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Where Do You Get Stuck Running Your Life?

The 5 most-common emotional obstacles

pixelheadphoto digitalskillet/Shutterstock
Source: pixelheadphoto digitalskillet/Shutterstock

What can’t you do? When you look back over your life, what is it that keeps you from making decisions or moving forward, or keeps you from simply running your life more effectively, with less angst and drama?

Most of us have something that we most struggle doing — our own Achilles heel that emotionally derails us and gets in our own way.

Here are the 5 most common ones:

1. Fear of confrontation

You really would like a small wedding, but you know your parents have big plans, and you don’t want to face the blowback and guilt. Or you really don’t like how much time your girlfriend spends on Facebook, but you try and “let it go"; you say to yourself that she needs her down time, but basically you don’t want to start a fight. Or you resent the fact that your sister is always asking you to babysit her kids, but never offers to watch yours; you try and brush it off as “that’s the way she is.”

Consequences: You hold onto your feelings until you periodically blow up or act out, feel like a martyr, or become depressed. Others don’t really know or understand you and what you need. The biggest ramification of all is that problems are never addressed and put to rest.

2. Struggle to manage your anxiety or anger

You have a big project due at work, but you can’t think straight, because you feel so overwhelmed with worry. Or you quickly flare up at your roommate when she complains about your dishes being left on the counter. Or you snap at your boyfriend, because he changes his mind about going out on Saturday night.

Consequences: The anxiety can paralyze you, keeping you from doing what you actually need to do to reduce stress, move forward, and solve the problem; it also colors what you do, making everything feel like a priority. The anger can make others feel resentful and cause them to walk on eggshells or eventually walk out; they can see you as entitled and demanding, and dismiss your concerns as you and your moods.

3. Being self-critical

Maybe even perfectionistic. This ever-running critical voice in your head is essentially abusive and at times tormenting. You are racked by guilt, anxiety, or depression.

Consequences: You tend to blame yourself for problems rather than seeing the role of others. You are prone to tolerating abuse from others. Because you need to do everything right, every decision is a big deal, requiring lots of cautious steps, double-thinking, and emotional energy.

4. Inability to let go of the past

Your mind is constantly drawn back to past hurts or past regrets and guilt, which keeps you from focusing on the present and future.

Consequences: The hurts and regrets stay alive as painful emotions. They also temper the present and future: Rather than learning from history, you are constantly wary of repeating it, making you either cautious and afraid, or hyper-alert and on edge.

5. Being reactive

Being reactive is the opposite of being proactive: You wait or act only in response to others.

Consequences: You are passive, often anxious. Basically, you are not in charge of your life, but are instead constantly adjusting or giving in to what is happening around you. Because you lack a strong center, others don’t really know you, and there is a lack of intimacy in your relationships. You accept what you get or don’t, but your life lacks a clear forward path.

Obviously, these obstacles can overlap with each other, and many of us have primary and secondary ones. What they all have in common is that they undermine your ability to run your life effectively. They keep you from getting what you need most, keep you from successfully solving problems. The way out?

Identify your own stuck-points.

As you look back on your life and relationships, see what emotionally seems to always get in the way. What keeps you from being clearer, more honest, more proactive? What interferes with you making your relationships the way you would like them to be? This is what you most want to work on. This is the fulcrum of change that will make your life better.

Approach your anxiety.

You essentially want to practice taking baby steps toward doing what you find difficult. If you fear confrontation and struggle with tolerating the strong reactions of others, plan experiments in doing exactly that — speak up, even if it takes you a couple of days to summon your courage to let your parents know about what you really want, or to tell your girlfriend how much the Facebook time bothers you. This is not about the wedding and Facebook, but about building your courage by facing what frightens you.

Regulate your emotions.

If you are driven by anxiety or anger, you need to recognize when your emotions are taking over, and then have ways of calming those emotions down and getting your rational brain back online to sort through the problem. If you need help doing this, get support and skills from a therapist or safe friend.

Experiment with making mistakes.

If you are self-critical, realize it is the self-criticism and not the need to do-everything-right that is the way out. Here you will need to either push back against those voices, or do your best to ignore them as you move forward anyway. Also step back and counter the self-blame by rationally looking at the behavior of others and their role in the problem.

Get closure, move forward.

If you're haunted by the past, it’s time to put it to rest: Reach out to the person who hurt you and finally get off your chest what has been bothering you for so long. Tell yourself over and over that you did the best you could at the time, and you can learn from your mistakes rather than continue to punish yourself. Finally, focus on the present and future as much as possible, and actively resist the urge to fall back into the past.

Step up and out.

If you are reactive, the first step is actually stepping backing and deciding what you want. This is your life to create and live. Be the driver, not just the passenger. Allow yourself to dream big dreams. Then step up and out, doing what is important to you. Focus on you, rather than others; focus on initiating, rather than waiting.

Easier said than done? Absolutely. But by thinking about the one or two things you struggle doing most and focusing on these, rather than getting lost in the 100 tons of content of the immediate circumstances, you are creating a path toward self-empowerment.

This is your unique challenge, your quest towards creating a satisfying life — one that is yours.