Ruts: Getting Out of Them and Setting Yourself Free
Depression * Loneliness * Need to control * Job boredom * Marriage slump
By J. Marlando
According to the dictionary a “rut” is “a routine, procedure situation or way of life that has become uninteresting and tiresome.” This is an inadequate description since it is possible to be in a psyche-rut in which a person feels trapped or bogged down for no other reason than his or her own mental state. In a way this is like the child who tells his mother that he’s bored. And so, mother says, it’s a beautiful day out, why don’t you go outside and play. And the child’s answer is, “because I’m bored.”
Some people feel that their marriage has them in a rut, while others blame their jobs. And, there is certainly sexual boredom for both husbands and wives in many marriages. Another kind of rut is that kind my old friend was in. Ray was a talker without much to say. His “rut” was that he felt compelled to talk to everyone friend and stranger alike and would share his dilemmas with them for hours if they would permit it or listen to others talk about their dilemmas for as long as they wanted to talk. He was, in Jungian terms, a “social strong man.” Carl Jung explains a “social strong man” like this:
“…In his private life he is often a mere child where his
states of feelings are concerned: his discipline in public
(which he demands quite particularly of others) goes
miserably to pieces in private. His ‘happiness in his
work’ assumes a woeful countenance at home; his
‘spotless’ public morality looks strange indeed behind
This was Ray. While he had a family at home he was seldom there and when he was, he mostly blamed everyone else for keeping him away, or for losing his job or for not having enough money. This was part of the rut that he was in and he never broke from it before he died. For we that knew him and cared about him,he became a tragic figure to behold. There are many others in these same kinds of ruts; forever seeking validation from others. But Ray was the classic case of a person who pretended to be his persona so much that he lost track of who he really was—at root level he didn’t like himself very much but he adored the person that he pretended to be. That person after all was accomplished, happy-go-lucky, a help-mate to all he met; a success story and model Christian. In real life he cheated on his wife, couldn’t hold on to any job and seldom saw his children. It was sad to observe for we who cared about him. If we strip away judging his actions, however, we can comprehend that he was a man in search of a self. He lived in the “rut” all of his adult life.
A great many people fall into ruts in their marriages. Karl Menninger tells of a woman who was living basically unhappily ever after because she felt her duties as a housewife were all sacrifices; that the cooking, cleaning, washing and so forth for her husband and children were giving up opportunities for herself for the sake of her family. In the far reaches of this, she was using the sacrificial lamb image as an alibi for not doing or accomplishing other things in her life.
Certainly lots of married couples experience sexual ruts in their relationship, the same old routines in the marriage bed that feel more like effort than affection, more like a job than a passion.
There are countless folks in financial ruts. When there is not enough money in the household an existential existence of living one day to the next and payday to payday can evolve. That is, without money you can’t go shopping or out to restaurants or to movies and so forth. As a result, you begin living in the poverty of your mind, a place that is often very difficult to escape.
There are just so many “ruts” that we can become psychologically and/or emotionally ensnared in, not only causing ourselves unhappiness and frustrations but often for those who care about us too. And so, with all this in mind, this article will attempt to give positive, workable ways of climbing out of one’s depression, which most ruts are and, in a term, begin living and enjoying life again.
The Common Dilemmas
The most common dilemmas that can create the deepest ruts are:
- Doing stuff we don’t want to do.
- Living in “holes” we’ve dug for ourselves; a metaphor for getting ourselves in situations that we don’t want to be in.
- Feeling that nothing is as we thought it was going to be.
Certainly we could dissect these psychological entrapments into many individual causes and effects but most ruts, I believe, can be categorized as belonging to the “dilemmas” listed in the above at least in general terms. A basic or common symptom of “rut-ness” is the feeling of “being stuck.”
In this view the first thing to acknowledge is that unless you are a prisoner or someone is holding a gun to your head, you are not stuck except by your own choices. No matter how much you like to fool yourself, you are not bound by honor, or obligation or duty to do anything. The very term “sacrifice” arrives from religious-political demagoguery, not divine revelation.
