Being stuck in your life is nearly always the result of making a decision to do nothing to change your circumstances. I say “nearly always” only to account for those very rare situations in which you are really completely unable to change anything about your current status (like, say, you’ve been in a car accident and are now in a coma). I don’t mean to be glib (well, okay I do a little), but there really are almost no circumstances that completely justify doing nothing to improve things. Even Viktor Frankl came up with a whole way of looking at psychological improvement through meaning while he was in a Nazi concentration camp during World War II (for more info, and a great read, see his book, Man’s Search for Meaning). Anne Frank wrote her amazing diary while locked in an attic for years, and she was a child. So, that leaves little doubt that we can, in our (very likely) much less horrific lives, improve our situations to some degree if we are willing to consider doing just about anything to make changes.
If this is true, and clearly I think it is, why do so many people “choose” to be stuck by doing little or nothing toward improving their lot? For starters, this would require they take responsibility over their capacity to make those kinds of changes. I covered that topic somewhat in my chapters on Freedom and Responsibility in Firewalking on Jupiter. I then added some thoughts to those chapters in my blog post on Responsibility, which I wrote after publishing the book. Now, here, I will continue to expand on my ideas about reasons for “being stuck” and what can be done about it (should you choose to do so of course).
What is in it for someone to be stuck, when it might seem to us on the outside that it “sucks to be stuck the way they are stuck?” If they believe they are stuck due to misfortune in the world (see my upcoming blog post, “The world is nonfair”) or because they are a victim of circumstance (see my blog post, “Being a victim?”), then they have to concede that the world, circumstance, or someone else can no longer be held to be the primary reason they are stuck, as they had previously been articulated. They have to accept and acknowledge that the world or someone else, while dealing them a good blow, didn’t end all possibility for all time, for happiness, growth, or whatever had perhaps been stolen from them. Being stuck and staying stuck might seem like the most logical response when someone is convinced that either they themselves, or their circumstances, do not realistically allow them to make meaningful change.
Deciding to make the kinds of changes required to move out of being stuck can be scary, because change involves risk. If you are in a crappy job, one that either doesn’t pay well or in which you are not fulfilled, appreciated, or treated fairly in some way, a job that really is getting you down and you know you can’t stay there forever, even then, moving to a different job is frightening because it might be worse (“the devil you know is better than the one you don’t…”). Maybe. Probably not, though. In therapy sessions with clients who are in this situation (which happens quite often and for long periods of time), I can certainly understand why they fear starting a new job, having to learn new skills, navigate new expectations, new social networks, new bosses, loss of job security, and all the rest. Some clients are so entrenched in their current situation, so unable to allow themselves to see the possible benefits of a new situation, they are not even willing to look for what other jobs are out there. In these circumstances, I suggest that they just look, don’t even post a resume, don’t worry about putting a resume together, don’t apply to anything, just look to see what is out there. As encouragement for this very small step, we often do it right in the therapy session. We might go to indeed.com or some state agency that has job seeking benefits, just to get them started, just to help them see that there are in fact other alternatives that may be realistically attained and far less scary to consider.
The problem of being so stuck in a bad job that we aren’t even willing to look at what other options might be available is the kind of being stuck we might experience in any number of other situations—relationships, living situation, educational development, health status. The fear of looking at other options is probably more a fear of truly considering the need for change, and all the consequences and possible bad outcomes we can imagine when thinking about change. So, we avoid thinking about change at all, including the possible positive options that might exist. We go into a kind of tunnel vision. We “stay the course” no matter what. We remain stuck in our situation, all the while knowing we need to make a change.
In Alcoholics Anonymous, there is a common phrase to describe when the alcoholic has had enough of knowing she needs to change, but doing nothing to change. When telling her story in a meeting, she will say, “I was sick and tired of being sick and tired.” There is no easily identifiable point when she crossed some certain line and just knew she had to change. She had just had enough. It is really as simple as that. The problem of being stuck comes when you know you’ve had enough, but the fear of change still keeps you in your situation. How to get past that fear? Put yourself in the situation you imagine, the change you want to bring for yourself. Imagine it as if you are already there, knowing but for just the moment, ignoring that there will be challenges to getting there. This harkens back to a blog post from a few years ago, called “Goal-setting by imagining being there.” In other words then, there are two components to “getting unstuck”. The first one is realizing you have had enough of being stuck. The second is imagining that there is a real possibility that you can make the kind of change that will lead to a better life and what that life might look like with the changes you are considering.
Most people get the first part on their own—they know their situation needs to be changed. Many people need the help of others, whether professionals, or friends and family, to get to the second point, of believing that changing their situation to something better is a real possibility and they can actually make it happen if they begin to take the steps to do so. I see this all the time. Clients come to therapy knowing the first part, which is why they are here. They are also here because either they themselves or someone in their lives convinced them that they needed help seeing the possibility of positive change. I then try to help them find the steps that work for them to make those changes, steps they may not have been able to identify on their own. I have reached out for others to help me in these ways many times, and probably will continue to do so for as long as I live. I encourage others to do the same. Change, real change, getting unstuck, is so much more likely and so much more sustainable when you have the help, encouragement, support and ideas of someone else through the transition from being stuck to getting unstuck.
Copyright, Michael Kinzer. Blog entries and other materials available on Jupiter Center’s website are only intended to stimulate thoughts and conversations and to supplement therapy work with Jupiter Center clients already in therapy. If you or someone you know suffers from a mental illness, you are strongly encouraged to seek help from a mental health professional. For further information about this blog, or Jupiter Center, contact Michael Kinzer at 612-701-0064 or michael(at)jupitercenter.com.