“Psssssst, Anna! You know that thing you just wrote, that thing that’s not only a key aspect of your personal recovery strategy but also an integral and cherished part of your identity? Well, it’s messed up. It’s as messed up as a bucket of weasels, in fact.”
“What? Oh, goodness me! Thank you for telling me that! Would you like to be my friend forever?”
That is, pretty much, how it went. There I was, working on the Toolkit, passing it around people willing to test drive it. This near-stranger off Facebook told me, very gently but very clearly, that there was a serious problem with a part of it. The challenge was that the problem was built in pretty deep not only within my system, but within my identity. It was built into the way I looked at the world and at myself. It was a pretty big issue, and required a paradigm shift. So I said “thank you”, spent two days rewiring my brain and redrafting, showed him the results, and asked him to be my editor. We’re still working together, and long may we continue.
That’s not normally how it goes. In fact, expecting it to go like that is a recipe for disaster.
There were a number of factors in play which made me particularly receptive to getting told my thinking was out of whack:
- I was writing about a very sensitive subject, and very conscious of the possibility that if I said the wrong thing I could mess people up. I was infinitely more invested in avoiding that than in protecting my ego.
- I am very aware of how much I’ve messed up, over the years, due to faulty programming. As far as I’m concerned, anyone who can spot a bug in my code and can explain it to me in a useful fashion deserves a medal.
- My friend was clear but gentle. I know I’ve said it before, but this is important. Because he was aware of the extent of what he was asking of me, he approached the subject with a lot of care. As a result, I felt that I was getting help, rather than under assault.
Regardless of how incorrect or dysfunctional the belief you’re jettisoning is, paradigm shifts can be hard and painful. While in the long-term the change may be wonderful, something that improves your life forever, in the short term giving up one of the cornerstones of how you view and process the world is a big deal. Asking someone to go through that kind of process is dicey. It could very well be the last conversation you have with that person.
That doesn’t mean that you ought not to do it. However, it does mean that you ought to do it with as much care and tact as you can muster – and that’s not just to spare feelings. People absorb and process information much better when they don’t feel threatened or challenged. If you truly want to help someone, this is one of those situations where gently does it.