Overcoming Insecurity

insecurity

They come into my 6th grade accelerated math class with confidence,  believing that they are smart and capable. Few of them have ever experienced struggle in math and so, because of the nature of my course and my teaching philosophy, when they first encounter a concept that is not readily apparent, they panic.

Because in their minds, it’s not simply a matter of not understanding this one type of math problem, it’s a potential threat to their very self-image.

And as we progress through the first few weeks of school, that earlier confidence is often replaced with a growing sense of insecurity. 

 

You’re never insecure unless you have something good that you want to hold onto. 

 

In the aftermath of my divorce, I had a strange sense of nonchalant assurance. It was strange because my confidence, in both myself and my future, were at an all-time low. Yet, perhaps because I both had nothing else to lose and couldn’t summon the energy needed to be anxious about small things, I was gifted a respite from normal insecurities.

The more you have, the more you can lose.

 

For months, I lived almost without fear. Without inhibition. Without insecurity. I adopted a “whatever” attitude when it came to love or money or any of those other things we so desperately attach ourselves to. The chasm between what I wanted and what I had was so great that I couldn’t imagine ever crossing it.

 

When we desire something, we focus more on the pursuit of it than the lack of it. We may even reach a sort of truce, a tacit acceptance of its absence. 

 

And then ever-so-slowly and without intention, I started to fall for someone who was supposed to only be passing through my life. And suddenly, I had something to lose.

And as science has found, we have evolved to fear loss almost more than anything else.

______

 

We all have times when we’re feeling anxious or uncertain. You may feel confident and adept in one area of your life and insecure about another. You may find that your doubt-whispering inner voice is triggered by certain situations and that your anxious brain, once activated, spirals into endless questions and worries.

 

At its core, insecurity indicates that we lack belief in ourselves.

 

Insecurity, although common, is not a healthy state to occupy for long. When we’re operating from a place of fear, we’re likely to make poor decisions and contaminate others with our own worries. When we express excessive doubts and try to grasp on too tightly, we have a tendency to push others away. And that’s not even counting the horrible way that insecurity makes you feel.

 

Understanding Insecurity

 

Signs of Insecurity

Not everyone responds to insecurity in the same way. Some people express it openly. Others try to stuff it down with their favorite junk foods. Or build big muscles in an attempt to hide their self-doubts. Insecurity can be found in the agoraphobe afraid to leave the house and in the high-powered executive who secretly feels like a fraud.

Even though the outward signs differ, there are certain internal signals that you can attune to in order to recognize when you’re feeling insecure –

 

Overreacting  

If you find that you are consistently having strong emotional reactions that are out of line with the situation at hand, you may be experiencing a period where you are questioning yourself. These self-doubts mean that you can easily misinterpret or catastrophize normal exchanges.

 

Compulsive Questioning 

Insecurity seeks certainty. And so it keeps asking questions in an attempt to either confirm or deny the fears. And no matter how many reassurances are uttered, it’s never enough. Sometimes these questions arise within our minds and our never vocalized. Rather, they are bounced around within our own echo chambers. These unasked questions are often even worse than the ones we speak because we have nobody to call us out on any irrational thoughts.

 

Restlessness

When you’re feeling insecure, you’re not comfortable in your own skin. This can lead to a feeling of being on edge or even irritable. This can manifest as a sense of wanting things to be different, feeling like you’re waiting for something to happen or even in an increased difficulty in sleeping.

 

Excessive Social Media Use

Whether you’re making comparisons with others or obsessively checking how many “likes” your recent post received, an increase in social media usage suggests that you may be having a crisis of confidence. Pay special attention to how your time spent on social media makes you feel. If it’s constantly making you feel “less than” and yet you’re continuing to return to source, your insecurity has become a problem.

 

Attention or Validation Seeking

Insecurity wants other people to tell you that you’re okay. It seeks an external stamp of approval to quiet the internal voices that question if you’re enough. If you notice that you’re increasingly looking for others to pay attention to you or express their approval, it’s a sign that your trust in yourself is lacking.

