It is human nature to want what we don’t have believing that is the path to happiness, contentment, and peace.
As psychotherapists who work with clients afflicted with depression, anxiety, trauma and relationship discord, statements we commonly hear along those lines include:
- If only my spouse appreciated me more, I’d be more attentive and giving at home;
- If only the world was safer and less turbulent, I would feel less hopeless;
- If only I made more money, my family would be happier and more cohesive;
- If only my kid’s activities weren’t so time-consuming, I’d have time for friends, families and hobbies;
- If only I wasn’t so tired when I come home from work, I would exercise and eat right;
- If only everyone saw how much I give up in my personal life, I’d be less cynical;
- If only I could go on vacation, I would be more motivated at work.
When we hear “if only” statements from clients, we know a clinical depression or anxiety is likely lurking in the background, whether it be mild, moderate, or significant.
“If only” statements signify that someone feels a sense of hopelessness over their immediate environment while feeling helpless to implement solutions that will bring about happiness. “If only” statements let us know emotional fatigue has set in and that people need guidance in developing solutions to their problems.
HOW “IF ONLY” THINKING HURTS US
Becoming stuck in “if only” thinking has several harmful consequences:
- It creates a false hope and belief in a magic bullet that may or may not come. If the dreamed-of magic bullet shows, yet nothing improves, hopelessness is the logical next step;
- It gives permission to deflect responsibility and apportion blame. It’s not your fault or responsibility if things aren’t as you hoped, so how could you possibly be expected to fix it?;
- It assigns responsibility for your happiness and satisfaction – and blame when it fails to materialize – onto others who may not even know they are considered part of the problem or solution;
- “If only” statements put us in a victim stance versus seeking out obtainable solutions that can be implemented in manageable and measurable goals;
- It establishes your locus of control as exterior rather than interior.
Moving past “if only” thinking is easy if treated as a new discipline to practice. Start with these simple steps and see if you don’t feel a change:
- Do a self-inventory. Ask yourself how you feel (yes, we used the “F” word) three times a day: “Do I feel happy, sad, angry, frustrated, or stressed?” Do this for a week to find out what emotions occupy most of your day;
- Listen to your word choices. Our words reflect our mood and our beliefs. Do you hear yourself blaming others or circumstances as to why you may feel unhappy, malcontent, or anxious?;
- Begin a plan of action based upon areas identified as sources of anxiety, sadness, or frustration. Anxiety sources generally fall into one of five categories: financial, professional, personal relationships, emotional/physical health, or spiritual health. Begin setting goals that are obtainable and focus on the long haul;
- Seek out social support from positive people. Make your goals known; as you own and talk about them, you will gain motivation. You may also find others will join you in your pursuit;
- Remember that motivation is not a feeling, it is rooted in action. It is what we do. If we only do what we felt in the moment, none of us would exercise, eat healthy, pay bills, or willingly take on our other adulting responsibilities. When we put good behaviors into action, good feelings will follow;
If you still find you are focusing on the “if only” statements, and happiness seems out of reach, it is time to seek out a licensed mental health professional to help you get “unstuck” and moving forward. Often a few