Part of Kathy Caprino’s series “Becoming The Most Powerful You”
In speaking to a friend this week who is dealing with an extremely narcissistic boss, something became even clearer to me than ever before: When we’re in an unhealthy, manipulative or demeaning relationship or situation but keep saying to ourselves “I can’t believe this is happening to me!” we keep ourselves stuck in pain and victimization. Our disbelief or resistance to the situation prevents us from taking the brave action we need to, to revise and move out of it. I know this because it happened to me and it’s occurred in the lives and careers of many of my clients over the years.
When we can finally say, “I now see exactly what’s going on, and why,” then and only then do we have the objectivity, power and clarity to start moving forward to doing what’s necessary to preserve our wellbeing and happiness and improve our lives and our direction forward.
One human challenge I learned about in my work as a therapist is this:
What you resist persists.
While there’s always going to be some period of time during which we need to process what’s happening to us, emotionally and mentally, before we take action, if we resist it for too long, that negative situation is going to do a lot of damage in our lives. It’s best to stop resisting the reality of your situation as soon as you are able, and stop bloodying your head against it. It’s more empowering and growth-inducing to recognize the harsh reality with eyes wide open as soon as you can, so you can shift your situation and your life, from a more aware, empowered and confident position.
In working with people to better their lives and careers over the past 16 years, I’ve seen that there are 5 core beliefs that keep people stuck in resistance regarding situations they don’t want, rather than moving forward towards change. And sadly, this resistance can sometimes last a lifetime.
These beliefs and ways of thinking are:
#1: We continually tell ourselves, “This is not all that bad. It could be worse.”
I remember when I was in my most unhappy time in corporate life, I would try to hang on and keep soldiering through it by thinking “OK, this is really bad, but it’s not always horrible. There are some good moments and experiences.”
If I’m really honest, I can see that I did that because I didn’t want to leave behind the high salary I was getting, or the convenience of working very close to my home and my young kids. But the price I paid for those benefits was enormous.
When we’re in damaging, painful or unhappy situations, we often cling to the good moments – when it feels healthy, fun, or rewarding. We desperately want everything to work out without our having to make changes, so we hold on too tightly to the times that aren’t awful, praying that the terrible experiences will just pass quickly, or be just an aberration.
And we often stay in bad situations or jobs because we’re deathly afraid that if we left and got another job, that new role or organization might be even worse.
The problem with this thinking is that,
if you tolerate – without addressing – any amount abuse, mistreatment, or misery that makes you feel awful, you open the door for more of it .
No amount of physical, emotional, sexual, or other forms of mistreatment or abuse (or continual pain and misery) should be tolerated in your life. You need to discover the best plan of action to change the situation, and if you can’t do that by yourself, you need outside support.
Another aspect of this is that many people undervalue their mental, emotional and physical health and overvalue everything else, including money, level, and status. In other words, people believe that if they’re making a lot of money, that is more important than their true quality of life and health. But chronic strain, pain and strain will catch up with you.
#2: We think to ourselves: “Why do I have to be the one to change? They’re the ones in the wrong.”
I’ve heard this from thousands of professionals in unhappy or toxic work environments as well as from spouses or others in relationships gone wrong – they feel they’re in the right so they should NOT have to be the one to make any changes because the other party is at fault.
For instance, let’s say you know your boss wants to push you out and hopes to make you quit, but you think, “NO! I’m staying here in this awful job with this toxic manager. I’m not giving him the satisfaction of seeing me leave.”
That behavior begs the question:
Would you rather be right or happy?
The problem with this belief is that when you are experiencing people, events, and behaviors that are wrong for you, you alone are the one who needs to take action, and not wait for others to change.
Most likely, these others won’t change because they have no motivation to do it. You’re the one in pain, so you have the motivation to DO something different.
The measure of joy, satisfaction and reward you can experience in your life will closely match the degree to which you are open to engaging in the brave work to create it.
#3: We believe: “This isn’t fair” and stay stuck because of the injustice of it.
Many folks beat the drum of “This isn’t fair!” No, it probably isn’t. The reality is that life isn’t fair and expecting it to be fair is a waste of precious energy. Life is what we make it and how we handle the challenges we’re faced with. If we wait for fairness to happen to us, we’ll most likely be crushed.
