Have you ever heard the joke:
HOW MANY THERAPISTS DOES IT TAKE TO CHANGE A LIGHT BULB?
JUST ONE, BUT THE LIGHT BULB HAS TO WANT TO CHANGE!
There is a nugget of truth embedded in that idea, the idea that before someone will change, they must want to change. One might ask, how many treatment programs does it take to change a person? If that person really wants to change, it only takes one. Parents may send their son to a variety of programs to push him to change, but until he actually wants to, it’s of little value. If someone wants to change badly enough, they will, and at times with little to no outside help. Their success, of course, depends on their level of commitment and their desire to change. If the ability to change is really up to them, then what exactly does Forte Strong do?
At Forte Strong, we provide a specialized curriculum within a highly interactive environment that accelerates our son’s ability to take on more and more responsibility. But that means nothing if your son is not willing to change. We see a lot of young men today who say they want to create a life for themselves: at least that’s how it appears on the surface. The reality however is that too many young men say they have a desire to be autonomous, independent and self-reliant, but deep down, they really don’t. What these young men really want is anonymity. They want to be left alone, to remain in the shadows to maintain their old lifestyle without any interference from Mom and Dad. They avoid any work or responsibility associated with an independent lifestyle while proclaiming to want more out of life. What they really want is autonomy with no responsibility and that is a formula for dependency or codependency.
For many young men, the attractions of living “independently” are outweighed by threats to their sense of well being. And their sense of well being is attached to their ability to maintain the status quo. As a result they are motivated to maintain the status quo and they are darn good at it! The responsibility of taking care of their own needs is something they typically feel inadequate to bear, so they refuse to do it. They may pay lip-service to the idea of living successfully on their own, but the proof is always in the pudding: hence they continue to resist any outside attempt to make them change.
At times, a young man will come through Forte Strong and on the surface look like he is doing very well. He will conform to the rules of the program. He will satisfy the minimum requirements to graduate but he in no way is considered a stalwart member of society. Rather, he is the quintessential chameleon, the master of invisibility through conformity, yet remains committed to the lifestyle he had before he came, quickly returning back to it as soon as opportunity allows. In other words, he is the master at creating the appearance of change, while desperately clinging to his previous life of ease and excess. Metaphorically, it’s the rubber band effect; you can make it stretch, but as soon as you release it, it snaps back into it’s old shape.
Setting Healthy Boundaries.
The key to helping anyone who is seriously considering making a change, is by setting healthy boundaries first. Setting healthy boundaries creates leverage and leverage is what drives human nature. Just to be clear, we are talking about healthy leverage, not coercion or manipulation. Here’s an example of healthy leverage applied in a real world setting: A boss warns a habitually tardy worker who is only interested in maintaining a steady paycheck, that if he shows up late again he will be fired. The boss clearly lays out healthy boundaries of what’s acceptable and what is not. This provides the leverage this worker will need to change and adjust his behavior accordingly, without it the worker would undoubtedly continue his self-destructive behavior. It may not be easy, but if the pain of losing his job outweighs the pain and effort it will take to get to work earlier, the likelihood of him keeping his job will increase exponentially.
The challenge with all of this is that sometimes, leverage to help move someone to change is not available to you or the leverage you do have simply is not working and the people you’re trying to help refuse to change regardless of what leverage is applied. What can you do? Parents who have a son who has “Failed to Launch” often find themselves in this exact position. This is where healthy boundaries are absolutely essential. While parents have little to no control over what their son will do, they have full control over what they can do. Parents have the power to change the relationship with their son by changing the conditions.
What are conditions?
“Healthy boundaries” are a set of conditions that foster healthy relationships. Conditions are simply rules of conduct between two people within a relationship. These rules are subject to change, according to the needs and circumstances of the those within the relationship. If a son consistently takes advantage of his parents, it’s simply because the conditions allow it. When toxic conditions are allowed to exist within a relationship, dependency and codependency is the result. Setting firm boundaries doesn’t have to be arduous or hard. Start simple. For example:
“I am willing to talk about last night, but I will not discuss it when you are yelling and swearing at me.” This is a statement laying down a boundary.
For parents who have a “Failure to Launch” son, who is a constant drain on their emotions, their energy, their time and their money; they have both a right and a responsibility to change the conditions of their relationship with their son to one in which both parent and son are empowered. “Son, you can’t stay here anymore, it’s not good for you or for us. We will give you 30 days to find a place of your own.”
This is the most difficult boundary for parents to draw with their son, yet at some point in his life it needs to happen. Who your son chooses to become is ultimately his choice and beyond your control, but there is one thing you can control, the conditions of your relationship. Let them be healthy ones.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Eric Hatton has spent most of the last six years working as a field staff in wilderness therapy where he coached students on primitive fire skills, making and setting traps and other important wilderness skills. He also coached staff as they learned leadership skills and as they learned to disrupt dysfunctional behavior in the students. Eric loves brainstorming with people. He loves to help people organize their thoughts and change their dreams and desires into tangible, achievable goals. He loves to help people to discover their passions and to help them find ways to use their passions to realize their goals. He is passionate about building great teams and organizations and helping others succeed.