There are certain ways of thinking and acting that do not achieve what we want but which are hard to change. When Tony Ryle was meeting with patients he began to recognise three main patterns of problems that kept people stuck and unable to change their ideas or behaviour. He called these Traps, Dilemmas and Snags and they are included in the ‘Psychotherapy File’ which is often used at the beginning of therapy as a way of helping a person begin to think about their problems. Examples of each are given below:
Traps are things we cannot escape from. Certain kinds of thinking and acting result in a ‘vicious circle’ when, however hard we try, things seem to get worse instead of better. Trying to deal with feeling bad about ourselves, we think and act in ways that tend to confirm our badness.
We often act as we do, even when we are not completely happy with it, because the only other ways we can imagine, seem as bad or even worse. Sometimes we assume connections that are not necessarily the case - as in “If I do ‘x’ then ‘y’ will follow”. These false choices can be described as either/or, or, if/then dilemmas. We often don’t realise that we see things like this, but we act as if these were the only possible choices. Recognising them is the first step to changing them.
Snags are what is happening when we say ‘I want to have a better life, or I want to change my behaviour but......’ Sometimes this comes from how we or our families thought about us when we were young; such as ‘she was always the good child’, or ‘in our family we never...’ Sometimes the snags come from the important people in our lives not wanting us to change, or not able to cope with what our changing means to them. Often the resistance is more indirect, as when a parent, husband or wife becomes ill or depressed when we begin to get better.
In other cases we seem to ‘arrange’ to avoid pleasure or success, or if they come, we have to pay in some way, by depression, or by spoiling things. Often this is because, as children, we came to feel guilty if things went well for us, or felt that we were envied for good luck or success. Sometimes we have come to feel responsible, unreasonably, for things that went wrong in the family, although we may not be aware that this is so. It is helpful to learn to recognise how this sort of pattern is stopping you getting on with your life, for only then can you learn to accept your right to a better life and begin to claim it.