psychology, relationships, Uncategorized

The Psychology Of Holding Out For Something Else

I just got out of a relationship with a perfectly lovely individual. He was tall. He had a job. He was nice to me. He came from a corn-fed, family-values-type background. And yet, part of me was never committed to us. Part of me wanted to redownload Bumble (a less sketchy version of Tinder), attend the singles dances, and/or Facebook stalk the groomsmen in my friends’ wedding photos. It wasn’t that I wasn’t happy; I think I was. But something deeper, something more sinister like a full-body version of restless leg syndrome was lying in wait, prompting me to look a little longer at each of the wedding band-less men who checked me out at the grocery store. I felt unsettled.

Many of you may follow this up with “But Cait! That’s how you know you’re not in the right relationship.” I would agree with you, but I would also counter with “But what if I have felt like this to some extent in every relationship I’ve been in. And what if I admitted to feeling like this to some degree in every school I’ve ever attended and in every job that I have ever held? Do I get to write all of those off as ‘just not right,’ too?” To which you would respond, “DAMN DANIEL, I didn’t mean to start an existential query. We’re going to stop inviting you to Bachelor viewing parties if you can’t engage in normal chit-chat.”

Although I might vocalize it more frequently than is socially appropriate, I believe that I’m not the only one my age who feels this way. Also, there is science to back this phenomenon up.

FOMO, or the fear of missing out, is actually an primitive condition rooted in our drive to survive. Our survival as an individual and our survival as a community/people/species was once determined by our ability to be aware of threats to both ourselves and to our larger group. To be in the know often had life-or-death consequences. For example, to not be aware of a new source for water meant that you missed out on something that could keep you alive. When people evolved from transient hunting and gathering situations to stable farming communities this innate need to be in the know began to be utilized in a different way. Survival became less based on an individual’s efforts and more dependent on community interconnectivity. Thus our instinctual drive to need to know became less about physical life-or-death threats and more about societal life-or-death.

The problem is that although we don’t need to respond to being in the know with the same urgency that our caveman forefathers did, our brains still experience these evolved threats in an archaic manner. The limbic system, specifically the amygdala activates and responds to these threats in a visceral fight-or-flight response. What was once essential to our survival and triggered very infrequently now becomes problematic as our awareness of possible “threats” have amplified through the ever-increasing platforms for information and awareness (social media, newspapers, the internet, group texts). A constantly triggered amygdala can lead to prolonged and habitual stress, depression, anxiety, hyper-vigilance, etc.
Of course this problem is larger than Instagram-fueled travel envy for a group of twentysomethings. Walk in a straight line long enough and you will bump into a single young adult who is struggling to the point of debilitation with navigating their relationships, careers, and future. FOMO is making us afraid to act, for the fear that any movement is movement away from a potential route to our end-all-be-all happiness.

Here’s the thing, though. All decisions reduce more freedom than they create. So what starts out as the action-promoting thought process on our real-life Choose Your Own Adventure book becomes a battle of making choices versus preserving freedom. Our amygdala is triggered. What information are we missing that is vital to our survival? Having too many choices promotes indecisiveness, and so we are left in a perpetual state of ambivalence towards making a decision on our futures.

This ambivalence is a luxury, which is only made affordable through the current state of globalization, advanced technology, and upward mobility in society. A case could be made that it only exists because of the endless sea of opportunities as they react with the subjective experience of the emerging adult. Emerging adulthood, a term coined by developmental psychologist Jeffrey Arnett, is the phase of the life span between adolescence and adulthood, roughly age 18-27. This stage is characterized by “identity exploration, instability, self-focus, and feeling in-between.” So in a social climate and an age hallmarked by ambiguity, emerging adults have developed intolerance to the unknown. Many stand by as opportunities to contribute, connect, and progress come towards them and then slip through their open fingers.

What can we do to not fall victim to all of this? I’m not 100% sure, since I am more of a fellow traveler than an expert on this subject. However, I have found some things to be helpful in reducing distress and in enabling me to be functional in the midst of uncertainty.