 

Causes of Insecurity

There is not a single, universal cause of insecurity. For some, it is a constant underlying buzz, always present and rooted in beliefs formed in childhood. Others experience it more on a situational basis, with a corresponding ebb and flow in intensity. By pinpointing some of the precursors to your own insecurities, you can begin to view them as a reaction rather than a core part of who you are.

 

Fear of Loss

This is probably the most common underlying source of insecurity. Maybe, like my incoming 6th graders, you fear losing the labels that you identify with. Or maybe you are concerned about losing status. Or wealth. Perhaps you are afraid that if you say the wrong thing or act the wrong way, that you will lose somebody that is valuable to you. Insecurity occurs when you have something but you fear that your grasp is not strong enough and that it will slip right through your reaching fingers.

 

Periods of Transition

Whenever we are in a state of flux, changing from one state or role into another, we often feel a sense of inadequacy due to underdeveloped skills and unmastered knowledge and a fear of the unknowns inherent in change. This can lead to a sense of being an imposter (even once the learning curve has leveled) or avoiding transitional periods whenever possible.

 

Times of Uncertainty

Some people handle a state of limbo better than others. For those prone to anxiety, periods of time that have an abundance of unknowns can give rise to insecurity. It’s not uncommon to fret over every decision, turning the perceived pros and cons over and again until your mind is spinning. This lack of trust in your abilities to make a solid choice can lead to decision paralysis or an acquired helplessness if decisions are always relegated to others.

 

Concern of Not Being Enough

This cause may begin in childhood, with an absent or hard-to-please parent giving the impression that you’re not good enough for them. This sense of insecurity may be generalized or may be tied to a particular skill or trait that your parent held in particular esteem. In adulthood, this sense of not being enough can develop after (or in anticipation of) rejection or abandonment.

 

Inadequate Communication

Our brains despise a vacuum. So when you’re in a situation where you receive inadequate feedback or information, that void can trigger a sense of insecurity as you begin to ponder the worst. One of the problems with this type of insecurity is that it is difficult to tell what may be your intuition cluing you in that something is amiss and what is simply your brain telling you scary fiction.

 

Gaslighting or Emotional Abuse

This is the most malevolent insecurity, as it is intentionally cultivated by somebody else in an attempt to manipulate or control you. This sort of covert abuse is challenging to recognize and overwhelming in its intensity. If you’re starting to doubt yourself and your perceptions ay every turn and you cannot pinpoint a reason, you may want to examine your relationships for signs of control.

 

Overcoming Insecurity

 

What NOT to Do to Overcome Insecurity

Insecurity is an awful feeling. It’s a restlessness, an agitation that precludes feelings of peace. It often causes us to act in unhealthy or ineffective ways as we search for external fixes for our internal plight. The following are some of the common methods attempted to eradicate insecurity that are ineffective at best and maybe even harmful.

 

Pretending to Be Someone You’re Not

There is definitely something to the adage, “Fake it until you make it” when you’re navigating a new situation or challenge. But some take this too far and assume an entirely new persona in an attempt to please others or fill a perceived role. This will ultimately only compound your problems as you begin to feel like you will only be accepted if you hide your true self.

 

Assigning Responsibility to Others

I see this response so often in my female students. When they’re feeling insecure about their looks (just like every other preteen and teenage girl on the planet), they often turn to social media in a search for validation and approval. With every “like,” their spirits soar. And then just one cruel or harsh comment can undo every positive reaction. And in a strange way, the negative comments ring more “true” because they echo the self-doubts that are already within. And there’s another problem with fishing for compliments – at some level, you always know that you’re baiting the hook.

 

Baidaiding

I’ve noticed that when I’m feeling insecure, I develop an urge to purchase new clothes or makeup. This is a type of bandaiding, covering the discomfort with a temporary covering in an attempt to make me feel more confident. I’ve also noticed that this reaction often backfires, not only offering a short period of relief, but also creating feelings of regret.

