In our time, it’s prevalent to hear a person feel “stuck” in their life, an expression that has its variations (some consider themselves “stuck,” “sunk,” “in a rut,” etc.) but that, in all cases, it gives an account of that feeling of frustration, of a certain unwanted paralysis and, in the end, of the impression of remaining in the same existential place, from which there seems to be no way out and in respect of which no change is on the horizon.
Each person, on the other hand, can refer to this “stagnation” in different areas. There will be those who relate it more to their work, for example, which perhaps no longer satisfies them; others to their professional life, in a broad sense; some to the relationship they have with their partner, or perhaps with their family, and so on.
In a certain sense, the feeling is not foreign to the human being, and it could even be said that it is part of its condition. Beyond the historical, sociological, or philosophical explanations that can be offered, it’s also possible to argue an element of human nature: the subject’s difficulty in manifesting its life impulse.
How to get out of the feeling of being stuck
As human beings, we spend a good part of our formation in the care of others. Without realizing it, we “learn” to repress our impulses, desire, spontaneity, desire to do something, etc. And although this mechanism is necessary for life in common with others, when it is allowed to operate without control, it can become precisely the phenomenon we are talking about. Life, which is made to run freely, to flourish, to give rise to more life, but sometimes this flow is indeed frustrated, its course is interrupted, it has nowhere else to go.
Here are some points that may be useful in this regard. This is not a definitive or infallible guide. Still, it seems that it can motivate the personal reflection necessary to resolve such a situation.
Realize it’s a feeling, not a fact
It’s critical to learn to identify whether our emotions are trying to keep us down or something serious. At the very moment, you do feel you are stuck in life, so your conclusion is that you can’t move forward. Still, your emotions may not be telling (the whole) truth. The inability to move on in your life might feel real and inescapable to you, but in the end, it is just a feeling. And this feeling molds our point of view.
Because of the impact our feelings have, it is vital to remember that they are not facts. Picture your current situation from an objective standpoint. Emotional responses can alter your perception of reality. Feeling stuck, what’s more, feeling desperate from not knowing what to do when you feel stuck could be a reaction to unnecessarily high expectations, or even worse, to fantasies.
Maybe your situation is not quite as bad as you feel it. It’s merely unnecessary influences making you think you are not moving forward or progressing in what you want to achieve.
Accept your circumstances
As a matter of principle, accept the moment you find yourself. Sometimes, because of a somewhat “natural” or understandable inclination, we avoid the feelings and thoughts of frustration we have, for various reasons.
However, if you want to get out of it, you must first accept the reality in which you live and, above all, the uneasiness in your life. Try to look at it head-on, without fear but also without judgment. Consider your job, your partner, your financial situation, the addiction that is disrupting your life, your professional situation, etc. Look at what specifically is causing you to feel stuck and see if you can look at it without judgement.
What do you find there? What bothers you? Do you often think that it seems unsatisfactory? Is it a source of unhappiness for you? Do you not like it but “put up with it”? Do you not like it but think “it’s what it is”? Is it fair to you to settle for that?
The feeling of being stuck sometimes comes with thoughts and feelings of guilt, shame, dissatisfaction, and frustration. Try to counteract those feelings with thoughts and feelings of gratitude. If you need some inspiration, check out our gratitude list.
Be prepared to decide
“Crazy is doing the same thing all the time and expecting different results every time.” Beyond the author of this sentence, which some attribute to Albert Einstein, the message is precise. If you want a change in your life, you need to take the necessary actions to generate it.
We know, in fact, that it is not always easy to make a decision. When your income depends on a job, it doesn’t seem easy to give it up overnight. Suppose you have a profound (and perhaps still unknown) fear of loneliness. In that case, it may not be easy for you to end a relationship, no matter how bad you feel. You want to move but don’t have enough money to pay for it, etc.
However, it is now possible to get in the way of this change. In other words: make other preparatory or parallel decisions that, in time, will have served to make the most significant leap.
Examine your circumstances and reflect on what you can do now to get out of the frustration you feel. Make an emergency savings plan? Ask your friends if anyone knows about a job for you? Talk frankly with your partner? Say no when you don’t mean yes entirely?
Except in very extreme situations, there is always something you can do, a decision you can make. To live is to make choices day by day, and if you feel unsure about what to do when you feel stuck, perhaps it’s because of a lack of awareness of your decision power.
Be aware of your fear
Fear is an emotion inscribed in our most profound nature. In a way, it is inherent in life, since it is mostly the response to that threatens it. However, in human beings, fear also has an existential dimension, because in addition to the fear we may feel in situations of real danger (a potential fall, a physical attack, etc.), sometimes we also develop a fear of others that, although in that sense they are harmless, they frighten us.
Fear of failure, for example, of uncertainty, of rejection, perhaps even of triumph, etc.
In any case, make an effort to consciously experience your fear. We are not telling you to avoid it, but just the opposite. Live it as it comes. These questions can help you to make this emotion conscious:
What happens to your body? Do you sweat? Do you tremble? Does your head start to hurt?
What thoughts come to your mind?
What do you feel like doing when you are afraid? Running away? Eating? Smoking? Drinking alcohol?
What do you feel when you are afraid?
As you become more precise about your own experience of fear, you can take a moment to examine your personal history and ask yourself why you feel this way, why in some situations you experience fear and in others, you don’t, what might explain the thoughts that cross your mind when you are afraid, and so on.
Get to know yourself and value what you have
Sometimes, frustration in life arises when a person has let others lead their life for a long time, which results, on the one hand, in one reaching places where one did not really want to be and, on the other hand, in the subject being defined by the outside and not by a conscious inner process of definition. Thus, you feel stuck.
In other words, the person thinks what they are according to what others think of them, in such a way that they become a stranger to themselves, someone who doesn’t know what they have, who does not know their value as a person, the value of their skills, knowledge, and resources.
If you feel this is the case, try to look at yourself from another perspective. Here are some questions to start that reflection:
What can you do? So far, what do you do that pays off? How well do you think you do at your job? What about your colleagues (current or former)? What about other professional colleagues? Do you have other skills? Who values what you do? Who do you expect to appreciate what you do? What forms of recognition are you used to seeking? Do you receive other recognitions that you don’t realize?
In Fear of Freedom, Erich Fromm devotes several paragraphs to defining and praising the spontaneity of human beings as a reflection of their life impulse, that force that many of us experience in childhood, in which intention and action are fused: we think about doing something and we do it, without hesitation or delay. However, with time this spontaneity becomes less and less spontaneous, so to speak, as rules, social codes, education, and other factors interrupt its free course.
However, it doesn’t disappear. In fact, we are all capable of recognizing it. When we “feel like” doing something, when an ingenious commentary is born from within us, when we feel like singing or dancing, smiling, writing, in short, when an authentic desire is presented, it’s the fruit of that impulse of life. As much as possible, listen to that desire and realize it, with no other purpose than to satisfy it.
In this way, you will gradually realize that life always seeks to manifest itself. If you can break out of your shell and learn to be spontaneous again, you can free yourself when you feel stuck.