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Is Your Inner Child Keeping You Trapped in a Bad Relationship or Job?

By Steven Jay Fogel

It happens when we see politicians repeatedly make the same self-destructive mistakes. Think former legislator Anthony Weiner’s repeated sexting scandals.

Or we hear friends complain repeatedly about the horrible job they’re “stuck” in.

Or, in a rare glimmer of insight, we wonder why we’re
When people seem mentally healthy and it looks as though they could easily make a change that would make them happier and we’re absolutely baffled by why they don’t. Yet when you’re the “stuck” person, still hanging on to a “romance” that makes you miserable or working at a job you hate, the “why” may seem more evident. You’re scared, or you think, “If I just keep doing the right things, it will all work out.”

Either way, it’s likely they—and you—aren’t making a conscious choice at all. We think we’re making decisions based on the present, but we’re usually not. We tend to operate on automatic pilot, responding to situations based on the coping strategies and thinking patterns we developed in childhood. 

When those strategies are dysfunctional, we just keep repeating the same behaviors over and over again. The good news is that we can learn to recognize that “default” thinking and rewire the brain to change it.

What can you do to get yourself unstuck? Get started by answering these questions—in writing!

* What is causing your pain? Think about whether you’re in a relationship or job that’s become less and less satisfying and increasingly painful over a long period. Describe in writing the elements of the relationship or situation that are persistently causing you pain and how long you’ve been experiencing these problems. Knowing that there are three ways to end your suffering, accept the situation, change it, or remove yourself from it. Write down the reasons you’re staying even though you’re suffering and what is preventing you from choosing Door 1, 2 or 3.

*How are you interpreting your partner’s behavior? If you repeatedly fight about the same issues, describe the issues. Think about whether you’re unconsciously investing the issue with a meaning based on your “autopilot” thinking. For instance, if you’re arguing because your partner is messy and ignores your requests to be neat, are you interpreting that as disrespect toward you? Do you further interpret that disrespect as a lack of love for you? Is it possible that your partner is just not a neat person and that has nothing to do with his feelings for you?

* Do you have impulsive autopilot behaviors that are causing problems? We can often check the impulses that stem from our autopilot brain just by stopping to think before we act. Bursts of anger are one example. Suppressed anger that turns into passive-aggressive behavior is another.

* Do you feel shamed or blamed by your partner’s critical comments? Write down the comments accurately, exactly as they were spoken. Then think mindfully about whether your partner was really shaming you or if you interpreted the comments in that way because of your own inner critic. If it was the former, have a conversation with the person about how you feel when this happens, and state that you’ll be more open to the feedback if the criticism can be expressed objectively.

* Did you bring a myth with you into the relationship? If so, describe the  myth. For example, you might have believed that you will cure everything that’s wrong with the other person. Or that he will fix all of your problems. Describe how you came to believe that myth and what it would take for you to release it.

Steve Jay Fogel is a principal and cofounder of Westwood Financial Corp., one of the largest owner-operators of retail properties in the United States. He is a licensed real estate broker and past chairman of the California Arts Council. Your Mind Is What Your Brain Does for a Living, publishing March 11, 2014, is his third book. He is also the author of My Mind Is Not Always My Friend: A Guide for How to Not Get in Your Own Way (Fresh River Press, 2010) and The Yes-I-Can Guide to Mastering Real Estate (Times Books-Random House).