Some emotions feel better than others. Obviously. Everyone knows that happy feels better than sad and love feels better than hate. No one is surprised to hear this news.
Listen in this week for an emotional comparison that actually might surprise you. This match up is the reason it’s tough to let go of painful beliefs even when hanging on to them cuts pretty deep.
Mentioned in this Episode
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In this episode, we’re going to discuss why it can be super tempting to hang on to those same generalizations and exaggerations.
I know. It’s weird. But it also happens and we’re going to figure out why.
Let’s start with an example from my own life. For most of my 12 year-long marriage (and even sometimes still today) I believe this thing that isn’t true:
My husband’s choices limit mine.
I know this is never true because it’s actually not possible for him to take away my power to choose. Like – the laws of the universe, laws of the land and laws of physics simply won’t allow it.
Even if he locked me in the tiniest dungeon with no windows and no cell service, he still can’t take away my power to choose. I’m free to daydream or pray or scratch drawings into the wall or brainstorm my escape.
Locking me in a dungeon certainly limits many of my choices, but he can never take my choices away completely.
Of course, my husband has never locked me in a dungeon and it’s highly unlikely that he ever will. I just went to extremes for a quick second to show how there’s really no situation where it’s possible for him to limit my choices completely.
And yet – I sometimes choose to view my life that way.
His choices limit mine.
Why do I do that?
Here’s the simplest reason.
It feels better.
What?! Wait a minute. How is it possible that viewing my choices as limited could actually feel good?
I know. I know. It seems odd to say something like that, but it’s also true – at least in the short term.
First – it’s familiar.
My brain is very used to thinking that my husband’s choices limit mine.
Doesn’t take a lot of energy for my brain to go back there.
Brains are interested in saving energy wherever possible, so they LOVE to run on practiced thoughts – just like it’s easier to drive on a newly paved road than it is to drive on gravel.
Familiar thoughts feel safe and comfortable because we’ve been there lots of times before. We know what to expect and how things will likely play out.
Brains love that.
They value certainty over relief. Meaning, in my case, that my brain would rather I feel limited (because it’s familiar) than feel free (because that’s unknown.)
It’s kinda weird, but it’s true.
Second – it’s a little bit rewarding. If my choices are limited by my husband’s, I get two subtle payoffs:
1. I don’t have to put forth much effort or get creative because his selfish choices have already tied my hands
2. I get sympathy and attention for how hard my life must be
Please hear me say that I’m not mocking myself or putting me down. I’m simply reviewing the very real brain science behind why people stay stuck in situations that, from an outsider’s perspective, don’t seem to be ideal.
Let’s take this example a bit further.
Husband used to do this thing when our kids were younger. Drove me absolutely bonkers.
He’d wake up early on a Saturday morning and leave the house to go to a coffee shop and get some work done on his iPad.
From his perspective, he was being kind. He was letting us all sleep in. He even left the house to minimize the noise we’d have to hear in the early morning hours.
He’s naturally an early riser and in his mind, he’s making productive use of his time before everyone else wakes up. In his mind, this is a win for everyone.
My mind, of course, thought that his mind was stupid and selfish.
Because from my perspective, what would happen is we’d all wake up not long after he left and then I’d be alone with three babies who needed changing and feeding and entertaining.
I’d never agreed to do the Saturday morning routine solo.
He wasn’t ever clear on what time we could expect him back.
His choice to leave had limited my choices.
With him gone, I didn’t have the freedom to plan my day.
At least that’s what I told myself.
Even though it wasn’t true.
Because if I get to tell the story about how I had a husband who just “abandoned” us every Saturday morning, then my friends and my mom would shower me with sympathy AND praise me for being so strong and self-sacrificing for my kids.
That felt pretty good.
And if I let myself believe I had a husband who only thinks of himself, then I don’t have to get creative about thinking of my self more.
I don’t have to do the work of figuring out how to advocate for what I need or put myself into a possibly challenging conversation where we have a bit of a back and forth about how to get everyone taken care of.
I don’t have to do any of that work when I decide to just blame him for being selfish.
I did exactly that for YEARS, so I’m not judging you if you’re now seeing yourself doing something similar.
If hearing this story has you noticing where you might be soaking up the attention and shirking the work of collaboration, I see you and I get you.
We all do it.
We don’t have to stop.
It really is tempting to stay in a familiar pattern and bask in the self-righteousness of being the hero and the martyr all in one.
It WAS true that I was doing the brunt of the childcare all of those Saturday mornings.
I deserved all the kudos for making sure those kids were washed and fed and happy.
And you know what else I deserved?
A connected, caring marriage.
Which is hard to accomplish when I’m hanging on to a belief like: his choices limit mine.
Because that belief makes him the bad guy and me the long-suffering saint.
Both of which are true and not true.
He could have cleared his departure with me beforehand – 100%.
AND he genuinely thought he was making good use of his time.
I could have voiced my displeasure more directly in a more curious, collaborative way.
Yep. Yep. Yep.
AND feeling self-righteous seemed more powerful than admitting I was afraid he might not change his behavior.
Playing the martyr felt more dignified than risking the hurt I’d feel over what I’d make it mean about me if he didn’t stop bailing on Saturdays.
So… when you notice yourself hanging on to things that probably aren’t completely “true”, I invite you to be gentle with yourself.
Your brain is trying to spare you risk and save your energy.
It’s work to stay aware of your thoughts and choose them on purpose.
There is risk that comes with being honest and saying what you need.
There’s also the immense reward of a more honest and connected relationship with the guy you picked as your forever.
I’d guess that deep connection is a reward you probably want.
You definitely deserve to have it. So does he.
It’s a process, so plan on that.
Please know that most of my clients get there a little at a time.
The first step is being honest with yourself about what exactly is going on. Not just the generalities but the nuances as well.
Second, be honest with yourself about whether or not you want to change any of it and why.
Third, tell the truth about the efforts you’re making to make the change and what, if anything, is getting in your way.
Fourth, rinse and repeat.
For time and all eternity or til death do you part.
And Pro Tip: The kinder and more curious you can be as you go – to him AND to you… mostly to you, the more success and shifting you’re likely to find.
Choose courage, Bee. And keep on flying!