A couple of months ago, I found myself in that icky period of a relationship when you kind of both know it probably can’t go any further but equally don’t really want to accept that or take any kind of step to take action.
In my experience, this period of unknown but kind of known is possibly the most uncomfortable of all. You know in your gut that something isn’t quite right but you also can’t seem to bring yourself to make a call or say anything about it and the longer you leave it, the stronger the disconnect between gut and mind becomes until eventually the gut gets so strong that it takes over and inevitably you crack and it all blows up in your face (and then you have to deal with the subsequent regret of having behaved (cough cough) probably less than ideally).
After the dust had settled on said scenario, I took a bit of time to reflect on what had happened and why it was that I couldn’t seem to find the strength to have a conversation and voice what was going on for me earlier on. What I came to realise was that it was primarily driven by an almost unsurmountable sub-conscious desire to avoid any kind of emotional pain. Having a conversation meant diving in to the risk of potentially triggering the end of the relationship and therefore having to deal with the subsequent grief.
When humans have to make a decision, as much we’d like to think that it’s all logic, the reality is unfortunately far from that. What typically happens is that the mind sub-consciously pulls up all types of similar situations we’ve been in in the past and does a quick check to see 1) what the outcome of x decision was and 2) what the emotional impact of x decision was. Once we’ve done this, we usually choose the ‘least risky’ option. This is to keep us (as in animal us) safe.
The tricky thing here is that the emotional impact usually trumps the ‘outcome’ piece — so even if the outcome in the long term was positive, if there was any kind of strong emotional pain associated with it (like in the case of a break up (grief), or taking a big risk (fear)), the mind is always going to err on the side of caution and push you towards the safe option, and therefore keeping you where you are.
Whilst I was pondering this for myself, I started to think a little bit about how often in my life I had avoided an uncomfortable feeling by not doing something. I mean, the more you look, the more you realise that the list is endless….
- avoiding stepping up at work because we don’t want to feel fear
- avoiding having that conversation with a friend you’re upset with because we don’t want to feel the discomfort of confrontation (and the inevitable fear of being rejected)
- avoiding ending certain relationships earlier because we don’t want to feel the grief of an ending
- avoiding leaving a job earlier because we don’t want to feel the fear of not knowing what to do next
- avoiding doing something we’ve always wanted to do because of… fear.
It’s a clever mechanism really, and one that has no doubt kept many a cave man safe.. it’s just marginally annoying now that we live a lot longer and have a lot more decisions to make every day which direct the outcomes of our lives.
The, even more, annoying aspect here is that if we don’t recognise this stuff in ourselves, we’ll either stay where we are forever (not necessarily a bad thing, but you know… growth) OR we have to wait until our gut becomes so strong that it’s impossible to not do what it is it’s telling us. This isn’t necessarily the wrong way to go but, from my experience, when we let it get that far it can often be more of a tsunami of a decision rather than a softly softly approach which can sometimes work out better when we’re dealing with other people.
So how to know if you’re stuck in this cycle? Look at a situation you’re trying to ‘decide’ on at the moment. Now have a think about it, what other scenarios have you been in which are a bit like this in the past? What was your emotional experience like when you decided x or y about these past situations? How is that impacting how you feel about the situation you are in now? How is this situation different?
To take you back to my example, the answers to the questions would have been: 1) every single break up I’ve ever had 2) pretty damn terrible, felt super low energy for ages, unmotivated and pretty miserable for a while even if in the long run it turned out for the best 3) I don’t want to feel those things because they are horrible and I’m trying to start a business and feeling that is not going to help 4) I have way more tools at my disposal now to work with emotions and I know myself a lot better so am better able to self soothe.
By going through this, I can see that my judgement is potentially being clouded by past experience which is making it more difficult to trust my gut. That’s clearly not the end of the story because then we have to find all the ways to work with the fear and bla bla bla but it’s a very good and important step on the route to figuring out what it is that’s keeping us stuck where we are.
It’s probably one of the main things I’ve noticed in working with clients over the last 6 months — the power that past experience has over our ability to be present with what’s going on RIGHT NOW. The more we recognise this, the easier it is to see things from a birds eye view rather than getting all caught up with the intensity of (sometimes conflicting) feelings and then not making any decisions at all.
Try it and let me know how it lands for you — shoot me a message if you’d like to chat or you can subscribe here.