Learner therapist (15)……Why don't people do what's good for them?
March 21, 2012
Even I don't always do what's good for me… and I know it!
I assume that anyone who shows up for therapy wants to change themselves in some regard. They may actually arrive with the idea someone else should change and discover that they have to change themselves to achieve that. After a while they get somewhere…often after quite a bit of a while, like a year or two of weekly work on complications of the experience underlying their anxiety and depression.
The techniques for improving anxiety and reducing depression are not difficult, but achieving improvement is, in the long term, notoriously difficult. It takes real attention to personal and contextual detail to control panic, for example. I've been through such things on both sides of the therapeutic arena, as patient and practitioner. Getting to the airport well in advance of the advised on-time ensures me low anxiety departures and placid passages. Pre-emption, one of the clearest panic management techniques, works. It took a few years multiple long distance flights per annum of attention to get it clear and do it consistently.
Get real…it's hard to change anything everywhere, almost
Failure rates for weight reduction over the medium to long term are now thought to be partly organic in origin and still people persist. Obesity has so many negative life implications it's a wonder it is achieving an increased representation among the gen pub. Resistance to change also well known in medical practice…and we can see it alarmingly on display in climate change scepticism, financial institution blamelessness and state decimation of populations in defence of the existing order (Syria anyone? Sudan…?)….
…even over quite long terms... and a commercial yield of extinction for some (many) entities along the way… Kodak finally went under this month, 20 years after the digital camera innovation (the invention was 20 years before that) and they could see it coming, but still…like digitisation --- or couldn't they see it coming…and who's to blame for this blindness?? Perhaps they were always going to lose and there are plenty of cases of that.
Well, maybe it's just that the existing habits have not been engaged by a sufficiently compelling motive to give up their hold…we know in some sense that changing will be transformative and that it's almost impossible to believe it will be both doable and effective. Transformation = obliteration opportunity??
So back to me – the case I know the best, and a good example of not doing what's good for me…
One thing I can see is that I do not do what's good for me because that usually involves breaking down a well-established and core self-system. Not just a self-management system but a self-system through which my distinctive (to my senses) public and private self is expressed in values, behaviours, thinkings, sensibilities and sensitivities. Taking care of myself before others is one such system.
The hurt's not bad enough
Another thing I can see is that many of the warning signs or attraction signs for self-care – the sources of motivation - have been defaced, erased or otherwise sidelined by the process of building the just mentioned self-systems. A small example: to deal with a childhood sensitivity to poison ivy I had to learn to avoid its sources: the oily leaves which attack through direct skin contact, pets who carried the oil unknown back to us to be rubbed off in patting and scratching or indirectly through the smoke of burning ivy vines in outdoor fires during winter. Both produced seriously unattractive and distressing weeping blisters across affected skin lasting a week or so. But I liked cutting grass in summer and ice skating in winter and on rolled the attacks until I wintered in boarding school and skated on an enclosed ice rink. It seemed that overall allergy declined with puberty.
I have learned to disregard irritants so that even strongly felt ones withdraw from immediate perception after a few days…the trouble I note for preventive attention vanishes. I think I digress. Maybe I regress, because it came to me in the middle of the night that I am part way through avoiding an FOB test for bowel cancer…not a name to repulse me but the idea of the process certainly does: see faecal occult blood test. And I recognise now that I've done so before successfully – not collect it that is.
The repulsion interacts with an avoidance inclination already mentioned – not doing things that are good for me. So, why not? The reason for doing what's good is not strong enough to compensate for the ugliness of the possibly virtuous process of discovering a potentially fatal condition! That is, the motivating risks are too easy to tick Not Applicable to me.
Up a level…family life as an anti-change system
Another perspective on resistance is that of family life. Try a blended family composed of the remnants of at least two pre-existing ones, harbouring various baggages. Keeping the blend reasonably clear while flexible is a piece of relationship artistry mostly achieved in the moment, over and over again, those in charge and their charges accommodating the unspoken needs of all members as well as possible. The expelled, escaped or lost prior members lurk in the consciousness of their respective partners and children, appearing in the new family as 'hard-wired' response patterns projected on the replacement parents – demands which they may be unsuited to manage by temperament, style or value, or just plain lack of time/energy.
This is a sticky web of affiliations, attachments and associations to be rewoven only with intense effort, and then only partially. Not surprisingly, the couple leading a blend may be resisted by the web's crystallised accommodations and adaptations, which gain strength over time.
It's all a bit like a cat which resists the pills that will save its life being stuffed with the offending capsules by well-intentioned owners…as often unsuccessfully as successfully. I watched an old friend struggle to get the precisely named "Clawed" to take his medicines one morn in Sydney.
It's as hard for the cat to know what's good for it as for us, perhaps, but he's easier to overwhelm for the sake of his good.