 

Fixation

This reaction is often seen in those struggling to avoid their ex’s social media. Their own insecurities are manifested in an obsessive focus on their ex and/or their ex’s new partner. It’s both a distraction from the insecurity and a source of fuel that feeds the insecurity. Like with bandaiding, it may feel good in the moment, but often leaves you feeling worse after.

Immediately Discounting the Feeling

Some people have trouble admitting to feeling insecure as it is seen as “weak” or vulnerable. When insecurity is immediately brushed aside without consideration, it leaves no room to understand and address the actual causes of the doubt. In the worst cases, the insecurity is hidden behind a steamrolling force of false bravado, the ego leaving little room for compassion.

 

Attempting to Control

It makes sense, doesn’t it? If we’re worried about losing something, we have a tendency to grasp on even stronger. As though we can prevent loss through sheer determination and force of will. For some people, insecurity manifests in an attempt to orchestrate everything around them. To make it “just so” so that they can maintain the illusion that control can replace trust.

 

What TO Do to Overcome Insecurity

Insecurity can become overwhelming. Your fear of taking the wrong step preventing you from moving forward at all. Your endless comparisons leading you to believe that you’ll never measure up. Your hesitation at facing the truth keeping you blinded.

Insecurity feels all-powerful. Yet you’re really the one at the helm. Here’s how you can learn to overcome your insecurity:

 

Accept That Certainty Is an Illusion

Consider for a moment the antonyms of insecurity – safety, protection, invulnerability, and certainty. Those are all states that we strive for. We yearn for that ultimate sense of security that the lucky among us experienced periodically as a child. And the reality is that even that occasional sense of ultimate stability was only because we were too young to understand how easily it could be threatened.

A state of insecurity is inevitable. No foundation is immune to cracks. No rug is completely slip-resistant. And change and loss are guaranteed. When you’re feeling insecure, it’s because you’re fighting against the natural and the inevitable.

There’s a sort of confidence that can come from accepting this impermanence. From stopping the illusion that if you just work hard enough, hold on tightly enough, or control everything enough, that you can keep things as they are.

 

Detach From the Outcome

When I first started dating again, one of the many fears that held me back was the concern that the relationship would end, like my marriage, with some sort of abandonment or betrayal. I led with that fear, feeling insecure in my ability to maintain a relationship with somebody who wouldn’t behave badly.

During one particularly difficult evening, I pulled out my journal and made two columns – things I can control and things I cannot control. Under the first list, I added items like choosing a partner, learning to handle my triggers and not tolerating abusive behavior. Betrayal and abandonment went in the second column. No wonder I was feeling insecure; I was trying to control the outcome when I could only influence the process.

No matter what you do or who you are, it will not be enough for some people. And as long as you have acted within your values, done your best to be kind and put forth your highest effort, they’re opinions don’t matter.

 

Strive to Get Out of Your Head

When you’re in an echo chamber, you risk only hearing your own critical thoughts bouncing back at you. It’s amazing how our minds can take one little fact (They didn’t text back immediately.) and spin it into an entire narrative (I bet they’re falling out love and they are currently flirting with someone that they met at lunch. I won’t go through that again. I wonder if I’ll be able to get out of the lease…).

And like with anything, the more you allow your mind to travel that path, the more of a habit it will become.

Take a break from your own thoughts. Surround yourself – and listen – to others. Even, perhaps especially, those you disagree with. Get moving, when your body is moving forward, your brain naturally tags along. Strive to enter a flow state through art or sport or work, where time ceases to exist and the activity has become all-consuming.

 

Recognize That Insecurity Is Often Fleeting and Cyclical

I’ve just wrapped my seventeenth year teaching. And I’m still insecure at the beginning of every school year. I doubt my abilities to form relationships with the kids, I worry that they will be unable to master the material and I question my own capacity with the mathematics. I still feel insecure, but it no longer bothers me. I trust that it will build through the first week of school and then begin to dissipate as I again find my stride.

