Being discontent comes in many forms. Despite things like the “no regrets” cliché, it’s not reasonable to go through life and not be discontent at some point. Yet being discontent doesn’t necessarily mean it’s chronic or debilitating. Having credit card debt isn’t necessarily going to make us depressed. Similarly, choosing to date someone we aren’t compatible with can make us feel discontent, but if we break up and move on, things can be ok.
But what if we feel trapped in a relationship? For example, we rely on the partner to provide half the income. Or, what if our credit card debt is preventing us from taking a particular curriculum and achieving our professional goals?
The trapped issue seems to be a crucial factor in almost every depressed feeling (e.g., chronic discontent). If we didn’t feel trapped, then we’d just move on and stop feeling depressed. Normally, regret would help us learn what not to do, and being discontent would help us change what we’re currently doing. Yet, for some reason, sometimes we can’t move on from the discontent feeling. There’s something holding us back. We can typically identify various ‘tangible’ reasons, such as not having the money or some extreme event that can never be forgotten; something always goes wrong. In those cases, logically, we just can’t find any real options.
Break Up … The Choices
In one of our previous articles, “Suicide: The Final Choice,” we talk about how our unconscious tends to crunch a lot of information on our behalf. The idea is that when the choices are easy, the unconscious can quickly bubble up the answer, and there isn’t much to deliberately think about. However, when the choices are complex, our unconscious gives us some leading information but then lets us figure out the rest.
In these tough situations, although there are always a seemingly infinite number of choices, the real choices can almost always be broken into the most general categories. For example, in our discontent, incompatible relationship, we can always start with 1. break up, or 2. don’t break up.
Of course, that isn’t all there is to it. We’d need to continue to split the choices again and again to see other possibilities. If we break up, for example, that means we will be poorer and possibly not able to pay for rent or live the same lifestyle. We may need to get roommates or file for bankruptcy. If we don’t break up, we either accept that we won’t be compatible or try to change that. Again and again, break the choices into the most basic forms until we come up with a path that feels right and possible.
There may be those times, however, that even breaking up the choices into the smallest details possible still isn’t yielding a good answer. Then, most likely, either our ideas aren’t well defined or are somehow in conflict. All of these ideas in our minds are ‘rooted’ by our understanding and experiences.
Finding Our Roots
If we encounter a decision that can’t seem to be divided into simple terms, then most likely, the choices have various roots or dependencies tying to other choices and issues. What that really means is we may have a problem connecting all the cognitive dots. For example, what if our partner’s mother was also our boss and would immediately and definitely fire us if we broke up? And more extreme, what if we quit? Would the mother push our partner to break up with us?
In this case, our job and financial goals are strongly linked to our relationship, making the decision more complex; every “break up” versus “don’t break up” would be linked to “keep job” versus “leave job” as well as the other cascading effects. The most complex of problems has a vast network of links just like this. Except, to make matters worse, the links aren’t only these nice clear ‘tangible’ lines; they will inevitably also be more obscure.
Obscure Roots and Cognitive Dissonance
How are we defining things like “good partner” versus “bad partner” or “good son” versus “bad son”? There are an insane number of these concepts, and if any one of these concepts is in conflict (e.g., cognitive dissonance or simply wrong), then our whole decision-making process becomes very suspect.
If, for example, we believe that a “good partner” would never get a divorce, then that is ok as long as all the other items in our decision tree line up. If we believed that without any conflicting ideas or dissonance, then “break up” wouldn’t even be an option. We’d skip that option and go straight to other possibilities like “couples therapy” or “self-help.”
Yet what if our partner was abusive? Now, we have a wrench thrown into the equation. Does a “good partner” truly need to stick through abuse? To move forward, we’d either eliminate the dissonance by changing our definition of “good partner” or feel trapped because we cannot figure out a way to be both a “good partner” and not be “discontent.”
This is the simplest of examples. Life is rife with many more complexities than this, yet it seems that if we do not eliminate the dissonance, we can easily get trapped in ways we don’t even realize.
Self-Confidence Isn’t the Answer; It’s the Result
The interesting thing is, we hear ‘be positive,’ ‘believe in yourself,’ and the like, but the truth of the matter is if we could all just ‘believe,’ then no one would have problems with their self-confidence. Of those who feel trapped, how many truly feel or can feel self-confident? Even if we do ‘believe in ourselves,’ if this belief is in conflict with other deep-seated thoughts, then we’re right back where we started.
The thing is, self-confidence may not be the answer to anything. It may be more of a result. If we solve cognitive dissonance, we naturally solve our ability to make tough decisions. If we solve our ability to make tough decisions, we naturally start to accomplish more. This results in confidence, which is really just a feeling of our own ability to accomplish things.
That means that if we take care of our cognitive roots by removing dissonance as much as possible and by adding knowledge and experience, our ability to make solid choices and escape the various obstacles life throws at us gets greater and greater.
The Dangerous Slope (or Cliff)
The primary danger when we take this plunge to find our cognitive roots and remove dissonance is that it will not be easy. We will be challenging our own beliefs, and we will feel more lost than before we even started at times. We will feel the inclination to double down on some areas making us overconfident and rigid in the areas we need to challenge the most. If we double down on the wrong thing, we can easily set ourselves up for a strange trajectory even if ‘dissonance’ is generally taken care of.
With all that said, fight the trapped and discontent feelings by continuously resolving dissonance and adding as much non-biased knowledge and experience as possible. The thing is, the ‘solution’ may take a very long time. If, for example, we’re in debt, we could be looking at years before things get better; that’s a long time to be ‘discontent.’ That means it is *crucial* to handle the long journey by getting satisfaction in the tiny wins along the way.