Jim is a teenager who puts off cleaning his room until the
last possible second. He does the same for homework, preferring
to do it at eleven 'o clock at night, just before bedtime. What
might be going on with Jim?
What is the ambivalence? In this case, Jim was in "full on"
protest mode, just because of his age. Teens like to thwart authority.
Why? Because they are trying to usurp their own, and will do so from
any available source. Since parents are the closest objects in their
living environment, they get the majority of the usurping, in this case
in the form of un-cooperation. Jim was asserting his independence.
But, this also looks like defiance, which is not what Jim's parents
well tolerate. So, Jim has to drive his insubordination underground,
into the back of his mind, where it will not consciously bother him.
Having achieved this, probably by repeatedly deciding this over time,
Jim now automatically delays cleaning his room when asked, thus giving
vent to his protest needs without creating much conflict on the surface.
Nice balance, but not sufficient for parents, who sooner or later notice
the room is still not clean.
Jim is also mad at his younger sister, who cleans her room regularly,
if nothing more than to make Jim look bad. Jim does not want to conform
to his sister's behavior, because it makes him look like the loser. The
sister wins the power struggle because she cleaned her room first, gets
lots of recognition and older brother, Jim, now has copied her, which makes him look less "right."
The competition continues with homework. Sister does hers earlier
in the evening and gets better grades. Jim puts his off to avoid doing
what sister does, thus differentiating himself, simultaneously expressing
his resentment at "miss goodie two shoes." In his own mind, Jim minimizes the fact that she does better in school and gets more recognition from parents.
Further, Jim is in a social group of other boys who, likewise, put
things off, including cleaning their rooms and doing homework earlier.
To fit in with the group, Jim must protest parental demands even if it means enduring criticism at home. In this case the negative feedback from parents is an admission ticket into the group. It is the Red Badge of Courage that shows worthwhileness. Here, again, is the ego need.
All of these dynamics are also somewhat buried under the surface of
consciousness, as with Frank (previous article, Example 1--Dealing With procrastination). To resolve the ambivalence, I had to get Jim to face his underlying needs, wants, drives and wishes. I had to make conscious his wish to make powerless his parents and sister and teachers. I had to do a little "excavating" with a few key questions. "How do you FEEL about your parents, sister and teachers? What do you WANT from your family and teachers and friends? What do you RESENT about these people?
Having done that, the next step was to help Jim express himself assertively. He was to tell his parents his needs and then engage in a little bargaining. For example, he wanted to clean his room, just not on their schedule. So, Jim approached his parents and proposed a different schedule that still maintained a clean room. Likewise, Jim preferred to study at school in the morning at study hall, which just happened to be a free period at the beginning of the school day. Previously, he had been sleeping in this class, because of staying up too late. He agreed to go to sleep earlier, study at school and not study at home at night. Instead, he wanted to play video games online with his friends in the evening. His parents agreed only if his room stayed clean and his grades improved. Since Jim was now in more control of his own destiny (autonomy needs) and since Jim was making better grades (more successfully competing with his sister, only on HIS terms) and since he was more accepted by his social group (greater sense of his SOCIAL self), everybody won. Jim accomplished these things by making conscious his underlying dynamics, and then assertively expressing them with a little creative bargaining. Procrastination be gone!