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Mar 232013

You know sometimes we tell others about the things that we have gone through, and hope that they see by our example what has happened to us because of our associations with people who are high in dysfunctional traits and not make the same mistakes we made. Sometimes people “get it” and sometimes they don’t get it.

Just as the old saying says “you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink” we need to also realize that sometimes those people that need our advice the worst are the least willing to listen to it.

Sometimes in telling people about dysfunctional people, and warning them, we want them to listen and to apply the message we are giving them to their lives. Maybe we warn a woman whose husband we know is beating her that she needs to get away from him….and she stays with him. We are disappointed and wonder why she stays when we can see so clearly how much she needs to leave Now!

As a Registered Nurse Practitioner, I taught people what they needed to do to take care of their own health…like how to take care of their diabetes by watching what they ate and when, by taking medication, and by exercising. Sometimes they took what I said and “ran with it” and sometimes they would literally shout at me “I don’t want to hear all about diet and exercise, give me more insulin!” (yes, that really happened!)

At the same time I was telling other people how to live a healthy life, I kept on smoking myself. Now what does that tell you about how far people can live in denial? Well, quite a lot in fact!

Just because we know what we should do, just because intellectually we know “You must go no contact” in order to heal (and I firmly believe that, except for those of us who must, because of either danger or court orders, keep some contact) I know just how hard it is to actually cut those ties with someone we care(d) about.

Just as it took time for me to make up my mind to actually do what I knew I needed to do about quitting smoking and going on a low sodium diet…sometimes we know something, but are not yet ready to do it. We are not the “fertile ground” that is needed to “bring forth fruit.”

In learning “change theory” in school I was taught about how people need to be “ready” to change before they are going to do so. In fact, there is a stage in one theory (the first stage) of a person’s willingness to change called (get this, it is funny!) “pre-contemplative” stage which means, in common terms, “they ain’t even thought about it yet!”

So, I think many of us have been in that “pre-contemplative” stage where we hadn’t even considered real change as far as our relationship with the problematic person(s) in our lives. We didn’t even know that there was a need to change.

Just as I grew up believing that what I grew up with was “normal” and even “good” family life, now that I have passed the “pre-contemplative” stage where I got to thinking about how to change, or that I might even need to change, those people that we would like to influence must also be willing to think about change.

Kurt Lewin, the father of modern theories of change, theorized a three-stage model of change that is known as the unfreezing-change-refreeze model that requires prior learning to be rejected and replaced.
Lewin’s theory states behavior as “a dynamic balance of forces working in opposing directions.

Consists of  three distinct and vital stages:
1. “Unfreezing”
Unfreezing is the process which involves finding a method of making it possible for people to let go of an old pattern that was counterproductive in some way.
Unfreezing is necessary to overcome the strains of individual resistance and group conformity.
Unfreezing can be achieved by the use of three methods.
First, increase the driving forces that direct behavior away from the existing situation or status quo.
Second, decrease the restraining forces that negatively affect the movement from the existing equilibrium.
Third, find a combination of the two methods listed above.

2. “Moving to a new level or Changing” or Movement
This stage involves a process of change in thoughts, feeling, behavior, or all three, that is in some way more liberating or more productive.

3. “Refreezing”
Refreezing is establishing the change as a new habit, so that it now becomes the “standard operating procedure.”
Without this stage of refreezing, it is easy to go back to the old ways.

So when we are talking to people emotionally invested in dysfunction relationships we need to also realize that sometimes those people that need our advice the worst are the least willing to listen to it. We must realize that change may not come quickly. Sometimes though, like with crab grass seed, that seed may lay dormant for even decades and then one day when the conditions are right that seed of knowledge we planted, that seemed like it was never going to sprout, comes up and produces an abundant crop and changes lives.

Joyce Alexander, RNP retired

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  One Response to “Becoming an agent of change”

  1. Joyce,

    Excellent article. It is often so hard to recognize that others, or even yourself, are just NOT
    ready for change. Sometimes hanging onto the “known” or the “familiar” seems far less scary than changing, even if you do know it would be what is best.

    Sometimes severely abused children are known to act out with negative behavior AFTER they are removed from the people who have abused them. It is thought, that the abuse has been their “normal”, their “security” so to speak. Remove the abuse, remove their security.

    It is the fear of the unknown that sometimes makes change a slow process.

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