Indecisiveness

This is one of those things that hits everyone at one time or another. For some though, it can impede growth and paralyze.  Chronic indecisiveness is a developmental roadblock. There are many possible reasons one stagnates in their lives due to indecisiveness. (Many of the thoughts discussed here come from the book “Overcoming Indecisiveness” by Dr. Theodore Isaac Rubin)

One reason is lack of self-confidence, this may seem obvious to some, but to those who struggle with decisions, it tends to be a blind area. Another reason, which has an overlapping three-fold mechanism, first involves self-effacement. This is a word that, in this context, essentially means self-erasing. It is a mode of operation that seeks to “cope” with potential conflict by avoiding potential conflict. A habit of this allows the person to increasingly disconnect from themselves. Often the decisions that are made when a person is actively seeking to avoid being assertive (aka make decisions) are ones that can prevent success and encourage failure. Secondly, an inappropriate dependence on others often accompanies this. Unhealthy dependence on others is a form of self-effacement. It is highly correlated with the desire to be liked.

People who habitually rely on others to make decisions for them often find ingenious ways of getting an “ally” to decide all sorts of issues that they are perfectly capable of deciding for themselves. (Rubin, p. 50)

The final piece in this “trifecta” for indecisiveness is the obsessive need to be liked. Unfortunately, good decision making is not consistent with winning popularity contests. This is devastating news for some. For those struggling with insecurities, self-loathing, dependency, and detachment from their feelings, being liked becomes the central issue of the decision rather than the substance of the choices themselves.

Finally, another main road block to decision making is the belief that there are perfect situations and the possibility of perfect decisions. Obviously there is no such thing as a perfect decision, but many people with this road block are not aware that they are inundated with perfectionistic tendencies, and live in perpetual anxiety and/or stagnation.

It is imperative that people stop being afraid to rely on themselves for decisions in their life, to take responsibility for their own decisions, and learn to live with the consequences- good or bad. Obviously there is wisdom in prayer and processing with wise others in our lives, but it’s when these things become crutches and tools to avoid responsibility that there is concern. Overcoming indecisiveness requires much insight and courage. Self-awareness will aid the recovering indecision-maker for,

“without a real self, we cannot relate honestly and fruitfully to others or really help anyone else.”

Know Thyself

The primary purposes of seeing a therapist (or counselor, I use the terms interchangeably) can be distilled down into finding freedom and learning about one’s self.

The Hebrew word for prayer is tefilah. It is derived from the root Pe-Lamed-Lamed and the word l’hitpalel, meaning to judge oneself. This surprising word origin provides insight into the purpose of Jewish prayer. The most important part of any Jewish prayer, whether it be a prayer of petition, of thanksgiving, of praise of God, or of confession, is the introspection it provides, the moment that we spend looking inside ourselves, seeing our role in the universe and our relationship to God.

In Christianity and Catholicism, St. Ignatius of Loyola developed the now-ancient practice known as the Prayer of Examen. This prayer involves reflecting on the previous day’s events, becoming aware of God’s presence in them, reviewing the day with gratitude, paying attention to one’s moods and emotions, choosing something about the previous day and praying on it. This practice forces a person to slow down and process events, how they responded, where God is present, and begin to understand one’s triggers, sin, success, fears, etc.

So much of what I do with clients involves helping them to learn about who they are, which is part of the process of growing and living a fulfilling life. God created each of us with specific talents, skills, gifts, and personality quirks to bless others and further his kingdom. So many of us do not take the time to learn about who we are and what makes us tick. Often, it’s easy to pursue the positive traits we have (I have the gift of teaching, I think this way, I’m good at this). What’s harder is taking the time and often painful effort to discover what fears we have, what lies we believe, what we actually like and dislike, and what our priorities are. Similarly, it is default for many people to simply take on the traits/likes/propensities of those around rather than discover what they are all about and who they are.

Self-awareness is a very key piece in learning how to live a fulfilling life. We are constantly growing in to who God created us to be. He gave us an identity, and we ought to give ourselves the space to discover what that is. If we are created for painting, and all we do is go to museums, we are wasting our talents and living in a space of longing and grief that does not have to be reality. Knowing thyself helps us to see our role with others, this world, and with our God. It is a process that can bring up painful feelings and memories, but will ultimately allow one to live with more clarity, peace, and be a rich blessing to others.

Teaching Others How to Treat Us

There are many skills that we are not taught prior to reaching adulthood. They can have lasting impacts on relationships and the communications therein. Boundaries are one such skill that many people seem to miss on their developmental journeys toward adult independence. Boundaries have been described as many things: the ability to say no, determining limits on your physical person, thoughts, and emotions. Boundaries are limits that one sets for themselves to protect not just yourself, but also relationships with others.

Setting effective boundaries can be difficult when you constantly put others’ needs and feelings before your own, you don’t know yourself very well, you fear boundaries will compromise a relationship, or you don’t feel you have the right to instill boundaries. Many people assume boundaries are selfish. This is not true. Boundaries do not say: “You are not allowed to treat me this way.” Boundaries do say: “Should you choose to treat me this way, I will instill a consequence/ boundary.” The difference in these two statements is that in the first statement the use of boundaries is in an effort to control and manipulate. In the second statement however, proper responsibility is placed on the proper parties. For example, a healthy boundary might be: “When you yell at me it makes me feel threatened. I am going to leave the house until we can speak calmly.” This communication is clear, direct, assertive, and calm; it seeks to protect the self and the relationship.

Without boundaries, we can feel taken advantage of or that our desires are unimportant. We become frustrated and angry that our boundaries are violated yet we are unable to express what our boundaries actually are. Constant yielding to a family member or friend becomes our habit. We lose our own sense of self and often find ourselves in unhappy relationships, jobs and life situations. Resentment, anger, worthlessness, and feeling taken advantage of are common experiences to a lack of boundaries. Setting and maintaining boundaries is an art, and it is a skill that takes practice.

