Am I crazy? Or am I human?
Almost two years ago, I got myself into a situation which made me very unhappy. I told myself it was only temporary and I even set a deadline — six months — by which I was going to change things.
In private, I ranted endlessly to someone I trusted about how unhappy I was and why things had to change.
But the six-month deadline came and went with no change. Almost 18 more months later, I still haven’t changed it. I honestly can’t tell you why. My conscious brain would tell you that I simply haven’t found the right alternative, but the more honest part of me would admit I haven’t tried — and that’s the part I find most confusing.
In his letter to the Romans in the New Testament, the Apostle Paul wrote, “I do not understand what I do; for I don’t do what I would like to do, but instead I do what I hate.”
Paul was talking about sin — about his ability and willingness to obey the differences he understood about right and wrong — but the same principles apply to the more mundane decisions of our lives.
How often have you found yourself turning away from what you really wanted? How many times have you found yourself accepting situations you hate instead? How many times have you invented excuses for yourself to explain the contradictions — or just ignored the contradictions so you didn’t have to explain anything to anybody at all?
In an interview I heard a few nights ago, I heard a therapist say that we have unconscious reasons for doing what we don’t want and avoiding what we want. He said clients often come to therapy because they know what they want (and they’re doing it) or they know what they don’t want (and they’re doing it anyway). The question for most of them is, “Why am I doing this when I don’t want to?”
He said we have secondary motivations which we’re not even conscious of. He said humans don’t continue doing a thing unless it’s satisfying some internal driver. Even if we don’t consciously want a thing (or if we don’t consciously want to turn a thing down), we often do the opposite of our conscious desires — because we don’t think we deserve what we want or just because the miserable relationship or situation we’re accepting feels normal based on our dysfunctional personal histories.
If you unconsciously don’t believe you deserve happiness or if you are simply so accustomed to being unhappy, you might not be comfortable making the changes that might make you happy. (This was a two-part interview and I might link to it after the second part is released later this week.)
When I was younger, I recklessly went after the things I wanted — and I often got more than I thought was possible. Today, I’ve become cautious and seemingly unwilling to take some of the chances I need to take. Why? It’s hard to say, because I’m not especially afraid of the chances I need to take. I’m not truly afraid of failing. (I think I would succeed.) More than anything, I suspect that I might be afraid of being too successful.
When I first encountered this idea in psychology — fear of success — it sounded crazy, but it makes sense now. My strong suspicion is that I don’t believe I am worthy of the success I want — that I can’t allow myself to do the things I’d like to do if my purpose is just to make myself happy. I trust that I’m good enough, talented enough, smart enough — but I’m scared I’m not worthy of what I want if I’m doing it for myself.
Your secondary reasons for the things you do (and don’t do) might be completely different from mine. They probably are. You might think you owe things to parents or someone else in your life. You might be afraid of what others might think. You might feel like such a terrible person — unconsciously — that you’re punishing yourself in these excruciating ways.
There could be hundreds of different reasons. We all have our own — and we mostly hide them from ourselves. We do these contradictory things and then we invent excuses to “rationally” explain what makes no sense otherwise. (I’m really, really good at this one.)
A friend of mine is locked in a horrible relationship and she’s known for years that she wanted out. If you asked her why she hasn’t left, she would give you reasons. There would be some truth to some of them, but there would be things she would leave out of her explanations — and there are yet other parts that she can’t let herself see.
“I’m disgusted with myself for staying here,” she told me today.
She’s miserable with her situation and she’s down on herself for not doing something about a situation that is crushing her spirit. She knows she should leave, but she doesn’t. Why? Ultimately, she doesn’t think she’s worth the short-term pain of making the change. Nothing I tell her can change that. Until she thinks she’s worth the cost, she will continue to live in an absolutely horrific situation.
I can’t lecture you for not doing what you know you ought to do — what you want to do — because I’m not making the changes I need to make, either.
We all have programming that’s running deep in our brains. We’re not even aware of most of it that’s there. But if you find yourself staying with things you don’t want and turning down things you want, there’s a reason — and it’s not going to be the weak excuses you’ve given yourself and others.
You’re going to find the truth is more horrific. You’re going to discover that you have some deeper issue that needs to change — and you’re going to eventually see that it will be easy to take the actions you want once you’ve changed the dysfunctional inner programming.
But until we change that programming, we’re going to continue to confuse ourselves and those who want to love us.
The world has enough contradictions. Don’t spend your entire life denying what you want and need simply because you’re too stubborn to figure out why you refuse to pursue what you need.