Why are we attracted to things that don’t help us?
2 November 2020
By Ramone Whittle
Why are we attracted to things that don’t help us? (Part 1)
Good morning, afternoon, evening, depending on what time of the day this is reaching your screen. I’m here with another post and as you may have picked up on by now, I like sharing the random musings that take place in my mind so let’s get straight into it.
Trusting that you tuned into the last post, you would know that we spent much time speaking about change, and to provide the quickest of summaries, the conclusion of the series was to stress the power of belief; more specifically, belief in your own identity and how a change in how you see yourself can influence a change in behaviour: belief > thoughts > actions > outcome > repeat.
I also mentioned that in my journey of writing the series, I was very much learning the content as I was going along and so upon finishing the series, my plan was to make radical changes in multiple areas in my life; one thing I completely overlooked, however, was the reality of process.
Process defined is:
“A series of actions or steps taken in order to achieve a particular end.”
Similar to a staircase, in between the ground and the desired destination are steps that must be climbed in order to reach that next level. The problem being though, is that in 2020 there is an unquenchable desire embedded in society for instant results. We want faster phones, faster buses, faster meals, faster ways to consume those meals through contactless payments, we're in such a rush for the next moment that words like process, and patience, are alien; dare I say, even offensive!
‘What do you mean I have to wait 20 mins for fresh food to be cooked? I’m a regular, this is outrageous, I’m going elsewhere!’ Perhaps you are familiar with this scenario: a person arrives at their favorite restaurant expecting speedy service as usual, in their absence however, a new person was hired and naturally, a mistake due to inexperience is made; now this person must wait a little longer than usual to receive their meal. As I ponder on this hypothetical scenario, I began to realise that the delay to receiving the food is actually in the person’s best interest.
If the waiter was to cut corners, and encourage the chef to take shortcuts in the name of extinguishing the customer’s fiery rage, this same favourite meal, from the same favourite restaurant, would actually cause great discomfort!
‘How can something so good, when rushed, be so bad? Why be upset at this waiter preventing an upset stomach? Isn’t this a good thing? What’s going on here?’
Then I thought:
‘The strength of a desire doesn’t determine the benefit of the desire.’
Applying this to my own life, what I failed to take into account is that, despite coming into new information on the topic of change, there is a process required that takes the information from my mind and deposits it in my heart or in my subconscious. I don’t have to think about breathing; it is automatic, and that is because that piece of information (the necessity of oxygen) has become part of my being, my person. Of course there are varying circumstances in this example but as a general truth, we don’t have to remember to breathe, we don't have to consciously desire to breathe, we just do it.
Now let’s reverse this a little bit. What about those habits, those desires, that we have operated with as long as we have been breathing? Can you see where I’m going with this? Discovering information that advertises a better way is great, but it is going to take some time to uproot that habit or desire, and replace it with this new one.
What do you do when on day one of your journey, those habits you're trying to leave behind speak a little louder than they did before? Do you listen? Do you ignore them? How can you ignore them? Isn’t it this very same habit that has kept you functional until now? Is that how you show gratitude to the one who was really there for you? Really cared for you? If you leave it behind, are you breaking up with your most loyal friend? Well in typical Ramone fashion, I’ll share my conclusions on this in hopes that it will help you.
“Change is hard because people overestimate the value of what they have and underestimate the value of what they will gain if they give that thing up” - James Belasco and Ralph Stayer
Why are we attracted to things that don’t help us? (Part 2)
From a young age I learnt, through trauma, that romance is the way to fill the void that was left in my sense of value by said trauma. At the time I wasn't aware of what I was doing, nor was I aware that I had a void, but regardless of my ignorance, I learned how to cultivate relationships with the opposite gender that were built on the excitement and mystery of romance. I guess you could say I studied it. I would watch romance movies, listen to love songs, and with a bit of trial and error in application, I was able to string together words in poetical fashion and perform acts of affection that could provoke the recipient to profess their “love” for me.
I was addicted. It made me feel alive. It made me feel valued, wanted, it made me feel as though I belonged. It was a mutual exchange; ‘If I can give her a romantic rush that she hasn’t felt before, then I get to have the satisfaction of a job well done.’ This is fairly difficult for me to confess but it was what I built my concept of manhood on; some men build buildings, others create businesses, I didn’t see myself as a ‘manly man,’ so instead, I made it my job to tend to the emotional needs of women.
At age 18 to about 22 I became aware that I was carrying a void but had no idea what to do about it, nor the strength to face it, so I decided to continue living like it wasn’t there, hoping it would just go away. At age 23 to present day (age 25) after an encounter with religion, I subscribed to the idea that a new way of life is not only possible but actually has already been provided for me and help to change is readily available; and so with that, the journey of me challenging all the things I fled from began.
I became aware of the source of my void a year ago (some responses to trauma can be to completely block it out from memory) during a counselling session, yet I still viewed romance as the answer to my problems of poor self-image, depression, and anxiety. For a year I thirsted for romance as drought thirsts for rain; my thinking was ‘okay, well now I know why I’ve been the way I’ve been up to this point, I’ve cried, now I can move forward and be in a relationship for the right reasons this time.’
