Reduce Stress by Resolving Contradictions

Feeling anxious or uneasy? A persistent feeling of anxiety can sometimes stem from nothing more than mental conflict brought about by the presence of two or more contradictory ideas. You might not even be aware that the feelings are being caused by these ideas, but if the confusion is not resolved it will continue to lurk in the subconscious, prolonging the feeling of discomfort.

For example, a woman might think, ‘I want to spend the day with my best friend instead of visiting my nasty uncle.” But, at the same time, she says to herself, “I shouldn’t think only of me; maybe I should think of him first, even if he treats me poorly.” Since the two ideas are obviously incompatible, she experiences confusion over what to do. One of two things will happen: Either she will spend the day with her best friend (all the while feeling guilty for being ‘selfish’), or she’ll spend the day being unhappy with her uncle (feeling resentful and annoyed). No matter what she does, her confusion remains unresolved.

She will not experience a sense of uncomplicated calm until she identifies and resolves this emotional conflict. She’ll end up cranky, taking her frustration out on anybody unfortunate enough to be around her. Indeed, contradictions that are serious and persistent enough can lead to psychological problems such as anxiety disorder, hopelessness and even outright depression.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. Confusion is a message from your mind telling you that you’re 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 high fashion. Or leaving the apples out of your apple pie and expecting your own show on The Food Channel. As much as you try, it just won’t work. Of course, at first it’s disappointing to finally face up to the contradictions that are creating your confusion — especially if you REALLY wanted to have it both ways. But the truth, as the saying goes, will set you free. Identify the things that you’re confused about, accept what you can’t change, and the problem will most certainly fade away.

There are so many everyday examples. “I want to be excellent at my work. I want good money and lots of success.” Oops, but, “I (also) want to take it easy, doing only what I have to do, and spend the rest of my time relaxing.”

Or, “I want to move to the Midwest to be near my girlfriend.” Oops, but, “I (also) want to live close to New York or L.A.”

Or, “I want the extra benefits that employment with a big corporation can provide.” Oops, but, ‘I (also) want the independence of being self-employed. I don’t want to deal with office politics and higher management.”

These kinds of conflicts happen almost every day. But 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 lots of willingness to recognize that, as grown-ups, we all have to make choices), the anxiety and discomfort 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 (you regular readers know how I feel about that). But you really do have an excellent chance of uncovering the real causes of your emotional problems by analyzing and identifying your thoughts and feelings. The dubious alternative of relying on the inexact science of psychiatric medication often does nothing more than address the symptoms. An effective dose of Prozac or Paxil (along with the often unhappy side-effects) can dull your senses enough that you can pretend that the contradictions don’t exist. But they haven’t gone anywhere. Is it any wonder that, even when psychiatric medications seem to work, they often 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 — pills or no pills.

On the surface, it may look effortless, but good mental health and genuine happiness often mean making hard choices. The simple fact is that you sometimes cannot have your proverbial cake and eat it too. By resolving your conflicting thoughts and desires, you’re granting yourself the freedom to enjoy whatever path you choose with passion and vigor. And the reduction in stress is well worth the effort! No guilt. No resentment. No nagging doubts. Just liberation and an end to confusion.