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Reality Therapy .. Could the misery of our lives be a choice?

“If everyone could see that what is right for them is not necessarily good for everyone else, the world will be a happier place.”

(William Glaser)

When we think about the progress the world has made, we usually remember the technical and medical achievements, the Internet, smartphones, space travel, delicate surgeries in the brain and heart, prosthetic devices and Mr. Elon Musk’s fun cars, but what if we decide to define the category we want to ask about, if we decide to ask, for example, How much progress have we made in improving relationships between spouses, between teachers and students, between parents and children, or between employees and their managers?

Here, the answer will carry a degree of confusion, as it seems that the ratios of relationships between spouses, for example, that lead to chronic problems, are almost constant. It also appears that education – despite all the technical and procedural advances in its means – is still facing problems in the relationship between the teacher and the student, and so in everything else. In fact, William Glaser, the American psychiatrist and founder of what we know now as “reality therapy”, was seeing All of the misery we are in now depends on the problems we face in our relationships.

In his book “Choice Theory – A New Psychology of Personal Freedom”, Glaser argues that this feeling of misery is based primarily on a psychological system of control (control psychology), which we learned from the moment of birth, which says that you live in a cycle of constant compulsion. You want someone to do what you want, and you try in various ways to force him to do so, or someone wants to do something you do not want, and he tries as you tried.

From that point of view, all of our lives are based on two consecutive mechanisms of action. The first is that we will punish people who make mistakes, until they do what we see right, and then, the second mechanism, we will reward them and they continue to do what we want them to do. This hypothesis dominates the thinking of most people on earth to the extent that they do not realize that they are doing this, or only they imagine that this is the right or natural moral choice, when your son neglects to recall a lesson, you fear that he will continue neglecting him and prevent him from playing for an hour, or it may An extra hour of play is given to him if he remembers the lesson. When the employee neglects to attend on time, he is punished by a day deduction from his salary or rewarded with a bonus if he is committed. This sounds very intuitive as if you hit the doorbell and feel compelled to open it.

But are you forced to answer the doorbell? At that point the problem becomes clear, because we will always open the door, but we are not obliged to open it, rather we “want” to do so, but because this process has been repeated thousands of times in our lives, we felt that opening the door was not an option. In Glaser’s view, there is a very subtle difference between being aware that we are forced to do something and being aware that we wanted something. This difference becomes clear when we talk about human needs.

Book “Choice Theory – A New Psychology of Personal Freedom”

We humans, according to the theory of choice, succeed or fail to achieve ourselves, and experience feelings of happiness, sadness, loneliness, apathy or enthusiasm, for internal reasons only, reasons related to our attempts to satisfy our needs, these attempts are simply “our behavior”, which Glaser calls gross behavior ( Total Behavior), which is our thoughts, actions, feelings, and physiological responses (Glaser Therapy Program states that only actions and thoughts are things that can be changed, but the rest change accordingly).

Suppose, for example, that you are now experiencing a feeling of sadness because someone left you on the road after a long relationship. This feeling is part of the overall behavior that also includes successive thoughts through which you see yourself as oppressed or deluded or perhaps a weak and untrustworthy person. On the other hand, you do something, lamenting Aside, for example, and do not go to work, your stomach responds physiologically to pain, and your brain to headache, in every response in our life the four elements of overall behavior appear, but with varying degrees of strength.

In the theory of choice, there are five basic needs of a person who always tries to satisfy them through his overall behavior, whether he is conscious of that or not, and they begin with survival, which is an instinctive need to prevent any threat to your life and strength, which is our need to feel important and be better than others, Belonging, which is our need to obtain love and give it to others, and freedom, which is our need to choose not to be dictated by things to us, and finally to play, which is our need to feel fun and laughter, and it is also a desire to learn, at that point play rewards creativity.

The thing, then, is that if you wake up in the morning feeling unhappy, you can be sure that you have not satisfied one or more of these needs. For example, if you wake up with cold symptoms that you suspect may be ‘Covid-19’, the pain tells you that your need to survive is threatened by infection, if you wake up alone because the person you love has just left, then your need for love and belonging is not Fully saturated, if you want to go on vacation, but they, in the company, called you and canceled it, then you are angry because you are not free to leave, and if you are supposed to enjoy playing, say, chess or soccer, but something happened that stops you, then you need fun Frustrating.

What we take in terms of behavior to satisfy our needs (gross behavior) is what makes our identity, and this may be positive or negative, but it is always our own making, of our choosing. But what the control system has taught us throughout our life is the opposite, because our conviction in its truthfulness leads us to imagine that what we experience in terms of problems, successes, or feelings may be for external reasons related to others, that is, they push us to success, failure or sadness, here Glaser says that no one can cause In making you happy or making you sad, only you choose to, because only you can satisfy your needs.

At that point another term appears, which Glaser calls “our own world” (Quality World), which means that we look at things and people differently from others. The simplest example here is the son who can never see his father as a thief or assassin, being swimming 15 years ago means that that little gold metal plate (the medal) means something completely different to you than a writer or a doctor, and in our own world we put the people we want to be with the most, the things we want to have or experience, the ideas or belief systems that govern a part Great of our behavior.

And here appears the essence of the problems we face with others in our surroundings, which Glaser imagines are essentially the core of all problems, whether they are children, husbands, or work comrades, so when we put them in our own world, and since we have been brought up on the system of control, we will always try to force them to act In a way that corresponds to their image that we put in our minds and not what they really are, and in return they will do the same thing, and as the tension continues between the two images, for both of us, we fall into misery, but for Glaser we are not “miserable”, but we choose him!

