The Danger of Absolute Statements and How they Keep you Stuck
Updated: Aug 17, 2020
We all do it. We get our feelings hurt, feel disappointed, and get fed up. We wind up asking ourselves:
“What’s the use?”
“Why even try if every time I do I wind up getting hurt/fail/feel embarrassed/let myself and/or others down? It’s just too hard?”
Oftentimes when we’re ‘all up in our feelings’ as a result of a certain situation the notion of throwing in the towel becomes very attractive and can be difficult to resist.
However, typically with a little time and space to heal, thoughts of giving up become fleeting and we’re ready to put ourselves back out there and try again.
The ability that my clients have to bounce back never ceases to amaze me. I get asked pretty regularly “how do you do this type of work? Doesn’t it drain you?”
The truth is that while it can be draining at times, I actually find myself feeling reenergized more often than not simply as a result of bearing witness to peoples’ ability to find balance again. I have the privilege to watch people change right before my very eyes and I can honestly say there is no greater honor.
Some are just born with the ability to cope more effectively
Resilience is what makes us, as humans, such magical, dynamic creatures and it is all too often underestimated. Interestingly, scientific studies verify that resiliency has a heritable base – our ability to bounce back, at least to some extent, has to do with the coding of our DNA. This is why it is easier for some people to bounce back following a tragic or depressing event than others – it is also why some suffer from depression, anxiety, PTSD, and other mental health conditions more often and in greater intensity compared to others.
I know what you’re thinking – “so you’re telling me that I lost the resiliency lottery just for being born?!!! What a jip!”
Our environments play a role too
Our genes are not the only predictors of how well and when we will bounce back. The level of support we have from family, friends, and community, our financial health, effective coping strategies, and even the sheer belief that we can and will return to a state of balance all play a big role in determining resilience.
Unlike the early 20th Century, it is fairly common knowledge these days that our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are not just a result of our genetic makeup nor just our environment (i.e. nature v. nurture) but rather a mix of the two.
The good news here is that just because we were born with a certain genetic code that is likely to dictate how behavior is expressed, it is not an end-all-be-all – we have free will and the ability to learn and practice new information. To some extent, we have the ability to overcome these conditions and choose how we want to live our lives.
Full disclosure: it’s A LOT harder than it seems!
So what exactly leads to ‘stuckness?’
I define a state of “stuckness” as having reached a point where you’ve tried everything you know how to do and you just can’t seem to bring yourself out of it. Oftentimes, this period of stuckness exists for quite some time before you get the courage to reach out for help for a variety of reasons (I have found this to be the norm for most clients and myself included).
Feeling stuck can be very scary. Generally, you like to think of yourself as a pretty intelligent being who has the capacity to navigate difficult situations and survive. So when you’re faced with an obstacle that you just can’t seem to get over, you often wind up feeling very defeated, take it personally, and can even shut down.
This is when depression usually sets in.
In my personal and professional experience, the only way to get out of a state of stuckness is to seek outside help. Whether it be via a mentor, spiritual guide, therapist, community, advisor, group, etc.
I’ll be the first to admit that this had been one of the most difficult things for me to accept and to seek out.
What many mental health professionals experience, but don’t want to admit, is that we get this ego-driven idea that we’ve got to have it all together and be the perfect role model for all of our clients at all times. This is not possible nor is it reality. We are people too. We don’t have all of the answers and we need the help just as much as you do (sometimes even more)!
How do I [the therapist] receive guidance?
I work hard to surround myself with like-minded individuals who aren’t afraid to give it to me straight – when I’m being an asshole, they tell me I’m being an asshole. Sometimes it hurts to hear it but if it’s coming from a trusted source then I know to look at what they are saying more closely. I often tell my clients “if it stings, that’s a good sign, it means some part of you knows it’s true and needs attention.”
[Admittedly sometimes I’m not as tactful while communicating this in session – in response to admitting that what was said hurts, sometimes I’ll shout “GOOD!” and when the client looks at me as if I have two heads and looking as though they want to punch me in the face, I then provide further explanation]
I’m also part of a local spiritual community on whom I rely to teach me new ways to access the deeper parts of myself and how to improve my shortcomings. This type of humility has been difficult for me to admit but has become easier over time and is not for the faint of heart!
These practices require pushing myself WAY out of my comfort zone that force me to find my own way back (think how the military uses techniques to tear you down then build you back up).
