“Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakens.” ~Carl Jung
Feeling stuck or trapped is one of the worst experiences in the world. It’s the feeling of mental fogs and creative blockages. It’s the feeling of limiting beliefs that are led by our inner critic whose goal is to shut us down and keep us under its thumb. And, it’s about toxic behavior, often learned in childhood for survival, which has now become automatic habit, perpetuating the same-old, same-old.
What makes feeling trapped or stuck so horrible is that there’s no perceivable way out of it. We become a victim of our own self-imposed limitations, spinning our wheels that this is just the way things are, and nothing is going to change.
We may intuitively know that we’re stuck in a rut. This is where we can become more frustrated figuring out how to get out of the rut. If we aren’t finding solutions “fast enough”, complacency can kick in, keeping us stuck.
Or, we may be in denial of everything — thinking things are status quo and that we’re fine — it’s the world that’s screwed up.
Enter, vicious cycle.
When we feel trapped is when we start spiraling down the rabbit hole in our own self-sabotage. Unable to find a lifeline — or unwilling to ask for one — we usually just throw in the towel sooner than later which keeps us feeling stuck in a perpetual loop.
If we’re lucky, we’re only circling the entrance of the rabbit hole. Unfortunately, by the time most of us have accepted that we’ve become complacent, we’ve already spiraled down it.
“The goal towards which the pleasure principle impels us — of becoming happy — is not attainable: yet we may not — nay, cannot — give up the efforts to come nearer to realization of it by some means or other.” ~Sigmund Freud
The Complacency Paradox
Freud’s Pleasure Principle identifies that humans by nature are hardwired to seek out pleasure and avoid pain. The very paradox of his principle is what denial is made of. If we are unconsciously seeking out what is familiar, or comfortable as “soothing” — this is what keeps us in denial while perpetuating the habits we claimed we were sick of.
Yet, any comfort experienced by self-imposed denial is not comfort, it’s complacency.
What is seen as comfortable is actually self-sabotage.
Unlike feeling stuck or trapped which usually hits us head-on, complacency is subtle. It comes on like a slow burn. Complacency’s purpose is to keep us comfortably numb where we’re lulled into a false sense of security that everything is status quo in our lives, while it continues limiting us from personal growth.
When we are consumed by complacency, our misbeliefs are flipped and switched into new ones that keep us complacent. What was once seen as a red flag that we need to tend to our personal growth, gets flipped into convincing ourselves we didn’t need that growth anyway.
We know what it feels like when we’re emotionally or mentally trapped or stuck — it resonates with us through exhaustion, through boredom, indifference, cynicism towards ourselves and others, and even fear that is masked by anger.
Believe it or not, these uncomfortable feelings are good things — because these are growing pains — red flags telling us that it’s time to grow; that we’ve outstayed our welcome in what’s “comfortable” or “familiar”.
When growing pains are experienced, one of two things usually happens: we either face the growing pains head-on….
Or, we get complacent.
Here is where we fool ourselves into thinking we made a smart choice, or where we start psyching ourselves up that we aren’t really feeling trapped or stuck. May may talk ourselves out of growth by rationalizing our choices, our habits and our thoughts as fine; nope, nothing wrong here.
This is often where we start pointing fingers outward at others, instead of inward towards ourselves.
This is also how cycles start, and continue.
Feeling anger or disillusionment — even shame — are the catalysts for change because they trigger discomfort. But these feelings only stick around long enough as a warning sign that we need to make changes.
When we distract ourselves from the growing pains, complacency takes over.
Signs of Complacency
Denial. We may be unwilling to see or acknowledge a pattern or habit that’s keeping us numb. This is how we continue making poor choices for ourselves, rationalizing that we made a healthy choice, while continuing down a path that is not conducive to personal growth. Denial is the epitome of “saying one thing while doing another.”
Lack of Challenge. Growth requires significant challenges. If you aren’t being challenged to step outside your comfort zone with what triggers your vulnerability or your past pain, you’re at risk of complacency in staying stuck in it.
Boredom. Life, work, hobbies and interests lack originality, spontaneity, and intellectual stimulation. When we aren’t pushing ourselves to constantly evolve or are only focusing on ‘safe’ hobbies, ‘safe’ relationships, or ‘safe’ challenges, we become unbalanced in our lives, tipping the scales into complacency.
How Complacency Affects Us
The point I want to drive home about complacency is that it feels good, at first. Then, once we’ve reached satiation with complacency, we become numb.
This is where nothing is felt; we’ve merged into the complacency zone.
