You’d be hard pressed to find something that makes people feel more powerless than being in a situation where they need someone to make a specific change, but that specific someone is being unworkable regarding that specific change. Let’s define unworkability as someone or something being so rigid in the way it is, that a change or improvement will not happen; no matter how needed that change might be. This automatically makes other people feel angry. Anger is almost always about the perception of unworkability. It causes people to feel like the situation is futile.
So that you can understand unworkability, I’ll give you two examples of unworkability. The first example is: A man keeps breaking his word. The people in his social group keep getting hurt by it. They have reflected to him that it is a problem so many times at this point that they are now begging him to go to a therapist. But no matter how many group interventions they try to carry out, or how many times they fight about it, he just continues to break his word. And he continues to come up with excuses as to why he is justified in doing so.
The second example is: A man wants his girlfriend to commit to him and to make him a priority in her life, just like he makes her a priority in his life. They have gotten into fights over and over because every time he needs her to show up in the relationship, she behaves in a flaky way. For example, when he received an award at a company party and had to give a public speech, she promised she would be there to support him. But she cancelled last minute. And when he invited her to have dinner with his family, she showed up drunk. And when he tries to solve relationship problems by talking to her, she often says that she is too tired and falls asleep during the talk. No matter how many times they talk about it and she promises to be different, and no matter how many ways he has tried to fix the problem, nothing changes. She is not committed and he is beginning to feel like she most likely never will be.
There are also things that are unworkable that are less about a person defiantly not changing a pattern that causes themselves and other people problems. For example, a man gets into an automobile accident. He is paralyzed. His wife is desperate for him to be able to walk again because she doesn’t feel like he can protect the family anymore in a disabled state and she is already too overwhelmed with caring for the kids. Caring for a man in a wheelchair is something she feels like she cannot handle. But no matter how desperate she is, he will never walk again.
Or for example, a woman gets into a relationship with an actor. He has to be gone to be on set and to film movies for months at a time. She feels abandoned and wants him to quit and be home with her. But because acting in movies is his passion and purpose, he will not do that. Him being gone for months at a time to be on set is a non-negotiable, and it should be.
When people feel like a situation is futile and therefore needed change is impossible, (especially when there is some personal negative impact that will come as a result of that futility) they tend to feel like they have lost their free will and personal power in the situation. They often slip into despair because they then feel like they will simply have to put up with pain or leave. For this reason, I’m going to explain to you how to deal with unworkability.
- You must call out the unworkability directly. Unworkability is the ultimate form of resistance. Instead of dealing with whatever the person is being unworkable about, draw their attention to the fact that they are being unworkable. This unworkability in and of itself is like a solid, rigid layer that is sitting on top of whatever is proving to be unworkable. For example, if someone is being rigid and inflexible in terms of an opinion that they are holding, you stop fighting the opinion in and of itself. Instead, you draw the person’s attention to the fact that they are being completely inflexible and unworkable relative to their opinion.
- From there, you make them aware of what the negative consequences and negative impact of being unworkable regarding whatever they are being unworkable about will be. Negative consequences for you, for other people and for them. Drawing someone’s conscious awareness to their own unworkability so that they see their own rigidity is like drawing a high intensity light beam to a solid block of ice. The unworkability starts to melt.
- Work together to figure out what positive purpose the unworkability in and of itself serves. And also, what positive purpose the thing that is being unworkable serves. You must understand that if someone is being unworkable, they are convinced that the unworkability is doing something positive and beneficial for them. You must also understand that if someone will not change something, they are convinced that whatever they will not change, is doing something positive and beneficial for them. For example, imagine that someone is being unworkable relative to considering someone else’s point of view. They might find that being unworkable in and of itself causes them to feel like they can keep a sense of themselves and keep their own truth, which is the opposite of the enmeshment they suffered from in childhood. And let’s say that their unworkable point of view is that everyone should be able to do exactly what they want because each person is responsible for the way they, themselves feel. They might find that this point of view helps them to avoid the crushing weight of responsibility and the feeling that they are not free in relationships. From there, explore whether there is a different way to go about meeting the need or fulfilling the want that is inherent in that positive intention that is gluing the person to their unworkability.
