Excerpt From Relationships That Work: The Power Of Conscious Living
– By David B. Wolf
An important aspect of the courses I conduct is that the participants examine their lives from alternative perspectives, and change for the better as a result of that exploration. At the core of this examination are the principles of choice and responsibility. A stance of personal responsibility is the most effective attitude for living a life of excellence and creating the experience and results we desire.
In the seminars we spend time looking at how language affects and reflects consciousness. For example, we consider the expression “I can’t” in contrast to “I’m not willing to.” Through an experiential process, participants often realize that they use “I can’t” to express a sense of disempowerment, whereby the script of their lives is written by external forces, whereas “I am willing to” or “I am not willing to” reflects a consciousness of responsibility, personal power and choice. Frequently I hear participants say that “I can’t” feels easier to say, although “I’m not willing to” is more honest.
Several years ago I was conducting couples counseling. In one case a man would regularly lose his temper with his wife. Sometimes this would happen at especially precarious times, such as when they were driving on the highway. Understandably, this behavior damaged the relationship. The woman acknowledged that she had played a part in the situation, provoking him in various ways. The man said, when his wife prodded him with particular statements, in a certain tone of voice, “There’s nothing I can do. I can’t help it. I just become enraged at her.”
I proposed to him a hypothetical scenario. “Your wife has said what she says in the tone of voice with which you are so familiar. She has done that, and it is the moment before you explode with rage. The difference is that this time you know that if you don’t lose your temper, you’ll receive ten million dollars, tax free. Would you become enraged with your wife?” Some hesitation, then, “Well, if I knew I was getting ten million dollars…no, I guess not.”
“But wait a second. I don’t understand. You said that you couldn’t help it. There was nothing you could do. You just had to get enraged with your wife.”
“Yeah, but ten million dollars…”
“Okay, now this is a different ball game. Now I am understanding that you have a choice, and you’re choosing to get mad at your wife. You just indicated that you could make other choices, and you’re choosing anger in that situation.”
As long as the power for his anger is with his wife, or any external factor, there is not much room for progress in addressing this client. Once he acknowledges choice, there is something to work with. “You have choices. How come you’re deciding to lose your temper with your wife? What other possibilities are available?”
As director of an international child protection office, I worked with a forensic psychologist who assisted us in designing training for child protection team members. He specialized in therapy for sex offenders. He shared a technique he utilized when the sex offender would not accept responsibility for his actions.
“I was in the room with the girl and I couldn’t help myself…”
The therapist would then offer, “Okay, suppose it’s the same scenario. You are in the room with the nine-year-old girl. This time, though, the difference is that also in the room is a police officer with a handgun. Would you touch the girl?”
“With a cop there with a gun! Of course not.”
“But you said you couldn’t help it.”
“Yeah but if a cop is there with a gun I’m not going to touch the girl.”
“Okay, so you had a choice. You could have decided differently. How come you chose to molest the girl?”
In this way the psychologist helped the offender acknowledge that he had hundreds of choice points, at each one of which he made a particular response, which led to a distinct result. He chose to speak to the girl in a specific way; he chose to turn the doorknob, and so on and so on. At any of these choice points the man could have responded differently and created a different result. Once this person had recognized his responsibility, and acknowledged that his responses (or lack of them) had led to the final situation, the therapist could productively address issues with him.