Updated: Sep 10, 2021
You’re in a bad job. Okay, that sucks. But what if you feel, in fact you’re pretty sure, that you can’t get a better one? That’s way worse. Or you’re married to someone who is depressingly unable to meet your simplest needs. But what if your single friends warn you, “It’s a jungle out there,” and you aren’t getting any younger, and you have profound doubts about whether you can do better? Way worse.
Politics? Good grief, how often we’ve hoped this or that Presidential candidate will turn out to be “the One.” Instead he or, hopefully one day she, turns out to be just another one, or worse than the last one.
Is this just depression talk? That’s the question.
Sometimes it is. We’re rarely as trapped as we feel we are. I guess that’s good news. But still. The reality of limited, undesirable, and dwindling options is all too true for too many of us too much of the time. This actually defines privilege: being less trapped than the rest of us.
So the first main point here is: it’s incredibly normal to feel trapped.
At the very end of Hua Hsu’s review of the Netflix series “The Chair,” he says,
From “The Wire” to “The Office,” the powerlessness of middle management has been one of the great subjects of modern television. “The Chair” thrives in scenes where manners and decorum get stripped away and Kim recognizes the futility of her situation. Her strange profession begins to seem relatable. Her face, usually so attentive and patient, evinces rage and disappointment... What accrues in the profession isn’t just wisdom but resentment and frustration. For Kim, this isn’t a refuge. It’s bullshit.
Kim thought becoming the chair of the English department at her university would be a pinnacle. But it was a trap. Hsu gives us the words: powerlessness, futility, rage, disappointment, resentment, frustration, bullshit.
Feels familiar, doesn’t it. For most of us it is.
And this has been going on for a looooong time. Here, from 1959, is the first line from C. Wright Mills’ The Sociological Imagination:
Nowadays men often feel that their private lives are a series of traps. They sense that within their everyday worlds, they cannot overcome their troubles, and in this feeling, they are often quite correct: What ordinary men are directly aware of and what they do are bounded by the private orbits in which they life; of job, family... And the more aware they become, however vaguely, of ambitions and of threats which transcend their locales, the more trapped they seem to feel.
But we can go back to 1905, when Max Weber wrote about—get ready for it—the Iron Cage.
And, hey, remember Peter Pan? Back in 1902, J. M. Barrie was writing about him and about how the iron doors of adulthood would soon shut on the Darling children, trapping them forever. Only Peter Pan would never grow up.
The second big point is, whatever crap you’re feeling, it’s most likely less from your circumstances than from your feeling trapped by your circumstances. Remember that woman I wrote about in the last post, where I was afraid I was creating a misunderstanding? I was trying to help her feel less trapped by the painful and difficult marriage she was in. Her feeling she had a choice, a real, viable, acceptable choice, can and has helped her feel a ton better.
Let’s look at something very different. Adolescence. Blech! We’ve all been there. And the essence of the teen years for so many of us is that there we are, with boundless energy, hungry for freedom as never before, and yet we feel more trapped than anyone could ever imagine possible. And worse! Trapped by bozos and lame-o’s and clueless monsters—in other words, parents and teachers and the occasional bully. But we feel there’s nowhere to go and no way out. Welcome to teenage angst.
No wonder something like the “It gets better” campaign was so important. Adults, including many celebrities, who’d been bullied as teenagers because they were gay, or were thought to be gay, spoke up in videos saying, in effect, yeah, I know how awful it is for you. It was awful for me too. And I thought of killing myself too. But don’t. Please, don’t. Because it gets better. You’re not trapped.
This campaign saved a lot of lives.
And that’s the key point. There IS always a way out. There ARE always alternatives. It may take time. It may require us to adjust our priorities or preferences. But no matter how trapped we feel, no matter what the reason we feel trapped, there are people out there who’ve been in the same exact place and got out.
Which brings us to the third big point. How do you get out of feeling trapped?
If you can hang on for just a bit, I’ll get to that in our next post.
But for what it’s worth, every book we’ve written, literally every book, was designed to take you the reader by the hand and show you the way out of a trap.