- When a person looks directly at their unworkability in a conscious way, it puts them in a choice point relative to their own personal truth. And this either causes the person to change, or it causes them to commit in a conscious way to whatever is causing their unworkability. Either way, it creates forward movement. For example, using our previous example, perhaps the girlfriend discovers that the reason she keeps being unworkable relative to flaking on her boyfriend is because she’s terrified of commitment, but she really does want to be in a committed relationship. She might then decide to go to therapy. Or perhaps she discovers that that she keeps being unworkable because she doesn’t actually want to be in a committed relationship and doesn’t want to have to be constantly concerned with someone else’s wellbeing. She might decide it is time to have a conversation about changing the expectations they have towards each other in their relationship and/or to potentially end the relationship with her boyfriend.
- Make sure that something is genuinely unworkable before simply deciding that it is. So many people become prematurely convinced that something is totally unworkable, when it is actually workable. When it becomes necessary to consider that something is genuinely unworkable is when a person directly communicates that they will not change something. Or when your constant effort to try to change something is in and of itself becoming a state of powerless resistance and is causing you to suffer more than you would suffer by simply accepting the unworkability.If someone’s awareness of their own unworkability causes a change, you aren’t dealing with unworkability anymore. But if you draw someone’s attention to their unworkability and the process of becoming aware of the dynamics going into their unworkability reveals that whatever it is that you need to change, will not change, you need to accept that unworkability.
- If you are genuinely facing unworkability and it is futile to try to change something, you are then at a choice point. You must accept that even though a change could potentially happen, you can no longer try to change it. Instead, you must accept that what you want to change will not change. And from there, you have to decide what to do about that. You are not powerless. You have two very polarized choices: 1. Remove yourself from the situation. This means that you could leave the person or exit the situation. Or, 2. You could keep things exactly the way they are and choose to continue to suffer. But you also have all kinds of options in-between and alternative to those extremes. This step is like accepting that one door is closed. End of story. And so, you divert all of your attention to what other doors might be open. You consider what adaptations you could make regarding whatever is unchangeable, so as to still be able to bring about what you want and need. For example, using our previous example, if people were to accept that their friend will keep breaking his word, with their free will they have the choice to keep putting themselves in situations where they depend on his word and keep getting hurt when he breaks it. They also have the choice to get rid of him as a friend. They also have many other choices, such as: Keeping him as a friend, but not considering him a super close friend. No longer expecting him to follow through and simply considering it a bonus if he does follow through. No longer putting themselves in the position to be let down by him. Only inviting him to things where it doesn’t matter if he shows up or not. Making sure that he is never trusted with responsibilities. Bringing in another friend to the social group who can take his place and allowing him to be put into a more suitable place and arrangement within the social system. Etc. The most important thing is that any and all options are an attempt to adapt to the unworkable thing never changing, no longer an attempt to change it.
Doing this is very different than enabling. When you enable someone, what you are doing is keeping yourself, the other person and potentially others involved in the situation stuck in a dysfunctional situation. You are allowing and helping someone to continue destructive behavior. The goal of approaching unworkability in this way, is to get yourself and all others involved out of the dysfunction of continuing to hit your head against a brick wall and continuing to keep painful things the way they are.
Unworkability causes you to confront feelings of powerlessness and futility. It forces you to look at the deeper causes of the unworkability. It forces you to face what is and what isn’t changeable. It forces you to accept what you may not want to accept. It forces you to find your personal power, free will and choice even when faced with something that makes you perceive yourself to be powerless. It forces you to find the movement when faced with what is immovable. It forces you to make a different change than the ideal one that you have in your mind. It forces you to get creative. Just remember, just because you are facing something that is futile, does not mean that you are stuck in futility. You just need to change your approach.