One of the most difficult acknowledgements for someone in a rut is that the rut is self-induced and supported by our concepts as opposed to our conditions. If we feel our lives are being spent on some kind of eternal, exercising wheel we are there by our own volition.
So the first thing we need to realize that we hold the keys to our own shackles.
If living in debt has you feeling in a rut, you are probably living in a country that doesn’t have a debtor’s prison so you can declare bankruptcy or simply stop paying your bills. Yes, you’re probably going to lose a lot of the stuff you have, lose your credit and public credibility but the choice is still yours. As the old axiom says, you can’t have our cake and eat it to.
In other words, you own the rut that you’re in. It is yours to do with what you wish.
I’ll share a parable with you that is applicable to what is being suggested here. A man looks at a high mountain peak and says to the mountain: I have wanted to climb you for years but whenever I begin you do something to stop me. And the mountain replies, it is not I who has stopped you but the mountains in your mind. you must first cross over those mountains before climbing to my peak.
There is nothing or at least very little outside ourselves that holds us back in life. And, there are no mental-ruts too deep to climb out of. What stops us are never the challengers out there but always the obstacles in our own mind that create the barriers that keep us from being happy and content. Remember the little child who is bored and whose mother suggests that he go outside to play…and the child refuses saying that he is too bored to go outside and play. Far too many people live their lives in the likeness of that child.
In regard to the above, Lou Marinoff, president of the American Philosophical Practitioners Association, tells us this: “Some of us need a trip back into the wild to refresh our sensibilities. When domestication—and captivity—have done their worse, a breath of fresh air can clear your head.” A returning to the “wild” doesn’t necessarily mean a camping or hiking trip into the mountains (although it can). Returning to the wild can also mean working in the garden, taking a long stroll through the local park or even just walking around the block. It is like Dr. Marinoff says, “Whatever reconnects you to the natural world is the surest way to regain perspective on your life as part of a greater whole…”
As a quick aside, note that part of the problem is that civilization itself is an unnatural state of being. It is a place of unnatural barriers, limits, laws, confinements all in a fabricated environment Poverty itself is an unnatural and…unnecessary product of so-called civilization
And so, a first step in climbing out of a rut is to simply muster the energy…and courage to go outside and renew your connectedness to Nature. There is one other thing, do not go outside to think—it’s your thinking got you in all your messes anyway. Go outside to simply feel and experience.
Ways of Overcoming Depression
For sure, if you are enduring serious or deep-seated depression, you need to see a professional. Depression too is a “rut” of course. Muriel Schiffman tells us that, “Depression takes over when we turn ourselves off. When you stop feeling, when you screen out real emotion, depression descends like a black cloud, shutting out the vividness and intrinsic value of everything around you. Alienated, isolated from life, only muffled sounds and vague, gloomy outlines can reach you. Depression is a lonely place.
“The most important fact to remember about depression is that it is not a real emotion, only a cover up for something else. You are depressed because you are acting on the false assumption that some hidden emotion, if you dared to feel it, would be more painful than the depression that disguises it; that you cannot afford to feel that hidden emotion.”
Most simply, I believe what Schiffman is saying is simply that depression is a symptom of some other feeling of loss or hurt. The way then to confront depression is to “face” the underlying reason for it. I am depressed because I feel cheated…unloved…lost or some other emotional upset. The trick of climbing out of the rut of depression is seeking the cause and confronting it. Okay, my husband cheated on me, he is the jerk of the year…a guy who made a mistake…a liar and a thief…an irresponsible weakling…or…instead of being depressed in such a situation the ideal is to be decisive. I will forgive him…leave him…punish him…go to counseling with him…once the decision is made, the depression has no place to go but…away.
