Do You Need an Attitude Adjustment?
No, even if you have mental illness, even if you have a hard time regulating your emotions, even if you keep repeating difficult behaviors, you do not need an attitude adjustment.
Let’s look at an example:
You are discussing with your therapist how you can’t keep up with the dishes at home and the kitchen is always a mess. Your spouse thinks you are lazy and inconsiderate, you think you are lazy, and you can’t figure out why you can’t just do the dishes.
Your therapist recommends reorganizing your kitchen so you have less dishes in the first place and thus the dishes are easier to put away. You say you could try this, and you do, but it does not work.
Then at the next appointment, you and your therapist brainstorm more ideas. Can you just do the dishes for 10 minutes in the morning and 10 minutes in the evening? Technically this makes sense to you, but you know you can’t do it. Can you make a rule that you never go to bed without the dishes being done? That does not sound like it will work either. Together you come up with more and more ideas, but none of them work. That is the point where a therapist often says: “If you won’t do anything I suggest, maybe you just need an attitude adjustment. You just need to do the dishes and get over it.”
When most therapists, teachers, or doctors say someone needs an “attitude adjustment,” they are usually saying they see no reason for the difficult behavior and thus, it must just be the individual’s problem and if they just chose to change their attitude, the behavior would change. This is the kind of attitude adjustment you do not need!
Attitude is defined as: a settled way of thinking or feeling about someone or something, typically one that is reflected in a person's behavior.
Adjustment is defined as: a small alteration or movement made to achieve a desired fit, appearance, or result.
Now, if we looked at the true definitions of attitude and adjustment, then we may indeed need an attitude adjustment. I would define a true attitude adjustment as: making small alterations that retrain our brain in order to change our way of thinking or feeling about something or someone, which can then result in a change in behavior.
Neuroplasticity tells us that we can retrain the pathways in our brain to have new skills, but also to adjust our emotions. In fact, a lot of studies have been done on the benefits of meditation and retraining your emotions.
There is also Dialectical Behavioral Therapy which combines mindfulness with learning distress tolerance, learning how to ask for what you need, and emotional regulation. This too can help you get an “attitude adjustment” in the technical definition that I describe above.
However, it is important to remember that the only way you can retrain your brain is if you don’t assume that there is no reason for your behavior. There is always a reason for behavior. Always. Just because we, a therapist, a teacher, or a doctor can not see the reason yet does not mean there isn’t one.
If we go back to our dishes example and we ask “Why is this happening?” we could find out what the reason is behind the inability to follow through on any of the suggestions the therapist had. That is then where you and your therapist would work from.
For example, maybe you have ADD and small tasks are overwhelming to you? If breaking down doing the dishes into 10 minutes increments does not work for you, maybe it is more than the only the ADD? Or maybe you are a person for whom medication can help with focus.
Are you experiencing a trauma reaction? Maybe it is not about the dishes. What are the emotions that come up at even just the thought of doing dishes for 10 minutes? Are there other events in your life that have given you the same feelings and/or emotions?
Is there a core belief that is actually in the way? A core belief is a belief about yourself, the people around you, or the world around you that you believe is an absolute fact. Usually you learned these beliefs in childhood and they are so ingrained that you do not even know you have them and they are perfectly logical to you. For instance, a core belief that could prevent you from doing the dishes is that you are a failure who is a bad spouse and will always be lazy and inconsiderate. If this core belief causes fear and panic every time you even think about doing the dishes, you will not be able to do them. It would then be the core belief that you need to work on with your therapist, not the task of doing the dishes.
If the phrase “attitude adjustment” is being used to say that there is no reason for your behavior or struggles, then the assessment is inaccurate. What you really need is someone to help you discover why the issue is happening and then work from there. Don’t let anyone shame you into believing there is no reason for your behavior.