Anguish dominated Susan's face as she spoke. "I hate being dependent on men. I just hate it. I'm afraid it'll never stop."
What a desperate situation. We'd been working on this one for a couple of years, and it just wouldn't go away. By now Susan, in her late twenties, was giving up hope.
As I wracked my brain for something, anything to say, I remembered a technique I teach in my comedy class: "Tell me why you love being dependent."
Susan was taken aback: "What do you mean?"
"Complete this sentence, "I love being dependent because..."
"I love being dependent because then I always have men at my beck and call...," she said with hesitation. I smiled encouragingly. "I love being dependent because then I can always get someone else to do it for me." She started to build up steam. "I love being dependent because then I get to spend time planning ways to manipulate my boyfriend. I love being dependent because I've gotten so good at it that I can get him to do anything." A smile lit up her face. "I love being dependent because it feels great to have that much power over someone. And I'm really good at it too. I'm the best at being dependent." By now she was laughing.
"So you're a very powerful person in your dependency."
"Yeah, I am."
"Wow, that's amazing, I'm really impressed. You're very skilled."
"I know, it's bizarre, I never realised."
"So tell me why you manipulate him."
"It's so he'll immediately drop everything and tell me he loves me, that he'll be there for ever and ever and do anything I want."
"And does it work?"
"You're awesome. What do you do to manipulate him?"
"Well all I have to do is look at him a certain way, or use a certain tone of voice and he gets totally freaked out. Or in the middle of the night I'll be hungry, and rather than getting something myself I'll get him to go get me something at Burger King. I've even planned out what I want before I start. It's embarrassing."
By this time we were both cracking up. "And sometimes when he gives in too easily, I do something else to freak him out, like pick a fight about something he did earlier, or say "Oh fine," but in such a way that he thinks I'm pissed off. Or my favourite is when I cry and ask him for a hug, and when he does it, I tell him not to touch me."
At this point I jumped in. "You've told me all your friends are guys. Are they attracted to you?"
"Oh yes. I could have any one of them. They think I'm great."
"So in your dependency you not only have one guy who'll do anything for you, but also four or five others dying to take his place."
By now Susan was really getting it, understanding how powerful she was, how creative and resourceful that dependent part of her was. She had gone from hopeless victim to the maker of her own destiny in about five minutes. Not to mention coming up with some really funny material should she ever want to do stand-up comedy.
And most important, in the months and weeks to come, Susan changed her dependent behaviors. She began to catch herself in the act and choose to do something else, something more honest with her feelings. Through using a comedic process, she had managed to gain insight into a previously unconscious part of herself and actually make changes.
So here's a three step process whereby you can use humor to overcome your neurotic or dysfunctional patterns. You can do this on your own, with a friend, or in a group.
Step 1: Identify your dysfunction. Here are some examples to get you started:
|Insecure||Low Self-Esteem||Chronic Worrier|
|Rageaholic||Sex Addict||Chronic Attention Seeker|
|Narcissist||Self-Help Addict||Support Group Addict|
Step 2: Take a contrary attitude. This part is crucial. Usually when we think about our dysfunctional patterns, we have an attitude of "I hate this." However, in this step I want you to take the contrary attitude of "I love being dysfunctional." Many comics use this technique to help them see humor in a situation. The idea here is that the act of laughing at our failings raises us above them.
On a piece of paper write "I love being ____________________ because:" and fill in the blank with one of your categories of dysfunction from step one. This exercise tends to work best when you focus on one dysfunction at a time. Now number from one to 10 underneath your opening statement. It should look like this:
I love being __________________ because:
Now set a timer and give yourself five minutes to come up with 10 reasons why you love being ___________. The time factor is very important. As you do this, don't think or analyze. Just write down the first thing that comes to mind. If you analyze or think you'll get all tangled up in your head and never come up with anything. As an example, this is what I came up with:
|I get to spend hours obsessing about whether or not people like me.|
|I get to stress myself out worrying about what they're saying behind my back.
|3.||I get to drive my friends and family nuts.|
|I've developed my intuition to the point where I can find other more insecure people and manipulate them into validating me.
|It distracts me when from worrying about something real.
|It gives me something to overcome, and that makes me better than confident people who have stable personalities.|
|It gives me a reason to go to therapy.
|It makes me special. No one is as complex and insecure as I am.
|I've perfected the art of people pleasing.
|It's fashionable to be dysfunctional.|
If you're having trouble coming up with your 10 reasons, here are some questions that can help you:
What do you get from your dysfunction?
