Thursday, September 18, 2014

Running From Your Problems

'You Can't Run Away from Your Problems'

We've heard this saying, or some variation of it, throughout our entire lives. We are encouraged to face all of our challenges and to either solve them or accept them. Running away from our problems is looked at as weakness, but is running away really NEVER an option? 

I think society uses cliche sayings far too often. There is some good to them, but also some bad. And the consequences may far outweigh the benefits. But first I will focus on the good.

There is some truth to these sayings. Often our problems come from within. Many people create problems in their own lives and lack the introspection to realize it or the self efficacy to change. In these circumstances our problems really will follow us wherever we go. The longer we sit in denial of our own hand in our situations, our own role in our destiny, the bigger those problems may become. 

However, some people who lack self awareness may also lack the ability to even recognize that problems exist. They are in such denial of their problems that they minimize, rationalize, and justify the troubles surrounding them. They refuse to think there's anything wrong and may even seem to carry on happily. We see them pushing everyone around them away. Being close to someone, on a deep level, forces us to see our own faults. True friends may point our predicaments and shortcomings out to us, and the denier doesn't want to have to face these problems. Someone who won't allow themselves to be close to others has the kind problems that will follow that person around until they have a desire to see themselves more fully.

The opposite of the deniers are the martyrs. They are similar to the deniers in that they lack introspection, however, the martyrs tell a different story. They know their lives have problems; their coworkers are awful, their significant other is immature or clueless or rude, their friends are judgmental or untrustworthy, and their family is harsh and unforgiving.  They see themselves as victims of all those around them and of life in general. They feel that everyone treats them poorly and life is completely unfair. They wallow in their self pity and aim to drag you down with them. Constantly seeking validation that they are a good person who has been treated unfairly, they want your empathy. They want you to feel bad too. But what they aren't admitting to you, or themselves, is that they actually enjoy being victimized. In fact, they often aren't really a victim at all, they just want you to pay attention to them and feel bad for them. Once you catch on to their self-sabotaging ways you may try to make them see their reality, that they are the cause of their own problems. You are the aforementioned friend who points their shortcomings out to them because you want to help them. But the minute you do that you because just another friend who 'betrayed' them. The next thing you know, it's you they're sobbing about to their new friends. Martyrs also have the kinds of problems that will follow them around no matter how far they try to run.

But can you really NEVER run away from problems? Society tells us, and we tell ourselves that we have to take the bull by the horns and face problems head-on. But I think that sometimes the best solution is to give up and move on. It's not ALWAYS the solution, but we honestly would never tell someone in an abusive relationship to suck it up. We would tell them to get away. Sometimes the abuse is more subtle, so the true victims think they just need to try harder to make it work. They are told, or start to think, that they are the ones creating the problems and they need to try harder. It can be tremendously damaging for them to hear "you can't run away from your problems" from someone who doesn't truly understand the situation they are in. What this cliche is really saying is 1. your problems are your own fault, and 2. it's never going to get better, so deal with it.

If you have tried to face a problem directly and you are getting nowhere with it, it may be time to accept the situation and stop draining so much of your energy in trying to fix it. This is particularly good advice if the problem is involving someone else, and your solution to the problem is for that person to change. We cannot change others. Give up. Move on. This could mean letting go of a relationship that continues to have unresolvable issues, or you feel it has become abusive. If you suspect you might be in an abusive relationship but aren't sure, here's a couple of websites with more information on the warning signs and who to call if you need help getting out.

This doesn't just apply to romantic relationships. Relationships with friends and family can also be toxic, and if have come to a point where you get anxious thinking about spending time with the other person, or you always feel sour or drained after talking or being with them, these are signs that the relationship is not healthy. Sometimes it can be our jobs that make us feel this way. Nobody likes their job 100% of the time. Anything worth doing is going to be somewhat stressful and require effort. But if you dread going into work, avoid contact with bosses and coworkers, feel miserable while at work and after coming home from work, then perhaps a change is in order.

On a personal note, I worked in a very toxic environment for a number of years. I was young and it was one of my first "real" jobs. I had an overbearing boss who was manipulative and vindictive. She was a very black and white thinker, and I was anxious all the time that I would say or do something that would put me on her bad side. The entire company was dysfunctional and the whole situation put me under so much pressure that I became depressed. I couldn't sleep, I was tired all the time. I lost motivation to do other things in my life that I used to enjoy. I stuck it out for so long that I started to think that I was the problem. I started to believe that maybe I was the one who was difficult to work with, or that I was being too sensitive or lazy. It took me a long time to find a new job, and I was so afraid when I actually started getting interviews that it would be just as bad, if not worse, no matter where I went. I had reached a point of hopelessness.

Luckily for me I found a new job. A job that I love, with coworkers who are great to work with and a boss that doesn't manipulate me. It took me a while to trust my coworkers. I was very reluctant to share anything personal about myself when I first started because I was worried that they would use the information to take advantage of me, or judge me. Over time I have grown to trust my coworkers more and more. This experience has helped me to realize that sometimes you can run away from your problems, and sometimes you are saving your life in the process.

I want to stress that I am not encouraging anyone to jump ship at the first sign of trouble. All relationships go through rough patches and if you can make it through those tough times your relationships will often come out stronger and more meaningful. But if the problems have been going on for a long time, if the bad outweighs the good and there's no light at the end of the tunnel, take a deep breath and walk away.

The bottom line to is this: Problems you create for yourself will be with you wherever you go, problems created by other people can, however, can be escaped from. Find the courage to get yourself out of toxic situations, and don't let anyone tell you they're your fault.

Running away will probably not fix all of your problems, but if we don't change our habits and break our unhealthy cycles of behavior then we become stuck in those patterns. You may not know for certain if the problems you are facing are being caused by others or by yourself, but sometimes the only way to see your problems clearly is to change your context. Once you've stepped away, the problems caused by others will fade and the ones you are causing yourself will be impossible to ignore.