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4 steps to breaking free from your traps

Updated: Sep 13, 2021

In our last post, we talked about what a big deal feeling trapped is for most of us. How common it is, how it controls our feelings. We said this time we’d offer solutions. And here goes.

Step 1. Believing you can break free.

I guess you have to take this one on faith. I can say this for sure, though. In decades of work with people, they’ve constantly come to me convinced—as experts in their own lives!—that they were trapped and that there was nothing, nothing!, that could be done about it. But there was NEVER a case where this proved true. We ALWAYS found alternatives the people never imagined existed.

Here’s a silly little example from my own life. When we were just starting out in private practice, we saw people in our apartment. Now we had a decent living room, but we couldn’t see people there because we had kids. The only other room conceivable was our bedroom. But it was...a bedroom!

There we were. Trapped!

Then, somehow we realized something about our bed. It was a foam mattress on a wooden frame. It was the wooden frame that made the thing a bed. If we threw away the frame we just had a foam mattress. And if we just folded that foam mattress in half and tossed some pillows on it...voila! A couch. Or what could easily pass as a couch in those hippy dippy days. With one flip of a foam mattress, the bedroom became a therapy room. And a trap disappeared.

That’s always been a symbol for me of an absolute fact. You can always break free because there’s always an alternative.

Step 2. Talk to a lot of different people.

We’re trapped not because there aren’t alternatives. We’re trapped because of our ignorance of what’s possible, both out there in the world and inside us, for us. The first way to break out is to lay your dilemma in front of all the smartest people you can round up. See what they have to say. The third person you talk to, or the seventh, may have an amazing alternative you never imagined possible.

It’s not because they’re smarter than you. It’s just that they have more experience with the kind of problem you’ve been wrestling with, and they’re less stuck in the grooves you’ve been going around and around in.

If you’re feeling trapped, you may simply have not yet been talking to enough of the right people.

Step 3. “What if...?”

Now this might seem like it’s just an exercise, but it’s far more. Do this: Ask yourself, “If I had all the money and time and freedom in the world, what would I do?” Imagine the impossible.

Now, yes, of course, this stuff is impossible. But that’s not the point. The point is to shake you loose from your “I’m trapped” mind set.

Suppose your answer to the “If I had all the money...” question was that you’d go to medical school. And you realized that really was impossible. For whatever reason. Fine. But still, you came up with that answer. It’s pointing you in some direction. So maybe there’s something in that answer that can point you to a way out of your trap. Maybe something about going back to school. Maybe something about working in health care. Maybe something about doing things to help other people. Who knows?

And this begins the process of freeing you up. It starts with a liberated imagination.

Step 4. Breaking free from your shackles.

There are three main ways people break free from their traps. The first is seeing something they didn’t see before. We’ve already covered this in steps 2 and 3.

The other two ways are saying yes to things you’ve been saying no to and saying no to things you’ve been saying yes to. Perhaps I should say more about this!

Hidden within our feeling trapped are boundaries we ourselves have put up. We look at our options through lenses which have had us saying, “Oh, I could never do that” and “Well, I haveto do this.”

Well, guess what? When people burst out of their traps, they almost always find themselves saying that they’ve done what they thought they couldn’t do and said no to something they thought they couldn’t let go of. And they’re quite happy about it.

Here’s what people tell me, over and over. “Well, I had plan A. Turned into an awful trap. I felt terrifyingly stuck. Fell back on plan B, which collapsed in a heap, and I felt more trapped and doomed than ever. Next thing I know, I’m into plan C—which I said I’d never do, blech!—and it turned out great. I’m fine!”

So here’s your exercise.

What are you, sitting there in your stuck place, saying no to? About what are you saying, “Yeah, well, I may be trapped, but I’ll never do X or take on Y”?

Write down all the things you’ve been saying no to and ask yourself, “Really? Is that so all-fired unacceptable and impossible for me? Is it possible that there are folks out there who’ve said yes to that and are perfectly happy? What makes me think I’m any different?”

The other part of the exercise is, what—or more to the point—who are you saying yes to that’s keeping you trapped? Whose demands or expectations are you still living up to that you don’t need to live up to at all?

Write down all these things you’ve been saying yes to that you could perfectly well say no to. And while you’re at it, SAY no to them!

And now: you should be feeling, and actually being, a whole lot less trapped now. You’ve turned up brand-new options you never imagined were out there, and you’ve broken out of shackles you maybe never even knew were tying you down.


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