Have you ever offered perfectly good advice to a loved one and been baffled as to why it fell on deaf ears? I have.
When the best course of action is clear and yet remains ignored by the person who most needs that knowledge, what’s going on?
This week I had the privilege of reading the transcript of a recent address by psychoanalyst Elio Frattaroli, author of one of my favorite books, Healing the Soul in the Age of the Brain.
In it, Dr. Frattaroli reviews the four therapeutic principles of Bruno Bettelheim, one of his early mentors.
I was struck by how effectively these precepts can be applied in our own lives — for example, in dealing with “resistant” loved ones who refuse to take good advice… or anyone else who seems to be behaving irrationally.
Why They Won’t Listen
1. The end is always in the beginning. The way any conversation turns out is heavily influenced by the way we approach it.
If we start with the assumption that the person doesn’t know what’s best for them, we’re going to convey that lack of faith. We’re taking an opposing side rather than being on the same team. And we’ll end up on opposite sides of a debate.
2. The patient is always right. The “patient” in this case is the person who’s resisting all our good advice. “No matter how confusing or maladaptive it may appear,” says Frattaroli, “whatever the person is saying or doing makes sense and is exactly what he needs to be saying and doing.”
3. Respect the symptom. Whatever seemingly wrong-headed position the person is taking is their best attempt to manage their own “stuff,” the other people (including us) in their lives, and their general circumstances — which we don’t have the same handle on that they do.
4. Whenever you’re confused or annoyed by the way the person is acting, ask yourself what you would need to be feeling in order for you to act that way yourself.
That’s probably the way they’re feeling, and it’s why they’re not listening to you.
As I always say (to the point of being irritating about it, I’m sure), there’s always a reason for our feelings and behavior.
That’s true for the “stubborn” person, too.
Unless someone has severe brain damage, everything they do (or refuse to do) is motivated by reasons that may not be obvious. Even to them.
Now I want you to take these precepts and remember them in your next conversation with a stubborn person.
… What do you mean, you’re not going to? What’s wrong with you?