You’ve had epiphany after epiphany since you discovered The Last Symptom. You frequently listen to The Last Symptom weekly, free podcast, and you keep notes. Puzzle pieces have been coming together for you, and you’re beginning to understand your emotional disorder more insightfully.
And yet, many frustrations and problems in your life continue to persist. What could be going on? When are you going to start experiencing the positive natural consequences of good emotional health?
There are several possible reasons for why the effects of emotional unhealth continue to persist in your life. This article is meant to help you identify what might be happening in your personal circumstances, and if correctable, to then correct it.
1. You haven’t hit rock bottom, which is just another way of saying you haven’t achieved the correct type, and proper measure, of motivation.
Think of any personal goal you’ve ever set that you were successful in. For me, besides authentically ridding myself of Borderline Personality Disorder, an example of this was becoming fluent in Spanish.
I, for myself, deeply wanted to achieve this. If the forces motivating me had been anything external, I would never have accomplished my goal. Why not? Because there were too many influences and factors encouraging me, at all times, to give up, or quit, or never start at all. None of my friends were learning the language with me. It required giving up massive amounts of time and attention towards other things and sacrificing to do hard, lonely work. I endured ridicule early on when I failed to progress as fast as others thought I should be progressing, or whenever I was put on the spot to say a word in Spanish, and I couldn’t do it from memory. I didn’t live in an area with any Spanish speakers, nor did I work in a field at that time where there was any sort of advantage for speaking a second language. Everybody around me thought I was completely wasting my time.
At the risk of offending some readers, which is not my intent, I feel it important to tell you that I can always tell when a person has learned his or her Spanish from a school or University, because their Spanish abilities are consistently and undeniably inferior to those who have learned on their own, outside of a school setting. My theory on why this is so is that the very nature of learning in a school setting redirects focus from learning for the purpose of learning, to learning for the purpose of achieving a grade, and for other external motivating factors. This relates to The Law of Minimal Effort, which basically describes how we, as people, do not invest any energy or time beyond the energy and time required to achieve our true, primary objective.
Imagine the sort of motivation I was feeling that empowered me to consistently, day after day, no matter what anybody else was doing, and no matter what anybody else thought of me, set aside the time, attention, and effort required, over many years, to learn a language fluently. I developed a real enthusiasm and thrill in it, and I began to truly enjoy the work. It was motivation that I myself was generating from within myself, independent of any external factors. It was something I was doing because I myself wanted it, regardless of what anybody else thought.
For authentically and permanently escaping any emotional disorder such as Borderline Personality Disorder, no motivation less than this type (genuine motivation) will do.
So you yourself must do some serious soul searching, and ask yourself, what is truly motivating me? Am I trying to get healthy because I want people to like me better? Am I trying to hang onto a girlfriend or a boyfriend? Is my wife nagging me to do it? Is she threatening divorce?
These are examples of external sources of motivation, which means they aren’t real. External motivation is not real motivation. Because as external factors ebb and flow, appear, evolve, disappear, change - so will your interest and attention in being healthy. Only genuine motivation - motivation that you tap into within yourself, for reasons that are entirely born from you simply wanting a thing for yourself - can get you to the finish line of authentic recovery. Nothing less will do.
Imagine a person who has been in a terrible car accident. What is his or her motivation for doing the physical therapy necessary to walk again? Does he or she have to be convinced into wanting to walk again? Is his or her desire to walk again dependent on what other people want, or think, or are doing, or are not doing?
As a professional Spanish interpreter on medical staff for sixteen years in hospitals, I have watched people doing the grueling work of physical and occupational therapy, day after day, for months, to be able to walk again, or to be able to use their hands again. Believe me, they don’t care what anybody else wants. The thing powering them is genuine motivation; a desire born from what they themselves want, for themselves, regardless of anything external.
There are two ways people manage to tap into genuine motivation: 1. They choose it. 2. They choose it.
Maybe you think I hiccuped there, but no. In both cases, it comes down to a person simply choosing it, but with slight differences:
1. A person may choose it willingly and spontaneously, and possibly avoid pain.
2. A person may choose it out of desperation, because of immense pain.
This is where the phenomenon of ‘hitting rock bottom’ comes in. It is merely a mechanism that leads some people to finally choose to tap into the genuine motivation needed for authentic recovery. It often occurs when we are finally allowed to fully suffer the naturally-occurring, painful consequences that are simply a natural result of our unhealthy, distorted thinking. One result of this can be that an individual makes up his or her mind that they are willing to do whatever it takes to understand and correct the underlying problems so as to never again suffer from the same causes.
Notice I have not said that hitting rock bottom is a guaranteed way to achieve the genuine motivation needed for recovery, only that it gives a person the best opportunity to achieve it.
Remember, we all have different levels of pain tolerance. Some are willing to suffer every negative consequence imaginable, and yet they will still stubbornly cling to living life the way in which they are most familiar and comfortable. Some people’s rock bottom is death, unfortunately. The actor and comedian Chris Farley went to rehab dozens of times, but his eventual rock bottom was a fatal overdose on an apartment floor.
2. One still enjoys the ‘benefits’ of being emotionally unhealthy too much.
This really just involves a reluctance to put forth the effort to leave behind what is most familiar and comfortable.