On the other hand, if you simply fall into the rut of feeling depressed you are letting loose of control and giving in to what amounts to self-indulgence as opposed to problem solving. For example, the woman referred to in the above who has the cheating husband may fall into a deep “rut” of feeling betrayed which makes her not only a victim of her husband’s infidelity but a victim of her own emotions. In order to understand this we need return to Soren Kierkegaard (1813—1855) and his observation:
“Despair is never ultimately over the external object
but always over ourselves. A girl loses her sweetheart
and she despairs. It is not over the lost sweetheart but
over herself without the sweetheart. And so it is with
all cases of loss whether it be money, power or social-
rank. The unbearable loss is not really in itself unbearable.
What we cannot bear is being stripped of the external
object; we stand denuded and see the intolerable abyss
Knowing this of course doesn’t make the feeling of being betrayed go away or the pain of being rejected any less but it does permit one to, if you will, stand outside the self and observe the situation rationally. In this, regard, today it seems that psychiatrists and other doctors are connecting depression to chemical imbalances but many such imbalances inspire a chicken and egg question—did the chemical imbalance cause the depression or is it the other way around?
There is one sure way to lift the spirits even in the direst of circumstances: Permitting yourself to love others—even strangers—and showing kindness. Perhaps the greatest of all wisdoms was uttered by the Dalai Lama: “If you contribute to other people’s happiness, you will find the true good, the true meaning of life.”
There is a vast chasm between aloneness and loneliness. I am pretty much a loner but I seldom ever feel lonely. Gestalt Therapy tells us that there is loneliness and a neurotic fear of loneliness which, most basically means, feeling isolated for some reason like moving away from friends and into a new environment. Yet, not experiencing the actual loneliness for old familiar faces and places but burying those feelings behind a façade of fulfillment or some other positive response to life and living it.
Experiencing the rut of loneliness, however, can be very agonizing for people. For one thing we have in our mindscape the image of being alone —recall the saying that we are born and die alone. This is part of the human reality we each carry and respond to in our own way. Because of this deeply rooted awareness, a great many people can fall into existential ruts wherein life becomes being and nothingness. What follows is the common view that there is no meaning or purpose in life and so people turn to booze and/or drugs or simply slump into moods of despondency.
There is also the loneliness of married people who often feel neglected and unloved by their mates. We never talk anymore is a most common complaint when a wife or husband is reaching out to the other. (Communication is difficult between couples because men and women view the world differently and seldom have matching values. Far too often she wants to discuss the very things that he wants to escape.This is a most common dilemma).
A great number of people who endure neurotic loneliness will say that no one knows how much love they have to give but an irony occurs when they are with those they love—they fail in the other half of the loving relationship. That is, they will not accept being loved by others; they are constantly in the rut of suspicion or fear of rejection or self-depreciation. Well, the other half of loving is being loved. However those who disallow or distrust the love of others will typically say things like, I’ve always done so much for other people and I just never get anything back….I just have too big of a heart for my own good…I’m just not appreciated.
In regard to the above, we return to Karl Menninger for a moment who tells us:
Love is impaired less by the feeling that we are
not appreciated than by dread, more or less dimly
felt by everyone, less others see through our masks,
the masks of repression that have been forced upon
us by convention and culture. It is this that leads
us to shun intimacy, to maintain friendships on
superficial level, to understand and fail to
appreciate others less they come to appreciate
us only too well.
Perhaps the reader will recall Ray who I talked about earlier, the man I compared to Jung’s “social Strong man.” In his public life he reflected a man who deeply cared about others, who was himself a pillar of self-confidence. But in his very private life, he felt alone and afraid and this was his secret and why he constantly needed to be validated by others.
He had been adopted when he was a baby and while he had a wonderful, caring couple to raise and parent him, he never felt wholly a person since he lacked the identity of knowing who he “really” was. It never occurred to him that, if you will, a rose by any other name is still a rose; that his identity was fully reflected in the mirror. And so because of his inability to self-accept, he lived in constant loneliness and in need of constant validation from others. His marital cheating was mostly a result of his seeking validation for being a self…a self he never quite believed existed. He was, in a term, a poster child for the lost soul.
