I had a partner in my life not too long ago who chose to remain stuck in their ways (for the worse). To give them the benefit of the doubt, they might not have known about it at the time (and might still not know) because we all have blind spots, but they were stuck in their ways nonetheless. They chose neither to accept things nor to change them. Instead, they chose to complain about things and find faults with others regardless of who was responsible. They would also find themselves depressed from time to time.
I heard stories from friends about people they knew who suffered from depression. The thing that stood out for me from what they shared about those people was there were times when they were extremely happy and then there were times when they were extremely sad and/or even angry; they could be really down on themselves. Their psychological pendulum would swing between blaming themselves (neurosis) and blaming others (character disorder), as M. Scott Peck put it. Instead of taking responsibility in their life for their own actions in any situation, they would find fault in others and blame them.
Of course, it’s difficult (and unfair) to those who find themselves at the receiving end in these situations, where they are at the mercy of others’ mood swings not knowing how (or when) they will respond in any situation (if at all). You are basically walking on egg shells. As a result, you might feel restricted, or even suffocated, in the relationship.
We all have people in our lives who choose to complain or vent about things thinking it will make them feel better, but it never does. Imagine you had a less-than-great day at work and you came home telling your partner all about it. If you think about it, how were you helping yourself by talking about your misfortunes even more? Talking about those things makes it worse than they actually are. Of course, your partner might not tell you that because they are being empathetic. They choose to listen to you patiently.
That said, I don’t blame anyone at all for focusing on the negatives because our view of the world remains largely pessimistic. Just look at what’s printed every day in the newspapers or talked about in the media. We talk and write more about what’s wrong in the world than celebrate what is right about it. That’s one reason why I stopped reading the newspaper and cut off cable television. I found it exhausting reading and watching all of that negativity.
One might argue that you’re missing out on all the important news among the shallow ones (needle in the haystack). My response would be — of course there are things happening in your country and around the world that you need to know from time to time. In my case, I get that information from friends and family rather than tabloids or media. It’s another reason for me to catch up with friends/family, not that I need one (!).
Here are a couple of other examples. We get four positive reviews of our book (let’s say), yet we keep thinking about the one negative review. When your kid gets his score card from school, you pay more attention to the one subject where he got lower marks rather than first patting him on the back for scoring on subjects where he did well (and then asking him how he could do better next time). For some reason, we want to fix our weaknesses more than we want to build our strengths. We think we can do it all, but it doesn’t quite work that way.
One reason we get stuck is we keep doing the same things and expect different results, which most believe to be the definition of insanity. It’s easy to get stuck in that vicious cycle unless we pull ourselves out or if someone sees us stuck and helps pull us out.
It’s easy to get frustrated from neither accepting things as they are nor changing them. Getting stuck in the middle is not a healthy place to be. More often than not, it’s a matter of finishing the thinking and deciding what to do next. The problem occurs when we keep thinking about things and do nothing about them.
Here are some ways to become unstuck. According to Serenity Prayer, true wisdom comes from knowing the difference between what you can change and the things you can’t (as they are out of your purview). This may sound simple, but when it comes to practicing, it isn’t that easy at all. Ironically, we worry and fret about those things that are outside of our control. These are things we can’t do much about, so why do we worry about them? Focus on things you can change, such as yourself. Accept what you can’t change, and make your peace with it. Let it go. There are many small things we think about every day that don’t matter much in the grand scheme.
As much as you want to, you can’t help others change if they don’t want to, so if they choose to remain stuck in their ways, there is little you can do about it (believe me, I tried!).
Forgive others when they snap at you. Question their intent, and not just their actions. Ironically, the things we punish ourselves for by getting mad are never about those things to begin with.
Try to understand others’ perspective before responding, or else you both might be talking over each other vying for attention without any progress.
Accept things or change them. The problem happens when you get stuck in the middle and continue to feel frustrated about it because you haven’t finished your thinking and/or made a decision about it, thus taking up more of your attention than it deserves and depriving you of your ability to be present.
Hire a coach or work with a mentor. You can’t see your blind spots, but others can. They are not emotionally involved with your situation or cause, so they are able to advise you on it more objectively.
You see, life is a matter of choice. We become what we focus on. We forget to talk about the good stuff. One thing you can do is ask yourself at the end of each day about the best thing that happened to you and how you could have made the day better. You can read more about it in the draft on Evening Pages.
Keep a journal. Write about things that have your attention. Take a walk. Bounce ideas off a friend or loved one.
Write about things that you’re grateful for. What I learned from doing six months of gratitude journaling is it can boost your happiness, health, and your overall well-being.
It’s normal to feel negative in this modern world, but we must remember it is ultimately our choice (conscious or otherwise) on how we live. It takes work to see the good in our lives and to see the good in others, but we can make it happen. We can choose to affirm, appreciate, and enjoy others for who they are rather than what they are not. No one is perfect. We can decide how we see them.