.
And this is exactly the realization that Dr. Glasser has Jerry focus on as the chapter closes. His “assignment” is for Jerry to say to himself whenever he notices he’s doing his crazy things, “Jerry, I’m choosing to do this, whatever it may be,” and to ask his girlfriend to remind him it’s a choice when she sees him do things.
Knowing that we have a choice can be scary, but when we accept it, it can be so empowering. Focusing on that and not on the symptoms and apparent troubles will make a huge change in our lives for the better.