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When Feeling Trapped, Assess the Situation

With logical decision-making and one's intuition, most dilemnas can be resolved.

Sometimes with decision-making, we feel trapped, as if stuck in a maze. This is the Traquair House Maze in Scotland.
Source: Wikimedia

In some ways, assessing a situation turns one into an investigative reporter or the detective who solves a mystery.

What happens when your new job, which may have boosted your ego initially, turns into a feeling of being trapped with a toxic boss? What do you do when your college student, who was thrilled to be away from home, suddenly feels isolated in a new school with no friends? Where do you turn when the nursing home that looked like a 5-star hotel turns into a nightmare for your parents?

Although each situation calls for a different response, the essential underlying feeling to be addressed is one of being trapped. The answer to, “What shall I do?” may be complicated. However, after going through a serious assessment stage, a positive resolution can result from a logical review of facts and feelings.

Assessing the situation is like looking at a roadmap after making a serious effort at information gathering. It is a time to examine facts, emotions, and every bit of practical advice in order to make the best decision you can at the time.

  • The challenge: Identify why you feel trapped.
  • The goal: Resolve the situation without running in the opposite direction.

Despite the critical importance of facts, the assessment stage is also your chance to say: “Regardless of these facts, I have a funny feeling inside.” Women are thought to be particularly gifted in this intuitive aspect of decision-making.

Here are four steps to assessment.

You may not need all of them. You might find that just one of these steps suits your decision-making style. But it is helpful to understand the value of each when you are in a quandary. These will help you make informed choices or lead you to trust your instincts.

  • Gather information from all perspectives.
  • Make a "pros and cons" checklist.
  • Understand your personal feelings.
  • Review against past decisions.

How might you use the assessment stage with the above-mentioned scenarios: the toxic boss, the lonely student, or the nursing home dilemma?

The toxic boss

Dealing with toxic people at work can be a challenge, particularly in a workplace with a toxic boss. There have been major studies assessing the problems of toxic environments and what leaders can do to address the problem which—if it remains unchecked—leads to reduced workplace productivity (e.g., "An Empirical Study Analyzing Job Productivity in Toxic Workplace Environments").

With a toxic work environment, the assessment stage may simply involve trusting your instincts, even if it means finding another job.

The lonely college student

How can students combat the feeling of being trapped in a college or university without the friends they had back home? All four steps of the assessment are useful. Being firm and insisting your child “give it a try” can be both helpful and beneficial. Read these 14 tips from Deborah J. Cohan, Ph.D., a professor of sociology at the University of South Carolina-Beaufort, on helping lonely college students.

However, it is important to note that an immediate visit to the university counseling office should be an early first step to students feeling trapped by loneliness. Trained professionals can create an individualized plan to help a student feel more comfortable with the new campus and make new friends (e.g., "Social Media Triggers Loneliness in College Students").

The nursing home dilemma

Patricia L. McGinnis is the founder and Executive Director of California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform, a statewide consumer advocacy organization organized in 1983. She pointed out in an interview with me that one of the problems that creates issues for families is placement:

“Contradictory to their role—appropriate placement—discharge planners are often pressured to get patients out of the hospital because of billing issues.” A fact sheet, “Challenging Hospital Discharge Decisions,” is available here.

At this point, it is advisable to make a "pros and cons" checklist and then try to work with the nursing home staff. However, when there is a change of nursing home directors, the culture can change, for better or worse. If the change is not for the better, and you have carefully assessed the situation—change homes.

For those concerned about "transfer trauma,” the late Robert L. Kane, M.D., author of The Good Caregiver, offered this advice in an earlier interview:

“Caregivers should recognize the importance of arranging for the information transfer of medical history, medication, and behavioral records. The caregiver is the only person who really knows what is going on, and the more you can compile, the better the chances for success at a new home.”

So often, people want to skip the assessment stage, because they do not wish to face the truth.

Once again, making the best decision is often a combination of logic, facts, and that still, small voice within. Listen carefully to the words from your heart of hearts. During this phase of decision-making, it is important that you ask for help or advice from people with expertise and objectivity, people who can help us to see things clearly.

Often when we feel all is lost, we want to hide under the covers. But with a thorough assessment, it is possible to resolve a stressful situation and find yourself coming out of the dark maze into the sunlight.

NOTE: Love Relationship decisions are especially complicated. Oftentimes people don't wish to face the truth. Read more in "35 Ways to Tell It's Over and Tell Your Partner."

Copyright 2019 Rita Watson

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