Why am I still stuck?, is a question that I’m asked pretty much every day by people who find it difficult to move past somebody or something not living up to their hopes and expectations. They are gutted by disappointment and struggling to keep their head above water as they struggle against the tide of self-criticism and blame.
Sometimes as humans, we fall into the trap of feeling entitled to not be disappointed. We set our hearts on something or we work out, even if it’s subconsciously, a set of conditions under which we feel that we will be ‘OK’ or where we’ll ‘win’. If we feel that we have met these conditions and yet our desires have not been realised, we feel wronged. We feel a pervasive sense of injustice.
It’s not fair!
- We expect people to ‘act right’ even if it’s not their typical rule of behaviour.
- We expect people to express remorse when they wrong us, to feel suitably bad about the discomfort they have caused us, and to reflect all of this in their subsequent treatment of us. We expect that they will not repeat the very thing that they know caused a problem.
- We expect people to know that we have been through so much that surely we should be cut some slack or rewarded.
- We expect that because our parent(s) inadequately parented us and said and did certain things that set up a pattern of us being sensitive to conflict, criticism, rejection or disappointment, that they should either want to make it up to us and fill that void or that somebody else [that brings out similar feelings in us] should do it instead.
- We expect to be paid back for our people pleasing which is the equivalent of creating a debt and expecting others to pay it off.
- We expect that if we feel intensely about something that it should be matched with the outcome.
- We expect not to be ‘rejected’ if we have gone to the trouble of accepting the unacceptable.
It’s not fair!
This is not what we predicted.
When we are honest with ourselves, we can acknowledge that our perception of what makes the ‘conditions’ for a successful outcome, is based on our beliefs about what we feel that we and others ‘should’ do. These are the rules that aren’t really rules.
We edit and shave ourselves down and don’t truly relax and just be, because we are always on alert for cues that we are OK and ‘winning’.
That’s why when we go to such lengths to manage the potential for conflict, criticism, disappointment and rejection and then we still end up not feeling “good enough” and ultimately experience the gap between reality and our hopes and expectations, we feel so wounded by the injustice of it all.
We wonder, What the hell do I need to do to be OK? What do I need to do to finally win at this game of life?
And of course, because we are so set on our perception of what we’re entitled to when certain conditions are met, when we’re disappointed, we feel not OK and that we are losing.
We feel stuck because we just cannot understand what went wrong. We had a map; we had a plan and we followed the route and the instructions to the letter – why the frick didn’t we end up at the destination? Or, how come we got there and yet it doesn’t feel like how it’s ‘supposed’ to?
It can feel even worse when we copy somebody else or do what they told us that we had to do in order to be accepted and yet we’re still disappointed.
It’s not fair!
To accept that we may be using the wrong map and plan is terrifying because then, instead of focusing on the injustice, we’re having to acknowledge the flaw in our thinking. We have to acknowledge that we misjudged things and that we have some learning and growing to do, and this may have very painful associations for us.
Feeling stuck may be exacerbated if we keep using that same map and plan in an effort to generate a different result.
We feel its unfair and then, because we fear admitting that the way that we’re going about things is off, eventually we determine that the way in which we see things and are going about stuff is “right” it’s just that there’s something “wrong” with us and/or them. We’re “not good enough” and/or they are to blame for failing to be and do as we hoped or they’d inferred/promised.
Life isn’t fair in the sense of, there aren’t 7 billion people or so keeping tabs of who’s had what pain, who are the goodies and the baddies and then directing ‘the good’ and ‘the bad’ stuff at those who deserve it.
A natural reaction to trauma is to wonder, What did I do to deserve this? but to continue with it is to clobber us over the head with shame and a lack of self-compassion. This happens when we feed us with judgements about where we think we caused it. Even if we were The Most Perfect Person On Earth TM, we’d still experience disappointment.
If we want to break the cycle of the circular thinking, obsessing, and ruminating that is causing us to feel stuck, we have to, after we acknowledge the unfairness of whatever happened, also recognise the unfair way in which we are treating and regarding ourselves.
It’s not fair that certain things have happened but it’s also not fair to persecute you or to chain yourself to somebody and your desired outcome just so that you can make them ‘pay up’. It’s not fair to put your life on hold, to exclude you from your friendships and other close connections, to compare you, to use this It’s not fair train of thought as a way of procrastinating so that you can avoid what you feel is a bigger pain and/or avoid having to take action. It’s not fair to continue raking over it just so that you can feel purposeful. It’s not fair to hope that it happens to someone else or to wish that you could be in charge of discharging karma (this doesn’t happen on your beat).
We also have to acknowledge that getting hurt is horrible but that if we pursue or continue with a toxic situation, even if we have “good intentions”, the natural consequence is to get hurt and disappointed.
Disappointment is a pain in the bum and then some but, it’s there to show us where we stand with something or someone. It’s there to show us where we need to adjust our thinking and attitude. It’s there to highlight that maybe the plan we had needs some adjustment or to be scrapped so that we can approach with fresh thinking. It’s there, when we continue to repeat patterns, to show us that it’s not working and it will show up in bigger and more painful ways until we heed it. This in itself tells us, not where we can avoid disappointment but where we can learn and grow so that it doesn’t grip, distort, or destroy us. We’ll hurt but we’ll gradually have the perspective to bounce back.
Some of our greatest disappointments come, not just from people not living up to the picture that we had in our mind but from us not getting to realise the hopes and expectations that we had for ourselves as a result. It’s unrealistic to expect to dodge disappointment but when our conditions for being OK are based on treating ourselves with love, care, trust, and respect, we are no longer at the mercy of relying on precarious and external conditions for our self-esteem. We feel in command of us and we stop feeling stuck.