Perhaps one of the most interesting and challenging people to work with is one who comes in highly motivated to make changes in the way they are living. Life, for them is full of conflict and confusion. They know that what they are doing isn’t working for them, but they often do not have the skills to make the changes without help. It’s like trying to construct a multi piece toy without the right instruction manual.
It is important to take a history in any therapeutic situation. The vast majority of the people who come in with problems coping with their life as it is have a history of some form of trauma or instability in their life. Many come from homes where parents were substance abusers. Others recall years of hearing their parents fuss and fight. Abandonment or abuse are also prominent in the history of many who come in for therapy.
Just today, I saw a man who came in for his first appointment. His wife had filed papers for separation, and he told me that he was willing to do anything possible to get his family back. Sometimes, it takes something as drastic as this to get people to seek out help. As we talked, he described his parents. He said his father was a rather passive, but successful business man. It was obvious he had great respect for him. His mother was described as often angry, manipulative, and controlling. It was as if a light bulb went off then. He said “I’m just like my mother”. He said he had never considered that he was, but now, faced with the possibility of a divorce, he was willing to do some self searching. The instruction manual he was given for life was obviously written by his mother because he was following in her footsteps with his angry outbursts and controlling behavior with his own family.
Others may not become like their parents, but seek out a partner in their relationship that is just like one of their parents. It is often said that we either become one or marry one like our parents. Why, you may ask. It is because we do what is familiar. The home and lifestyle we grow up with helps us write our manual for life.
Perhaps the saddest cases are those who had such an unstable life that it’s as if they have no instruction manual. A young man yesterday talked of his mother abandoning the family when he was two, being a latch key kid because dad worked all the time, then dealing with finding his father dead when he was a teen. This man, dependent on drugs and in an unstable relationship, was asking for help. He was aware that he did not know what was normal or how to go on with his life.
When people come into my office seeking answers for their problems, we often talk about helping them write a new manual for their life. Just as with most anything that is done, making life changes has its ups and downs. People make mistakes as they move forward. Having someone, such as a therapist, helps to give them encouragement and direction.
Life can be much better when the wrong instruction manual is replaced with one that guides a healthy way of life.