Fairness, respect, equality and being treated in positive, life-affirming ways are experiences we have to co-create by being strong, forthright, integrity-filled, honest, and brave. We have to close all 7 of the damaging power gaps, and speak up courageously for what we believe in and what we think we (and others) deserve. “Fairness” doesn’t just happen – we make it happen with our own actions and mindsets. Or sometimes we have to “find brave” to detach from these unfair systems and extricate ourselves completely from them.
Here are some tips and strategies from my Finding Brave podcast for achieving new ways to speak up for yourself when you think you can’t:
#4: We think – “I can’t believe they did this to me! I don’t deserve this treatment.”
Many people who’ve been mistreated, or who’ve been fired, laid off or feel they’ve been kicked to the curb like garbage, stay stuck in a cycle of disbelief and extreme pain, saying “I can’t believe this – I don’t deserve this.” They take it very personally, as if it’s an affront to who they are deep down, at their core. (I know I did, when I was laid off from my corporate VP role.) They fight against what happened as a way to defend and preserve their sense of worthiness, value and self-esteem.
Most often, however, mistreatment (or situations in which you’ve been let down in a big way) are more about the other person’s issues or the organization’s dysfunction and challenges that you’ve been swept up in. Or there’s a serious lack of communication between you and the other party (including the leadership team) that led you to believe things were going well when they in fact were not.
If you can stop taking it personally, and start understanding more of the full dynamics involved, you’ll most likely see a very different picture — of the full system you were embroiled in, why you were initially attracted to it, and why you need to separate from it now.
#5: We believe: “This will somehow magically get better – they’ll (or it) will change on its own.”
Finally, I see this belief as one that keeps more people stuck in unhappiness and pain than any other.
Most of us don’t ever want to change – we want whatever we have created to work out beautifully and we fail to expect that changes will be necessary.
In fact, we expect things to work out and often put all our eggs in that one basket. Especially when we’ve worked so long and hard to build a particular career or business, and sacrificed a great deal in the process. We’re often shattered when it ends up being the wrong direction.
This is true among small business owners and entrepreneurs today as well, where our economic times have created new and serious challenges to business success that many feel unprepared for and unequipped to deal with.
When this occurs, we’re bewildered, frustrated and highly resistant. We have magical thinking that if we just work harder, or longer, doing more of what we’ve always done, the situation will automatically improve.
But as we’ve seen, improvements don’t tend to happen without some critical shift that paves the way for a new mode of operating or seeing the world. Magic has nothing to do with it. Change comes from seeing our situation with new eyes, not taking it personally, not resisting but learning new information and strategies, then integrating that learning and moving to create a new experience for ourselves. And that often requires getting outside help, because when we need to shift, we often can’t achieve that on our own.
As Einstein has so aptly observed:
“We cannot solve a problem on the level of consciousness that created it.”
Tip: One helpful strategy that will help you face your present reality in a clear way and take the reins to change what you can control (if it’s causing pain and unhappiness), is to ask yourself this question:
If the reality I’m facing now — no matter how difficult — could somehow lead to more positivity, growth, happiness and fulfillment in my life and work– what would I need to do differently right now? What is this situation calling for that I haven’t yet admitted or accepted?
Then, listen to what you hear, and take one tiny, doable step towards a different, better future, even if that step is scary and uncomfortable. And if that process feels overwhelming, don’t forget there is outside help you can ask for – including wonderful mentors and advocates – who can support you through the tough times, and help you move successfully through them. The first step is to make that ask.
What beliefs have kept you stuck in a situation that you know now you have to change?
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For more from Kathy Caprino, visit her career growth programs, her podcast Finding Brave and TEDx talk “Time to Brave Up.” Also, to address and close the power gaps you may have today, check out Kathy’s book The Most Powerful You (now in paperback) and her training course The Most Powerful You.
For a helpful 5-minute summary of Kathy’s book The Most Powerful You (and other top books on a wide range of topics) along with quick tips and strategies to move you forward fast, check out the Uptime app today