Firmly fixed in Johnny’s mind is the idea that life is unfair. More specifically, life is unfair to him. Whether it’s at work, with his parents, his teachers, even with his friends, Johnny often feels as if he is under attack.
And Johnny is happy to list examples of these injustices. Whether it‘s as a toddler 20 years ago, or an event from 20 minutes ago, there’s a story carefully kept alive in Johnny’s memory that he can use to illustrate his mistreatment compared to others. For example, Johnny’s family is planning a camping trip, and it’s clear that the intention of the family trip is to provide opportunities for fun and belonging.
However, as Johnny describes the trip plans, his demeanor reflects his perception that folks walk all over him. He slumps, he sighs, makes little eye contact, and generally presents the picture of a guy who’s badly treated! Why?
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“Everybody else will get to do what they want; that’s the way it goes. Last time, I wanted to go canoeing but I ended up going along with what they all wanted. They never do what I want. It makes me so mad; I don’t even want to go.”
“When you wanted to go canoeing, what did you say?”
Johnny thinks a bit, and replies, “I said something like maybe if anybody wanted to, we might go canoeing, but nobody spoke up, so that was that. I never got to go. They always walk all over me.”
Does that sound convincing and assertive?
Reality Therapy is focused on the present—the here and now. It’s an approach that acknowledges that while Johnny can learn from his past experiences, it’s only from here on that he can make effective change. Let’s help bring Johnny back to the present by asking, “Would you like to stop feeling walked over?” Of course, his reply is positive.
“Now, if you weren’t a doormat, what would you say? What would you do?”
“Well, I guess I’d stand up and say, ‘I’m planning to go canoeing. Would anyone like to come with me?’ ”
Asking clearly for what he wants would be a big change for Johnny. This simple change of behaviour—standing and making an assertive statement—opens the possibility that others will change their reactions to him.
Johnny had become accustomed to assuming he won’t get what he wants, and by avoiding asking directly, he pretty much guaranteed that’s what happened. Then, he’s angry. His family sees his anger, without understanding the cause.
In his book, “Understanding Reality Therapy: A Metaphorical Approach,” Dr. Bob Wubbolding quotes Paul Tillich’s definition of reality as “that which we come up against—that which we adjust to, which does not adjust to us.”
Finally, Johnny is realizing that his reality will not adjust to him. If there’s going to be an adjustment toward a more satisfying life, he’ll have to make the change.
As Johnny learns to state more clearly what he wants, do you think he will lead a more satisfying life? Or do you think this new behaviour will result in conflict?