If you are in a toxic relationship and you still maintain it, it is because you are maintaining a mental image of the other person who has moved away from it, but you do not accept this reality easily, the pain of your discovery of reality is greater than the pain of the misery in which you live, and therefore you choose the latter, in fact we, from In this direction, we may circumvent ourselves in more than one way, to imagine that what we are in is something that we suffer, and not just a choice in exchange for greater pain associated with knowing the truth.

For example, this lady who was left by her lover left work and stayed home in a state of great sadness, Glaser says she chose to, but she just did not realize that she did. She chooses sadness for several reasons, for example it may be a letter to her lover asking for help without begging, what suffering does is legitimize our request for help, in addition to that we may use feeling depressed as an excuse not to do something we are afraid to do, such as to start – For example – our lives again and we are looking for new people to continue to satisfy our need for love and belonging.

As you can see, Glaser bases his theory entirely on a system of choice, saying that everything we do is a choice, no matter how compelled we seem to be. Every “judgment” is a “choice” that we do not see. You will say you are depressed (using the adjective), but Glaser will tell you that you are depressed (using the verb), perhaps because you are afraid of another rejection, or of facing the fact that there may be no good jobs for you in Your age and with your experience. As painful as depression is, it is less painful at this time than searching for a job and being rejected over and over again. In both cases – like ringing the doorbell – you are experiencing a feeling, but there is a huge difference between realizing that you want it and realizing that you are being forced into it.

When we fully realize that we are the ones who create the state we are in through our attempts to satisfy our needs, then we realize, consequently, that we are responsible for ourselves and no one but us will be responsible for it. In fact, Glaser believes that our main problem is that we are so drowned out in the system of control. We have lost the element of choice from our awareness and consequently from our life, and as long as we feel in our depths that we are unable to choose, then we, by extension, feel that we are not responsible for something in our life, and at that point in particular mental disorder appears, in extreme cases.

Of course, the matter is deeper than that, and you simply cannot accept it, and in order for Glaser, or the therapist to convince you of reality, of the theory of choice, he does not write this in about two thousand words as we did, but it will take a number of sessions to build an ability for conscious observation of your actions to deduce from it. That you choose what you do, even in the smallest of things, and that you are consequently able to choose something better, little by little he will study with you the mechanisms of satisfying your needs to reach a more conscious understanding of your overall behavior, as well as the matter will require an amount of effort, and an intelligent use of language, in order to understand that we can change our behavior And, by extension, how we feel, so you should only talk about what you are willing to do, not what you want other people to do.

For example, in realistic therapy it is assumed that you adhere to an accurate and realistic plan that you will implement with your partner in life within a week. This plan is the practical model for you to learn what responsibility means. Usually one of the techniques used is “replacement”, that is, replacing controlling habits with others that take into account Choice, instead of seven behaviors related to the control system, such as criticism, blame, complaint, harassment, threats, punishment and bribery, you will practice using seven methods of the selection system, which are support, encouragement, acceptance, listening, trust, respect and negotiation.

Now suppose that you came back in the next session and you did not apply any of that, here the therapist will not try to blame you, criticize you, or use any of the methods of the control system, because – according to the theory that he teaches you – he is completely convinced that this is of no importance to him, rather it is harmful to you What you do stems from your attempts to satisfy your own needs, and it is something that no one will be able to move except you, therefore he will leave the methods of control aside to discuss your needs, he will continue again and again to leave the choice for you, and each time it will grow to you, slowly and gradually, a link between Choice and responsibility.

The choice theory of course does not offer an ideal treatment, and it has many disadvantages in exchange for its advantages, and the fact is that if you were a student of neuroscience and read Glaser’s book, you would be shocked and rejected what it proposes, and you have some right, as he sometimes exaggerates the importance of the theory of choice to the point that he sees that the symptoms of Psychosis or depression are also defensive choices such as sadness and isolation.

But this theory, like other theories of existential psychotherapy as well as cognitive-behavioral therapy, stems from a very important point, but it does not have roots in pharmacological-physiological convictions that say that mental disorders, or our moods in general, depend only on the concentrations of neurotransmitters in our brains. Or psychoanalytic circles that see that we tampered with ourselves in the past and it is over, a point that says that a person is capable of action, able to change his thoughts and behavior.

Specialists of this field believe that the Glaser Therapy School is more effective in cases of counseling than psychiatric illnesses (but it has an important side benefit here), and in particular it shows its importance in solving problems that include relationships, such as marriage, education, schools, education or work environments, Glaser basically focuses on relationships and sees them as the center of all psychology, because fixing them is fixing everything else in our life, and failing them is the cause of all possible misery.

Thus, the theory of choice has always been related to what we want others to do and what they want us to do, and here responsibility is defined as the ability of a person to satisfy his needs without controlling the needs of others. In fact, that is the most important thing we learn from Glaser as readers of his work, or of this report he talks about, as his theory teaches us to reconsider our relationships, their importance and the enormous impact they have on us without realizing it, and at the same time the amount of error we make when we try to manage them .

Well, suppose with me that a young man was walking in the big cactus garden in one of the cities, then suddenly he took off all his clothes and jumped into a large pool of cacti, and started rolling, we passed him out at the end, blood was dripping from everywhere in his body because of the thorns, we asked him: “Why did you do that, do you want to harm yourself?” He said, “No, but it seemed like a good idea at the time.”

You might think this is a crazy person who decided to do something out of the ordinary. That may already be true, but what if you too were doing the same thing? What if we were all doing some cactus rolling in our lives when we decided to go into a wave of sadness, relapse, isolation, or misery? Not to harm ourselves, nobody would like it even this crazy one, but because at the time we jumped into this aloe vera pool it seemed like a good idea!



  1. This report is a reading in Glaser’s book Choice Theory: A New Psychology Of Personal Freedom

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