No one can deny you your choice about how you relate to life. You can, however, lose connection to your choice and thus have the experience of "feeling trapped" or "forced" (physical force notwithstanding). When you do lose connection to your choice, you begin to perceive a stressful world of demands. Symptoms that let you know you have lost this connection often look like this:
-complaining that you have to much to do
-feeling deflated or angry
-sudden loss of energy or low energy
-avoiding particular people and situations
-playing small in life so others don't ask too much of you
-not returning messages because you don't want to say no
-doing things you don't really want to do
-asking yourself when you get to live your life
-saying "yes" to please others, gain approval or love, or to avoid guilt and punishment
Particular types of beliefs and thinking can give rise to perceiving demands and losing connection to your choice. Here are some to watch for:
Guilt & Shame: If guilt and shame were a part of your life growing up, you may have connected your self worth to what you do and don't do for others. In other words, a core belief might be operating in you that says something like, "I am only good if . . . " This kind of belief has you in an exhausting race to continually prove your self worth by doing whatever your mind deems virtuous. A common one here is related to achievement, "I am only good if I work x number of hours and achieve x things and my life looks like x." One way out of this trap is to clearly identify the standards you have set up for yourself. Then continually ask the questions; What are my deepest longings? What values do I want my life to reflect? What makes my heart sing? One of my teachers puts it this way: "Find what's yours to do and do it."
Don't be Selfish: Some of you may have been trained by well meaning parents that reprimanded you with the phrase, "Don't be selfish." You got the message that to deny your feelings and needs is virtuous. Unfortunately this dictum only serves to disconnect you from yourself which keeps you from responsibly meeting your needs (which is likely what your parents wanted in the first place).
In some spiritual traditions this gets even more confusing when the teaching of letting go of self gets interpreted as the same dictum from their parents. But let's save that for another connection gem.
Obligation & Duty: As a dutiful son or daughter you may consider it your duty to take care of your parents when they are old. But if you do this or anything else just because you think it's your duty, you are likely to create more hurt than love. Even in the midst of what you think is your duty you can create connection in your heart by asking yourself what needs you would like to meet. My favorite example of this is a woman who when taking care of her mother asked herself moment by moment the question, "Do I have loving hands?"
Somebody has to Compromise: There is a rampant belief in our world that some people's needs have to meet at the cost of others. When you can't see a way for the other 's needs to be met along with your own, you might be tempted to just give in and go along with things that don't work for you or to make demands of others.
Often all that is missing here is a willingness to dialogue a few minutes and get to the needs up for each person. Once this true connection and honoring of the needs is established, creative strategies for meeting everyone's needs flows easily. Or, your heart shifts and you find something that you didn't want to do before is something you want to do in the next moment.
Trauma: If you grew up in a house where punishment and shame were a part of your life, whether frequently or infrequently, a part of you may still be on alert and trying to protect you. Thus, if anything in the another's manner triggers an association to the trauma, you may react with the survival coping strategies you used at the time: raging, shutting down, pleasing, avoiding, etc. These instances are an opportunity to start to unwind that old karma. Watching your reaction arise, naming it for what it is, offering yourself empathy, and staying still with it you can bring clarity to your system and dissolve a pattern of reaction. Of course this often takes many instances of watching your reaction with mindfulness and compassion.
PracticeIf you hear yourself saying that you feel "trapped" or have some of the symptoms described above, take some time with the categories above. Choose one that seems to most match your experience and find a specific instance. For example, you might choose to work with guilt and you choose an instance of guilt in which you went into work on your day off. Clearly identify the thinking and beliefs that were operating for you when you made that decision. Then identify the feelings and needs that were alive for you. Ask yourself how you could have met all needs from a place of choice.