Change because you want to

In his latest book, ‘The Myth of the ‘Out of Character’ Crime,’ clinical psychologist and author Stanton Samenow writes, “No matter how grim the situation, no threat by an authority or anyone else can compel someone to change against his will. For meaningful and lasting change to occur, the offender eventually must develop motivation within himself to look in ‘the mirror’ and dislike what he sees. External leverage can assist in bringing him to this point, especially if he knows that he could have probation revoked, be subject to relocation to a different and perhaps worse facility, or experience the withdrawal of support by those who have stood by him. As I meet with an offender, I am asking that he do what no one likes to do — come face to face with his shortcomings. Part of my task is to help generate internal motivation, to help the offender become fed up with himself.”

Fed up. I like that. And, in this respect, Dr. Samenow’s words apply as well to the non-criminal. Of course there are differences between criminals and non-criminals. Criminals view their activity as a career and don’t typically feel remorse; only regret if they’re apprehended or the crime is bungled. Non-criminals would never consider the initiation of force or fraud, but to a criminal it’s all in a day’s work.

Nobody, criminal or not, will change against his or her own will. Consider the analogy of smoking. People who successfully quit smoking usually know that they should stop, and even want to. But only at a certain point do they actually follow through. People who quit often tell me, “I just got disgusted and mad with myself. The habit was annoying me, and I decided that was it.” The same applies to any pattern or trait that requires change.

Coming face to face with your shortcomings requires seeing yourself objectively. This can be difficult, but it’s necessary. You owe it to yourself — not anyone else, just yourself — to be the best person you can be. Seeking help and input from reliable others can be effective, but first and foremost, YOU must be your own life coach or therapist.

People go wrong when they look at loved ones and conclude, “He can change and he should change, therefore he will.” It doesn’t follow. If he can and should change, he will, but only if he’s convinced it makes sense to do so, and only if he’s motivated to try.

People put too much faith in therapy and counseling as a means of cajoling another person to change his behavior when he doesn’t see a problem. They put too much faith in government or some other external agency to “force” change when none is wanted or needed. Because of this error in thinking, we have increasingly become a society of obnoxious do-gooders.

In the case of a criminal, Dr. Samenow writes that the only ones who reform are those who look in the proverbial “mirror” and dislike what they see. This no doubt explains why so few criminals change! They’re not inclined to look at themselves objectively. If you get to the point where your character and psychology is so corrupted by the errors in thinking that cause you to initiate force against others, you’re probably too entrenched to reverse course. This is why government and the mental health disciplines have, for the most part, failed to “reform” criminals through punishment, psychotherapy or whatever.

With criminals, Dr. Samenow’s task is to “help [the criminal] generate internal motivation” to become disgusted with himself. Keep this in mind as you watch friends or loved ones do self-defeating or self-destructive things. Lecturing won’t help. Logic might: “Is what you’re doing leading to the result you want? Do you maybe see a contradiction here?”

Thinking objectively, and seeing one’s self as he or she would see others, can help bring on the self-disgust about a particular behavior that will encourage someone to change. It’s better to ask the person what he thinks of what he’s doing rather than pretending the problem doesn’t exist. At that point, the ‘helper’ becomes an enabler and is now a part of the problem.

People will not change without somehow arriving at the deeply held conviction that change must take place. Think of the smoker who quits because he’s fed up. It’s the same with anything else in life. People don’t change because they have to. They do it because they want to.