Monday, February 06, 2006

Formula to Avoid an Escalation

Here's a quick little formula that may help some of our clients avoid an escalation or, worse, a violent incident:

Turn SHOULD into COULD.

When we make a statement or have a thought like, "My wife should have approached me in a better tone of voice," we are practicing what some call counterfactual thinking. In other words, we are comparing reality to some ideal we have in our heads that runs counter to the facts. Frustration increases relative to the difference between what the other person did and what we feel they SHOULD have done.

If we replace the SHOULD with a COULD, we get something more like, "My wife COULD have spoken in a different tone, but she didn't. And that's OK." The word COULD acknowledges that there were other options but it doesn't place the same expectation or demand on the other person to live up to your ideal. This is about gaining flexibility and being able to accept when things don't go your way.

Obviously this sort of play on words is not fool proof, some abusers will take a tool like this, only to apply it to their partner rather than themselves. Nevertheless, I have seen 'lightbulb' moments for some of the men I've worked with as they've begun to see how black/white their thinking was through this little tool.

6 Comments:

Blogger Joel said...

This mental health consumer endorses this technique. When I think of it as "he triggered me" I get messed up. When I think of it as "What could I have done when he tried to screw me up?" I feel empowered and accountable.

4:04 PM  
Blogger dulcimist said...

Hey Joel,

Thanks for stopping by.

I'm big into cognitive therapy techniques, which is really what we're talking about. It's amazing how much we can affect our emotions and our responses to life simply by changing how we think.

"What could I have done...." We always have choices, don't we.

Thanks,
-Andy

8:52 PM  
Blogger Joel said...

I like cognitive therapy, too. But I must emphasize that before it could work for me, I had to get on medications. I am bipolar. Until I could eliminate the mixed episodes, the depressions, and the (rare) euphorias, all the cognitive therapy in the world could not help me stabilize my moods and face other people.

Where it did help was in undoing bad habits I had evolved as defense mechanisms. As I look out through my new eyes -- charged by the meds and the cognitive therapy combined -- I feel empowered to be myself. I also see how truly ~nuts~ many people around me are -- some of them because they are sufferers of mental illness like me and others because no one ever taught them how to behave.

I find that I can work with the former, but I have problems being patient with the latter. Hmmm. Now the next time they start up, what should I do?....

You're getting a mention on my blog.

12:24 AM  
Blogger dulcimist said...

Yeah, I really hear you about the importance of meds. In fact, your description of the cognitive therapy part as "undoing bad habits that evolved as defense mechanisms" is perhaps the best explanation I've ever heard.

I've seen examples where either meds or talk-therapy were tried without the other, only to leave the person frustrated with themselves for not getting better.

"problems being patient with the latter..." It's funny how we can have more patience for someone if we can explain their behavior and see them as a fellow sufferer. That, again, goes back to how we interpret others (cognitive). Maybe seeing those latter folks as sufferers in some way too helps create the patience. Easier said than done!

Thanks for the mention.

8:09 AM  
Blogger Dr. Deborah Serani said...

I like the word turn and what it implies.

6:05 AM  
Blogger chucky101 said...

cognitive therapy as "undoing bad habits that evolved as defense mechanisms"? i'm working on quit smoking - stop smoking blogs and i'm doing some research on the psychological role in getting addicted as well as getting rid of an addiction. Really interesting.

11:30 AM  

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