Do You Feel Your Life Is Passing You By?

Your worst enemy is you.

Posted Sep 23, 2020

Peteyp8, creator/Free for commercial use on Wikimedia Commons
Source: Peteyp8, creator/Free for commercial use on Wikimedia Commons

If you find yourself beleaguered by regret, it’s time to delve into whatever guilt might be linked to such misgivings. And that’s probably coming from a self-critical voice deep within you that repeatedly reminds you that you could have—and should have—done more, or done something else. It’s as though you’ve got an invisible sixth finger that keeps wagging its disapproval at you.

There are generally many possibilities that account for you not having achieved as much as you hoped. And if you can get in self-sympathetic touch with these confining factors, you can move beyond them. Until you’re able to do this, however, don’t expect any changes—for there won’t be, and can’t be.

Here are some reasons that up until now you may have been incapable of effectively addressing your heartfelt wants and needs. Note that the ones I offer in this post pertain to states of anxiety and insecurity that have controlled your reasoning, motivated as it was to immediately lessen these burdensome feelings:

  • Without realizing it, you’ve allowed others’ wants and needs to take precedence over your own. And you might, unconsciously, have chosen to do this in the past because you convinced yourself that was how you could get along best with those around you and be (although only conditionally) accepted by them.
  • Your insatiable inner critic has driven you to try harder, even to aim for perfection. But given its unrealistic, unreachable standards, whatever efforts you made never seemed good enough. So your comparative successes nonetheless felt like failures. Therefore, sooner or later, not experiencing the gratification you sought, you gave up competing with yourself as a lost cause.
  • Overcome by the fear of failure, you gave up prematurely. Your inner critic, desiring above all to protect you from the stressful anxiety of failure, prohibited your staying task-oriented. And don’t underestimate how anyone’s fear of failure pushes them in two paradoxically contrary ways. And that these opposite directions remain polarized and incongruent unless you can approach them in an entirely different (and counter-intuitive, way.)
  • Excessive anxiety itself removes you from the fight/flight reaction that characterizes your vacillation. For such overwhelming anxiety eventuates in the “freeze” reaction: It purposely immobilizes you because of your fear that movement in either direction could be too costly, that it could further endanger your already insecure relationships.
  • You may feel the need to possess or otherwise dominate your partner, in order to feel comfortable in your union with them. And if troublesome feelings of jealousy prevent you from doing this, your anger will take over, self-righteously blaming them for your upset. This anger is almost always counter-productive and self-sabotaging, for it pushes them away and moves you that much farther from the goal that, consciously, you established for the relationship.
  • The anxiety that you can’t successfully put to rest fuels addictive processes, especially eating, drinking, smoking, and substance abuse. Addictions are extremely common, for they’re the ultimate distractors from threatening feelings that have begun to feel intolerable. And once they're habitual, they can “take you over” in a millisecond.
  • If you’re given to catastrophizing, you may not be able to resist imagining worst-case scenarios whenever you contemplate doing something involving risk. And these negative forecasts are enough to get you to change your mind about undertaking uncertain ventures. Although you may be aware that there are no guarantees in life, your belief in yourself isn’t sufficient to allow you to take reasonable chances to pursue what you most value.
  • Being first cousins, apathy and inertia will de-motivate you from struggling against your passivity and effectively facing challenges you fear could defeat you. Behind the scenes, these constraints predict that you’ll fail, and that very self-disparagement hampers you from activating your resources to keep trying.
  • Grieving a loss is fine, necessary, and normal. But if you’re overly focused on this hurt, or get stuck in it, it can impede getting on with your life.

If you can relate even to a few of these possibilities, you’re probably still experiencing old self-doubts about your competence or capacities. And these blaming, disapproving parts of you dominate how you feel about yourself.

Many therapeutic approaches exist today that center on reducing these tendencies, for they inevitably lead to the self-defeat outlined above. Including, but not limited to such therapeutic processes as IFS (Internal Family Systems Therapy) and EMDR—my two preferred methods—as well as, among others, LifeSpan Integration, Developmental Needs Meeting Strategy (DNMS), Ego State Therapy (psychodynamically oriented), and Somatic Experiencing.

I’ve written about IFS here before—see “How to Talk to—and Tame—Your Outdated Defenses”—so I won’t repeat myself now. But let me emphasize that this approach, like so many other entrees into parts work, is grounded in paradox. Typically, they don’t attempt to extinguish self-sabotaging parts as such but to upgrade your knowledge of these parts, so they cease operating in extreme, distorting, outdated ways that can’t possibly assist you in the ways you now need them to.

Additionally, these self-protective parts aren’t able to heal the wounded child parts on whose behalf they initially intervened to safeguard from an anxiety seemingly too disruptive for your System to handle. As defined in IFS and other approaches, only Self has the capability to do that.

And so Self (the non-reactive "whole" of your being, vs. a part) needs to enter into a dialogue with these protectors to convince them that they have nothing to fear if they consider aligning themselves with Self's recommendations. Their existence won’t be threatened, and if they grant Self full access to the children whose welfare they’re still misguidedly laboring to take care of, those still suffering child parts can finally receive the vital validation and soothing they’ve so long been missing.

© 2020 Leon F. Seltzer, Ph.D.  All Rights Reserved.