As I was reflecting a bit on my last post about Obama's long game, I had some additional thoughts about the danger of backlash when change is too quickly forced.
On a very personal level, I thought about a couple of young women I worked with in my career as a youth worker and therapist.
First is a 14 year old who was very angry. She had good reason to feel that way and her lashing out at me and her mother was an attempt to protect herself from further harm.
As is often the case, her anger was the outward manifestation of some very deep pain. One day in a therapy session with she and her mother I found the buttons to push back on the anger towards the pain. In retrospect, I now know that I pushed too hard. She broke down and wept uncontrollably. In most cases, that is viewed as a success in therapy. But it was not in this situation. It was too much too quick. She still needed that defense of anger and I had taken it from her. The backlash was that she never came to see me again and I suspect that she put most of her energy into shoring up that anger to defend against ever making herself vulnerable again.
Another case involves a 17 year old that was living in a residential program where I worked. One day another staff person pushed her too hard and she ran away. She was living in a "flop house" inhabited by street people and drug dealers.
In an attempt to stay connected to her, we invited her to go on a camping weekend we were planning with some of the female residents. She really wanted to go, but spent all of one day contemplating whether to join us or not. In the end, she turned us down. She had the insight and maturity to tell us why though. It was because she knew that in the environment she was living in, she needed to be tough. Spending the weekend with us would "soften her up" and it would be that much harder to come back and survive in her world...she was protecting herself against a change that would come too quickly and threaten her survival.
Almost all human behavior is protective of something - even the most disturbed. And as organic beings, we resist change that makes whatever it is we are protecting vulnerable. When we push too hard for change, that survival instinct kicks in and creates a backlash against the change. Unless you are prepared to deal with that backlash, its best to recognize the perceived vulnerability and offer protection as the slow steady change occurs.
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