Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Is There A Mouse In The House?

Wood Mouse?
I like the word intractable. It's one of those words that makes me feel smart when I use it (I need as much of that as I can get). For instance, you could say,"he has intractable pain," meaning it's not easily relieved. You could also apply it to someone who's stubborn, obstinate, or headstrong. Unbending in their resistance and inflexible in their thinking, they won't give an inch. They're like elephants and dealing with them, you feel like calling out, "Is there a mouse in the house?"

I'm reminded of a story about the psychiatrist Milton Erickson, a pioneer in the use of hypnosis in psychotherapy. As it was told to me, Erickson was giving a seminar and declared he could hypnotize anyone. A woman took up the challenge and sat down in front of him, her face a picture of refusal to cooperate. Erickson watched her a few moments, then folded his hands and waited. Seconds later, she fell into a trance.

When asked afterward what he'd done, because frankly, it looked like nothing short of miraculous, he said, "I couldn't do anything because of her resistance, but one of us had to do something, so she put herself into a trance." When you can't do anything, doing nothing may be the best thing to do.

I know, that sounds like a line from The Karate Kid. Meeting resistance with self-control, however, can result in the unexpected. Oppositional people expect opposition and when it's not forthcoming, when your response reveals self-control, they begin to feel uncomfortable. They may increase their opposition -- behavioral therapists call this an "extinction burst" and it's usually short-lived -- or they may begin to move in your direction. Either way, your refusal to play the game is what makes the difference.

To do this well, you've got to practice your poker face. You also have to work on your frustration tolerance skills (not a bad thing, especially if you are or wish to become a parent some day). But it can pay off, sometimes big. Especially when you're faced with an elephant and you're fresh out of mice.


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