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Self-Knowledge • Perfectionism, Expectations & Messing up

On Those Ruined by Success

For many of us, there is something (or many things) that we seem to really, really want. And then there are obstacles of various sorts. Maybe we want love – but we can’t ever seem to find anyone adequate. Perhaps we want to enjoy our career – but we aren’t able to move forward in our chosen field. Or maybe we want to sleep properly – but we are dogged by insomnia. 

We may attract a lot of sympathy with our troubles. And we may make a lot of apparently sincere attempts to overcome them.

But one of the less logical and more peculiar sounding avenues that we might need to explore is the strange subterranean appeal of unhappiness and frustration within our overall mental equilibrium; the sinister hold that obstacles have on us, the way we have – without quite knowing it – mortgaged ourselves to unhappiness. Whatever we say or think, we may – at some level, in the end – simply prefer not to find love, not to succeed at work, not to lead a healthy, well-rested life. It may be a good deal easier not to get what we want.

We collectively and individually strive very hard to forestall the threat of a more joyful way of life, for contentment can entail a range of highly threatening eventualities:

 – the vigilance that we have honed for many years might not be required any more.

– the sadness and worry which we have learnt to depend on may no longer be needed.

– without panic, we may have no option but to be quietly close to someone else, which threatens the defensive structures we have built up to shield us from the wonders and terrors of intimacy.

– we may have to upset the secret rule under which we have grown up around our parents: ‘thou shalt not thrive’ (‘lest your victory threaten my equilibrium…’).

– we may have to acknowledge enormous regrets for the years we have wasted.

– we may fear we’ll burst from all the beauty and generosity that lies all around us.

– we may have nothing more arduous, nor more beautiful, to do than to be happy.

To explore our feelings, we might undertake a little exercise. We might ask ourselves some questions and then answer without thinking too much, in order to allow our consciousness to release its more complicated truths:

If I wasn’t anxious all the time…

If I didn’t panic…

If I was able to sleep…

If this person did really love me…

If I had nothing in particular to worry about…

Our honest answers may sound surprising in the extreme. We may find ourselves responding:

… I’d need to stop worrying.

… I’d have nothing to complain about

… I’d be fabulous

… I’d love myself

… I’d have to enjoy life.

And these might all be horrifically complicated scenarios. When one has grown up in a prison, the hardest day can be the one when the gates are opened. So alarming might freedom be, we may find it much easier to commit another crime (or find yet another reason to suffer and worry) and thereby be returned to the safety of misery. 

We may complain a lot about our present situation and appear to want so much to move on. The reality – which we should acknowledge in order to overcome it – is that we might also secretly prefer the safety of habitual unhappiness to the novelties and awe of joy. 

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