play at the National Theatre, “Rules for Living”, reveals in glorious energetic human messiness what happens as family coping mechanisms clash and collapse. Spectacularly.
Being privy to others’ dysfunction is a guilty delight, sure. (Look at them. Thank goodness I’m not like that). But there is a different sort of delight in being able to recognise, through dramatic brilliance, the dysfunction in oneself.
The drama takes CBT as its starting point.
Cognitive Behaviour Therapy looks at the peculiar coping behaviours that we (yep, all of us) adopt to some degree to make living with some underlying negative core beliefs bearable. A ‘rule’ will be created to cope.
An example might be a young person with a crippling concern about their worth in the world creating a rule to.. always excel, say. No pressure, then.
The result of the rules, designed to protect and cope with life, is of course complete entrapment. Following the rules excludes by definition – flexibility, spontaneity, connection, contact, and for a lot of the time – joy.
I think I can now recognise some ‘rules’ in a couple of companies where I’ve been working recently.
For example, do you hear ‘we don’t do that here’ at all at your place of work? I think that may be one of these rules. The core belief is probably insecurity, so a good rule to cope would be anything that minimises change or challenge.
Watching that drama has helped me.
Once I might have just sought to challenge the statement, or seek to entice with baubles of fun and novelty. Now I shall look further to that underlying fear and will be much more compassionate and patient. Do you ever hear ‘we just need to get everyone’s input’? Might that be another rule for living? Might the underlying belief involve no belief in self or the power of the self?
Again, rather than seeking to encourage decisiveness, I’ll spend more time when this next comes up gently building up confidence and trust.
The title of the play is such a lovely irony.
For individuals, and organisations, such rules for living mean that no one is really ‘living’ at all.