Build awareness.
Are you being picky because of this FOMO phenomenon or do you actually not like your job/school/love interest? Figure out how to differentiate between the two. Try to recognize the circumstances around which you are most triggered to have a FOMO reaction. IDK go to a therapist or something.

Reduce your social media usage.
Take a break from Instagram/Facebook/Snapchat/Twitter. Just delete Twitter because that thing breeds anxiety and toxicity. Give your brain a vacation from identifying threats that aren’t even relevant to your situation.

Focus on now.
While it is near impossible to only focus on the present moment when you are simultaneously at an age where you need to make important decisions, know that anxiety can only live in the past and in the future. Use thought-stopping techniques to shut down debilitating rumination loops regarding the diverse ways your future might be limited. Read this quote and breathe.

“Worrying is carrying tomorrow’s load with today’s strength- carrying two days at once. It is moving into tomorrow ahead of time. Worrying doesn’t empty tomorrow of its sorrow, it empties today of its strength.”
― Corrie ten Boom



You put up with it because she makes you feel more alive than you’ve ever felt. In the meantime, in between the sporadic visitations, you lie in wait as life comes near you but never really touches you. Everything is menial. Everything is paper to your mouth. Grey sweatpants. Acid just for the sensation of burning.

And then. She’s back in town. One night only. She hops into your car and you embrace as if years have gone by and you resume your conversation as if no time has passed at all. She looks into your eyes when you talk, a piercing gaze. She wants to know. So you sift through the words in your throat only permitting the most true and most worthy to escape your teeth.

She is laughing. Her laugh is hearty and tangential. Tears fall down her face; she covers her mouth while gasping for air. You are the funniest person alive. You never understood humor fully until you saw how she reacted to it. Now it makes your belly full of fire, eager to recite every joke you have ever learned or heard from the boys in high school gym class.

She grabs Doritos and Coke from the corner gas station. You park outside a freeway turn off. A playlist to reminisce to is muted in the background. You are doing nothing and eating nothing substantial and listening to nothing, as the musical conversation prompts aren’t needed. You are in the now. You are creating new memories of nothing to reminisce to later. Later when she is gone.

She leaves. Your life resumes it’s normal pace after you remember that she only goes away for long stretches of time. You can’t plan your existence around her. She is too unreliable. And yet. You really only ever feel alive when you’re with her.


Pain as a facilitator of learning

This morning my foot fell asleep. At first it was numb. I laughed sleepily as I flung it about like a rag doll, unable to sense any motion. Then the tingling started. “Oh crap,” I thought as the synapses in my brain connected, reminding me of my previous experiences with waking up sleeping body parts. The tingling spread like a paint roller covered with millions of acupuncture needles up my foot towards my calves. After attempting to speed up the process by violently shaking my foot, I sighed and relinquished my control to the inevitable. The pain swelled and receded like tumultuous ocean surf until at last, calm seas.

I think it is a very human response to turn away from pain of any form. When we are on the precipice of a painful experience (be it physical, emotional, spiritual or otherwise) our natural inclination is to flee. Masking, avoiding, shutting down prematurely, feeling in increments that we incorrectly perceive are “as much as we can handle” all lead to the pain not serving its purpose: to teach us.

Pain is the original facilitator of learning. The stove is hot. We touch it and burn our hand. Lesson: don’t touch the stove, you dumb dumb.

Allowing ourselves to fully experience pain as it happens, letting it work us over, creates the most productive type of learning: a combination of intellectual comprehension with a physiological sensation to reinforce the message. Any time we intrude upon the process out of intolerance for momentary discomfort we rob ourselves of the opportunity to learn this specific lesson.

As you undergo individual experiences with different types of pain, try to fight your natural responses to shut down, for your own long-term benefit. Pain acknowledged, felt, and addressed will lead to a happier existence. Pain ignored and pushed aside will reemerge in intervals until it receives the attention it was intended to receive. After all, pain demands to be felt.

quotes, writing

“What nobody tells people who are beginners — and I really wish someone had told this to me … is that all of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, and it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not.

But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase. They quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know it’s normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story.

It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”

-Ira Glass





Reality #14