Unhealthy boundaries are:

  1. Controlling or manipulative
  2. Invasive or dominating
  3. Set for us by others
  4. Rigid and immovable

Healthy boundaries are:

  1. Clear and firm
  2. Appropriate
  3. Determined by us
  4. Flexible

At the end of the day, people can treat you however they want, but it is up to you to teach them what is, and what is not, appropriate. If you desire a healthy relationship with friends or family members, it is important to own your responsibility in various matters, and live out self-respect by enforcing boundaries that not only show you care about your heart, but you care about the relationship, and their heart as well.

Memorials

American culture is noted for its busyness. Friends of mine who have lived overseas in places like Greece, Italy, and Spain are fully aware that life is lived at a much slower pace. Here in America we rush around, often impatiently, trying to get on to the next event, haircut, or simply the grocery store. When we have downtime, it tends to be filled with any number of electronics which serve to numb out and distract, or mindlessly entertain. What might it look like to allow quiet space in to your life for the purposes of reflection and remembrance?

We are fickle people who easily forget, especially when it comes to God. A new challenge in our lives confronts us and the stress mounts. We think about what we can do, what more we can do, to overcome or accomplish in our own power. What Jesus asks of us is to rest in him and trust him. We are asked to remember the good things we’ve experienced from him in the past.

Reflect on past stressful circumstances and think through what you:

  1. Leaned on for comfort
  2. How you derived a sense of control
  3. What lies you believed (I’ll never make it; I’m not good enough; I don’t deserve it, etc.)
  4. What unhealthy behaviors you reverted to (over/under-eating, porn, drugs, anxiety, etc.)

When we look back at hard times and easy times, it’s important to assess what we did and how we thought and the consequences of our actions. It’s also important to note how God worked in the midst of those things. How circumstances may or may not have worked out.  Take some time to think through what God did in the midst of a previous nerve-wracking situation.

When difficult and stressful circumstances arise in our lives, it’s easy to hone in on them and allow the weight and the fear of their imposition to overwhelm us. When we remember, we can choose to shift our focus off of ourselves and our stressful situation and onto the goodness, mercy, grace, and kindness of God. We can choose to see how he is carefully orchestrating every scenario of our lives to make us more holy, and bring him more glory.

Many have heard of Moses parting the Red Sea, but not as many have heard of Joshua parting the river Jordan. In Joshua 4, to show that God was with Joshua, he parted the Jordan’s waters for the Israelites to cross into the Promised Land.  Joshua then instructed the Israelites to create a memorial of that event so that they would be sure not to forget the power of God, his presence with his people, and that he is worthy of honor and worship. They were to stack up some rocks taken from the bottom of the Jordan River. “Each of you is to take up a stone on his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the Israelites, to serve as a sign among you. In the future, when your children ask you, ‘What do these stones mean?’ tell them that the flow of the Jordan was cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord. When it crossed the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. These stones are to be a memorial to the people of Israel forever” (Joshua 4: 5-7).

We can so easily forget things that were hard, but also things that went well for us. Reflecting gives us the opportunity to give honest thanks for what has occurred in the past, acknowledge what has happened in the past, and create our own memorial. Remembering shifts our focus from our own striving to the one who is in complete control of all things. Remembering and giving thanks can bring us to a place of rest, freedom, and greater understanding.

Story-Telling

We were never meant to be alone. A factor that can influence severity and duration of various mental illnesses is whether or not a person has a supportive community. Isolation can lead to a downward spiral. It has been said that joy is not complete until it is expressed, shared with others. We need other people. And not just those superficial conversations about the weather and clothes, but rather authentic soul-bearing friendships that allow us to share the ugliest parts of ourselves and still be accepted. Those types of friends are rare, I admit, and I don’t recommend leading into a new friendship with that type of content. But when we can be vulnerable and share our stories, we invite others to become vulnerable as well.

It is important to share with others the good and the bad in our lives. It helps to lessen the burden of the painful. It allows the blossoming of the joyous. But what if you have a hard time expressing your story?

In his new book The Examined Life, psychoanalyst Stephen Grosz also discusses the importance of telling your story. In a conversation with Jane Clayson for On Point radio, Grosz talks about the emotional damage that results from an inability to express your life in stories.

I’m really interested in what happens when people can’t tell their stories. So often people come to see me and of course the most difficult story from their childhood was the one their parents…didn’t help them find the words for. ..maybe because of guilt…[the parents] don’t know how to help the child articulate their feelings…Sometimes we don’t know how to put into words the most important things that a child may be going through. Those stories don’t go away, they get buried in us, and they come out in all sorts of different ways. And part of what therapy may be about…are people who are then troubled or caught in an impasse because of these stories not being known to them, not having the words for them.

Stories are important because it helps us to understand ourselves, our world, and those that inhabit it. Stories help us to make sense of things, and to heal. We all have the ability to hold memories. Perhaps these memories are accessed as feelings first, with no real content. And then as one begins to untangle the confusion, the memory emerges in more clarity as a coherent story and can be dealt with in a healthy way. It might involve grief, it might involve anger, or any other slew of emotions, but the power behind the memory can be dismantled. We need trusted others in our lives to give us the space and the grace to process these things. To help us articulate the pain. Or to simply sit with us and acknowledge our tears. In this chaotic world, we were never meant to be alone.

Some ideas on articulating your story:

  1. Try journaling in an attempt to articulate your story
  2. Read memoirs or other biographies to help inspire and bring your story own to life
  3. Talk to a trusted friend
  4. Paint your story, or aspects of your story