Image by nickwheeleroz (on holiday) via Flick
My usual focus is on building the therapy relationship and learning about my clients through interacting with them. Behavior change, I believe, comes about naturally because the person wishes to maintain relationships with other people.
As such, I spend a lot of time thinking about and trying to come up with some ways of understanding why certain "behaviors" (or ways of being) are so indelible and resistant to change. (Mind you, this is something I regularly try to hash out in my own life as well. But I digress.)
So I started to wonder whether some of my clients have gotten so accustomed to playing the role (in their families, in the institution, in their lives) of "the messed up one" or "the problem" because, on some level it affords them the opportunity (perhaps, from their perspective, their only opportunity) to be special?
I'm not saying this in a mean-spirited way, believe me.
Here's the thing: a good large portion of the folks I work with often don't stop "doing behaviors" that get people grumbling at them (this in spite of years of behavior modification programs and, the ever popular in institutions, active treatment).
And it made me wonder. Why?
I know my clients always have some reason (whether or not the reason is obvious to me or to any of their other supporters) for choosing the actions and interactions that they choose.
In the absence of a clear or obvious reason as to why someone is acting in some unusual or less than sociable way (a reason such as physical discomfort that hasn't been discovered or addressed, or a reaction to something we may not yet know is happening- like hidden abuse), I ask myself (and my clients):
What's preventing this person from moving beyond this behavior? What is it about this particular way of interacting, this way of being in the world, this way of behaving...that is working for this person in some way? Why might s/he be loathe to give it up?
So I come back to the question in my mind: what if this adopted behavioral style, or interactional style, is in some way fulfilling a wish to be "special"?
And whose wish to be special is it fulfilling? Is it my client's wish? Or is it the wish of his/her family? By not playing out the role of "special" will s/he be disappointing her/his family? Or believe s/he will disappoint her/his family?
Is it a way to be noticed at all? In an institution, unless you act out in some way, you run the risk of pretty much sitting quietly by yourself and not having much interaction with anyone, because you're essentially not getting on anyone's nerves. That's fine if you're not all that into interactions with people, but what if you're lonely. And your choice is to not be noticed at all or to be outrageous? Which might you choose?
Right about now you're probably thinking, "No wonder that girl doesn't get anything done all day, obsessing all over the place as she tends to do."
And you'd be right.