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Scum Kind Of Wonderful
I just posted another Advice Goddess column. This one's from the friend of a girl who's "standing by her man." Problem is, as she puts it, "it came out on the news that he was engaged in some stomach-churning attempts to pick up 13-year-olds for sex in Internet chat rooms." Oops. Yet, her friend still wants to marry and have babies with the guy. This girl, of course, can't get behind that, but she's afraid of saying so, because "if she gets mad and refuses to have me as a support system, she's more likely to stay with the creep." Here's my reply:

That happy family fantasy of hers has a few snags; for example, dinner. Let's see...there they all are at the table, Mommy, the pervert, and their two beautiful children, and then Mommy leaves the room to get more mashed potatoes...turning Daddy into a parole violator. And then, even if Daddy is, for some wildly insane reason, allowed around his own children, it'll be a bit hard for him to drive them to school if he isn't allowed within 1,000 feet of the place: "You girls look both ways as you're running across the highway!"

Perhaps not surprisingly, my first inclination was to have you ask "Claire" who stole her brain and replaced it with Fluffernutter. My second and wiser inclination was to call Dr. Stanton Peele. Peele, an addiction treatment specialist, is the guy I think best understands the psychology behind self-destructive behavior and what it takes to pry yourself or somebody else off a compulsion. He told me your hunch was right -- the least productive thing you could do is slap your friend upside the head with her pedophile boyfriend. He explained that people don't change because you tell them they should, but because they realize "what they're doing violates what they are most about, and what they want most for themselves."

Chances are, Claire wasn't looking to end up with Chester The Molester. When she started dating this guy, she probably saw him as her ticket to white picket fence-ville. In time, a few pesky facts got in the way. But, never mind them! Like a lot of people, she simply pretended away the disconnect between what she has and what she wants -- which, in turn, left her standing by her man as if he's coming back from the war instead of the kiddie diddler wing in some prison.

To get Claire to face the contradictions, Peele recommends a non-judgmental, non-confrontational technique called "Motivational Interviewing." (See Peele's book, 7 Tools to Beat Addiction.) Start by becoming a double agent of sorts: Convince her you're behind her no matter what so she'll be free with facts and feelings, which you'll tuck away for later use. In Peele's words, "You need to be there as a support system and look for a teachable moment." Instead of telling Claire she's got her head on backwards, get her to answer questions that will make it obvious to her; for example, "So, you say family's important to you. What do you think your family life will be like with this guy?" If you sense resistance, back off. "The key," Peele writes, " to push the ball back to the other person (generally by asking questions)." Eventually, this should lead Claire to a question or two of her own, such as, "Did I seriously consider having a family with a guy who'd celebrate becoming a father by handing out cigars announcing, 'It's A Girlfriend!'?"

The entire thing, including the girl's question, is here.

Posted by aalkon at March 7, 2007 8:12 AM


"He explained that people don't change because you tell them they should, but because they realize "what they're doing violates what they are most about, and what they want most for themselves."
Good one!

Posted by: Cat brother at March 7, 2007 6:53 AM

Amy -

Your endorsement of Peele's work seems to contradict previous columns in which others like Claire's Friend would simply be instructed to divorce Claire.

This is not a criticism, mind you. I'm just curious if you feel that Claire projected path falls so far on the misbehavior spectrum so as to justify Peele's rather calculated extra involvement. Personally, I'd be very tempted to wash my hands of the woman and her soon-to-be-interviewed-by-Chris-Hanson boyfriend.

Posted by: snakeman99 at March 7, 2007 8:29 AM

I agree with Peele. I had a friend in an abusive marriage who I had to treat in the exact same way. Pretend to be on her (and his!) side, since I was one of the few people he wasn't threatened by, then quietly and carefully say stuff like this when we were alone. Luckily for my friend, she eventually got up the nerve to leave him.

Posted by: Jennifer at March 7, 2007 10:36 AM

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