What does it help you avoid?
What special skills has it helped you develop?
How does it make you better than other people?
As you look over your ten reasons, you may start to see how absurd your dysfunction is. Once you're truly aware of how absurd something is, it's harder to repeat that behavior. Once Susan saw how absurd her manipulative behavior was, it was harder to continue it.
Step 3: Here's a way of seeing even more humor in your dysfunction. In this exercise, you're going to plan your perfect dysfunctional day using the 10 things you came up with in step two. On your piece of paper, you're going to write an agenda, scheduling time to incorporate all of the 10 things into your daily activities. Or you can plan basic activities like coffee with a friend or a walk in the park and do them as dysfunctionally as possible. It helps to include as much specific detail as possible. Most importantly, you need to frame each thing in a positive light, using words that indicate how much pleasure you will derive from it. You can do this on your own or get a friend to help you brainstorm. In order to give a better sense of how this works, I've included the original item from step two in brackets after each activity on my agenda.
My Perfect Dysfunctional Day
9:00 am: Enjoy starting the day by obsessing about whether or not the people I sat next to at dinner last night liked me. Delight in analyzing their every movement, sound and facial gesture for signs of disapproval and contempt. (#1 - obsessing about whether people like me)
10:00 am: Having joyfully come to the conclusion that they hated my guts, I eagerly plunge into the next activity, freaking myself out over the nasty things they're saying behind my back while I quickly choke down breakfast. (#2 - stress out worrying about what they're saying)
10:30 am: Enthusiastically wallow in neurosis for the next hour, otherwise known as my weekly appointment with therapist. (#7 - go to therapy)
11:30 am: Excitedly rush home to call wife at work in order to rehash every painful detail of therapy session. Feel hurt and betrayed when fire alarm goes off and she hangs up to join coworkers in evacuating building. (#3 - drive people nuts)
2:30 pm: Still feel badly after call with wife. Happily console myself with thought that I'm a better person than her because I have something to overcome and she doesn't. (#6 - I'm better than confident people)
3:00 pm: Meet Fred for coffee. Fred is more insecure than me, so I spend a pleasurable hour manipulating him into agreeing that I'm a better person than he is. (#4 - manipulate insecure people into validating me)
4:00 pm: Go for walk in park. Many people jog past me. I begin to feel inadequate, but gleefully remind myself that their devotion to fitness means they are shallow conformists, whereas my complex and neurotic personality makes me unique and precious. (#8 - my dysfunction makes me special)
5:00 pm: Stop at market to buy groceries for dinner. Rejoice in my ability to smile and apologize as rude shoppers with more than nine items in the expres lineup push me aside and take my place. (#9 - people pleasing)
Now you try. Remember, by consciously planning to do these dysfunctional behaviors, you make them seem absurd, thereby lessening the power they have over you.
You may be thinking, what if I do this and nothing changes? Don't be hard on yourself. Your dysfunctional self has taken all your life to get this way and it may not be ready to change overnight. So be kind and allow yourself the time you need. The more practiced you become at seeing the humor in yourself, the more natural it will become to "catch yourself in the act" and do something else. Like any new skill, this takes time and repetition.
David Granirer gives laughter in the workplace presentations for hundreds of organizations throughout North America. For more information call National Speakers Bureau at 1-800-661-4110 or go to http://www.psychocomic.com
For information on David's products, contact him directly at: (604) 205-9242 or Email: firstname.lastname@example.org or www.psychocomic.com
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