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Unconsciousness Is Not a Victimless Crime

Are you willing to wake up? Or do you choose to remain asleep?

Key points

  • Choosing to stay unconscious hurts you and the people around you.
  • Everyone avoids waking up to some degree. But all of us must take responsibility to choose consciousness whenever we can.
  • The dividing line between people is not between levels of wealth, looks, or functionality. It's between levels of consciousness.
Source: xiangying_xu/Pixabay

One of the things I most want to know about a person, both in my personal life and as a psychologist, is the answer to the following question: how willing are you to wake up?

We are all asleep, in varying degrees, to things that limit us. We consistently make choices that land us back in the same place we’ve been before, repeating patterns we find frustrating but seem unable to break.

So what I’m about to say needs to be located on the continuum of human behavior, needs to be couched in a relative way: Staying unconscious is not a victimless crime. You may think you’re only hurting yourself by continuing to do things that have never worked in the past and will not work in the future. You may think it doesn’t matter to anyone but you. But that is not true. Your unconscious behavior and patterns set up ripples that affect the world around you. Therefore, it is not just you who is impacted. It is your friends and family and possibly even random people who come across your path who are affected as well.

I’m thinking now of a client who is caring for her elderly mother. Her mother still lives quasi-independently, but requires in-home help which, fortunately, she can still afford. Still, my client must manage all of this, must be available for after-hours needs and emergencies. She sometimes feels angry and resentful over her situation, and, to some extent, takes it out on her mother and her siblings who live in distant cities and therefore are not on the front line.

Enter one of the siblings, who suggests moving the mother to his area so that my client can have a break. This sibling investigates local services for the elderly, sets up a Zoom call with a consultant and my client, and, in general, gets things in motion, at which point my client cancels everything because “our mother is too fragile to move.”

Part of this reason undoubtedly is true: it would be better not to disrupt the life of an older person if at all possible. But part of this reason is deeply suspect to me, because it perpetuates a situation that is unconsciously comfortable and familiar to my client: she is the one who is always responsible, she is the one who does all the work. Even more: it would be extremely uncomfortable for her to take care of herself, to put herself first, to say her needs matter. So she puts a kibosh on the opportunity, digs herself in more deeply into a situation she’s resentful to be in, and so the cycle continues.

It is this kind of pattern of unconscious choices that I am talking about. Rather than risk doing our lives differently, we opt for what is familiar even if it’s uncomfortable. The mother in this situation pays a price in being tended to by a resentful child. My client pays a price by being stuck in a situation she doesn’t want to be in, with all the attending loss of freedom and opportunity, and the sibling who stepped forward pays a price in being shut out from helping shoulder the burden of caring for the parent while still being made to feel guilty for not doing enough to help.

I have come to believe that the dividing line in humanity is not between levels of intelligence or likeability or occupation or income. Rather, it’s between those who are willing to wake up and look at the fuller picture and those who turn their eyes askance and make a decision that is both familiar and comfortably uncomfortable. So, next time there is an opportunity to strike out on a new path or new behavior, please remember you need to make the right decision, not just for you but for those around you. Sometimes it’s easier to do the right thing when we know others will benefit as well.

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