How Change in Therapy can be Sticky (or not)
Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about stories and storytelling. As a therapist I’m often amazed at how the same story can be a story of resilience for some and a story of defeat for others.
I’ve noticed how many times a story from childhood or from a previous relationship can interfere with the present. It’s also true that even within our current relationships it’s easy to find our point of view skewed by previous occurrences with that person that may have occurred during a time when there was additional stress or lack of attention to maintaining a healthy relationship.
The story tells us that people are untrustworthy or that we aren’t going to be happy or that there is something wrong with us or with the world. As a result our current experiences are shaded by that lens.
Anxiety or depression can color that lens too.
Velcro vs. Teflon
In my counseling office in Chestnut Hill and Lower Gwynedd, and during on-line therapy or coaching sessions, I talk about it is terms of Velcro vs. Teflon.
Meaning that observations that confirm our core belief can stick to us like Velcro. Our brain says “see, told you so, this person doesn’t really care about me’ or “look there’s the mess on the floor or the missed commitment, I was right, you can’t count on others or this person.”
Meanwhile, experiences that negate that belief can be overlooked since rather than stick to us like Velcro they roll off of us like Teflon.
So a partner, friend, or loved one who follows through and seeks to change and does so 90% of the time may find those changes overlooked since our Velcro lens goes right to those 10% of missteps saying “see, I was right all along, he/she hasn’t change after all ”.
This can be especially frustrating when someone is having a successful counseling experience. Change is happening but sometimes not quickly enough. Others are suspicious or doubtful. They highlight the Velcro negatives as ‘evidence” that the person is not sincere or isn’t trying hard enough.
When often times change is unfolding.
If setbacks could be overlooked or given attention appropriate to the current circumstance there’d be a better chance to solidify changes vs. having these setbacks highlighted and tied into the story line that reinforces that it’s not working or he/she will “never change”.
Hope is a tricky thing.
As a therapist sometimes it’s my job to realistically hold that container of hope for clients until their Velcro and Teflon process fades and is replaced by more realistic thinking.
If you find yourself stuck in this pattern just seek clarity in the moment. Ask yourself, what is actually happening. Is my “Velcro or Teflon” holding on or letting go?
Being mindful of this process is the beginning of challenging our belief systems and learning ways to tell a more accurate, so better, story to ourselves.
Deb Owens is a Licensed Counselor providing F2F, phone, and online coaching or counseling. Deb specializes in relationship coaching, anxiety, couples counseling, recovery, and adult children of alcoholics. 215-802-6521. www.debowens.com