I’ve found that these techniques tend to work much faster and are more effective compared to other ways of healing.
However, readiness is everything when it comes to engaging in these techniques: if you move too fast before you are ready, you could make things worse.
If you’ve participated in EMDR with me you KNOW what I’m talking about!
Side note: if you’re interested in some of these techniques to be used during your sessions, please don’t hesitate to ask!
The danger of absolute statements and how they lead to stuckness
In order to understand how to treat a state of stuckness, it is oftentimes helpful to look at mindset and where it came from.
How did the thought process start and from where did it originate?
Which past events played a role in formulating this opinion that now influences how you view similar current events? Who else close to you also feels/felt this way?
What protective factors were not in place at the time of these events that might’ve prevented you from developing a healthy relationship with the initial as well as subsequent similar events?
Oftentimes, when an event affects us so deeply in a negative way, we vow right then and there to change our behavior to prevent similar events from happening again [flash on Scarlett O’Hara’s “As God as my witness” scene from Gone With the Wind].
As previously mentioned, as soon as the immediacy of the event fades, so does the commitment to change the behavior.
We can get caught up in beating ourselves over this but consider this:
This mechanism is actually an involuntary survival instinct to discriminate our attention toward stimuli that is more likely to kill us/pose a threat to our survival. If the event is not perceived as threat, the non-conscious parts of the brain interpret the event as ‘not a threat to survival, you may discard.’
This is why we often overlook the good things and focus, or even hyperfocus, on the bad.
But what about the decisions to swear off certain behavior that actually get stuck?
Even with all of these inherent protective factors, there are still those certain decisions that we make that can change the course of our lives. Examples of such statements are:
“I’ll never love again!”
“I’ll never trust again!”
“I’ll never go out of my way to help someone ever again!”
“I will never date this/that type of person again!”
“I’ll never waste money on such frivolous things again!”
A relationship that ended with a long-term partner who wouldn’t commit then soon falls in love with and marries the next partner he/she dates (yup, happened to me)!
Talk about a gut-punch to the self-esteem!
The state of heartache is likely so profound and takes such a long time to get over that you make the decision to never open your heart again to another lover.
And to further complicate things (just for fun) – more often than not, the decision to close one’s heart is not necessarily conscious but rather happens organically over time due to not having properly dealt with the hurt at the time that it happened.
You tell yourself that you are fine, and for some time you might be, but as soon as you’re faced with the possibility of another long-term, serious relationship, this dynamic comes screaming back and can show up in the most uncanny of ways!
What’s worse is that you might not even be aware that you’re behaving so closed-heartedly. However, chances are your partner does and it’s only a matter of time before you’ll be hearing about it from them (likely over and over again).
If this behavior is so often outside of our awareness how do I protect myself from allowing absolute statements from derailing my life?
Practice self-awareness – pay attention to the things you say, the thoughts you think, and the actions you take. Be mindful from where these things originated and ask yourself if it is an approach that is in line with who you want to be. If it’s not, practice self-compassion and seek additional guidance to help you work through it. If it is, give yourself credit for seeking to live a purposeful life and living in your truth.
Seek guidance from trusted sources – ask friends, family, mentors, and/or guides to evaluate your thoughts and actions as they pertain to the situation and ask for suggestions that are more in line with the life you want to live.
Put your money where your mouth is – if you’ve made an absolute statement, chances are you feel pretty passionately about the subject matter. It just might so happen that it is a change that would serve you to make and not to avoid. If you need to remove yourself from toxic relationships, do it. If you need to increase more of this and do less of that, do it.
Change your scenery – sometimes it’s the environment that is keeping you trapped in the cycle of making the same mistakes. This can lead to making absolute statements but then you do little to actually change it for good. It is difficult to change behavior if it is too easy to fall back into old habits where it is easy to do so. Sometimes moving to a new home or finding a new job might be necessary while other times less extreme measures can do the trick.
Identify red flags early on and address them – I am a big proponent of knowing and trusting your gut. If something doesn’t feel right, it likely isn’t. If you can’t tell the difference between your gut and a fleeting thought, you might seek the assistance of an outside trusted source to help. If you find yourself making absolute statements often, it’s a good indication that something needs to change and you just haven’t done what is necessary to follow through yet.
Interested in learning more about ways to connect with the deeper parts of yourself and get relief once and for all?
Looking to break the cycle of absolute statements but not sure where to start?
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