Behavioral Psychology

Running Away From Your Problems

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People say you can’t run away from your problems but that’s not precisely true. It depends on what kind of problems we’re talking about. When they’re external to you and outside of your control, meaning when their source emanates from some variable in the environment and you have have little or no influence over this variable, running away might be your best and only option. Change the contingencies of reinforcement and your problem disappears. One way to change those contingencies is to change your physical location so that they no longer have any contact with you and can therefore exert very little control over your thoughts, emotions, and behavior. We’re thinking here of situations like a dangerous abusive relationship or an unsatisfying career.

Of course there’s another category of problems, a category most behaviorists probably wouldn’t deign to recognize but upon which existentialists place the most importance. These are the problems that don’t stem from any outside source but originate from within, from how you see and respond to yourself, others, and the world. They’ll follow you no matter how fast or how far you run.

These internal problems often create easy to see issues with functioning and relationships but at their root they’re a little bit more ephemeral. What we usually find is a sense of dissatisfaction, the feeling that something’s missing, that there must be more. It comes down to a lack of felt meaning, usually because traditional sources of meaning don’t seem relevant.

So here’s the irony. If you’re running away from your internal problems and these internal problems stem from a lack of felt meaning due to refusing to swallow whole the given sources of meaning in your culture, you’re running away from your only chance to make your problems go away. By rejecting outside meaning you’ve made yourself responsible for creating your own meaning and with this meaning a sense of feeling whole, a sense that you’re on the right path, that you’re living the life that fulfills your unique destiny. You’ll only be able to do this if you stop to look at yourself and your orientation towards the world honestly, if you take that journey inwards. Running away from this problem, what we could call the central ethical question of human life, will never work because it will follow you like a specter no matter where you go or what you do until you face it and arrive at your own satisfying answer.