My clients tend to share the same issue. Despite the circumstances, the people or events involved, they’re unhappy with one or more aspects of their life. Surprisingly, their issue is not the circumstances, or the people or events. The problem they run into is using a strategy that is doomed to fail. What is it? Trying to change someone else. What can work? It can be life changing when you begin to devote some of that time and energy changing others to changing yourself.
Do you like your life?
I came across this dilemma when working in a hospital. It was not uncommon for some patients to want to not go home. At first I thought I must be wrong. Surely if you’re in a psychiatric hospital and have commenced your recovery, then you would be sprinting out the front door at the earliest opportunity to return to loved ones and home. Not so.
Many of these patients were in unhappy situations, isolated, disconnected from family, disconnected from community, disconnected from work colleagues or friends. They were lonely, exhausted and bored with lives that offered little in terms of connection, achievement or enjoyment. One day was pretty much a repeat of the last.
In stark contrast hospital had provided activity. There were groups to attend, doctors to see; people everywhere most of the time. Despite being with strangers, within a few days, patients found a person or two to hang with. Suddenly there were new people to talk to, eat with, chat with, have a coffee with. Most importantly these new people had insight into their condition that often family and friends didn’t. Their fellow patients had ‘walked in their shoes’. There was no need to explain fears or lack of energy or motivation or what trauma was. To their surprise, patients found connection, activity and enjoyment.
You don’t have to be mentally ill to see a psychologist
About half of my clients come with a mental health issue (anxiety, or depression or both). The other half however have never been near a psychiatric hospital and have no diagnosis. They are simply unhappy with one or more aspects of their life. Loneliness. A restructure at work. A disintegrating relationship. A difficult ageing parent. Problems with an adolescent son or daughter. Typically they’ve tried to change the people in these situation, but their attempts have failed. Repeated attempts increase stress, anxiety, frustration. A growing distance in the relationship begins, increasing silences, more frequent conflict. Doesn't matter who it is, partner, parent, colleagues or boss. What was once an enjoyable relationship is now stressful. Life becomes about about tolerating an increasingly unpleasant situation.
What most baffles me, is the months or years of distress people seem willing to endure this situation.
Signs you don’t like your life
The clients I work with are good people. They have no evil intentions and are doing the best they can. Despite this, they share common characteristics in their unhappy situations.
What was once enjoyable has become a chore.
Whether it’s the job, their friends or their relationship, they are just going through the motions. It’s takes more effort with fewer rewards. They report feeling trapped in their own lives.
Conflict is on the rise.
With the growing distance and the increase in conflict they retreat further. Their exasperation grows at the actions of the other person, further convinced of their own rightness and their wrongness/stupidity/selfishness/ (fill in the blank ______________) of the other person(s).
You escape your life as often as you can.
Escape can be in the form of food, alcohol, sex, rampant socialising, further isolating, an affair, taking more sickies, working longer. Anything to avoid the unpleasant situation/issue/person. Sometimes their escapes are quite secretive, keeping it on the down-low.
Making the situation worse
Despite genuine distress and good intentions, their strategy of wanting, demanding others to change continues to fail.
Imagine: You’ve talked to the problem people. You’ve explained to them. You’ve got impatient with them. Maybe you even shouted when it was clear you weren’t getting through. You’ve pointed out their faults. You’ve given them the silent treatment. You’ve given them a deadline. You’ve withheld sex, money, affection and/or information. You’ve even told their mother/father, the neighbour, the relative or the supervisor or boss……and still they haven’t change!
It’s our inbuilt response. When there is a problem, it isn’t me. It’s you. We are full of our own good intentions and certain of others’ bad ones. The strategy is doomed to fail.
What does work?
Take a moment and answer these questions.
What have you done to make things better?
Did these efforts work?
Why are you still behaving this way if doesn’t work?
I work with people who don’t like their lives. We identify all the things they’ve tried which failed. We begin to talk about what would happen if they changed? They begin to put their time effort and emotion into changing themselves. The outcome is not about having a perfect life but it is about having a life that you enjoy.