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Why We Stay In Crappy Situations (And How To Get Out Of Them)

Amita Patel, LMSW
Licensed Social Worker By Amita Patel, LMSW
Licensed Social Worker
Amita Patel, LMSW, is the owner and founder of, a coaching services company that empowers individuals to achieve their goals and make them stick. She received master's degrees from New York University in both philanthropy and fundraising, and clinical and medical social work. Her unique, no-nonsense, holistic approach combines nutrition, physical activity, relationships, career, and personal philosophy. Patel has been featured on CBS, NBC, and the Huffington Post.

Change sucks. That’s why we stay in bad relationships, eat at the same restaurants, and take the same path to work every day. Humans like comfort, even when that comfort is uncomfortable.

We’re creatures of habit, and breaking habits causes everything from anxiety, to depression, to eating a pint of Ben & Jerry’s.

For example, I spent nine years in a relationship when I should have left after five. Why? Because making a change, even a necessary change, pushes you out of your comfort zone and into that awkward place that nobody likes called growth.

But, as we all know, change doesn’t happen overnight.

Sure, we have growth spurts brought on by moments of clarity and the desire to stop playing small. But for the most part, humans don’t change until their discomfort in their current situation becomes greater than their fear of change. Growth is rarely linear and often requires a tipping point.

Often, we grow in waves, a cycle known as evolutionary catharsis. This is the repeated upheaval and cleansing of our lives. And, just like cleaning your closet, it gets messier before it gets clean. The end result is that kick-ass “aha” moment when our brain is reorganized into a new, more evolved state. In short, we're brought back to ourselves and are ready to take the necessary steps to get where we want in life.

So how does this work?

Right before we have a growth spurt, many of us have a temporary feeling of discomfort. This manifests as self-defeating behaviors. Learned in childhood as coping mechanisms, these behaviors fall into three categories:

1. Those who try to reduce the amount of overwhelm by pushing energy out.

Some hallmarks of this technique include:

  • yelling
  • compulsive behaviors
  • sickness

2. Those who block additional energy from entering the system.

Features of this trait include:

3. Those who seek distractions from feeling the growing chaos inside them.

Distractions can take many forms, including:

  • any form of addiction
  • dissociation
  • watching a lot of television

These three types of coping mechanisms are our system’s final, desperate attempts to preserve what we know. After all, it’s scary and stressful to step into a new way of being. Some call it “de-evolution,” but that's a misnomer as it’s a natural part of the evolutionary process. Whether we reach for the bottle, an ex, get sick, or overexercise, it’s all part of the process. Our goal is not to judge these attempts, but to witness them.

We are the evolutionary process itself, but our beliefs around what growth “should” look like is nothing more than our ego’s perception of our role in relation to our surroundings. Naturally, as we release old beliefs, our brains struggle to hold on to their current reality before new, truthful ideas emerge.

The Solution

While these self-defeating behaviors may temporarily help to release the pressure of growth, the end result is keeping the system where it is. Learning to tolerate the discomfort rather than running away from it is what allows us to take that quantum leap into the next state of awareness and being.

Ironically, our fight to indulge in these nonevolutionary behaviors is what keeps us playing small, making the process longer and more painful. And, like most things, it comes down to surrender. We must be willing to surrender what we are for what we can become. Whichever self-defeating behavior you choose, watch it with curiosity and with detachment. Notice the subtle shifts, the discomfort, and the result on the other side of it.

Sure, this is easier said than done. And I’m certainly not perfect. It takes me a while to accept that continuing old behaviors and expecting new results is a recipe for stagnation.

Because let’s face it, change sucks. But you know what sucks more? Not growing.

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