And this is often how insecurity operates. It swells and recedes, according to the calendar or some other external rhythm. This sort or periodic insecurity doesn’t require much intervention. Just an acknowledgement (Oh, I’m feeling insecure again.) and faith that it will only be temporary.

 

Set and Accomplish Meaningful Goals

When everybody gets a trophy, every trophy becomes meaningless. It is much the same with our personal goals. When you set (and even reach) a low bar, you fail to build any confidence in yourself. In fact, you may even find that you outright dismiss your achievements because you know that they don’t really represent a challenge.

Insecurity begs us to set these safe goals, to stay in a place of guaranteed success. Yet staying there only feeds the self-doubt. Instead, try something new. Something scary. Something difficult.

Yes, you may fail (And so what if you do?). But you also might surprise yourself. And that trophy certainly has meaning.

 

Separate Mistakes From Your Character

When you’re feeling insecure, mistakes become very threatening. An error in judgment or a misstep can easily be interpreted as a defect in character, thus both confirming and inflating your feelings of unworthiness. When you’re operating from this place of low esteem, it’s easy to see others as flawless and fear that you are somehow irrecoverably broken.

Of course, neither is true. And your mistakes are a sign that you are learning and trying, which is an indication that you’re brave and persistent. Both excellent qualities to have.

 

_____

The end of the first nine weeks is often a crisis point in my 6th grade accelerated math class. The kids are insecure, questioning their abilities no matter how many times I reassure them that struggle is normal and no matter how much they see the kids around them falter as all. Some give in to this feeling and drop out, preferring to move to class where they are again assured of their top standing. 

But most tough it out. And even as they question their ability to master the math, they keep trying. When they receive a poor grade, they no longer see that number as a reflection of themselves. They begin to accept that struggle is not only inevitable, but often desirable. Instead of turning away from challenge, they embrace it.

They become willing to take risks, trusting that they will find their way through. Mistakes become normalized and simply part of the process. They slowly start to again see themselves as smart. As capable.

But this time, those beliefs are not so easily threatened because they have been constructed to withstand the inevitable tremors and obstacles that will come their way.

And ultimately that’s how to overcome insecurity – Not by believing that your foundation is solid, but by trusting that your footing is capable and malleable. That even when things change, you’ll be able to adapt and thrive.

 

 

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Love, But Not “In Love”

in love

“I love you, but I’m not ‘in love’ with you.”

 

This sentence, although common, is one of the more bewildering and unsettling statements to both utter and to receive. It both speaks to both caring and to a pulling away. It professes concern while confessing a lack of desire. Those little words are an admission that the deliverer wants what is best for the other person, but no longer wants the other person.

For the speaker, this declaration may come from months or years of feeling that something is missing, even as the exact nature of what is lacking remains elusive. To the listener, the words can prompt a sense of helpless falling, tumbling upon the rocks into the deep and dark pool below.

Sometimes this feeling of loving without being “in love” comes at the crucial point where a relationship is transitioning from the early hormone and excitement fueled lust and attraction into a more mature and steady love. When the expectations that the early rush will persist forever come crashing against the reality of settling into the comfort of the known, the lack of intensity can be interpreted as a lack of desire.

Yet other times, this feeling comes on more slowly and after the relationship has successfully navigated the passage into a more stable and long-term relationship. Often it slides in unnoticed, until one day a realization is reached that the passion, the wanting, is gone.  When you look at your spouse and you see a good parent, a good provider, a good friend. You feel safe with them. Perhaps too safe. The unknown is gone. The danger is gone. The hunger is gone.

 

We cannot have desire without uncertainty.

 

When we first begin seeing someone new, there is no doubt that they are “other.” They smell different, feel different and we cannot predict what they will say or do next. The unknown is a bit scary (after all, we don’t know where this will lead), but it is also exciting. A road trip without a map provides plenty of adventures.

That taste of fear is titillating. It feeds into our base desires and interrupts our more rationalized and carefully metered thoughts and reactions. But most of us struggle to stay in that space for long. After all, it’s not comfortable to stay with uncertainty for long and so we tend towards the reassurance of consistency and predictability.

But there’s a dark side with becoming too familiar. When we lose that sense of our spouse as “other” and instead fully assimilate them into a shared “we,” our aversion to feeling desire for those we perceive as family begins to kick in. We often believe that a lack of passion for a partner comes first and then we begin to see them more as a friend or even sibling. However, frequently the shift in perceived role comes first and the lack of desire follows naturally after.

 

 

Falling in love again requires letting go.

 

Love, but not “in love” is not necessarily a death sentence for a marriage. The passion and excitement can be cultivated and nurtured and desire can be brought back from its resting place, no matter if you’re the one saying those words or the one hearing them for the first time.

 

Remember Why You Care

Recount the origin story of your relationship. What drew you to your partner? Remember the shared history and revisit the times when you felt the greatest connection or the most overwhelming desire.

 

Be Selfish

Go after what you want. Don’t be afraid to seek pleasure and enjoy it wholeheartedly when you find it. The confidence that you show when you know what you want and you go after is an aphrodisiac. Do what makes you feel desirable. Replace restraint with hunger.

 

Partake in Adventures

Try new things, both with your partner and by yourself. Break out of the mold that you have placed yourself within. Try something new. Change your mind. Allow this rush of adrenaline and dopamine to wash over your partner and your marriage.

 

See Your Spouse Through New Eyes

Try to view your partner as a new acquaintance would. Ask questions as though you don’t know the answers (perhaps you may be surprised). See their role as parent or caretaker or provider as part of them, but not all of them. Refrain from being critical and try being curious.

 

Embrace Uncertainty and Vulnerability

Speak up. Take risks. Be uncomfortable. Allow the thought that your partner may behave in ways you cannot predict. And accept that you may have thoughts and desires that you have shoved into submission. Replace “what now” with “what if” and throw out those tired and worn stories you’re telling yourself.

 

Let Go of Control (You Never Had it Anyway)

Take a step back. When you’re holding on too tightly, you don’t give the other person an opportunity to breathe. Accept that you cannot dictate the future and you cannot force attraction.

 

At the end of the day, we all want to be wanted. We want the feeling of being desired and accepted. We all want to be loved and we want to know that we are loved. And the first step to welcoming that love into your life is allowing that you cannot control it.

 

We push people away because we are afraid of letting them in and being hurt when they leave.

We grasp on to people that are not good for us because we are afraid of being alone and someone is better than no one.

Pushing and pulling are fear, not love.

Love is holding.

Loosely enough so that each person has the freedom to grow and change.

And firmly enough so that each person knows they are supported.

It is trusting the other person enough that they want to stay even if they have the ability to leave.

And trusting yourself that you will be okay if they do.

Walking the Narrow Line Between Seeking to Understand and Making Excuses

The Netflix series Mindhunters takes a fascinating look at the early days of the FBI’s research into profiling serial killers. At that time, the overall viewpoint of the bureau was to expend all of their resources on catching these killers after they had committed their crimes. Once they were apprehended and restrained, they were to be ignored, dismissed as aberrations.

Yet the investigators at the heart of this series had a different perspective. Instead of waiting until multiple murders had been committed, they wondered if, by interviewing convicted serial killers and analyzing data, they could instead gain some insight into the conditions that lead people to become monsters.

The powers-that-be were horrified. Why would any attention be paid towards these men? Why would any empathy (even feigned in attempt to gain trust) be extended?

Yet, often behind the brass’s backs, in dark and desolate barred rooms, these men-turned-monsters revealed their stories to the investigators. Watching these scenes unfold, I was filled with alternating revulsion as they described their crimes (and the motivations behind their actions) and compassion as their own abuse and trauma was revealed.

What they did was horrific. And in most cases, what they had endured was horrific. The latter certainly doesn’t excuse the former. Yet it does help to provide some understanding, some context, of how those men could do those things. And that understanding can help to both provide some healing for those impacted and also recognize and sometimes intervene when someone seems to be following a similar pathway.

We all have a tendency to ascribe our failures to external (and often malleable) causes and assign other’s shortcomings to their own internal character flaws. In fact, this propensity is so common, it has even been assigned a name: the fundamental attribution error. In normal life, this can be seen by a student justifying their failing grade by blaming the pencil that kept breaking or because they believe the teacher has it out for them. While at the same time, they may attribute their friend’s poor grade to their lack of preparation and inherent laziness.

(Interestingly, this trends the opposite way with positive outcomes – while you chalk your promotion up to your abilities and performance, your coworker’s promotion may be described as “lucky.”)

Of course, the reality is somewhere in between. We are all a product of our internal selves and our external environment. We are both nature and nurture. Our own actions are born both from within our character and from what we face in the world beyond. And the same is true for those around us, even those that behave in incomprehensible and reprehensible ways.

In our long weeks of convalescence at our home, we have been devouring the Marvel universe shows on Netflix (Daredevil and the like). I’m not always a fan of comic-based entertainment; much of it feels too simplistic and filled with one-dimensional characters. Yet these series are different. The heroes have their demons and the villains have their virtues. No one is all-good or all-bad, just variations on shading between.

And the longer I’ve lived and the more honest I’ve been with myself, I think that’s generally the way things are. And I believe that we can make ourselves better by accepting the responsibility for our own choices and we can make the world better by striving to understand why others make the decisions they do. Not in an effort to excuse them from the consequences, but in an attempt to see the connections and possibly be able to recognize trouble before it becomes destruction.

And this is where I am now when it comes to those that have affairs.

It certainly hasn’t always been this way. When I first learned of my ex’s betrayals, I was livid. Enraged. I blamed him for putting me in that mess and all of my energy was directed towards that end. His pitiful excuses made for his behavior (I can just hear his voice whining to the police, “But I just wanted to be happy.”) only served to feed my ire. After all, he had acted without concern for me. Why should I have any concern for him?

This anger filled me for years. By extension, it carried over to anyone that admitted to ever stepping out on their relationships. Just as foretold by the fundamental attribution error, I ascribed all of their actions to the cold calculations of a malignant soul.

All that anger never altered what he had done. All that condemnation never altered the actions of any cheaters I encountered. All that blame never made me feel any better.

And then, ever so slowly, as my personal pain began to fade, I began to listen.

Not only to those who had experienced betrayal. But also to those who had perpetrated it upon their partners.

I found that some of my anger had been replaced by curiosity – Why are some people compelled to cheat? How do they rationalize the pain that this causes their partners? Are they running towards attention or running away from pain? How do they view their marriages, their spouses? Do they feel guilt or regret? Would they make the same choices again? (If you haven’t read or listened to Esther Perel, she has amazing insights into infidelity. Highly recommend!)

And often their explanations rang flat, mere excuses for selfish behavior. Yet, I also uncovered important information about the pressures we put on marriage, the isolation of mental illness, the anxiety around conflict and the fear of being alone.

And it is only by listening that we can begin to gain some understanding.

Not to excuse. (No matter the reasons, cheating is both a selfish act and a coward’s way out.)

But to gain perspective and insight. (Even in those cases when we can never grasp the why or the how behind the actions.)

So that hopefully we can recognize it before it’s too late and maybe even stop it from occurring in the first place.

Five Signs That You May Be in Denial

If I had been able to be honest with myself during my first marriage, I would have known that something was wrong.

But I wasn’t honest with myself. Instead, I was doing the adult equivalent of the child hiding under the covers when a strange noise reverberates throughout the house. Part of my brain was acting in an attempt to protect me; keeping me blinded from the truth and providing me with the illusion of security.

