Drifting through life – How to stop?

drifting

Drifting in the arctic

There are things in all of us that we need to face up to. Perhaps it is a relationship going sour, a health problem, or a business decision. When we find ourselves drifting, some crisis is likely to then occur. Better to prevent difficulties getting out of hand than allow circumstances no longer under our control to push us into a corner.

Drifting as a Pre-disposition

The problem is worse if we are the kind of person who isn’t used to taking the initiative – for whom drifting seems to be an inbuilt disposition. This might show in conversation: “I’m sure you’re right.” “I’ll leave that up to you.” Those of us who are a bit timid find others taking advantage of our ‘better nature’. One sign of this is if we were to feel fed up with the way others take advantage of us or feel quietly resentful when sidelined, or put on. We can be much too passive for our own good.

The freedom to change

The good news is it is possible to become more assertive and proactive. This is because of our inner freedom to change. One might object that this question of free-will is a bit controversial. Our social, legal, financial and physical circumstances affect the opportunities around us for what we can do. And our personal histories and temperament will also affect our sense of possibilities.

But despite this we do have personal choices. No one is forced into drifting through life. We can make up our own minds about things including whether to believe that we are free to make up our own minds! If inner freedom applies to small matters like whether to read this article, date that person, or take on that stray cat as a pet, then surely it also applies to more important issues such as which political party to vote for or which things to value in life.

If you doubt the freedom of personal choice, just consider these questions. Do you not feel you can adopt whatever attitude you please? Can you not change how you live your life? Don’t you feel responsible for how you react to events?

Actually many people do recognize that being human, we have many private choices in life; whether to continue drifting along with the crowd or to do our own thing; whether to adopt worldly or spiritual values. We may make decisions using so-called `enlightened self-interest’ or alternatively ethical ideas like what is fair or sincere. The outer determinants of behaviour do not prevent inner freedom of choice. Although our choices may sometimes need to remain hidden until outward circumstances change, inwardly we are in a state of balance between for example optimism and pessimism or honesty and self-deception, Which we turn to is our own choice.

One’s readiness to accept responsibility.

With private freedom comes a sense of personal responsibility. Sadly, not all of us face up to this. Easier to stay drifting along as if there were no deeper challenges to waken us up out of complacency. Often and in various ways we may slide into letting life around us govern how we think and behave – in a way that enables us to blame ‘it’ if ever we feel criticised. So it tends to be “someone else’s fault – not mine!”

Not surprisingly, psychological therapists generally accept that if clients persist in blaming some other person or thing for their problems of living, then no real therapy is possible. A therapist may ask such an individual whose partner keeps running him or her down or using violence “Why not do something about it like insisting on a trial separation to bring the other person to their senses.” In not accepting the responsibility for the way they live their lives, they cannot start to take hold of their own self and destiny.

And in my experience if I asked clients about the aspects of therapy that they found particularly useful, they often cite the discovery and assumption of personal responsibility.

However, readiness to accept responsibility varies considerably. For some individuals it is extraordinarily difficult and this issue is the main task of psychotherapy. Once they assume responsibility they give healing a chance, and therapeutic change almost happens automatically without much further effort for the therapist.

Most of us are facing life’s problems without professional help. But also here an act of will freely made is required. When we better understand the problems we are causing ourselves and our families, we may then either do nothing about it and carry on drifting along in our old habits or we may actually then resolve to change for example, our addiction to work, our avoidance of some personal issue or our emotional dependence on some particular person etc. We need to make a decision to take hold of our life rather than drift on as before.

Courage for change

Taking the bull by the horns seems scary at first. After all it is easy to imagine the bull may turn round and gore us to death. But if we take courage we find that it is not so dangerous as we thought. We may have had no suspicion that there was any courage within us to be found. Yet my experience with many anxious clients shows that courage arises within when they started to take responsibility for their own development; rather than drifting along and passively allowing themselves to be complacently swayed this way and that by the events of their lives.

