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"Why am I stuck? Will things ever change?" Here's a possible answer.

The short answer is that people are often at their best when things are at their worst, at the bottom of the hole. It's when things start to get better, and you're climbing out, that there is a fear of falling, and it's easier just to go back into the hole. The deeper and longer explanation is that you refuse to accept personal responsibility.

The graph above is an interesting illustration of that deeper explanation. It shows how self-esteem can alter as one moves through what have been called (and almost universally accepted) as the "seven stages of change." Low self-esteem doesn't feel good. So the tendency is to move backward when self- esteem was higher, rather than face the dragon inside and move toward change.

So if you want to take the first illustration I gave, change is "climbing out of the hole." Low self-esteem is the fear of heights, "I can't do it!" As such, there is one area of interest on the graph: where self-esteem has been raised, but the move toward change lowers self-esteem. That's when looking down the ladder makes even the hole seem preferable to the fear of heights.

Let's look at that area where self-esteem drops, at #2, "disbelief." Disbelief is the natural defense against the initial shock, and a temporary way of raising self-esteem, as the graph illustrates. It's not a bad thing, it's just a natural reaction that is part of the movement toward meaningful change. For instance, we know or feel that death is not supposed to happen (why else would we be sad?), so the natural reaction is to avoid the shock. Denial helps us turn from the horror that the world, our situation, and we ourselves, are not as they ought to be. Unless one is superhumanly able to maintain denial, self-doubt creeps in, a slow perception that our denial is not in line with reality.

Now let's look at #3, self-doubt. The emotions involved (uncertainty, anger, depression, etc.) are not pleasant, and lead to a loss of self-esteem that was artificially raised by disbelief. However, just like on a rollercoaster, that first little drop over the hill indicates a much larger drop to come. Fear lives here. Acceptance, where the rollercoaster bottoms out and things will get better--well, that seems like a nice thing in concept, until it's real, and it's your career ending because of a DUI. It's easier to be angry at the cop, the breathalyzer, or the deceptively big beer at the Mexican place. Choose your own hypothetical situation that scares you. So when you start to doubt, and see that you played a big part in the DUI (for instance), it's a clear move toward acceptance, but such a precipitous drop into low self-esteem that it's often preferable to move backward into disbelief or denial. Or worse, just to stay on that edge of self-doubt, and be angry or depressed. Acceptance is inherently personal in the change process--it's an acceptance of personal responsibility.

This is an excellent place to place greater emphasis on this critical point in the change process. One of my favorite contemporary psychologists focuses on how meaning in life comes from accepting personal responsibility. Given all the people out there leading meaningless lives, and knowing it, it's clearly not easy. And even worse, moving toward responsibility requires commitment, a commitment to hang on to the rollercoaster. This has a clear application to marriage therapy, and demonstrates how staying in a place of blaming is a great hiding spot from one's own sense of meaninglessness, and that's especially tempting if it wasn't you who had the affair (etc.), and you are truly the total victim. Denial or anger is easier, but it leads to a meaningless life. Meaning is only possible through acceptance of personal responsibility, not for negative events, but for one's existence in them, whatever that means for the situation.

So why are you stuck? Well, because the movement toward the massive internal dragon of accepting personal responsibility is a heavy load to bear. Perhaps when you face self-doubt about your inherent brokenness, it's easier to live a meaningless life of denial where that concept doesn't exist. You'll pay the price, because conscience always comes knocking at the door. Again, that's not by any means a movement toward accepting blame! That's actually denial! Accepting the rollercoaster ride into responsibility is inherently personal in nature. Meaning does not exist outside the individual.

By the way, the impossible weight of personal responsibility for the individual, is why the psychologist I mentioned, while he is an atheist, asserts that spiritual resources are a major strength. Research into marriage (including sex) demonstrates this beyond doubt. The concept isn't new, it's thousands of years old. The problem with the modern progressive movement (not liberalism--these things are different!) is that it asserts that the problems of humanity have only just now been discovered, and that the solution is to accept labels created by others, rather than to accept personal responsibility. It is tragic that this is considered a "conservative" position, and that liberals are pressured to accept it. John F. Kennedy died for this ideal at the hands of a progressive, as did dozens of millions in the 20th century, in WWII and the Chinese revolution.

At the end of the day, the decision to participate in therapy (personal, marriage, or family) is a decision to move past self doubt toward personal responsibility. It is the decision to accept the pain of life events as a door to gaining meaning in life.

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