I have been trying to figure out how to explain how I “got better” in multiple spheres of my life as I have been asked on multiple occasions. Oh, it’s taken a long time, but I did it and continue to do it. Trauma no longer rules my life. I do feel anxiety. I struggle with negative self-talk. I have my moments of self-doubt. I do, however, have insight. I have actualized. And when I’m not entirely sure what’s going on, then I phone a friend who will set me straight and get me going again.
How did I get from Point A to Point Q? How does one even sum up how to recover from Complex PTSD and long-term exposure to myriad types of abuse without sounding trite or like an insensitive asshole?
I came across this quote this morning:
“Our brain is not cut out for nonlinearities. People think that if, say, two variables are causally linked, then a steady input in one variable should always yield a result in the other one. Our emotional apparatus is designed for linear causality. For instance, you study every day and learn something in proportion to your studies. If you do not feel that you are going anywhere, your emotions will cause you to become demoralized. But reality rarely gives us the privilege of a satisfying linear positive progression: You may study for a year and learn nothing, then, unless you are disheartened by the empty results and give up, something will come to you in a flash. . . This summarizes why there are routes to success that are nonrandom, but few, very few, people have the mental stamina to follow them. . . Most people give up before the rewards.” (10 Overlooked Truths About Taking Action)
In other words?
“If you train yourself to be emotionally rewarded for actions taken rather than outcomes you may be able to lengthen the time you can spend in active “failure” and increase your chances of success.
A possible solution is to reward yourself for following your system rather than achieving a specific outcome. Select a system you know will lead to success and follow it.
Eating right vs. losing 20 pounds. Building a business vs. achieving financial independence. Going on dates vs. having a successful relationship. The first are systems, the second are goals.” (10 Overlooked Truths About Taking Action)
This is why I so recommend therapy. Therapy, and whatever therapeutic approach works for you be it CBT, DBT, or what have you, is a system by which we attain our goal which is healing. Therapy is absolutely not the goal. My own recovery and health are the goal. What I do to attain my goal is the system that I choose to get there.
Scott Adams, the creator of Dilbert, asserts in How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big:
“Goal-oriented people exist in a state of continuous pre-success failure at best, and permanent failure at worst if things never work out. Systems people succeed every time they apply their systems, in the sense that they did what they intended to do. The goals people are fighting the feeling of discouragement at each turn. The systems people are feeling good every time they apply their system. That’s a big difference in terms of maintaining your personal energy in the right direction.”
I am a highly goal-oriented personality, but where I will argue with Adams is that I do not exist in a state of pre-success failure. One can be a “systems person” and goal-oriented at the same time. I understand systems, and I understand that we do not achieve our goals without using systems. I also know that most things in life are not linear and neatly causal. The If, Then way of thinking works in elementary school when you are teaching a child about cause and effect. It starts to lose its meaning when you adhere to it as an adult and find that it doesn’t hold true much of the time. “If I work hard enough, then I’ll be rewarded.” Gee, I worked really hard, and I got laid off. “If you love someone with all your heart, then they’ll love you back.” Gee, I loved that person so much, and they left me. And, we were married. “If you make a ton of money, then you’ll be happy.” Gee, I have more money than God, and I’m lonelier than I’ve ever been.
Essentially, it is the systems that we use to achieve our goals that determine how we feel about our lives, ourselves, and destiny as we move in our intended direction. Why? Because you will never be as whole as you expect to be. That is something that no one will tell you. I had to learn that the hard way, and it was very painful.
I used to have these little statements I would say to myself like, “If only I could forgive my father, then I know I would be free in my life,” or “If I could just learn to enjoy sex a little more, then I know I would be over being raped,” or “If only I could say no to people with confidence, then I would know I am really better,” or “If only I felt better about how I looked, then I would know that my mother no longer held sway over me.”
Guess what? Most of those statements are true for me in my life now, and I still want more. I see so much more room for growth and improvement. The goal isn’t about recovery anymore. My life has become about taking action. Choosing a system and implementing it, and there is a bit more adventure now, too. Sometimes I pick a system just to see what will happen. “If I take this action in this fashion, then where might I end up? How will my life look in six weeks if I do this?”
What does that look like? Choosing actions rather than focusing on a goal. In the case of recovery from trauma or mental health improvement leading to greater well-being or even something like dealing with domestic abuse, present actions matter more because recovery takes a long time. If you find a therapist, for example, who suits you, then you will improve in some way. There will be some measure of recovery in your life. The benefit of the systems approach then is to take your view off the goal (since you know that you are moving in your intended direction now) and put your energy into your present efforts. Suddenly, the present pain associated with doing the work becomes meaningful.
The energy to move forward and make the hard choices comes from the implementation of your chosen system not from whether or not you have or will “arrive”. If you continue to derive energy and empowerment from taking action, then you will begin to feel encouraged and even find that your self-esteem is increasing because you are doing something. It is the action that matters more; not the perceived distance between your status quo and your goal. Why? Because your actions are what close the gap between the two–not your planning, your discouragement, your self-assessing, or even the depth of your personal suffering. Your actions. And it’s finding a system that works well for you that will enable you to take the most necessary actions.
Sometimes the very act of taking action on your own behalf is the catalyst to your recovery.
This is the secret to getting better. Change your paradigm around what success means. Choose a system or systems, or create your own. Act on them.
You will see changes in your life.
For Further Reading: