Do You Feel Trapped? If so, you’re not alone.I see it all the time: People who feel trapped in situations, with no good options. They sit on my couch, tense, and certain in the futility of any effort to create change. They hate their job but can’t find a different one for various reasons. They want to change their habits but haven’t been successful yet so therefore they can’t ever be.
The door to their ideal path has just slammed shut and now they are facing a wall. At this point, problems feel too big to overcome. Every opportunity quickly becomes a snarl of more problems and negative outcomes, and paralysis takes over. “Being stuck” becomes a purgatory, and as you can imagine, fertile ground for depression to sink roots and wrap them up in tight black vines of hopelessness. It’s hard to go through, and even as a therapist (hi) hard to watch.
The “Black and White” Trap
Everything becomes an “either / or.” “Either I get into this graduate program or I stay in this crappy job forever.” “Either I loose 60 pounds and find a boyfriend that loves me or I die alone.” “I must feel better in order to do something differently.” All options are starkly opposed in black and white, and have the power to either save or crush us completely. Words like, “Always,” “Have To,” “Can’t,” swirl in the room. It’s exhausting.
Whenever someone gets into a stuck, helpless place its almost always because they perceive too few options. Things become polarized: Black and white, yes and no, good or bad. Psychological health is happiness is found through flexibility, creativity, and openness. There is always a middle path.
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How To Liberate Yourself
If you don’t like the options you currently have, insist on more.
Did you ever read the story when you were a kid about Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator? (The sequel to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, which I know you’ve heard of). Anyway. Willie Wonka has made Charlie the heir to his magical candy empire, and takes him on a tour.
They get into the Great Glass Elevator, which Charlie assumes, sanely, will carry them to different levels of the factory. However, the wall of the elevator is covered with buttons indicating that this elevator will go diagonally, in circles, side to side, and more. Willie Wonka gleefully pushes the big red “Up and Out” button which sends them crashing through the roof of the factory and into outer space. OUTER SPACE!
“‘And what keeps it up?’ said Grandma Josephine.
‘Skyhooks,’ said Mr Wonka.”
The point is that we all get to design our own reality. We make it all up as we go along, and the rules that govern our lives are largely our own construction. You have many, many options — we all do.
The next time you’re feeling trapped, try taking out a piece of paper and writing down as many alternative options as you can think of. Make them as zany and wildly unrealistic as you possibly can, just to loosen up the thin-lipped British governess that has taken up residence in your head— the one holding two alternatives out to you on a silver tray. Slap them out of her hands and get zany. Brainstorm.
“I could sell all my possessions and move to a little village in Armenia. In three years I will be mayor.”
“I could quit my job and live in a tent in my next-door neighbor’s backyard.”
“I could make [insert goal here] the sole mission of my life and number one priority every day.”
“I could stand up in the middle of my next team meeting and scream cathartically, throw a chair at my boss’s head, and walk out.” (Not advised. But you could.)
“I could apply to a different school, or change my major.”
“I could break up with this person.”
“I could read some books and learn how to do this thing that seems so impossible. Other people can do it and I can too.”
“I could make it a goal to meet four new people every week.”
“I could save x amount of money every month for the next year, and do the thing I really want to do.”
“I could get rid of my television and use all that extra time to pursue [something important that you feel you don’t have time for].”
Every sentence should start with “I could.” Of course you will immediately hear the snarky voice of the British governess telling you that you can’t. The correct response to her is, “Shh. Skyhooks.” Eventually she’ll stop talking to you. Because the truth is that you can actually do all kinds of things. You CAN decide to take out a massive loan and spend every cent riding motorcycles around Australia for the next six months. You could simply stop paying the mortgage on your house and use the proceeds to finance a diet of nothing but the most expensive chocolate money can buy every single day. You can. No one is stopping you.
There are consequences to every decision that you’ll have to sort through, obviously, but just getting in contact with the fact that your options are immense is enough to break through the paralysis that is choking your life and creating the stuck-ness that you’ve been feeling lately. Your creativity and openness to new ideas will generate some reasonable, healthy options for you too. Trust me.
What are the skyhooks that could lift you up-and-out of the tiny little cognitive box you’ve been stuffed into?
Have fun with this, and tell me about your new idea in the comments! The weirder the better!