“People get married, have children, buy a home and cars, furniture, vacations, and whatever else they have been programmed to associate with happiness and success. After the novelty wears off, and their new goal to define success has been relocated even further up the scale, they feel like prisoners in their own life.”
– William Berry, LMHC, CAP
What Do You Do If You Feel Trapped?
We have all had the experience of being in a meeting that has gone on too long or a class that seems to drag. Too often, we may begin to feel trapped in our own life. Trapped in a job, a relationship, a situation, a town, that no longer fulfill us or even a persona is no longer who we truly are. Unlike a meeting or class, which have a defined ending, it can be hard to figure out what to do if you are feeling trapped in life.
Many years ago, I was living in a place where I did not have many friends, far away from my family. I did not like the job that I was working. It was always clear that I was unhappy when I drove to work. I had to go past the entrance to the highway that would lead me south, toward my home state. Every day as I drove past the highway on-ramp, I had to resist the urge to turn the wheel and drive away from my life. After that happened a few mornings, I knew that it was time to make a change.
When you realize you are feeling trapped, that is a sign to start paying attention to what in your life you need to change. Feeling trapped is an awful feeling! The first thing to do is tune into what is causing that feeling so you can figure out why.
When You Realize You Feel Trapped, Ask Yourself Some Questions
- What are you doing at the moment you begin to feel trapped? Are you at work? Are you completing a particular task?
- Ask yourself what can be changed in the situation to change the feeling
- Think about times you have felt trapped in the past, do they usually happen in this setting or situation?
- Take a deep breath and remind yourself that only you have control over your life. You can make choices to change the situation and the feeling.
- If you need help figuring out what is causing the feeling, try journaling or talking to a friend or counselor.
Feelings Are Signs To Pay Attention To
This doesn’t mean that if you feel trapped in your relationship you should instantly end it. What it does mean is that you have an opportunity to figure out what about your relationship is causing you to feel out of control. Likewise with a job, you probably enjoyed it at some point so figure out what has changed since the feeling began. This is an opportunity to explore what needs to change before you decide whether or not to make a change.
Sometimes we may feel trapped in a role or persona that no longer fit us. When people view us as someone or something that we used to be but no longer are, it can lead to feeling trapped in their expectations. I often hear from college students that their families expect them to go into certain fields or major in specific subjects that they may have been interested in at some point in the past but no longer are. Perhaps they were never interested in that career but their family just expects them to be a doctor, a lawyer, or to go into the family business. These people often report feeling trapped. Worse yet they may not even realize they are feeling trapped but report depression, irritability, poor grades, or lack of interest in school.
You deserve to live a life that you do not feel like running away from!
When We Change But Our Environment Does Not We May Begin to Feel Trapped
Sometimes, we do a lot of inner work to overcome past trauma or addiction. We may find that while we have changed, the people around us and situations we are in have not. Maybe you haven’t overcome your past yet and feel trapped in the past – or trapped because of your past! You may be trapped in patterns that once served you but do not any longer.
Often, people feel trapped in relationships that they entered for the wrong reasons. Here in the south, many people get married when one partner becomes pregnant. While pregnancy might be a reason to get married if you are in a serious relationship with someone you love, it might not be a good reason if you are young or do not know your partner well. When we are young, we often pick partners for reasons that are superficial: physical appearance, popularity with others, or simply the way they make us feel. If we rush into a serious relationship based on superficial reasons, we often find that the relationship does not grow with us. While we learn and grow, the relationship does not and essentially we “outgrow” the relationship.
Similarly, if one or both people in a relationship misuse alcohol or drugs and one partner becomes sober, the relationship suddenly becomes unstable. Partners often think that they desperately want the partner that is using drugs and alcohol to get sober, but when they do it does not solve all of the problems in the relationship. The spouse who is now working their addiction recovery grows emotionally and may change drastically in a short period of time, leading to one or both spouses feeling like they don’t know each other anymore. There are many reasons that one may outgrow a romantic relationship or friendship, these are just a few.
Safety vs Fulfillment
Sunk-cost fallacy is the idea that because we have spent time or money on something, we must continue it because otherwise we have “wasted” that time or money. This happens frequently in relationships. We feel we have been together for so long that ending it is not an option. Staying in a relationship where we are unfulfilled simply because we have spent 2, 5, 10, 20 years in it only robs us of the potential happiness a different future can hold. Likewise, staying in a career or job that we really enjoyed 10 years ago but hate now does the same. Taking a risk to try something different can be terrifying but the other option is feeling trapped for as long as we choose safety over the unknown. A decision that you made in the past does not have to define the rest of your life if you do not want it to.
“If you do not see light at the end of the tunnel, consider it an opportunity to create an opening yourself, wherever you want.”
Feeling trapped is often a by-product of feeling that we do not have control over our own life. Often when we feel we have no choice, it is not that we don’t have a choice but that we don’t like the choices available to us. Change is not usually easy and leaving our comfort zone can be scary. If we choose to stay in a situation, calling it a choice can make us feel more in control. If we feel we have no choice, we feel trapped.
Looking for inspiration? Read this great personal story of breaking free by Jen Picicci “How I Stopped Feeling Trapped in a Life I Didn’t Want”
Stacey is a therapist in private practice in the Jackson, Mississippi area. Her passion is helping women feel inspired to create a life that they love. If you are feeling trapped and would like to speak to someone that can help, call (769) 224-4234 to schedule an appointment with Stacey at Grace Christian Counseling in Canton, MS or Vicksburg, MS.