I am stuck together with sticky tape. Not your good quality Sellotape or Scotch Tape mind, the cheap stuff that only works some of the time. Put it this way, if I get caught in a shower I’m in big trouble.
So trying to get me to change my life or even little bits of my life is no easy ask. All the pieces interweave and ‘inter-stick’ and if you mess with one, you affect the other pieces. Plus if you rip a piece off I will have a big gaping hole, which can be a bit draughty and can have bad effects on my structural soundness. So I will obviously try to stuff the hole in whatever way I can to keep myself together.
So if you try to help me take away one of my pieces of tape, one of the parts of my life, be it membership of a gang, excessive drinking, drug use, violence, self-harm you have to think about what I will fill that draughty hole with. That bit of tape was put there for a reason in the first place; it met a deep need. So you can’t go ripping it off without thinking about how I will meet that need in another more positive way. If you do just go ahead and rip it off then I will either eventually find the exact same bit of tape and stick it back on or I will find another equally useless unhelpful piece of tape to cover the gap. Nobody can stand a draught, you get me?
Instead, you need to explore that hole that the tape covers and find the best material to fill the hole with, some super-duper super-insulatory material that will feel way better than the crappy old tape used to. Something that will keep the draught out, something that will last and has real structural integrity, will keep me really warm and stable inside, something that will beat the old tape, hands down.
So if my ‘gang tape’ gives me a sense of belonging, gives me a family then before you can even get me to consider giving that up, you have to help me see that there are better groups and ‘families’ to belong to, groups that need me, groups that will feel like family and don’t bully me into doing stuff that I really deep down don’t want to do. Groups where what I do isn’t motivated by fear. Groups where I can get rid of my stress and aggression without a 10 year sentence tag. One idea would be to get me playing in a sports team. That would do all of that and is worth a think.
Or if my ‘drink and drugs tape’ or ‘self-harm tape’ is helping me to block out or just cope with feelings, real bad feelings of what has happened to me and how I’ve been treated, you have to help me get to a point where I don’t feel the need to block out those feelings, where I can accept those feelings and move on, rather than being held prisoner by them. So you need to replace my tape with better, more positive coping strategies. You need to supply me with a kick-ass toolkit of strategies to help me cope, accept and move on from those feelings.
Or if I’m antsy and can blow up in an explosion of anger dead easy, you could explore the needs I am trying to meet that underlie my anger and find alternative ways of getting those needs met. It might be that I get well peeved when people don’t listen to what I’m saying. So it’s about me looking at why people might not be listening and coming up with strategies to help people to listen to me, like choosing my moments, asking politely and expressing my frustrations in a calmer way. At the same time I also need to be dealing with the fact that I do seem to be a tightly wound person and finding ways to release some of that tension through sport or music or whatever works for me. It’s another situation where that kick-ass strategies toolkit is needed to replace my ‘anger tape’.
Or it might be that I’m not actually angry at the people I explode at, but that I’m angry about the way no-one seems to give a crap about me and I deliberately push people away with my explosions cos I’m scared they’re going to reject me like everyone else. In which case getting rid of my anger tape may involve bringing someone into my life, either currently known or new, like a mentor, who can take some time and care. That might even be you. The tape was covering my need to be cared for and fear of rejection and if you can replace that with some solid unconditional care then I won’t need that tape anymore.
It’s simple really. You can’t take away without replacing. And the replacement needs to be good, needs to address my underlying need for me to even consider it. I’m not saying that I’ll be falling over myself to do the swap, even if it does seem quite good. Any change is risky. Quite often there will be some messy negative fall-out from making the change, so it can’t be taken lightly. But if you help me to see that in the long-run life will be better, that I will be better held together than these pieces of tape currently manage, then I might be prepared to take the risk of a small step, a little pull of the tape. I might then gain the courage to keep on pulling and to make the replacement. But it just ain’t gonna happen if there is no half-decent alternative and for that I need you to take the time to understand me, to come up with some interesting ideas and for you to encourage me to make the change. I need you to help me see the possibility of a more solid, stable me that doesn’t need to rely on tape.