So much loneliness arrives when individuals feel unsuccessful or inadequate in some way. Quite often the most egotistical, self-indulgent people are the loneliness people of all because something in their past or in their self-images creates them unlovable in their own eyes. A great deal of loneliness is the feeling of, most simply, not being lovable.
One way to get out of the rut of being lonely is to make it a practice to go to the mirror every morning and saying to your image, “You are loving and lovable.” If you do this consistently you really will begin to witness positive change in your life and a fulfillment that you perhaps have never experienced before. I cannot tell you why this happens only that it does.
Also, no matter how foolish it might sound to you, say “I love you” to the tree outside your window or the flowers in your yard. When you can do this and mean it, you will never be alone again.
Ruts, Routines and other Traps
“I a stranger and afraid, in a world I never made.”
Most of us can identify with A.E. Housman’s declaration since, at one juncture of our lives or another; we have all felt like a weary stranger in the alien world of others. When this kind of response becomes the rule as opposed to the exception people fall into the rut of self-depreciation and end up as socially shy or, in the more severe cases, as social phobics. I had an aunt that was so socially phobic that she spent a lifetime without ever going to a restaurant, a grocery store or movie. She was convinced that she was the ugliest person alive when, in reality, she was not “ugly” at all. Nevertheless, her social phobia was chronic and so a rut that she was never freed from.
All ruts are not self-destructive of course—at least not directly. An extremely harmful rut to be in, is the “my way or highway” rut. This crack in the personality can become so overbearing that it pushes people out of one’s life except for those who give in and obeys. .
I knew a woman who was so caught up in having her way that she actually ruined her husbands and children’s lives by her constant demands. For one thing, when things didn’t go just as she wanted them, she would throw a fit until she got her way. Actually, she needed clinical help because in overview, her real problem was that she endured immature emotions; she never outgrew the child who always got her way by throwing tantrums.
Another immaturity is being in the rut of wanting to control. This is often the flagship for the “my way or highway” syndrome People who are in the habitual routines of wanting to control always end up as unhappy-makers for those around them. For a summary of this we return to Muriel Schiffman, who says:
Controlling behavior, like any neurotic pattern, is
always self-defeating. The Child within the
controlling person is hungry for love and security.
But puppets cannot feed the puppet-master; you are
condemned to starvation as long as you depend on
such artificial nourishment. Even if you manage to
frighten or manipulate people into responding in
accordance to your desires, the Child within will
mistrust their responses and grow more ravenous.
A healthy home environment is a place where compatibility does NOT demand conformity—even children much less adults need space to be themselves.
Another reason a person becomes controlling is because they want to feel in charge of results. These types are habitual conditional lovers—if you love me you will…if you love me you won’t and so forth. The minute that husband child, friend or relative doesn’t “mind” then they are accused of not loving the controller but it is the controller whose love is conditional. In fact, for the controlling personality love always becomes a tool of leverage.
It is extremely difficult to break free from the rut of demanding obedience from others because there are fear factors involved—if I stopped controlling you, you might not love or respect me anymore. More often than not the controlling personality will not know that being loved is part of his or her drive to control. And going a bit further into this, the controller type most typically will make his or her demands to “test” the other’s love because controlling people are convinced that being given their way is a signal of the other’s love for them.
One way to break the chain event of wanting always to control is to consciously practice loving yourself…unconditionally. One cannot love other unconditionally except to the degree that they love themselves unconditionally. This takes self-forgiveness for any guilt or shame of past behaviors. The goal is to look into the mirror and sincerely say, I love you for being you without attaching any standards to live up to; without making any value judgments whatsoever. After all, the truth is that the need to control others is not only an unhappy-maker for the controlled but for the controller as well since both enslave the other. Ironically, the challenge for the controlling personality is not so much learning to love others for what they are but rather to love him or herself for what he or she is.
