Why doesn’t anybody like me?
Why do all my relationships end so badly?
Why are all my bosses such jerks?
Question after question after question—why? There’s a saying that the unexamined life is not worth living…and of course, as a therapist I’m hard pressed not to agree. Although the not worth living part is a little harsh.
The original statement was made by Socrates in defense of philosophy. Understanding the meaning of life, in his view, gave life, well, meaning. We’re here for a reason and a purpose. Understanding that purpose is critical to living life well and finding salvation when this life ends.
Understanding The “Why”
But let’s consider this thought in light of psychology. Why do we do the things we do? Why do we get the results we do? It’s natural to look within—what’s wrong with me? Is there something uniquely flawed about me?
Well, yes to be blunt, there is. Me too. It’s called original sin. It afflicts each one of us and manifests uniquely in each of our lives. Understanding that is key to understanding pretty much anything about why you (or anyone) do the things you do—especially when you get consistently bad results.
And then there are our actual sins and those committed against us. I’ve seen many people over the years who have gained a good understanding of the factors that affected them from childhood. Many, once healed from the wounds of their past, are able to move forward and make better choices in the future. But some continue, even with that knowledge, to make the same bad choices and continue the same negative patterns. So what gives?
So, let’s talk about those patterns you may find yourself in—the mistakes you continue to repeat, the bad relationships that build one upon the other. Why, pray tell, does that happen?
In psychology it’s known as a repetition compulsion. What this means is that we are always trying, on a subconscious level, to resolve earlier issues that remain unresolved or, more accurately, unhealed from our past. To do so, we unconsciously recreate the same circumstances in hopes we can gain control of them and get a better result. But we rarely do. Instead we remain perplexed at why the same negative things keep happening to us—as if we’re passive victims of circumstances.
An astounding statistic is that nearly 70% of children from alcoholic homes marry alcoholics, most often with negative results. Someone who felt abandoned as a child may tend to choose distant partners who will abandon them as an adult. The old adage that those who don’t understand history are condemned to repeat it is not only true politically, but personally as well.
Decisions, Decisions, Decisions…
For many though, struggling with the same patterns may simply boil down to learning the skills to make better decisions. Old habits do die hard, after all.
So what’s the magic sauce? What are the ingredients of a good decision?
Step 1: Start with a Goal
It’s amazing how few people ever sit down and think through what they want to accomplish or achieve. Vague statements like “I want to be happy” or “I want someone to love me” may seem like goals but they don’t actually cut the muster. I mean, who doesn’t want to be happy and loved?
Step 2: Be Specific
Define what kind of life you want to lead. With what kind of people would you like to associate? Which kinds of activities do you find fulfilling? For example, do you like the challenge and potential of being self-employed, or do you prefer to work on a bigger team with a guaranteed paycheck?
Step 3: Know Yourself
Be honest about what you like and don’t like. Are you an introvert that enjoys alone time to recharge or an extrovert who thrives around other people? Are you happier leading a quiet life secluded from the world or do you love the hustle-bustle of a big city?
Knowing yourself takes time and quiet. Get in touch with what you actually feel. Like do you really find jeans comfortable or do you wear them because everyone else does? What’s your favorite show or color or cuisine? These may seem inconsequential but together they form a composite of who you really are.
Step 4: Learn from the Past
What could you have done differently in the past before you made your biggest mistakes?
So often we feel like life just happens to us and we’re victims of circumstances. And sometimes we are, if say an anvil drops out of the sky and hits you. But more often than not, we participated and made decisions that caused or contributed to our problems. If you find yourself in a pattern, then understanding what you did, and what you could have done differently, is key to getting better results in the future.
For instance, if you constantly find yourself in bad relationships, then think about the common denominators in those relationships. Were there red flags you ignored? Were the people you chose flawed or unhealed of their own demons? Did you let your emotions lead you without guiding them by reason? Did you see problems but hoped they would magically go away this time? Did you ignore the counsel or the advice of family and friends who know and care about you?
Step 5: Seek Counsel
Let’s face it, we all have blind spots. And when our emotions are involved they may obscure the obvious. Talk to a trusted friend, counselor, or spiritual director. What do they see as the possible good and bad consequences of a decision you’re considering? Then listen and be honest with yourself as you evaluate their counsel. Too often we look to hear only what we want.
Believe You Can Have a Better Future
Having a clear goal, knowing yourself and what makes you thrive and seeking counsel from those who care about you are powerful tools to creating a better future.
But here’s the most important factor: Believe you can have a better future. Believe that God has an amazing plan for your life. Without really believing that, you simply won’t achieve it and may unwittingly choose impossible situations that are consistent with your beliefs. We may not always live what we profess, but we will always live what we believe.
Choosing to believing that God has a good plan for you and will bring good even out of your mistakes is the most productive decision you can make.