A longer version of this article

Copyright 2013 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of  Heart, Head & Hands  Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems

Childhood — How do I tackle unhappy memories?

childhood

Even living as independent adults in their forties, people can still be haunted by their experience of being mistreated as a child. Such individuals also tend to have recurring negative moods and worry, and long-lasting problems like poor self-esteem, or low self-confidence. From my experience of over thirty years as a clinical psychologist, I can say that an unhappy childhood is usually one of the main causes.

Whether therapy for an unhappy childhood is necessary

It is probably unhelpful to dwell on very bad memories and re-open deep wounds without a good therapist. However, not everybody with an unhappy childhood needs help. If you have not suffered serious abuse, it may not be necessary. There is much you can do to help yourself start to turn your life round. Partly, this will involve reflecting on how you respond to life’s challenges now. But also, it will involve reconsidering your past, through adult eyes, to gain a more mature perspective on yourself as a child and on your parents at that time.

Clinging to childhood wounds

It can be surprising for adults to learn how their behaviour is so unconsciously influenced by the ‘hurt resentful child’ still in their heads. If we cling to childhood wounds, they can distort our current relationships, produce  emotional blocks and lead us to make inappropriate responses.

For example, one’s response to authority figures, as an adult, can be governed by the kind of thoughts and feelings one had as a ten-year old child facing a punitive parent. As an adult it may mean difficulty tolerating any form of criticism or direction at work. It is as if the supervisor were like one’s parent who was punishing or dominating.

If the response to an over-critical parent has been ‘You blame me for everything’, then one is likely to be ready to feel blamed for mishaps and errors at work.

If the response to an over-controlling parent has been ‘If it weren’t for you I could have …’, then one is likely to feel prevented from gaining a bonus or promotion.

Looking at one’s childhood through adult eyes

The adult mind can understand things in a more mature way than can a child. For life isn’t as black and white as it is to the youngster who doesn’t appreciate the effects of stress and responsibility on parents’ behaviour. The child has only a dim knowledge about the real dangers lurking in the outside world that parents seek to protect him or her from. As a child you probably will not appreciate the time constraints on busy people preventing them attending to all what you want.

Your feelings may be based on an accurate perception. On the other hand whilst your parents mistreatment of you should not be dismissed as insignificant, have you missed any good qualities in them? You might see anger in your parents as dislike and intolerance of you. Could it at least in part have been due to a concern for your knowing right from wrong as they saw it. Or if you thought of a parent as stubborn or dogmatic could you now see his or her views as having conviction and strength?

Looking for positive aspects of one’s childhood

For some people it is relatively easy to recall a pleasant experience with a parent. For others, however the process is a bit more difficult. And for some it feels impossible. Without an effort to look at the positives as well as the negatives, you can get yourself into a negative mood and miss out on any sense of appreciation for your parents positive qualities and fail to recall the good times.

 I believe that to dilute some of that sense of hurt from past mistreatment, one has to take another look at the whole picture of one’s childhood through the eyes of love and compassion. Don’t just consider parent’s bad points but ask yourself about any acts of kindness you can remember. What were their strengths as well as their weaknesses? Can you recall any words of good sense they passed on. Have you acted on their useful advice?

Parents’ criticism of us and attempts at directing us when we were teenagers, may have been unappreciated at the time but could have derived from concern and hopes for our future well-being. A parent giving more time and energy to someone else, with their own unique needs, doesn’t necessarily mean she or he didn’t love you as much.

When we take a holiday flight, the plane flies above the clouds where all is gloom, into the bright sunshine. Likewise, if we try to raise our minds above any exaggerated negativity we can find positive ideas that illuminate the past and provide a more balanced view not just of our parents but of people we now meet in our everyday lives.

Spirit of loving kindness

Many people have come to realise that looking for the good in other people has opened them to receiving a spirit of loving kindness rather than mistrust and wise discernment rather than uncertainty. I strongly feel that being able to see people for what they really are – their good points as well as any bad ones — does actually reduce the intensity and frequency of negative moods and cynicism. The improvement in communication and quality of relationship that ensues, can improve one’s self-confidence and increase one’s sense of self-worth.

But how can we hope to do this if we are carrying around bitterness and disrespect for the parents who had some unappreciated good as well as bad qualities?

Copyright 2012 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of Heart, Head & Hands Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems