In my practice, a significant portion of my clients are healthy and perfectly delightful people, well-functioning in every respect. However, they do have the misfortune of having a loved one who is irrationally difficult. That is, these relatives literally do not subject themselves to the rules of logic when interpreting the world and interacting with others.
For example, imagine an adult you love saying, angrily or tearfully, for the tenth time today, “I hate you for stealing all my money,”or,“ I can’t find my Daddy.” The cause of this is usually either (a) cognitive impairment caused by brain tissue disease (e.g., from Alzheimer’s disease, strokes, head trauma, etc.), or (b) personality disorder (e.g., narcissistic PD, antisocial PD, dependent PD, and paranoid PD, etc.).
Whatever the cause, my clients have invariably worn out two common but useless approaches. First, reasoning, that is, explaining why you wish they would behave differently, asking them to behave differently next time, or revealing how their behavior makes you feel. Second, confrontation, such as describing their own behavior to them and demanding they change, or threatening some consequence if they do not change. These strategies all rely on an assumption that the loved one respects and uses logic in their own thinking and decision making. But they don’t use logic, so these strategies fail.
I fervently hope that you have never encountered such a person, and never will. Nevertheless, just in case you ever do, I am going to share with you the strategy I teach to my clients. I call it Dr. Chafetz’s two-part recipe for avoiding confrontation. The first element is to remain vague and noncommittal about facts. Do not say yes; and do not say no! Say things like,” Oh!” “Interesting!” “You don’t say!” “Isn’t that something?” ”Wow! Let me check on that.” “I don’t know.” The second element is to use your words to express empathy about their feelings. “That must be hard.” “What’s that like for you?” Finally, let me share with you the simple, three-word phrase which powerfully combines these two elements. It is, “I HEAR YOU.”
I know it can be very hard to resist the temptation to reason with someone, but if you have a loved one who does not respond to reasoning or confrontation, give this recipe a try, and let me know how it turns out.
“My passion is ensuring that every adult is mentally ready to succeed in all transitions that comprise the adult years. The meaning in my life comes from helping my patients see themselves, their situation, their future, and the entire world with new eyes and a newly courageous attitude.
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