2015-01-22 / Guest Column

Having Trouble Making Efforts?

By Michael Feld, L.C.S.W.
Certified Psychoanalyst, Licensed Psychotherapist

Many people complain of being unable to do things to help themselves or make their lives better. They overuse the phrase “I just can’t do it.” Whatever it is they believe they can’t do, they all seem to have a problem trying, or exerting genuine effort. What I mean by effort is the exertion of energy to do something. It is doing the activity necessary to achieve or move toward a goal. Effort is an active process, since it requires the exertion of physical or mental force, or both. Effort is self-initiated, and goes along with and reinforces the expression of growth or the forward movement of life.

Many people have mixed feelings about putting forth effort, and are easily distracted. In part, they welcome the distraction while at the same time protesting over their inability to perform. Their conflicting feelings of wanting to and not wanting to do something often occur during the first moments of effort. Such people often report that at these moments they find themselves overcome with a sudden heaviness, drowsiness, and/or fatigue. They may even experience an overpowering desire to sleep. These feelings exist even when there is no physical basis for them, and even after a long night’s rest. Some of the distracting and distressing feelings that arise when people begin to exert self-initiated effort include:

1. Anxiety
2. Fear
3. Restlessness
4. Uneasiness
5. Irritability
6. Apprehensiveness
7. A need to urinate
8. Cravings for food and/or drink
9. A general inability to concentrate

It may be that the primary reason for the inability to sustain or endure effort is the overbearing need to succeed, and the great fear of failure. Some people are so afraid of failure that they are unable to do anything on their own or on their own behalf. They can do what others tell them to do, and mindless tasks, but they become paralyzed when the thought of doing something self-initiated is suggested. They live by the rule that if they don’t try, they can’t fail. They also use the excuse that if they tried, they could have it all. In fact, they miss out on life by not being involved. They remain superior to others in their fantasy, and lose the fun of living an active full life. Other people avoid effort because they are afraid of success. These people do not want to appear superior. They fear that should they succeed in their efforts, they will be deserted by the people they are dependent upon in their need and love.

In both cases, the exertion of effort is avoided because of the unpleasant feelings that arise. The person that fears failure is running away from the feeling of humiliation should he fail. The person that fears success is avoiding the feelings associated with offending others because of his or her assertiveness and the possibility of desertion by others. In addition to these feelings, there are many other feelings beneath the surface. Many of these are self-hating feelings for not being perfect. Psychoanalyst Karen Horney identified self-hate as the primary obstacle to growth and self-realization. Self-hatred keeps us stuck in motion, and hoping for miracles and magic to advance change in our lives. If we demand magic and miracles to move us through life, we have no appreciation for genuine self-initiated effort.

Psychoanalytic psychotherapy attempts to free up the individual’s constructive energy, through the constant exertion of the effort required to understand and experience one’s feelings. As we learn about our feelings, we learn about ourselves. In the process, we develop greater curiosity, courage and compassion to stand up to our self-hatred and move spontaneously and creatively through life.

Prepared as a public service from the office of Psychotherapist Michael Feld, L.C. S.W. (718) 444-8560

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