Resolving contradictions can lower your stress

Feeling anxious? Uneasy? A persistent feeling of anxiety can sometimes stem from nothing more than confusion, brought about by the presence of two contradictory ideas. The confused person can even be unaware that the conflicting ideas are causing these feelings. If the confusion is not resolved, or faced ‘head on,’ then it stays, lurking in the subconscious, and prolonging the feeling of discomfort.

For example, a woman thinks, “I want to spend the day with my best friend instead of visiting my nasty uncle. I ought to do what I want to do.” But, at the same time, she says to herself, “I shouldn’t think only of me; I should think of others first, even if they treat me poorly.”

As a result of these two incompatible ideas, she experiences confusion over what to do. One of two things will happen: Either she will spend the day with her best friend but will feel guilty for being ‘selfish’ or, she’ll spend the day being unhappy (and resentful) with her uncle. No matter what she does, the confusion remains unresolved.

Until she identifies and resolves the contradiction, she won’t experience the sense of uncomplicated happiness we all crave. She’ll just become annoyed and cranky, probably taking it out on those unfortunate enough to be around her.

If the contradictions are serious and widespread enough, the resulting confusion can lead to psychological problems such as anxiety disorder and all the rest.

Unresolved confusion generally results in feelings of futility, and, if serious enough, even hopelessness. The good news is that it doesn’t have to be this way! When you experience confusion, your mind is sending you a clear message. It’s telling you that you’re desiring, expecting, or wishing for two things that simply don’t go together. It’s like wearing a green polka-dot shirt with a purple tie, and expecting to be admired for your sense of fashion. Or leaving the apples out of your apple pie recipe, and expecting your own show on The Food Channel. As much as you try, it simply will not work. Yes, it’s disappointing, at first, to face up to the contradictions creating your confusion—especially if you REALLY wanted to have it both ways. But the truth, as the saying goes, will set you free. Identifying the things that you’re confused about, and accepting what you cannot change, will, most certainly, eliminate the problem.

There are so many everyday examples, some of which may sound familiar: “I want to be excellent at my work. I want good money and lots of success.” But, “I want to take it easy as much as possible, doing only what I have to do, and spending the rest of my time relaxing.”

Or: “I want to move out west to Montana to be near my girlfriend.” Oops, but, “I always wanted to live close to a major city such as New York or L.A.”

Or: “I want the vacation leave and insurance benefits that employment with a big corporation can provide.” Then, of course, the crucial ‘but:’ ‘I want the independence and autonomy of being self-employed. I don’t want to deal with the office politics and the manipulation of higher management.”

Even if these do sound familiar to you, don’t worry. It’s normal and natural to want lots of different things in life. The problems arise when some of these things conflict with one another. With a little self-awareness (and a lot of willingness to recognize that in the grown-up world, we all have to make choices), the chaos of confusion will disappear.

Good mental health starts with identifying and correcting contradictions that we don’t realize we’re holding on to. The process isn’t always easy. It’s certainly not as easy as popping a pill (my regular readers know how I feel about that!). But you really do have an excellent chance of uncovering the actual causes of your emotional problems by analyzing and identifying your thoughts and feelings. The dubious alternative, such as relying on the inexact science of psychiatric medication, often does nothing more than address the symptoms. If you’re “lucky,” an effective dose of Prozac or Paxil (along with the sometimes uncomfortable side-effects) will help you pretend that your contradictions don’t exist. So how is this therapeutic? How does this actually help you? Is it any wonder that, even when psychiatric medications seem to work, they usually don’t maintain their effectiveness over the long run. Trying to live with contradictions, day in and day out, has to catch up with you sooner or later. Medicine or no medicine.

Resolving contradictions means making hard choices and facing up to the fact that you can’t have your proverbial cake and eat it too. But the feeling of liberation is well worth the effort. By giving up one idea in favor of a contradictory expectation, you’re free to enjoy the one path you choose with full zest and vigor. No guilt. No resentment. No nagging doubts. Just liberation, and the end of confusion.