Elizabeth Gilbert posted this the other day:
Question of the Day: ARE YOU REALLY TRAPPED?
Dear Ones –
Here’s a story for you.
Not long ago, I was visiting Detroit, and I found myself in a beauty parlor, getting my hair done by a woman who, for the purposes of our story, I will call Tanya.
Tanya was in her late 30’s — beautiful and edgy and self-assured, with great style and a winning, charismatic personality.
As soon as she found out who I was, Tanya started telling me how much she wanted to change her life. She told me it had always been her dream to move from Michigan to New York, and to do hair in the big city.
“I really have to get out of here,” she said. “I’m suffocating in Michigan. I’ll die here if I stay another year.”
“You should go, then,” I told her. “I mean, if that’s your dream…”
“I can’t,” she sighed. “I’m trapped here because of my family…”
“Oh, do you have children?” I asked.
“A sick relative who you need to care of?”
“No,” she said. “None of that. It’s just that I come from a big family and we’re really close, so I can never leave…
“Wait, so you’re telling me you can never leave Michigan?” I asked.
She sighed. “That’s right. I’m trapped here.”
I had thoughts about this, but kept them to myself for the moment.
Five minutes later, though, when we got to talking about relationships, she said, “I’ll never find the right man for myself here in Michigan. I have to get out of here, if I’m ever going to meet my soulmate…he’s probably in New York, where I should be…”
Then, five minutes after that, she said: “I’ll never be able to see all the cool art and culture that want to see if I stay in Michigan…everything I want is in New York, but I’m trapped here…”
At that point, I lost patience.
I said, “Tanya, I’ve only known you for fifteen minutes, and I’m already getting bored of this story.”
She was shocked, but then she started laughing.
“Seriously!” I said. “Do you realize that the first, second, third, and fourth thing that you have told me about yourself is that you are trapped? That you’re supposed to be in New York, but you’re stuck forever in Michigan? I’ve never heard anyone use the word ‘trapped’ so many times is casual conversation. Just imagine how sick of this story your poor friends must be! How many years have you been telling people that you want to move to New York?”
“About fifteen,” she admitted.
“Then MOVE, dude! Moving from one place to another is thing people can DO! People move to New York City all the time! There are about twenty flights a day from Detroit to New York, and that doesn’t even count trains and buses. Stop acting like you live in North Korea. You don’t even need a passport to move! You’re a beautiful, single, healthy, intelligent, resourceful young woman with a marketable skill. Go live your dream!”
She sighed again, “Yeah, but I’m really close to my family, and they mean the world to me…so….I can never leave….”
I said, “Then stay in Michigan. You can have a wonderful life here, if you decide to. It’s terrific that you love your family so much — that kind of love should be seen as a gift, not a curse. If they really mean more to you than anything else, then embrace that reality, and stay near them and love them with an open heart. But stop blaming your poor family for holding you back from your dreams when you’re a grown-ass woman — because none of this is about them; it’s about you. Stay in Michigan or go to New York, but embrace your choices and take ownership of your life! And whatever you decide, get off the cross!”
Another deep sigh: “I wish I could…but I’m afraid I’ll always be trapped here.”
At which point I gave up, and we spent the rest of the haircut talking about our favorite TV shows.
Dear Ones, I tell you this story because it is the most extreme case I’ve ever seen of someone keeping herself trapped out of habit. This smart, talented and dynamic woman was basically living in a cage with a wide-open door, clinging to the bars, saying, “Help, help, I’m trapped in this cage…somebody rescue me from this cage…just don’t make me get out of this cage…help, help…I’m trapped, trapped, trapped…”
So the question I have today is this — are you doing the same thing, in your own life? In your own way?
Are you staying trapped inside cages of your imagination — cages that actually have wide-open doors?
Are you still telling yourself some worn-out and tired old story about why you have no agency over your own life?
Listen — I am not an innocent. I know that life is challenging and sometimes impossible. Without a doubt, there are circumstances in life that simply cannot be changed or fixed or improved…but not nearly so many as we tell ourselves there are.
You show me NEARLY any bad situation, and I will show you someone who was once in that same exact bad situation — and who got herself out it. (If you hang out regularly on this Facebook page, then you have heard those stories told here in the comments section every single day — story after story about people changing their lives, changing themselves, changing their worldview, changing everything.)
Mortality is still non-negotiable, I’m afraid. We can’t do much about the reality of death and dying.
But beyond that…are you still alive?
If so, then you have still have some measure of agency over your own life — either to change your circumstances, or to change the story that you tell yourself about your circumstances.
Bottom line: Very few things frustrate me more than watching powerful people pretending to be powerless.
So be as honest and brave and self-examining as possible when you answer this question — are you really as trapped as you think you are?
Or is it maybe time to step out of the cage?
I read this story with interest as this phenomenon intrigues me.
In my experience people who are “trapped” in an open cage have some belief that keeps them there. Something they believe so strongly that they don’t doubt it for a moment. Even if they are remain trapped because they like being a victim, there is some belief behind that that makes them sure it’s a good thing for them to be a victim.
And that makes it hard for them to just fly out. Even though to us, looking at that situation it seems incredible that they don’t.
What I think about this at the moment, is that becoming aware of the fact that others do not hold the same belief as you is a first step. So having someone call your bluff and tell you to act or shut up and be grateful, is a good thing.
Once there is some awareness, though, curiosity must play a role.
You have to start wondering about your beliefs and if they are really true (à la The Work of Byron Katie) and pay particular attention to what you are gaining by staying inside the cage. That is key.
After that comes courage. Much easier to push the awareness away and continue to fondle your sad story. Much harder is to push through to get closer to the life that is possible for you.
That could take time though. In one particular instance in my own life, it took decades for the sweet penny to drop. And I was looking hard all the while, believe you me! But when you are in the right place in your life for you to see what’s really going on, things will start making new sense. And, oh, the sweet relief when you taste freedom!
The heady exhiliration of that first sip of freedom sometimes feels so overwhelmingly good, it lulls you into thinking your work here is done.
But it isn’t.
Now comes action. You have to act in new ways with these new insights. Because, thinking about dancing is not dancing, as a friend said to me just at the right time. If you do not act, you will still be in the cage. Only more so than before, because now you will know how to get out, and know why you have not done it before. And still stay. And lose the freedom.
Keep on keeping on, therefore, if you feel trapped. Keep finding out more about that. Keep listening for other ways to look at your life. At some point, the door will swing open. And you will thank the long suffering for showing you the way because if you did not suffer, there would be no reason to look for anything else.
And if you need help with any of this, you know where to find me. My mission in life is to work with women who have a big mess (and being in a cage qualifies as such) they want to sort out. I help them find, and trust, their own way and their own answers again. So they can live in that sweet state of freedom all the time.
Summary of steps:
(ACCAF for short. Why not?)