At the time (and even in the months following the brutal discovery of what was happening beyond my closed eyes), I wasn’t able to tell that I was in denial. When asked, I would describe in detail the extreme efforts that my ex undertook to keep the truth hidden from me. But I would stubbornly refuse to acknowledge the efforts I went to in order to keep the truth from myself.

Looking back, these are the five signs that suggested that I was in denial:

 

1 – I Made Excuses

I attributed my stress to work. I brushed off my then-husband’s strange comment to his health-related tension. I excused the rejected debit card as a miscommunication with the bank. There was always a reason for everything, and that reason never had anything to do with my husband embezzling marital funds or seeking another wife.

When excuses, for yourself or others, become the knee-jerk reaction, it’s a sign that you may be ignoring something important. Pay attention to your pardons. If they are frequent, especially with regards to a certain person or situation, it would be wise to consider looking deeper.

 

2 – My Reactions Were Over-the-Top

When my husband would call and announce that he would be home late from work, I would have to fight back my initial strong response. When he made a minor – and admitted or visible – mistake, I would find myself becoming irrationally upset. And that’s because I wasn’t responding to the situation at hand; I was reacting to what I was not allowing myself to see.

Pay attention to your reactions. If they are consistently rating a 10 in response to a level 2 or 3 offense, your emotions may be due to something else entirely. Take a moment and explore what is really upsetting you.

 

3 – Certain Thoughts or Topics Were Off Limits

We never talked about what would happen if our relationship didn’t go the distance. We never discussed infidelity or the temptations that all people can encounter. I never allowed my thoughts to wander in the direction of my husband being anything but loving towards me.

When certain topics are in the no-go zone (either between you or even within your own mind), it is an indication that you may be intentionally refusing to explore what is hidden there. Those darkened spaces become the closet where the monstrous secrets can hide until they grow too big to contain.

 

4 – I Had an Underlying Current of Anxiety

It was electric, a strange buzz that radiated through my entire body. It came on slowly, so it was difficult to say for certain that it hadn’t always been there. It reminded me of the spidey sense I get as a teacher before a fight breaks out – it’s a physical awareness of emotional energy.

Even when our brains are stubbornly refusing to acknowledge something, our bodies are often clued-in. Pay attention to your physical symptoms – elevated heart rate or blood pressure, stomach issues or frequent illness. Your body may be trying to tell you something.

 

5 – There Was a Disconnect Between Observations and Conclusions

I believed that my husband was a good man. Kind. Caring. And hard-working. Yet there were times that his actions didn’t support those presumptions. So I simply brushed those times aside.

This is confirmation bias at its worst – we make conclusions and then proceed to seek out evidence that supports it and reject any information to the contrary. This is a cognitive distortion that we are all subject to, yet awareness of it goes a long way in limiting its reach. Don’t allow your conclusions to be so entrenched that you ignore any further observations.

 

Denial seems like it’s a comfortable place. After all, the child hiding beneath the covers convinces himself that there is safety to be found on the bed. At the same time, he is held prisoner beneath the sheets, convincing himself that to step out from the covers would be dangerous even as he constantly worries about what lurks outside.

Instead, if the child throws back the sheets and summons the courage to investigate the strange noise, the worry dissipates as he either discovers that the threat is imagined or he learns the true nature of the danger.

Denial comes a great cost. It provides you with some temporary security and asks for your constant fear in return. Trust that you can face whatever scares you and you will find that your fear fades away.

 

You Don’t Need to Understand To Be Able to Move On

“I just don’t understand how he could do that to his wife and kids…”

“Her words and actions are so cold. I just don’t get it…”

“How can someone have so little regard for others?”

 

I’ve been seeing questions like this with ever-increasing frequency, their authors pleading for answers. For some sort of sudden and maybe-even-magical insight that brings clarity to the situation.

