Twenty years of practicing therapy makes you aware of certain patterns.
One is the series of questions I ask clients struggling with an intractable problem:
- What have you done to solve it?
- What was the result?
- What did you do then?
My clients’ answers, too, tend to follow a pattern:
- I did X.
- It didn’t work.
- I did X again.
Ruth’s son is failing academically. He hates school and refuses to study. This scares Ruth, so she forces him to go to summer school. Result: Ruth’s son is failing academically.
Jay’s wife distrusts him since his affair. “Tell me the truth,” she begs. Jay craves her trust, but hates criticism and conflict. So he keeps secrets and hides his feelings. Result: Jay’s wife distrusts him.
Sandy feels inadequate and unlovable. So she tries to win love and approval by solving everyone else’s problems. This encourages everyone to bring their problems to Sandy, which she finds overwhelming and exhausting. Result: Sandy feels inadequate and unlovable.
Bert struggles with writer’s block. Fearing failure, he finds ways to avoid working on his book. The more he avoids writing, the larger his fear of failure looms. Result: Bert struggles with writer’s block.
And so on.
Here’s the thing:
Whatever our goal may be, our deepest priority is usually emotional comfort.
It’s why we cling to our so-called comfort zones.
It’s also why we’d rather do something familiar and ineffective than something new that might actually work.
So, like snakes eating their own tails, we go around and around in the same circles.
“Insanity,” wrote Einstein, “is doing the same thing and expecting different results.”
Take a look at your most persistent problems.
You may find that you’re just a bit crazy.