We seem to have three major design flaws as humans that stop us from moving forward…
We default to the familiar and associate it with safety (even when logically it is not actually safe)
We don’t leave our familiar safety net unless things get REALLY bad and it becomes virtually impossible for us to keep pretending it is ok
We passively wait for change, especially if our initial attempts at active problem solving were not successful
In my experience both personally and professionally, that old saying about staying with the devil you know is true.
We have all had a time when we know something we are doing (like drinking, hurting people around us by using them as our emotional trash cans, over-eating, hurting ourselves in one way or another, etc), or something we are NOT doing (like telling the truth, exercising, getting enough sleep, eating well, etc) is harmful to us. Yet, we usually stick with it for a shockingly long time before we truly commit to change.
Take therapy for example, people will come, learn a whole bunch, most even actually practice some of what they learn while they are actively engaged with therapy and when they do, they see it works. Yet once they leave, the majority of people don’t actually keep using it. Seems strange, right?
It is like learning to walk, knowing it works for us, having experienced the independence and confidence it gives us…and then going right back to crawling and relying on others to carry us around, being frustrated when they don’t and complaining that walking didn’t work for us. This happens with so many people, the majority in fact, that it is not possible for this to be a character flaw, it is a design flaw in us as humans.
This all seems to stem from the fact that we evolved to be a social species. Being a social species means we are always walking a tight rope between our need to BELONG and our need for INDEPENDENCE. These often seemingly opposing forces make it so that when we are distressed, feeling vulnerable, tired, compromised in any way or afraid, we WANT and often WAIT for someone to swoop in and rescue us! We send out distress calls, whether through fussing, acting out, self harm, asking constructively or out-of-character behaviors and WAIT for a response…sometimes from someone in particular, and at other times from ANYONE!
Some of us are waiting for the “right relationship”, others say they will be happy when they get the “right job”, “better” or “more” friends, a particular house or amount of money, or the “right” help to manage our many life stressors we feel we are facing alone etc. Most commonly we are WAITING TO FEEL BETTER BEFORE WE DO THE THINGS THAT MAKE US BETTER! What or who we are waiting for varies, but that we are all waiting at some point does not!
We also usually invest in making the problem EXTERNAL to us, we feel this way because of all of these outside factors and we tell ourselves we can’t change them! We may try to fix things ourselves, especially early on when we are still optimistic and full of gusto, we may even be proactive and constructive, but when problems continue and we start to feel defeated in the face of seemingly overwhelming obstacles, we tend to end up in the same place…feeling helpless, avoiding and minimizing the problem and allowing our frustration to be discharged in unhealthy ways while we wait for things to change.
So when enough is enough?
We have enough when we reach the end of our rope and is has indeed become unavoidable for us, in our social circles and in our hearts and minds that things need to change. The parameters of what those breaking points are will be different for different people depending on our personal past experiences and our peer groups. Regardless of what our breaking point is though, when we have finally had enough, ACCOUNTABILITY is the magic that changes it all!
Our stressors and circumstances don’t change, but WE DO! All of a sudden we have narrowed our scope to finding the ways in which WE CAN TAKE ACTION, ANY ACTION, no matter how small and that starts to make us feel better! Just being on the path of independence, practicing our walking, even if we fall hundreds of times, feels emotionally and physically better than waiting!
Let’s look at an example…
Aneila has been in a controlling relationship for years. She came from a home where she learned she didn’t really matter, no overt abuse, but as a child she was told she had not been wanted by her parents and that stuck. She got the message she only mattered when she did things for others, so when she was unappreciated and told she was useless by her boyfriend – it had a familiar ring to it and she stayed, making excuses for him to anyone who brought it up. Not many did though, because she remained around the tribe she grew up with, so it was pretty status quo for them, which further increased Anelia’s belief that it was “normal” and there was something wrong with her! She needed to try harder. Be better next time.
After a year or so, Anelia decided to go to college. There she met a different peer group, who commented frequently on her boyfriend’s controlling and disrespectful behaviour. She started to see it as abusive, and recognize that she did actually inherently matter and deserved to be treated with respect. Anelia was still connected with her family and his family tribes as her main supports though, who told her she was “sensitive” and “over-reacting”. So she would say something now and then to her boyfriend about his behaviour not being ok, but she wouldn’t set any consequences or deadlines. Anelia knew she wouldn’t follow through, so she didn’t bother.
Over time, that uncomfortable feeling grew and grew as she spent more and more time with healthier people, until it became impossible for her to stay without setting some clear deadlines, consequences and boundaries. Although she isn’t done, just knowing she is TAKING ACTION relieved some of her anxiety and depression symptoms, especially as she continued to follow through even when she didn’t feel like it, instead of waiting for him to listen, change and adjust.
All change begins with:
Awareness there is a problem
Choice to do something different
Willingness to accept and tolerate the distress that comes from change within us, and from our peer groups
So what are YOU waiting for?
How can you help make it happen?
See you next week!