Each year at CIP, several students at each center have the classic form of “Cognitive Rigidity” which is very intractable. The defenses they have erected are formidable.
Some Things We Know:
If you get into a power struggle with them it does not work. If you try to argue with them or prove them wrong it will only makes them retreat further into the confines of their fortress. (Factoid: they are very sensitive to even a minor insult, while they don’t perceive that they are dishing out some really severe ones themselves).
How Did the Fortress Get Built?
- High need for structure and to limit change and have a predictable environment even if it means having a very narrow life
- Need to reduce anxiety caused by the above and limit sensory input that makes them feel unsafe
- Need to have a way of explaining the world that is factual and logical in their mind (even if it appears irrational to others)
- Track record of getting it wrong out there in real life and bumping into walls as well as having been abused or misunderstood by others
- Parents being afraid to confront them due to embarrassment or constant conflict in the home
So what can be done?
Things That We Know Work:
Acceptance and Safety
A feeling by the student that you really understand where they are coming from, are not angry with them and accept them the way they are (developing trust). That said: using logic to undermine the foundations of the fortress which is based on erroneous premises. The necessity of making this the primary focus of the student’s program here at CIP and the student understanding that this is the most potentially handicapping condition that they have.
That this is the area of work with the biggest payoff for them in all areas of their future life. Encouraging them to have courage and bravery in remaining open and workable in trying new things and changing.
Persistence and Perseverance
They are and if we aren’t then they overpower us and we just give up and accept the fortress, so while we don’t want power struggles, we do want persistence in not playing into their sense of denial or hiding out.
From Day One
Have the guts to put it on the table and keep talking about it. Encourage small efforts at reaching out.
Photo credit: See-ming Lee