Reality Check: Mirror, Mirror

 If you’ve ever watched someone you care about act in ways that are non-effective, or even self-destructive, then you know how difficult it is to stand by. You may feel that you need to say or do something.

Samuel’s family has been experiencing the distress that comes with watching Sam—as they put it—“throw his life away.” According to his family, Sam has fallen in with the wrong crowd. He’s become defiant, insolent, and “out of control.”

Even though Sam has already had a few scrapes with the law, he thinks that he has the world by the tail. As a caring family member, you are certain that if Sam keeps it up, he’s headed for disaster.

You have already talked/lectured/yelled at Sam till you are hoarse. And, you’ve seen the result: the more you tell Sam he is ruining his life, the less he listens and the worse he behaves. Why can’t he see that it’s his own life at stake?  

Sam isn’t shy about declaring what he wants: to be independent, with no one telling him what to do, what time to be in, who he can and can’t see. Sam wants to be free.

Now, the core of the practice of reality therapy is self-evaluation. In his book, “Reality Therapy for the 21st Century,” Dr. Robert Wubbolding discusses the process of helping a person make judgments about their own behaviours. He says, “It is as if they are asked to look in a mirror and determine…whether their lives are the way they want them to be, whether what they want is realistic and helpful to them, whether their behaviors work for them or get them what they want…”

You’ve already tried telling Sam what to do, without effective results. Maybe it’s time to try something different.

Ultimately it will be Sam, not you, who will change Sam’s behavior (or not). You could help Sam “look in the mirror” (verbally, not literally) and draw his own conclusions about the effectiveness of his actions.

If Sam determines that his actions are leading him away from the independence that he says he wants so badly, he may then have the internal motivation that’s necessary to make a change.

How do you hold up a mirror?

First, you’ll need Sam’s permission. Does that sound silly? Perhaps so. However, how effective were your previous conversations with Sam—those one-sided conversations when you didn’t ask permission? We’re trying something different here, right?

A good start would be, “Sam, are you willing to talk about what you’ve been doing and what the results have been?”

Sam may say, “No.” If so, make the offer that when he is willing, he can talk to you. Then leave it be. Otherwise, you’ll not only waste your breath, you may drive the two of you further apart.  

If Sam is prepared to talk, then ask him what he “sees” and how he would judge his own actions. Next time, I’ll suggest some questions, with Sam’s probable answers, to help you get the idea.

Do you have a “Sam” in your life? Do you think this approach could be helpful? 

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