As we continue on in our lives, we often come to a point at which we ask ourselves, “Is this it?”
People often come to my office with this question implicit in their presenting problems, (e.g. ‘anxiety’, ‘depression’, ‘anger’, marital problems, work problems, etc.), without realizing that at the heart of their issue lies an unspoken and often unconscious question: “Is this it?”
In fact, the way we often express this question is more through our behaviors than through actually recognizing it; behaviors which are often destructive, i.e. the so called ‘acting out’ behaviors like drinking too much or doing drugs, pornography and affairs, emotional neglect of the marriage and/or the children, inappropriate spending, and self-sabotage at work, among other things.
Of course, the antidote to all of this aimlessness and angst is found in two difficult but healing words: settling down.
What do you think of when you think of those two words?
Do you think, “I’m settling!”
Or, maybe, “I’m down!”
Notice how these two simple words can have such negative or threatening connotations.
In fact, some analysts have argued over the years that one of the major reasons for human pain and suffering, including so many of our anxieties and fears, has to do with our ultimate and unconscious fear of death; in other words the fear of our human mortality. We never settle down because that means the next step is death.
There is even a school of therapy style which actually starts with dealing with death anxiety, and goes from there, in the belief that once we get that dealt with, we will, eventually, settle down and begin living our lives.
This may all be well and true, but the idea I’m presenting here is actually not that deep or profound.
What I’m saying is that, at some point in our lives, we all need to agree within ourselves to certain assumptions about our lives, so that we can build the rest of our lives upon that solid foundation.
Let me say it again, since it’s really at the heart of the matter:
At some point in our lives, we all need to agree within ourselves to certain assumptions about our lives, so that we can build the rest of our lives upon that solid foundation.
Let’s take marriage for example.
So many people eventually “fall out of love” and get divorced that I actually wrote a book about it, (Don’t Get Married! Unless You Understand A Few Things First, Oct.2010).
It is my belief and experience that, unless there is violence, drugs and alcohol, habitual infidelity, or indifference, a marriage is what I call an ‘innocent’ marriage.
And in the case of an ‘innocent marriage’ gone bad, a major core part of the trouble tends to be that one or both spouses have not yet truly decided to “settle down” with each other.
In other words, they’re not “all in”.
Another way of saying it is that they’re not committed.
Picture a three legged race: Now, if the tie that binds your leg to your partner’s is made of string, it will be much easier to break than if it were made of leather or chains.
In the former situation, as the race progresses onto rough and unfriendly terrain, the partners may decide that it’s just too much of a hassle to continue on with their legs tied together, and they may therefore decide to break the string.
But in the latter scenario, the one where the tie is made of either leather or chains, the partners are committed. That means they’ll have to come up with new ways— maybe entirely different ways– to make it through the event.
It’s really just a case of necessity being the mother of invention.
That is, the latter partners, in being committed to one another, are quite literally forced to come up with different solutions and perhaps even an entirely different path, than the uncommitted partners who decide to break off from one another because it is too difficult to continue together.
The problem is that this couple also misses out on the opportunity to experience something outside the realm of their prior experiences; they cannot see or feel what it would have been like to do the race together, only the old feelings and picture of how they’ve always done it in the past.
The bottom line is that the partners who committed were forced to grow, both as a couple, and as individuals.
And I would argue that the same idea holds true for some other parts of our adult lives.
We need to settle down.
We need to consciously and deliberately commit; to ourselves, to our spouses, to our children, to our communities, and to our work and avocations.
Only then will we have some important, fundamental assumptions for ourselves upon which we can, once these things are settled, build a foundation or platform from which we can spring upwards and outwards, full force, into our lives.
G.K. Chesterton, who lived a hundred years ago, was NOT a psychologist or psychiatrist, nor was he a fan of same. In fact, he sort of trashed psychotherapy (I didn’t take it personally), saying, in essence, that it was like Catholic confession (he was an atheist-turned-Catholic convert, but that’s another story) without the absolution.
But if you get a chance to read any Chesterton, (his book ‘Orthodoxy’ would be a good one to start with I think), it will enrich your life and give more flavor to this idea of “settling down”.
As was Chesterton, I too have been taught, by both observation and experience, that without the purposeful and deliberate step of committing to some things, we are at great risk of continuing on as free floating and overly intellectualizing children of our time; we remain ultimately indiscriminate and uncommitted to all things.
And it’s only a matter of time before we are eventually haunted by the question, “Is this it?”
On the other hand, and paradoxically, commitment leads to freedom.
In other words, if I spend ALL of my years searching and running, running and searching, I’ll never get to see or feel what happens when I put into place and accept certain givens and build a life upon them as best I can and as best as my talents and energies will allow, which is no small accomplishment.
We can always tell our children, “Okay, settle down now”, but it is much more difficult to tell the child within ourselves to do the same thing.
And hey, we’ve got to start somewhere if we’re going to finally let the rubber hit the road and stop spinning our wheels!
All the best to you and yours,
Anthony Ferraioli, M.D.
Author, “Don’t Get Married! Unless You Understand A Few Things First”