It’s natural that we want to understand. From the time we were first learning which sounds out of our mother’s mouth meant that we were being attended to, we have placed an inordinate amount of importance on understanding the world around us. And when the words and actions originate from our chosen life-partner, finding understanding becomes a given, an assumption.

Until suddenly it isn’t.

When one day, that person that you thought you knew so well suddenly seems to act out of character and without consideration for others. The shock reverberates through your body as you stumble through your memories, trying to make sense of this new information. You’re disoriented. Confused.

And consumed with an overwhelming need to understand both why and how this is happening.

 

Searching for the “lightbulb” moment…

As a teacher, I live for the “lightbulb” moments, those times when the math that was a struggle suddenly becomes clear and comprehensible to a student. Those moments are magical, where confusion and frustration are instantly transformed into mastery and appreciation.

When my first husband disappeared, I expected, that with enough effort and practice, I would experience my own “lightbulb” moment, where my shock and bewilderment would be replaced with understanding and I would be able to see and comprehend how he could have made the choices he did.

I believed that reaching this understanding was crucial for me to move on, much like my students have to demonstrate mastery in order to advance to the next level. I expected this understanding to place the event within a larger context, to provide meaning for the pain and motivation for the cause of it.

But no matter how hard I tried, understanding remained elusive. I knew much of the “what,” but little of the “why,” much like a student that simply memories material for the exam without fully comprehending any of it. I finally reached two realizations:

1 – I was attempting to apply rational thought to irrational actions. I simply wouldn’t be able to understand because there wasn’t a logical motivation or explanation for what had occurred. It is simply not possible to make sense of the senseless.

2 – Part of my struggle to understand originated from the fact that I couldn’t fathom, no matter the circumstances, making the same decisions he did. My brain couldn’t go there, even as a purely cognitive exercise. You cannot understand what you cannot even imagine and sometimes an inability to comprehend is a reflection of your character.

 

 

There is the person and there is the perspective…

“Who was I married to?” I questioned myself endlessly after his double life was revealed. I felt violated, like I had been assaulted by this stranger masquerading as a loving husband. I wondered if he had always been this way or if he had undergone some dark metamorphosis. I turned the options over and over again in my mind until the edges of him grew soft like a stone polished in a tumbler.

I simply couldn’t reconcile the view I had of him with the person he now appeared to be. And without a doubt, he held much of the responsibility for that disconnect. He deliberately and consistently hid behind the persona he had constructed for himself.

But I also had manufactured an image of him and allowed cognitive bias to filter out information that didn’t match my viewpoint. Part of my drive for understanding arose from the dissonance between my construct of him and the reality that had burst through the projection. Yet what was needed was less comprehension and more assimilation between the person and the outside perspective.

Strangely, it became more about understanding my motivations and choices than about wrapping my brain around his. After all, your own mind is the only one that you can observe from within. You may as well take the time to get to know it.

 

Assimilating the new information into your story…

It felt like walking into the movie theater as the film reached its climactic scene. I saw the explosions, felt the vibrations of the aftermath, but had no knowledge of what had advanced the story to that point. Even worse, I thought I had signed up for a romance flick only to discover that it was actually a crime drama.

At first, my energy went into trying to piece together the parts of the narrative that I had missed. What caused the conflict? What incited the destruction? The action without the background felt meaningless, a sucker punch out of nowhere.

Part of the need for understanding was driven by a desire to have the story make sense, to have defined antecedents for each behavior and to have clear consequences for every wrongdoing. I wanted the “bad guy” to pay and the “good guy” to come out ahead.

Eventually, I realized that my ex was a particularly crappy script writer, since he elected to leave his character’s motivations unclear. I decided to take the matter into my own hands and, picking up where he left off, create meaning from the wreckage. I may not be able to reach an understanding about his choices, but I could make sure that my decisions were guided by a larger purpose.

I never found understanding, I created understanding. You cannot change what happens to you, but you can always adjust your view of it. You may never be able to assemble all of the pieces of your past, but that doesn’t stop you from building your future.