No matter how amazing of a clinician you think you are, no matter how many tricks and techniques you have been trained in, not everyone wants to get better. In fact, there is a payoff for some clients to stay sick.
It took me a few years early in my career to figure this out. I know some of my colleagues figured this out right away, but I am a little slower than most. Now, there are a number of reasons this particular client is in your office. For them, it might be the lesser of two evils to fulfill a legal obligation or to prevent themselves from getting kicked out of the house, the loss of a job, kids or self-image. They may be a habitual client, and you are the twentieth therapist they have seen. They may enjoy the time, attention and empathy they receive from a clinician. They may enjoy frustrating or testing a clinician like some personality disorders that I will allow to remain unnamed.
Generally, we humans do not do much of anything unless there is a payoff. For me, I eat, because I am hungry. I give to charity, because it is a tax write off. I am a clinician, because I like to be needed. In all honesty, I am a selfish jerk. However, recovery has shown me how to move from selfishness to significance. An alcoholic drinks to kill the pain, escape the pain, or to numb up. There is a payoff. The person who does not want to get well also has a payoff. There is a payoff to be and remain a victim.
What could possibly be rewarding about remaining a victim? The ultimate victim believes there is no way out of their circumstances, and they are stuck. I have found in my own recovery that staying the victim allows me to see others as having to change while I do not need to change. This is a huge payoff. You see, change is very painful. To believe that others need to change and I don’t, keeps me out of that pain. Most will not choose change until the pain they are in is so painful that change finally looks like the lessor of the two evils. Generally, addicts are not in that much pain, because they have their “drug.” However, their spouse and loved ones around them are in a great deal of pain, so it makes sense why these individuals do not want to change or even want your help.
Below are some keys to identify if you have the ultimate victim in your office.
1. Victim Thinking
The ultimate victim uses accusation, blame, criticism and fault to deflect any and all responsibility. They think in comparisons – what is and is not fair only from their own perspective, tit-for-tat. They have a very difficult time seeing the issue from the perspective of others. They think in terms, such as, “There is no way to make lemonade out of the lemons life has given me.”
2. Heart of Fear
They have a heart of fear, as there is not enough, and scarcity mindedness is always present. They are always waiting for the next shoe to drop, looking at the negative with the glass always half empty. They have a hard time celebrating the moment with joy and laughter, because they believe tragedy is right around the corner. They believe some of the following thoughts. “I am loved only when I do things right and do them well.” “I have to be perfect to be loved. If I am imperfect, I am not lovable.” “If people knew me, they would use it against me.” “Others hurt me and cannot be trusted.”
3. Heart at War
The victim has a heart at war. They look to war with others and hope others will war back with them. When others do war back with them, it justifies their need to war with others and to maintain their heart at war. These individuals are easily offended by others and by you as the clinician. In fact, they seek to be offended. Whether it is a real or imagined offense makes no difference to them, because this is their chosen reality. They think things, such as, “They did this to me,” or “It is all your fault.”
4. Scarcity Minded
The ultimate victim also thinks in terms as not having enough time, money or resources to give to others or to receive from others. The goal is self-preservation. They also think in terms of not doing or being enough for their spouse and loved ones. They are a victim to circumstances that they believe are beyond their control but are controlled by others.
5. Master of Excuses
The ultimate victim is a master of excuses. They will say they can’t when the real reason is they just don’t want to. They feel “overwhelmed or stressed” when they are asked to make changes. They won’t complete their homework from the previous session, because they did not have time. However, the real reason was that it was not a priority. People will find the time to do things that are important to them.
A Final Note to Clinicians
If you or your program allows the spouse or partner of an addict to be labeled as or treated as the victim, you are doing them a great disservice. Now, I am not saying they have not been victimized by the addict or perpetrator and should not be validated as well as given the time and tools to heal. However, any program that starts with a Step One as, “We admit that we are powerless over our spouse’s or partner’s addiction and life has become unmanageable…” run! Run as fast as you can from this model, as it will only harm your clients and keep them from healing and regaining control over their life. They are NOT a victim of their spouse’s or partner’s addiction. They are powerless over their own addiction and/or issues. They are also powerless over the addict’s willingness to get well. Couples come into a relationship with “cavities” long before they ever met their spouse. Help them discover the “cavities” they brought into the relationship, such as their own issues of anger, abandonment, abuse, intimacy anorexia, better than, control, unforgiveness, pride, bitterness, rejection, codependency, fears, offense, eating habits, or love addiction, etc. Once they take responsibility for their own choices and issues, they will experience freedom. Your clients are worth helping! Your job is to help move them from being the victim to being the victor!
Cory Schortzman is an author, speaker, teacher and licensed mental health professional. Since 2008, he has served as the Executive Director of Transformed Hearts Counseling Center in Colorado Springs, CO. He is the founder of SARA, the Sexual Addiction Recovery Association. Cory is passionate about helping couples and individuals overcome sex addiction. He is also passionate about bringing awareness to the public and supporting the elimination of sex and human trafficking. Cory has been married since 1998 to his beautiful wife, Kerry, and lives in Colorado with their four daughters. He and Kerry have been seen on the CBS Early Show, Inside Edition, and ABC Good Morning America, Fox 21 News, and TLC/Discovery discussing the harm of sex addiction and the joys of recovery. He has also been heard on numerous radio programs.
Cory’s books include: Out of the Darkness, Into the Light the Workbook, Into the Light the Steps, Ashes to Beauty the Steps, 301 Dating Ideas, 301 Conversational Ideas, 301 Ways to Say I Love You, 301 Ways to Love Your Children & 301 Recovery Tools & Tips.