For those of you who aren’t allergy sufferers this point won’t be so dramatic, but you’ll get the gist of it anyway, and that’s what matters.
So, why do we keep rubbing our eyes when it only makes us feel exponentially worse every single time? We aren’t idiots. (Well, most of us aren’t, most of the time.) Anyway, we aren’t idiots, so why do we keep doing the same thing that reliably, every single time, without exception, causes us to feel worse and exacerbates the problem? I’ve been thinking about this for the last few months – my allergy season. Every day, many times a day, I promise myself I won’t rub my eyes again, and then moments later, I am rubbing my eyes with vigor and determined resolve. And… surprise, surprise, each and every time I always feel worse and mildly guilty for my lack of commitment, self restraint and good judgment. And, alas, my eyes hurt even more!
So, what is going on in this moment of conflict? It’s a battle – my wellbeing vs. my itchy eyes – I want immediate relief. I am desperate; I want this discomfort to stop. I feel vulnerable, unhappy and out of control. I feel attacked and begin to panic. I am under siege, and my hands go into rescue mode. They are only trying to help me – they are the super heroes springing into action to save the day. And the only tactic they have on hand (couldn’t resist) is to rub like mad.
The truth is, we are always doing the best we can in the moment with the tools and options we have available to us. Self advancement and preservation are our constant goals, and we work with what we’ve got. We are practical optimists by nature. I’m acting just as I act when I find myself in the center of a personal conflict. When I’m in an uncomfortable interpersonal exchange and feeling vulnerable, out of control and under fire, I’m going to go straight to my habitual response. Which for most of us, most of the time, is fight or flight. We end up with the same crazy results not because we are crazy and are expecting different results from the same behaviors, but because we are in survival mode and forced to utilize the only options currently in our reserve.
We react rather that act and go with our best available defense. This is why we have the same fights, frustrating interchanges and disappointing experiences in our personal relationships. We are seeking relief and if rubbing is all we’ve got, rubbing is what it will be. We are going to rub because we are desperate for immediate relief and we don’t know what else to do. So we earnestly continue to give the previously failed response a try.
Luckily, the solution is simple. We need to grow our options. We need more effective behaviors in our bag of tricks that we can pull out and try in times of distress. If instead of reacting, we can learn to stop for a brief second and pause before taking action, assess the situation and choose with deliberation what our best response is for dealing constructively with this particular challenge, we will be minimize conflict and maximize satisfaction.
By understanding the why, why we are “rubbing our eyes” and what result we are actually after, we can expand our cache of alternative options. A bevy of options allows us to choose wisely and achieve successful resolution. So, keep in mind there is a reason we do what we do, and that reason is an important clue to successfully changing your situation. When you take time to focus on why we are reacting in a certain way to distress, and what result we are ultimately seeking, we can consciously choose a behavior gives us the best odds of achieving our desired result. If I could find some potent eye drops, I’d never rub my eyes again!