Recently, somebody admitted to me that she worries about being lonely after recovery - as if becoming emotionally healthy will mean difficulty finding other emotionally-healthy people whose company she’ll really enjoy.
I had to remind her that she’s already lonely. In fact, she's never not been lonely. Borderline Personality Disorder makes it impossible for her to experience things like authentic intimacy, true empathy, and genuine love. She is worrying that emotional health will result in something that she has already been dealing with for her entire life, whether she is aware of it or not! She has never experienced a true state of being not lonely. Only by leaving emotional unhealth behind, and becoming emotionally healthy, will she ever be able to truly experience the opposite of loneliness.
Others have expressed the concern that they will not enjoy, or be interested in doing, many of the same things they enjoy now. Some enjoy sensual sex, for example, and they imagine possibly losing this sensuality, and they imagine a life after recovery as being dull and boring.
As I have explained many, many times in The Last Symptom free, weekly podcast, it is so very rarely the thing itself which can be classified as healthy or unhealthy. Rather, it is the underlying motivating forces behind that thing. Currently, for emotionally-unhealthy people, those motivating forces are being born from unhealthy factors. Authentic recovery will mean that you will enjoy sex as much as you ever have, and you will still enjoy great sensuality, if you want to. However, the motivating forces creating a desire for sex will not be born from unhealthy factors such as the never-ending need for external validation, or the belief that your value is dependent on external things, such as whose attention you can win over, or the people you can sleep with. The desire for sex will stop being a form of compensation for profound, life-long intimacy deficiency.
3. One may unconsciously or subconsciously believe, privately, that achieving authentic recovery is impossible. ‘Authentic recovery’ means completely ridding oneself of a disorder, permanently, once and for all time.
As human-beings, we are unable to generate genuine motivation for any effort that we secretly perceive is ultimately a total waste of time.
Imagine a coach in a locker room, during halftime of an important game. He’s trying to motivate his team to go out and really give it their all. But also imagine that the members of this team all privately believe that the game they are going out to play is un-winnable. Notice, they don’t simply believe that they are unlikely to win, but that the game is impossible to win.
Can you see that there is absolutely nothing the coach can do, as long as his team privately believes the game is un-winnable, to motivate them into truly going out and approaching the game with the right spirit. They might fake enthusiasm, and they might even be able to tap into momentary spurts of enthusiasm. But as long as they secretly believe the objective is unattainable, any enthusiasm they are able to muster will be temporary and fleeting. The coach has to first convince them that the game is indeed winnable! That winning is truly a real possibility; they aren’t wasting their time and effort! They might still lose, but the possibility of losing does not block one’s ability to tap into genuine motivation. Only the perception that one is involved in an impossible task makes genuine motivation impossible.
Now perhaps you are beginning to understanding my disgust with the professional community in general for creating, and reinforcing the notion, over and over again, that things like Borderline Personality Disorder are incurable, and that the best its sufferers can hope for is to learn ‘coping strategies’, or to focus exclusively on its symptoms, rather than on its causes. By doing this, they enslave thousands, if not millions, of people to the false notion that any attempts toward authentic recovery are going to ultimately be a waste of time and effort. It is no wonder at all why so many people go into recovery already defeated, and the professional community as a group is complicit in this.
4. Recovery takes time.
Maybe a person is just not allowing for the time that is needed and is being overly harsh with oneself, or being unreasonable with his or her expectations. Remember, it took me at least seven years to go from living with Borderline Personality Disorder completely unaware, to finally being free of it, authentically.
So your situation may be like a person who weighs 300lbs who begins a diet, and because they don’t fit into their bikini after the first week of dieting, they begin to feel like it’s all a lost cause. The person may simply need to adjust their expectations to something more accurate and reasonable, and move the bikini fitting further down the calendar.
5. Just because we begin to live differently does not mean the consequences of our past thinking and behaviors are not still in motion.
Consequences may still continue to catch up with us long after we are doing things differently. Healthy people accept the consequences gracefully. (Though most consequences aren’t in any way enjoyable.) We recognize that they are a natural result of our past wrong thinking or actions, and that they have either caught up to us, or they have not yet run their full course. We accept this.
For example, our children may continue to hate us for years. This might be a natural consequence of our past unhealthy thinking or perspectives and behaviors. Although we are fixing it, the consequences don’t simply disappear. It’s important then, to accept that our kids have a right to feel the way they feel, we can regret it, keep working and focusing on ourselves, and hope that in time, we will begin to see the positive consequences of our new healthy efforts and living. This may include forgiveness from our children and the repair of our relationship with them.
Or, maybe we’re still dealing with some of the legal ramifications of our past, destructive attitudes and thinking. These things will just have to run their course. Perhaps it is still necessary for us, for the time being, to continue having dealings with other unhealthy people: An ex-wife with whom we share children, or older parents who we are partly responsible for caring for. These things can bring with them some frustrations and challenges.
But as with all things in authentic recovery, these circumstances are an opportunity for you to truly put into action the things you are learning, and to make adjustments. Each ‘failure’ is an opportunity to tweak the way you handle any situation, and make adjustments. So never look at these things as anything other than the wonderful opportunities they are to strengthen your authentic recovery and make great strides forward.
This is where real recovery happens: Taking the things you are learning, and putting them into action. Testing them in the real world, while making constructive observations and adjustments.