Part of Kathy Caprino’s series “Finding Brave To Build a Better Life

In talking this week with a friend with an extremely narcissistic spouse, something became even clearer to me than ever before: When we’re in an unhealthy, manipulative or demeaning relationship or situation but keep saying to ourselves “I can’t believe this is happening to me!” we keep ourselves stuck in pain and victimization. Our disbelief and/or resistance to the situation prevent us from taking the brave action we need to, to revise it.

When we can finally say, “I now see exactly what’s going on, and why,” then and only then do we have the objectivity and power to start moving forward to doing what’s necessary to protect ourselves and our lives.

I learned in my therapy training that “What you resist persists.” And while there’s always going to be some period of time during which we need to process what’s happening to us, emotionally and mentally, it’s best to stop resisting the reality of the situation as soon as you can, and stop beating your head against it. It’s much more empowering and growth-inducing to embrace the harsh reality with eyes wide open as soon as you can, so you can change your situation and your life, from an aware, empowered and courageous position.

In working with people to better their lives and careers over the past 11 years, I’ve seen that there are 5 core reasons people stay stuck in resistance rather than moving forward towards change. And sadly, this resistance can sometimes last a lifetime.

We think:

“This is not all that bad.”

I remember when I was in my most unhappy time in corporate life, I would try to hang on and keep soldiering through it by thinking “OK, this is bad, but it’s not always horrible. There are some good moments and experiences.” If I’m really honest, I can see that I did that because I didn’t want to leave behind the high salary I was getting, or the convenience of being very close to my home and my young kids. But the price I paid for that was enormous.

When we’re in damaging, painful or unhappy relationships, careers or situations, we often cling to the good moments – when it feels healthy, fun, or rewarding. We want desperately for everything to work out without our having to make significant changes, so we hold on too tightly to the times that aren’t awful, praying that the terrible experiences will just pass quickly, or be just an aberration.

The problem with this thinking is that,

 if you tolerate any amount abuse, mistreatment, or manipulation that makes you feel awful, you open the door for more of it .

No amount of physical, emotional, sexual, or other forms of mistreatment or abuse (or continual pain and misery) should be tolerated in your life. You have to fight to change the situation, and if you can’t do that by yourself, you need outside support.

“Why do have to be the one to change? They’re the ones in the wrong.”

I’ve heard this from thousands of professionals in horrible work environments as well as spouses or others in relationships gone wrong – they feel they’re in the right so they should NOT have to be the one to make any changes.

The problem with this mindset is that when you are experiencing people, events, and behaviors that are wrong for you, you alone have to be the one to take action, and not wait for others to change. Most likely, these others won’t change because they have no motivation to. You’re the one in pain, so you have the motivation.

The measure of joy, satisfaction and reward you achieve in your life will closely match the degree to which you are open to engaging in the brave work to create it.

“This isn’t fair.”

Many folks beat the drum of “This isn’t fair!” No, it probably isn’t. The reality is that life isn’t fair and expecting it to be is a waste of energy. Life is what we make it. If we wait for fairness to happen to us, we’ll most likely be crushed.

Fairness, respect, equality and being treated in positive, life-affirming ways are experiences we have to co-create by being strong, forthright, integrity-filled, honest, and brave – standing up for ourselves and others, and speaking up courageously for what we believe in and what we think we (and others) deserve. “Fairness” doesn’t just happen – we make it happen with our own actions and mindsets.

“I can’t believe they did this to me! I don’t deserve this treatment.”

Many people who’ve been mistreated, or who’ve been fired, laid off or somehow feel they’ve been kicked to the curb like garbage, and stay stuck in a cycle of disbelief and extreme pain, saying “I can’t believe this – I don’t deserve this.” They take it all personally, as if it’s an affront to who they are deep down, at their core. (I know I did, when I was laid off from my corporate VP role.) They fight against what happened as a way to defend and preserve their sense of worthiness, value and self-esteem.

Most often, however, mistreatment (or situations in which you’ve been let down in a big way) are more about the other person’s issues or the organization’s dysfunction and challenges that you’ve been swept up in. If you can stop taking it all so personally, and start seeing the full dynamics involved, you’ll most likely see a very different picture — of the full system you were embroiled in, why you were initially attracted to it, and why you need to separate from it now.

“This will somehow magically get better – they’ll (or it) will change on its own.”

Finally, I see this reasoning as one that keeps more people stuck in pain and misery than any other.

Most of us don’t ever want to change – we want whatever we have created to work out beautifully.

In fact, we expect it to and put all our eggs in that one basket. Especially when we’ve worked so long and hard to build a particular career, and sacrificed so much in the process. We’re often shattered when it ends up being the wrong one.

When this occurs, we’re bewildered, frustrated and highly resistant. We have magical thinking that if we just work harder, or longer, or give more of ourselves to it, the situation will magically improve.

But as we’ve seen, nothing improves without some critical shift that paves the way for a new way of operating or seeing the world. Magic has nothing to do with it. Change comes from seeing our situation with clear eyes, not taking it personally, learning what we need to, integrating that learning, then getting moving to create an entirely new experience for ourselves.

What thinking has kept you stuck in a situation that you now know you have to change?

For more from Kathy Caprino, visit her career growth programs and her TEDx talk “Time to Brave Up.