Why can’t I figure out what I want?
Sometimes our brain hides information about ourselves from ourselves, because it thinks that you knowing that information would put you at risk.
It can be very frustrating. But at the root of it is self-protection. It is some part of me hiding the information from myself, to protect myself, because if I knew that information, I might act on it and that might put me at risk. So it is taking the choice out of my hands by not providing the information.
For me, this has shown up in dating (do I really like this person or not? I can’t tell!) and in work/career (what is meaningful work to me? I can’t figure it out!). When I would try to access the information internally, I would get a blankness, confusion, a nothingness, a wall, or a veil. I started to call this an “access error”. I now just see this as a sign I have fear of something, and I need to work out what the fear is about.
How this showed up for me
In dating, it was an unconscious fear of saying “no” and what the consequences might be if I did. I wasn’t consciously afraid – I was consciously just confused. If I was really into someone, I would jump in head first, but if I wasn’t that into someone, I would not be able to tell how I felt.
This comes from being punished or rejected for trying to have boundaries, such that my brain blocked out the information about where my boundaries even were. I learned to see that confusion as basically a “no” in disguise, and gradually affirmed to myself that my “no” is valid and safe to express.
In the area of meaningful work, for a long time I’ve danced around the concept of teaching people personal growth stuff. I have done it in some respects, in different ways, mostly as teaching assistants in other people’s workshops, and on this blog. And I would enjoy it a lot, but then my brain would make me forget that I enjoyed it, and talk me out of wanting to do it.
This “forgetting” was because I had so many fears of what might happen – that I might end up not being able to handle it in one way or another. And my brain was like, “NOPE”. It took the choice out of my hand because it perceived it as too risky.
So for most of my life I have chosen work that pays the bills but isn’t super meaningful. And that is a completely valid choice if you don’t know what is meaningful or don’t feel ready to do it yet, or can’t find well enough paying work in that area.
How to heal a barrier to knowing yourself
In the end, I just had to work through my fears slowly and do quite a lot more healing work. There wasn’t an easy fix. I’m not completely through this pattern yet, but I’m making progress all the time.
And the reality is, the protection was there for a reason. In the area of work, I really did need to do more healing work on my triggers, and develop more confidence in my knowledge and abilities. My body knew what it was doing, although it was doing it in a super frustrating way.
I have gotten a lot of mileage around using parts work or inner dialogue, which you can start by just siting down with a journal. You can start with talking to the vague confusion itself. You can say, “Hi confusion, I see you. I want to understand you. Do you have anything to tell me? What do you need?” And then just listen.
It really helps to take any self-judgement and blame off of yourself. Any kind of self-rejection just make it much hard to get information from yourself because it breaks down self-trust.
Think about if you were talking to a friend and you were blaming and judging them, they would not want to open up to you. So I really encourage an attitude of curiosity and love toward yourself. These parts of ourselves are not being deliberately difficult, they are unconscious and fragmented, and it’s up to us to connect with them and understand them and put the pieces together.