By Michael Rice, LISAC, CTRTC
The 1960 movie, “The Magnificent Seven” was a box office hit staring Yul Brynner, playing the role of Chris Adams, and Steve McQueen, playing the role of Vin Tanner. In one of the scenes, actor Eli Wallach, playing the role of Calvera, a Mexican bandit who was terrorizing a Mexican town’s inhabitants, asked Steve McQueen:
Calvera: What I don’t understand is why a man like you took the job (freeing the town) in the first place, hmm? Why, huh?
Chris: I wonder myself.
Calvera: No, come on, come on, tell me why.
Vin: It’s like a fellow I once knew in El Paso. One day, he just took all his clothes off and jumped in a mess of cactus. I asked him that same question, “Why?”
Vin: He said, “It seemed to be a good idea at the time.”
How many times have you found yourself having done something that afterwards you asked yourself, “Why the hell did I do that?” Looking back on it, you are amazed that you would have chosen to have done such a thing. Your thoughts might be: “Boy, was THAT ever stupid,” or “I can’t believe I did that.”
I recall a time many years ago when I dove head first into a water fountain in the town’s roundabout while wearing a 3 piece suit. I wasn’t in conflict or frustrated at the time. I was merely under the influence. Alcohol can make one really stupid. After landing on my head and sitting in a lot of water with blood running down my face, I never once thought it was a good idea at the time. I just always wanted to do that after years of driving around that fountain for years. However, I do recall thinking to myself after I did it, “What a (blanking) dumb thing to do.”But that’s not the kind of dumb choices I wish to describe.
I’m referring to the times when you were under extreme duress and felt like you had no place to turn. A few examples might be: Going through a divorce or breakup; losing a job with no prospects for work due to your age; the death of a child or some other loved one; feeling you can’t please someone who is putting demands or expectations on you; someone who is behaving in a way in which you disapprove; someone dear to you who is nagging, complaining, blaming, criticizing, threatening, punishing, or even bribing you to get you to do something they wanted you to do that you didn’t want to do or didn’t know how to do it.
The reason why you may have ever done something “crazy” was because, at the time, it seemed like a good idea. When faced with a particular situation in which you have no prior experience, and after all your efforts to resolve it with all of the tools you have learned to use in the past have failed, you get creative. . . you devise new ways to resolve your unhappiness that you have never used before. Your unhappiness may be so frustrating that any new idea that you devise, regardless of how insensible it may be, seemed like a good idea at the time. Everything you had tried, so far, was unsuccessful in making your perceived unhappy situation match the happy image of what you wanted in your Quality World.
When we run out of choices, we create new choices.
Many times, we look back on those choices and say, “That was a really dumb thing to do.” But at the time, in your frustration, it made perfectly good sense. You had to try it. You never thought of it before. Maybe, just maybe, it would work. Then to make it even worse when it failed, someone says to you, “Just what the hell were you thinking?”
Being too embarrassed to admit to our perceived stupidity, we reply, “Sheesh. I don’t know. I must have been out of my mind,” to which the other person is more than happy to agree. But now, we have an excuse. We were temporarily out of our right mind and not stupid.
I am often asked, “what about those people who keep doing crazy things over and over, like Obsessive Compulsive behaviors, anxiety, depression, schizophrenic behaviors of hearing and seeing things that aren’t there?” People do what works to ease their unhappiness, in some way or another, or they wouldn’t do them. You just don’t see the how or the why of it.
These behaviors serve to ease their frustrations, even just a little bit, because they have learned that if they didn’t do them, their unhappiness and frustration would be much more intense than it is. Their seemingly crazy behaviors are the result of their creativity to find something that works. All they know is that when they do them, they feel better than when they don’t do them. Whatever their unhappiness or frustration is, it is something that is occurring right now, in this present time. And if it has been a long term pattern of behavior, it will be found to have roots in an unsatisfying relationship with someone important to them. Very few situations arise in our lives that lead to depression or anger that don’t involve conflict with someone important in our lives (including conflict with ourselves).
Remember your state of mind when you chose to do something that seemed like a good idea at the time that now, in retrospect, was totally out of character for you to have done? More than likely, your frustration at that time didn’t last for any long term of several months or more and you got your senses back. But think about the person whose frustration has been an ongoing for many months or perhaps years. The behaviors that you see as mental illness in others are no different than the behavior you exhibited during your own frustration. The only difference is that you may have found a more socially acceptable way to deal with it than they have. While you may not hear voices, hallucinate, or shoot people, you may be depressing, anxieting, obsessing, bipolarizing, and/or resorting to drugs, alcohol, indiscriminant sex, gambling, or excessive spending.
Regardless of the behavior, it is still the result of a person’s creativity to deal with unhappiness and frustration of trying to control things that are beyond their control. It will mostly be the result of an unsatisfying relationship with an important person in their life. When someone fails time after time to get their happiness needs met, they discover or create the first behavior that affords them some modicum of relief.
Once a person comes to the reality that there is nothing they can do to change another person and they eventually accept their situation as “it is what it is,” and by no longer trying to get what they can’t make happen; by no longer wanting what it is that they have been striving to make happen will they no longer have a need to rely on the behaviors they have developed to ease their frustration and unhappiness.
Who was/is the person with whom you were/are not having the relationship that you wanted to have when you jumped into the cactus patch? You weren’t (aren’t) mentally ill. You were/are not as mentally healthy as you could be. You were emotionally upset and seeking relief or resolution. Since there is no medical, bio-pathological cause of what is being labeled as “mental illness,” there is no pharmaceutical cure for unhappiness. Change what you want or change how you behave when you don’t get what you want. There are no other successful or effective ways.