Feeling in a rut because of one’s work is pretty common—for one thing, there is no job or career that doesn’t demand routine to one level or another and it doesn’t matter if a person is a sales clerk or a high executive, a brick layer or computer expert all work is…well, work.
I will tell you how to get out of the “rut” feeling when it comes to your job. Every time you have a negative thought about your work, toss it out of your head and replace it with a positive like—oh boy, I ‘m going to go to work today and have so much fun. Make this your habit every day and see what happens.
What you need to understand is that you are in charge of your reality—what you project upon the world, the world becomes…for you. Most people actually like the feeling that the world acts on them because it relieves them from being fully responsible for the pain and pleasures in their lives. The truth, however, is that the world does not act on us…it is each of us that acts upon the world.
Let’s say that your job is working on an assembly line. Every day is a repeat of the last and the routine is always the same. First of all, create the job challenging—contest against yourself of how fast or efficient you are today as opposed to yesterday. In short give yourself incentive instead of discouragement. If your job means dealing with customers—make sincere efforts to be helpful and make your goal to give caring service. If you do, you will not only begin having fun at your job but will soon enough gain more success than perhaps you ever thought that you ever would.
Job boredom is always a self-imposed malady; a deciding that I’m bored will always manifest boredom, just as the decision that I’m going to have a great time will always produce a great time. When you are feeling in a rut and bored stiff the real challenge is to muster the courage to change your mind—changing your mind, changes the world.
This same principle applies to marriage when couples feel bored and/or anxiety filled with their lives and…their relationship. Instead of saying or thinking something like I’m so frustrated with my life, I could scream…stop imagining that your mate is responsible for the upset or for changing to make the marriage more exciting, positive and fun. It is as Doctors Kinder and Cowen tell us:
Change in marriage is possible, but it will never
happen so long as you make it something your
mate should be doing. The other-directed approach,
employing communications and negotiations based
on blame and the shifting of responsibility to one’s
partner, invariably creates even more conflict rather
than solving it.
If your marital life has put you in a rut, break out by your own volition—recreate your own interest in your home or apartment and in your spouse. Do this WITHOUT the desire for reciprocation. Absolutely do not make your positive actions a cause seeking an effect.
If your marriage bed has lost its adventure, become adventurous you might be very happily surprised at your mate’s responses. On the other hand, NEVER become adventurous for the sake of manufacturing response. Simply enjoy you and in most instances the other will follow.
While it is true, we all possess that child who says, I don’t want to go outside and play because I’m bored which of course is clinging to one’s upset and a wallow in one’s own rut. As we have seen, boredom is a rut; a mindscape projected onto the world when the truth is, we can, if you will, ALL go outside and play!
When it comes to our being in a rut, no matter what that rut might be, the first thing we need to acknowledge is that we are capable of creating change…not in others but in ourselves; in our thinking and our feelings. In this view, it is as Mainer Rilke tells us that it is:
If your everyday life seems poor to you,
Do not accuse it; accuse yourself, tell
yourself you are not poet enough to summon
up its riches, since for the creator there is no
poverty or poor or unimportant place.
What is important to note here is, we are NOT our conditions—in fact our “conditions” change with every changing of our minds. Our world becomes bright and cheery or dark and gloomy by how we project it to be. In other words to say to the world, I love you is to turn the world into a loving place…to say I hate you creates the world a place of misery.
Too often people create their own ruts and then blame the world for the experience of living in them. They are likened to the child who is too bored to play—and when the “child” is too bored to play, a rut necessarily unfolds.
If you enjoyed this article you will probably also enjoy: Tree Climbing A Philosophy for a Happier Grownup. Click below.
References and further reading:
Delaszlo, Violet S. (Editor) * The Basic Writings of Jung * Modern Library
Juan, Stephen* The Odd Brain* Andrews McMeel Publishing
Marinoff, Lou * Plato Not Prozac *HarperCollins Publishers
Menninger, Karl * Love Against Hate * Harcourt, Brace and Company
Schiffman, Muriel * Gestalt Self Therapy * Wingrow