We use people and the circumstances we find ourselves in to reaffirm our beliefs about ourselves, others and life. Rarely are we dealing with people and things as they are.
We do this because subconsciously, not having a version of reality to defend is terrifying. We prefer the security that our worldviews provide – even when those worldviews are making us utterly miserable.
how we use people and things
One notorious example is a person who believes that money and financial rewards are hard to come by, or that being wealthy equates to spiritual impoverishment. A person for whom this is a dominant aspect of their worldview is unlikely to sustain an income above a certain amount. They need their lives to validate their beliefs.
But this can also be more subtle. Let’s use a few example conditions to track the worldviews:
Say your current reality is that you are being unrecognized at work, and the people you live with are ‘taking too much’ from you. It is possible that you are orchestrate your working and home life this way, to sustain the worldview that you are indispensable and needed by the helpless weaklings. And that is fueled by a fearful pride in being needed, because you aren’t lovable as you are.
Or, let’s say you keep encountering highly critical, pedantic supervisors at work who pick you up on your mistakes. They all remind you of your over-critical parent, who made you feel trapped and in pain. That isn’t a coincidence. Your sad song might be ‘it’s not fair’. You generate more scenarios where you get to stay addicted to feeling hard done by. None of this is deliberate.
Or let’s say that you keep finding people to be in a relationship with that are on the anxious side, which reinforces your free-spirited nature and independence (i.e. avoidance).
Without worldviews to sustain, people and things just move through not getting stuck on anything. There is no pattern to the negative outcomes.
And nothing gets taken personally.
the beliefs we have
In the past, I’ve used everything – my work, my parents, my friends, romantic partners – to prop up various beliefs held at one time or another, for e.g.:
- you can’t rely on other people to meet your needs.
- other people are needy and insecure.
- I always get stuff wrong.
When I started to see things a bit more clearly, I saw that I positioned myself in a way where by beliefs would test true. And I started to see what I was contributing to scenarios where people did seem to become needy and insecure, others were unreliable, and I was making mistakes. (I contributed by ‘acting out’ in some way, being over-sensitive to criticism, or feeling excessively put upon by others without good reason.)
I began to take responsibility for my experience of people and circumstances, and with that came the realization that without what I was bringing to the picture, a lot of what was happening wasn’t to do with me.
More and more, I experience people’s behaviour and events as neutral. That’s what happens when you stop using people and life. Your perspective widens and you just experience people and things as they are.
what’s your worldview?
Here are potential conditions or states of mind that we use people/conditions to validate:
- learned helplessness/victim mindset. We are at the mercy of a dominant figure who is causing our unhappiness. Our savior (friend or partner) lies outside of ourselves, and unless they help us we can’t get better. We’ll look at this a bit more in a second.
- we are always being wronged by others in some way. The guys or girls we are dating; in our careers.
- we are unique and nobody understands us.
- life is inherently unsatisfactory.
- vulnerability equates to weakness and giving others power over you.
Learned helplessness, the condition first named by psychologist Martin Seligman, is a particularly depressing worldview to be operating under. Seligman showed us that it is a myth that if we are in a bad situation, we will do whatever we can do to escape it. The truth is actually that if we feel like we aren’t in control of our destinies, we will give up and accept whatever situation we are in.
Why might we feel like we aren’t in control of our destiny?
- an early traumatic experience of being overpowered by a dominant, unstable figure.
- some kind of experience where we attributed the events of our lives to being outside of our control.
If you have learned helplessness, you might turn to substances to help you to manage your mood. Or, you might go to other people. You might often fantasize about others taking care of your problems for you. And you might seek support from others before doing the things that you know will make you feel better.
No one really consciously chooses to be a victim. It is more a way we fall into.
But we have to unlearn helplessness if we want to enjoy our lives.
how to stop using people and things
How do we stop using people and things? It starts with noticing that you are using them, and what you are using them for.
Then you have to commit to seeing things as they are. This is really, really hard. We have to be courageous to do it, as it is a form of death for our old, habitual ways of seeing things.
Dropping the unhelpful worldviews involves all the usual elements of personal change:
- Awareness – coming to know what the recurring conditions of life could be telling us about our held beliefs.
- Forgiveness – ceasing to hold onto anger and pain caused by figures from your past. Every day, committing to not being defined by that.
- Responsibility – making a proactive decision to stop holding onto our ‘sad songs’ (depressing worldviews).
- Gratitude – feeling grateful for everything we do have.
- Self-compassion – because seeing what we have been doing can be humbling, and the process of change is slow.
How you know you have stopped using people and things? You begin dealing with them as they are. And you get to know them, instead of working out your stuff on them.
The author Richard Rohr says that most of us wait until midlife before we start doing that.
But I say we don’t need to wait until then.