(Quick detour) as I mentioned earlier, my last post spoke on the importance of identity when considering personal change. When I say ‘identity’ I simply mean your personal statement, not your professional one: if your name was in the dictionary, without the fear of not being hired, what would be the description?
As I reflect on my life, I notice times where I've adopted an incorrect identity.
One example is I considered myself to be the life of the party, the one who could get the most drunk and still be the last one standing amongst my peers. I say it was incorrect because it led to many ‘close calls,’ and it took a car accident to finally consider re-evaluating my personal statement.
Notice I said the word ‘consider’. The ‘transtheoretical model,’ coined by James Prochaska & Carlo Di Clemente, describes the 5 stages of change and one of those stages is contemplation. The idea behind the model is that a person can be in any of the five stages at any time, and can progress forwards and backwards between stages, but with each transition gains a deeper insight to their behaviour and is better equipped to keep relapses to a minimum. In short, the good news is that according to science, challenges are the rule, rather than the exception (so now you have permission to stop comparing yourself with other people); the bad news is, that if not navigated correctly, one can remain stuck in a stage and not experience any change in their life.
Now that a bit of context has been provided, my story of overlooking the reality of process may be a bit more relevant. After writing my last post I had every intention to do and be better; more specifically, I had goals of overcoming my poor self-image and becoming someone that I can be proud of. Yet the moment I set out, the desire for romance crept back in with a vengeance, and with it came the opportunity to satisfy it. It seemed perfect: finally, here’s my chance to make good in an area I have failed in for years, I can make up for all the mistakes I've made, here’s my chance!
Perhaps this seems a little dramatic but the desire was so strong that it made perfect sense to go for it. I have a friend who works in the pharmaceutical industry and he says there is a saying in his work, ‘be sure to finish the course’; the idea being that no matter if the person ‘feels’ better, always advise them to see the prescribed method of treatment to the end. In my case, I had decided that a year was enough time to heal. The foundation of my conclusion was seeing people around me move on with their lives; I saw images of people living a ‘perfect’ life on social media, and this was enough evidence for me to get what I thought I ‘deserved.’
Maybe you're wondering what relevance this has to anything. Your addiction may not be romance, maybe it’s walking away from smoking, drinking, self-harming. Whatever the case may be, you have resisted the urge for some time now, you feel you’re strong enough to only do it in ‘moderation’ this time, you feel you deserve a reward for resisting for as long as you have, but my advice to you would be ‘finish the course.’ Stick to the plan you formed with your counsellor, advisor, nurse, mentor, coach, friend, parent, partner, whoever it may be – don’t rush the process!
Maybe your follow up question is ‘when will you know you're truly healed?’ I think you won’t have to force it. I believe humans are social creatures and there's a part of us that wants to love others and be loved, and so, we all look for social groups we can fit into in order to fill this want. On the journey of healing, it is good to share your journey with someone, someone who you can be accountable to, someone who can give you an unbiased opinion and honestly, in love, tell you how you are progressing.
If I'm being honest, I had loving people around me who gently told me that I am not ready. They told me ‘It's not a bad thing to desire companionship but it’s just not the right time, allow yourself time to heal, just like some fruits that are poisonous when eaten before they are ripe, attempting to involve someone else in your life at this stage can be detrimental’. And this brings me back to my earlier thought process: ‘the strength of a desire doesn’t determine the benefit of it.’
The desire to be with this person was so strong that I interpreted its intensity as a green light, and so, I disregarded the advice given to me and drove 60mph in a 30mph zone in an attempt to make it work. Unfortunately, history repeated itself, and similar to a rollercoaster that brings excitement but quickly ends, I had to face the painful truth that no matter how hard I try, I cannot shortcut the healing process.
Going back to my staircase analogy quickly, in order to commit to a process there first has to be a clearly outlined destination. If I want to get to my bedroom from my living room, then the process of climbing up the stairs will get me there. In this case, my destination is a healthy concept of manhood. A manhood where I find worth, competence, and belonging in sustainable resources, rather than it being at the expense of others. It saddens me to know that I have allowed my trauma to be a catalyst for other people to be wounded but nevertheless, the process I shall commit to from this day forward involves abandoning old mindsets, no matter how challenging, and each conquered thought pattern (or ‘step’) takes me closer to the destination.
This post isn’t a rant about romance, it’s not a ploy to play victim in order to win your sympathy, nor is it relationship advice; the point of this post is to encourage the reader to trust the process. It’s a very uncomfortable thing letting go of what you have known for so long and replacing it with the uncertainty of ‘better’, it’s a very awkward moment when you're expected to be present at a therapy session, despite already ‘feeling better’; it’s even more awkward when you feel the worst you have ever felt after partaking in this very same therapy. In all these circumstances though, let us both continue on our journey, keeping our eyes on the prize of being whole, continuing to put one foot in front of the other, trusting that it will all be worth it in the end.
“You can’t become who you want to be because you’re too attached to who you’ve been” - Unknown
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