Because complacency is subtle, it deludes us with its rose-colored glasses. Complacency affects us on many levels — from our own motivation, to our mental health, to our emotional growth, to the quality of the relationships we keep, to the choices we make in our life, and to the unhealthy habits learned in childhood that limit us and keep us stuck.
Work or Career. With complacency, we believe we’re satisfied with our achievements but complacency can bias how we see ourselves versus how we’re seen by others. The more complacent we become, the greater the gap between how others see us versus how we see ourselves.
The irony here is that because things seem status quo on the job, motivation may be low which affects overall job performance.
Relationships. Because complacency flies under the radar, it is never at the top of a partner’s list like cheating or distrust are. Instead, complacency is more a feeling of indifference, boredom, or a disinterest in relationship goals or growth.
Complacency is not limited to intimate relationships but is seen when family members sweep issues under the carpet instead of addressing them when problems first arise. Or, they may play a victim, pointing fingers at everyone else as the blame. This dynamic usually evolves into limiting communication and intimacy among family members and leaves a feeling of frustration where a strong family bond should be.
In intimate relationships, complacency is often seen in shallow or superficial relationships where communication is limited to “fluff” or “safe” topics, where problems are minimized or ignored and where being happy at all costs affects intimacy, vulnerability and growth within a relationship.
Complacency may be seen where one partner is discarded for another when vulnerability or fears are triggered. Here is where personal growth is tossed out for what’s “comfortable” or “safe”, yet toxic to growth. Feeling trapped or stuck in an intimate relationship is a trigger — it is a red flag that there’s some unresolved issues that are surfacing, and where those two choices are presented — to either conquer our growth, or chase complacency.
Awareness and Growth. Complacency is more than the unhealthy habits we keep or the lack of motivation that keeps us stuck. Complacency is also what keeps us feeling numb, repeating bad habits and keeping us in denial where we try convincing ourselves that we’re fine.
Growth requires discomfort.
It requires time alone, time to contemplate the choices we’ve made, the habits we keep and our personal histories that are often the source of where habits, misbeliefs and poor choices for ourselves, start. To shatter the self-imposed restrictions and unhealthy habits that we’ve learned, we need to get to a place of honesty with ourselves to overcome our fears.
Fear is what maintains complacency. Fear is at the core of bad habits, our inner critic and in settling, instead of conquering and overcoming.
Because fear is uncomfortable, it is at the source of feeling trapped and stuck. It often masquerades as anger, projection or disillusionment. By challenging our fears, we’re gaining awareness into ourselves.
The main crux of the problem with fear is that when it’s experienced, we run. We deny. We engage in anything to get our mind off of feeling it.
Understand that fear is the #1 catalyst for change. Each time we deny or minimize it, we’re avoiding change. Yet, the fear of the unknown is what often keeps us chained to complacency.
Challenge Yourself. Challenging our fears may include journaling when we we begin feeling scared. What situation prompted us to feel that way? Who were we with? What topic was being discussed? Where were we? By writing down our thoughts and feelings, we are empowering ourselves to dig deeper in recognizing what underlying fears are keeping us complacent so we can find ways to move past them.
New Perspective. Changing our perspective on complacency is about creating a healthier mindset that is aligned with change. If complacency is what keeps us stuck, a healthy mindset is the first step in unlocking healthier habits.
Changing how we view our habits includes accepting why they’re there, when they started and why they started. In creating a new perspective, self-blame should be released.The more we stay stuck in a loop of self-blame, the more we will continue turning to complacency to numb.
New Goals. New goals should challenge us and make us feel a little uncomfortable. This is how growth happens. Goals should challenge our old mindset that kept us feeling stuck, and they should be aligned with personal growth on all levels. As we learn to embrace the unknown, the fear subsides and is replaced with feelings of accomplishment and awareness.
Be Kind To Yourself. When beginning any growth journey, stumbles are to be expected — even revered as badges of honor, because you took yourself out of your comfort zone and made an effort. Research suggests that any new goal we create for ourselves needs on average from 2–10 months to become automatic habit. However, don’t base your growth on “averages” or that’s the fastest way to get discouraged. Instead, base your goals on your own progress.
You aren’t in competition with anyone but yourself.
Freud, S. 1856–1939. (2015). Beyond the pleasure principle. New York: Dover Publications.
Phillippa Lally, Cornelia H. M. van Jaarsveld, Henry W. W. Potts & Jane Wardle. (2009). How are habits formed: Modelling habit formation in the real world. European Journal of Social Psychology, 40, 998–1009.