Rationalization that Keeps You Stuck
You've done your work and it shows. You have good friends, good work, and basically enjoy life and yet there is one place you are stuck. There is one particular relationship or situation in which you seem to be going in circles. Maybe you notice feelings like anger, resentment, or depression. When you reflect on it, you feel surprised to find yourself in this place. It doesn't line up with the rest of your life. How could you be here?!
If this sounds familiar, than you likely have tried many things to work through it and are left feeling baffled and frustrated. Rationalization may be one thing that's keeping you stuck. Let's look at how it works, what it interferes with, and how to make a change.
A rational mind is a valuable asset when used for its true purpose. But, when rationalization is used to relate to your vulnerability it becomes one of the most pernicious forms of self-talk. It dismisses and denies your experience. It's like a cat waiting at the mouse hole; ready to pounce on vulnerability the moment it shows its little nose. Rationalizations are effective because they seem to be promoting other values like gratitude, equity, or collaboration. They often have the tone of being socially or politically correct. Here are a few examples of what rationalizations might sound like:
in relation to wanting more connection: I should just be grateful for the time he did spend with the family. He works hard and needs time to himself.
in relation to wanting more intimacy: She is doing the best she can. I need to look at myself and do my own work.
in relation to wanting more rest: Working is part of being an adult. It's important for me to do my part to contribute.
in relation to wanting more joy: There is a lot of suffering in the world and I have all the comforts a person could want. I need to think more about what I can offer than what I want.
in relation to wanting more community: It's so comfortable being at home. Plus, I have so much work to do here at home.
You can see that these rationalizations all contain some aspect of truth; that's the tricky part! You are drawn in by the part that is true. But, this kind of thinking sets up a false choice. It's trying to convince you that in order to be in alignment with certain values you have to deny some aspects of your experience; you have to suppress who you are. Rationalization creates a false dichotomy in order to keep your vulnerability hidden. Some part of you imagines that if you were to allow the longing, fear, hurt, or sadness that comes with recognizing an unmet need, something bad will happen. Most likely something bad did happen around vulnerability at some point or period of life for you and is possibly still happening. Vulnerability is then associated with shame or punishment. So behind these rationalizations you will likely find shame*.
Rationalization interferes with at least two important modes of vulnerability: pervasiveness and depth. It prevents you from seeing how often a need goes unmet (pervasiveness). When a need is pervasively unmet, you not only have a sense of depletion, you are also likely expending energy to manage your reaction to the unmet need. That's exhausting.
Rationalization also prevent you from experiencing the depth of grieving that is a part of any situation or relationship that's not working. With acceptance of vulnerability you can grieve; with grief you can arrive at acceptance of things as they are; with acceptance, wisdom can flow and lead you to healing and change.
If this struggle sounds familiar, you can experiment with three practices that can help release you from stuckness. The first is to set your intention to notice rationalizations. You likely have some repetitive ones so writing them down will help you get some space from them and see them for what they are.
Second, once you are catching rationalizations in the moment, make a tiny request of yourself to rest your attention on whatever feeling and need is alive for one more breath. Each time you do this practice you expand your sense of comfort with vulnerability.
Lastly, find someone or a few someones who can hold your vulnerability, someone you trust to meet you with compassion again and again. Find moments in which you can share something vulnerable and they can offer, loving presence and reassurance that your vulnerability is welcome. Reassurance might sound something like this, "It's okay to feel that, it's okay to need that. It makes sense that those feelings and needs would come up. I get it."
As you and others meet your vulnerability with empathy and compassion again and again, your system gets rewired. Shame dissolves and thriving flows.
Take a moment now to reflect and name any time recently when you met your own or someone else's vulnerability with a rationalization. Replay that interaction in your heart. Imagine yourself slowing and just being with vulnerability.
*Stay tuned next week for a Connection Gem on shame