Monday, March 07, 2016

I SUCK! But, at least I'm predictable...

Today's tagline is: I suck...but at least I'm predictable. 

Psychology is not the study of the mind. Rather, it is the study of the soul. As we delve into the soul we begin to find that human beings, despite how busy they become and how complex their lives are, they are fairly simple creatures. I tend to lean to Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs as a template to gauge why people do what they do. It's fairly simple, actually. If you think about it, all behaviors have a purpose and typically they can fall into one of the 4-5 categories in Maslow's Hierarchy. Starting at the bottom there are PHYSIOLOGICAL NEEDS and going up from there is SAFETY, SOCIAL/ESTEEM, and finally SELF-ACTUALIZATION. Today, though, I want to speak briefly about Safety.

Safety, in my experience, is an umbrella term that encompasses all aspects of a person's life that makes them feel that life is comfortable, predictable, consistent, and stable. With a foundation of safety, which means that turmoil is minimal the individual believes that all is well. They feel and believe that their physical, mental, emotional, spiritual and sexual needs are aligned and sufficiently under their control.

Now, let's see how this principle of safety is not without a sense of irony. Take, for instance, an individual who is struggling with self-esteem, depression, anxiousness, obsessive compulsiveness, or ANYTHING where they feel that they are out of control. Here, you may find an individual who engages in covert behaviors (i.e. internal) that include self-berating, self-doubting, self-flagellation, etc. Their internal dialogue may be "I suck at this...I'm a failure....I'm not good at this....I'm a terrible person...etc." Not only do they say these things, but they may even seek out internal or external evidence for it. For example: "I suck at playing the trumpet, because I screwed up in the concert....I am a failure as a mother, because my child is struggling in school and I should have done more with him/her at home...I am a terrible employee, because my boss gave me negative feedback...etc." This internal process added to the seeking and finding of evidence leads to feelings of despair, hopelessness, and even sleepless nights. One would think that the results of this process might logically push a person to move away from such negative behaviors; thus enabling them to move up the hierarchy and work on their esteem, their social life and moving towards actualization. In some cases it does! However, in the cases that end out in my office it does not always look like this. In my opinion, this happens because the behaviors (internal and external) have a predictable and consistent result, thus logically maintaining a sense of ironic safety. After all, safety is a sense of stability and predictability. Therefore, why would the individual change when they know that their outcome will be the same and they have power over it?

Now that we've briefly unraveled this ironic sense of safety, one can see how it might be comfortable to remain in their unhappy state. So, one might ask how to help a person move from that state to a new state of safety. Truthfully, there are many ways. CBT or Gestalt therapy can help, person-centered therapy can help, existential therapy can help, and much more. Typically, it requires an empathetic ear that can help a person to become aware of their internal goings-on. Awareness can be a breeding ground for change that is brought on by the individual's will to seek a higher level of safety. Once they begin to move in that direction, then they need to be able to identify the progress, celebrate it, give themselves the proverbial pat on the back and develop their own self-efficacy (i.e. confidence). Then, their motivation to continue the new behavior can be internally driven. Finally, the new results can be just as predictable; just as stable; and just as consistent as the prior behaviors. Who wouldn't want that?

Dr Law