I had the opportunity to sit in a session with another therapist the other day. I loved having the chance because I think this therapist is one of the best I know. During the session she used a concept that is normally considered a negative thing and turned it into a positive coping strategy. I love when people are creative and turn things on their head. It just reinforces how much our perspectives create what we see.
The concept she discussed is “borrowed functioning.” Normally it refers to an attempt by a person to make themselves look better by focusing on the functioning of someone else instead. When you keep the attention on another person’s problems it distracts from yours, making you look better.
But this therapist used it in a different way…a positive way. The situation was one where the client was striving to make significant changes. They were aware that many of their past coping strategies had not been the healthiest. They also realized that their ability to make some judgements was not reliable.
This client had made some good decisions over the past few weeks but was concerned. They revealed that they had acted the way they did mostly because they knew how their partner wanted them to behave. It wasn’t an internalized change, rather an external motivation to do what someone else said was a better behavior.
Instead of telling the client that this was a bad thing, the therapist praised them and talked about borrowed functioning. She said that while we ultimately want to make decision and choose coping mechanisms based on our own internal guidance and strength, in the beginning of change that can be hard to do or unreliable. So for short periods it is okay to borrow the healthy functioning of someone else.
She went on to say that it can be from someone like a friend or partner but it is also okay to borrow some functioning from the therapist for a while. When we are learning to see our patterns and behaviors in a new way sometimes it is difficult to understand or believe. In those cases it is possible to borrow that functioning from the therapist. It can be as simple as realizing “even though I can’t see it clearly, my therapist says this is unhealthy for me and I’m going to trust them.”
One of the reasons we continue with poor coping mechanisms is that we know the work to some degree otherwise we wouldn’t continue doing them. The fear of trying something new is that it might not work. If we haven’t built up the confidence to take that risk maybe we can borrow it.
While this might not be a great long term strategy it is often all we need to get the process of change started. Regardless of why we originally try making changes, once we see the changes are effective we can internalize them for ourselves. We don’t need to know that others think they are good, we know for ourselves. When we get to that point we can take over ownership of our choices.
The next time you want to try a change and don’t have the courage or belief to try it on your own try borrowing some functioning from someone you trust. It may be just what you need to get you on the road to where you want to be!