First, we work at determining the belief(s) that are fueling the bad behavior. Then we can help the child replace it with a truthful belief. The lie has been reinforced repetitively so the truth will take time to work into the lie’s slot. You have to replace the lie with a simple sentence that states the truth. The goal is to find methods that have some emotional punch with the rational truth. You can use role play to help the child hear herself say the truth and dismiss the lie for what it is. You can use video clips from a online source like, ‘Wingclips.com’ where hundreds of 1-4 min clips are sorted by topic. So you can click on ‘identity’ a list of 7 movie clips come up. You can watch each clip and determine if this would be helpful. You can read a story that applies, meet with a third party that the child would look up to and talk about identity, etc. In real life there can be multiple beliefs that are fueling a single behavior. In real life at times you are playing somewhat of a guessing game in defining what can’t be seen, i.e. a belief. In real life some beliefs can be so deeply entrenched it will take months to make significant progress. But even with those difficulties, I believe this is still the most effective way to change behavior. Again the principle applies, that small things done often will bring significant growth over months of application. Let’s apply this to a specific situation.
Suppose this happens, ‘the middle school daughter is devastated because a girl she thought was her best friend said she was ugly and laughed out loud in front of her classmates.’ This situation would be very common in middle school girls. So let’s tackle an easy one. The girl’s belief is that she only has value if her peers say she has value and support that with their actions toward her. She believes her identity is defined by others in the peer group. That is a lie. But if they trash her, she hates herself because she is such a loser and if they praise her, she loves this recognition and feels adequate in that circle of friends. I said she feels ‘adequate not secure’ because in her heart she knows how quickly all that can change. She is like a non-swimmer in the middle of the pool, holding on to a floaty – that she could lose at any time. So identifying the bad belief was fairly easy but that doesn’t mean helping her change it will be.
This belief, like most, is more powered by emotion than rationality. But parents tend to go the pure rational route in trying to talk the girl out of this crazy thinking. Mom may say, ‘you are such a beautiful girl, with so many gifts – just stop listening to what these girls say about you, it isn’t true.’ Is that true? Yes! Will it change anything? No! You will be more effective if you can wrap mom’s rational message, within an emotional context, where you don’t give answers but ask questions. So I might watch the movie, ‘Soul Surfer’ with her. It is a true story of a highly competitive Christian female surfer who loses her right arm in a shark attack. Her whole sense of identity has been taken by a shark. It is a great story which puts the issue of identity in a highly emotional context. Now you can raise questions which will apply without even discussing the particulars of your daughter’s situation. “Is it possible that Bethany’s sense of who she is has been permanently changed?” This could be the beginning of a journey where your daughter changes her belief on what is her true identity.
More on this in my next blog.