For What It’s Worth…Acting As If
Therapy is way more than a toolbox of intervention. Information alone cannot replace professional help. However, information can be very powerful. So, for what it’s worth to you, here is the weekly post offering a therapeutic idea, concept, or intervention that you can try out in your own life or relationships.
There is an idea in couples counseling called “act as if”. You don’t love her anymore, but wish you did? Well, try acting as if you love her for several weeks and see what happens. This idea that stands on research tells the tale that behavior itself can and does shape emotional experience. Too often we wait to feel like it before we do it and for our behavior to follow…the exact opposite of which we teach our children. “I didn’t say you had to like going to school today. I just said you had to go to school.”
What we tend to follow:
FEELINGS ——————>; BEHAVIOR
What CAN work:
We see this happen all the time with parenting and teaching children. We are told to build on the positives. If we want a child to be positive, well-behaved, and a good student, then it is beneficial to treat the child as a positive, well-behaved, and a good student. The “acting as if” seems to communicate an expectation that pulls out for what we are hoping in the child.
Children seem to respond to the expectations you set for them. They rise to reasonably high expectations and stoop to low ones. Expect them to be “bad”, treat them accordingly and they will likely turn out that way. Expect, appropriately, that they will be “good”, and they will likely turn out that way. Your treatment…your “acting as if”…becomes a self-predicting prophecy.
God seems to love to “act as if”. Romans 4:17 calls the God of the bible “the God who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were.” He blessed me and loves on me and “acts as if” I am His lovable child rather than His child who can be petulant and moody…and somewhere along the way, His “acting as if” parenting begins to shape me into a more lovable person.
For those of us who get up and go to church every Sunday for weekly worship, we already know all about this. Do you always feel like getting up and going to church? Of course not. Have you ever had the experience of being glad that you did go after you got up and went? Me, too.
Some will argue against “acting as if” with these arguments: “I don’t want to be a hypocrite. There are too many hypocrites in the world”. Too bad. We each are a hypocrite because we each are humans. Even Paul said in Romans 7:17: “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.”
This idea can apply to our relationship with our self, too. I have heard it said that being an adult is being your own mom or dad. When you were a child, hopefully your mom or dad told you to eat your vegetables, to go to bed at a decent time, to get up and be active and go to school. They made your doctor and dentist appointments and drove you there, etc. Who does all of those things now? Hopefully, if you are an adult, you do. However, when the busy-ness of our culture takes over or even mild depression ultimately sets in, it can be challenging to “feel like” parenting ourselves. We don’t feel like cultivating friendships or taking care of our bodies. We don’t feel like loving ourselves as Matthew 22:39 makes it clear we need to, which makes it difficult to love others.
So, this Monday when you don’t feel like you love your spouse, when you don’t feel like you love your life, or even when you feel like you don’t love yourself, try “acting as if”. Get up with a smile, go for a walk in the sun, and see what happens to your attitude. Look for God to “call things that are not as though they were” and to “give life to the dead” stuff in your life.
***This post is in no way attempting to insinuate that a person can just “smile” their way out of depression or a serious crisis in a couple relationship.