I work with bright clients. Most people that come to see me could pick up any number of self help books how to fix whatever issue they have. Yet sometimes all that knowledge doesn’t work.
My clients already know all the current wisdom, like:
- When you are angry count to ten before speaking
- Keep a calorie counter and go to the gym before work
- Don’t drink when you feel sad as alcohol is a depressant
- Don’t text her if she/him hasn’t texted you back.
- Don’t argue when your heart is racing. It is a formula for a blow up.
My clients know all this and yet they ask themselves, if I know all this, why isn’t change happening?
Many times the reason is that the inner rebel is protesting. What does that mean? It means that there are parts of your personality who refuse to be told what to do. Think of it like your inner teenager (we all have them). It is there because it thinks it is trying to protect you.
When I begin my work with a client who has struggled to create lasting change I start by identifying what behavior the inner rebel is up to in his/her life. It may look something like this:
- binge eating
- calling him (again)
- lashing out in anger
- dating the wrong people
- not applying for jobs
- not asking for a raise
- not leaving someone you should leave
Next I work on engaging that inner rebel so I can see just exactly what that rebel has to say about this behavior. The first step in engaging the inner rebel is to validate its position. It goes something like this:
So… what you are doing (binge eating, calling him again, drinking, blurting out whatever comes to mind) is one possible way to handle this situation. (This is what I used to say to the pre-adolescents that I worked with at middle school. Failing your classes, disobeying your parents and teachers is one possible way to live your life. Because whether we like it or not it is a choice one can make.)
After validating the inner rebel’s approach to the situation I would make sure to clarify that although it is one way to live in the world, it is likely to be one of the hardest ways. Why? Because there will be some unpleasant, negative consequences.
The next step is to illuminate the consequences – bring them into the light, so to speak.
I ask my client to list some of the possible consequences. They may sound something like this:
- feeling or looking unhealthy
- bouts with low self esteem
- relationships that are filled with disharmony or angst
- hangovers or issues related to addiction
There are times when just bringing these consequences to light will be enough to pause (or slow down) your inner rebel but, if that rebel is particularly fierce I move on to the next step.
The next step is to narrate the struggle. This happens by having my client bring a voice to what is happening as it is happening. It may sound something like:
“Even though I know I am probably not going to get what I want from writing this text, I am going to text her (again) anyway.” or
“Even though I know I will not be happy when I gain weight, I would rather binge in order to stuff down my feelings with food rather than feel sad, lonely anxious.”
Sounds awful right? Maybe you have never heard a therapist recommend narrating your not-so-great behavior. But I ask you to do it because it works. I promise you, that if you do this your inner rebel will soften. Slowly but surely, inner change will begin to occur. Your internal dialogue won’t like the narration and may want to rebel against that.
Soon you may hear your inner dialogue say something like:
“No! I would rather just feel sad rather than binge”
“I would rather just feel lonely than keep texting (and besides, she probably won’t respond and I will be lonely anyway).
So what have you done here is that you have walked your inner rebel down the path of waking up. Remember that initially your inner rebel is there because it is just trying to protect you because the rebel wants you to get what you want. And when your rebel starts to see that she is actually NOT helping you get what you want then you can engage her to actually get behind the bigger task of getting what you REALLY want.
Nicole C Weiss LCSW
- Phone: 619-318-5012
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org