Over the past several weeks, I have been looking at my working cycle, which is a typical “boom and bust” cycle, with an eye towards how to improve my efficiency and break the cycle. So far, we have covered issues in planning projects too big, overworking, and burning out.
Now, we come to Step 5: Abandon My project. This will be a delicate post, as it deals with the motivations why I tend to abandon my projects. This is the “bust” of the cycle. Some readers may find that the open discussion of the topic of self-destructive behaviour might be a bit distressing. Indeed, it can be – because the impact of self-destructive behaviour can be devastating to everyone involved, not just the individual engaging in such behaviour, but those around them that have to deal with the aftermath.
It is important to understand the seriousness of all forms of destructive behaviour. It destroys lives in many ways, both physically and mentally. Please note that I am NOT a professional psychotherapist, but I must advise anyone who feels that they or those around them may be engaging in self-destructive behaviour to seek professional help as soon as possible. Please don’t leave things until they are too late to deal with.
So, what happens when people burn out? The answer is simple – they “crash.” We have covered why people “crash” in previous weeks, but very little has been said about how people “crash.” This is because such behaviour is often unique to the scenario involved – it depends upon the severity of the reasons of the crash, the mindset and personality of the individuals involved, and the circumstances and support that they find themselves in.
When someone “burns out” from stress, they stop doing what they are doing that is causing the burn out. Unfortunately, the situation causing the stress doesn’t always stop at the same time. This means that it can continue to have a significant impact upon the severity of the “crash” for the individual.
Stress provokes adrenaline, used to engage the “flight or fight” instinct that all living creatures have. This response is a false dichotomy – there is rarely such a choice involved, since both systems use the same process, with the same ultimate goal – to end the situation causing the stress. The only difference between these two is how our actions and reactions manifest themselves to achieve this outcome.
Unfortunately, in modern life, we can’t always “fight” or “flee” from sources of stress. This tends to leave us trapped in a situation which becomes steadily worse. We become increasingly desperate to escape the situation, by either fighting or fleeing. The thing is that these two are not distinct, and will often be used together to try and remove ourselves from the source of the stress. This is results in ever increasingly extreme actions to achieve this result, until we either successfully escape the situation.
This instinctive behaviour is largely subconscious, and is a basic survival trait intended for short term immediate survival. It typically manifests as aggressive behaviour, as we either confront the source of the problem, or we try to break out of the situation.
Unfortunately, the direction of such aggression isn’t always towards the true source of the stress. People can lash out in aggressive behaviour to those around them, even if they are no part of the problem. In some cases, this aggression can be turned inwards, towards ourselves.
Such aggressive behaviour doesn’t always have to be overtly aggressive. It doesn’t have to be a direct physical attack on the source, those around them, or even themselves. This aggression can manifest in a number of different covert ways, which often depends upon what the source of the stress actually is.
As discussed previously, we have many different arenas in our lives, and different levels of needs. Each of these can be a viable target for some form of extreme action or aggression, whether by ourselves or others.
It is important to understand that the stress and the resulting reaction are almost universally some form of mental trauma, and it is often difficult, if not impossible, to differentiate between cause and effect. More importantly, such circumstances are not always singular, isolated incidents, but are more likely to be a pattern of behaviour as the person becomes increasingly desperate to find some way to solve or escape the situation.
Needless to say, such behaviour, although normal, isn’t exactly healthy – physically or mentally. Stress and adrenaline can harm and kill, especially in long-term exposure. Extreme behaviour due to stress can cause significant, if not irreparable damage, to all those involved, including those who just happen to be around at the time. Most importantly, such behaviour can often be a cause of stress and trauma to those experiencing it, thus triggering a potential feedback cycle that actually makes the problem worse.
This process of action and reaction to the trauma of stress and it’s consequences is known as the “perpetuation of misery” and works like a sort of emotional disease within society. It is an unconscious side effect of our own instincts, and can only be tackled, and interrupted by understanding and reason. We must work to overrule our subconscious, but this is always easier said then done.
Self-awareness takes time and effort, and sometimes, when our instincts and reactions kick in, it is often too late to try and stop them. However, by noticing and observing the less extreme problem behaviours, we can often pre-empt and prevent the more extreme behaviours from occurring. This is probably the best way to preventing the “perpetuation of misery” that we often experience – the cycle that most often is the biggest cause of stress in our lives.
Failing that, if a crash happens, the next step is to recover and try to pick up the pieces of the situation. We have to try to keep ourselves and each other from being affected by the circumstances of the crash. The best way to do this is to talk about it openly and honestly, so that we can process the information, and learn from the experience, while working through our own feelings and reactions to the events that have occurred.
By being aware of the event, and monitoring our own feelings, we can try to engage our reason and intellect to help us challenge our own emotional responses. We can protect ourselves psychologically, by attempting to inoculate ourselves from the “perpetuation of misery.” We can take steps to anticipate and mitigate our own instincts, so that we can lessen the impact and suffering to ourselves and others.
The trauma of any such crash should never be underestimated. A lack of understanding or support about any such circumstances is often the biggest contributing factor to the escalation of desperate behaviours. Just as a baby’s cries become more incessant the longer they are left untended, extreme and aggressive behaviour will only become increasingly worse until it is tackled and challenged. Most importantly, we should seek to resolve the cause of the trauma, and not just the extreme behaviours that are provoked by it.
Ultimately, it is important to focus on the process of how trauma and stress works, including how such behaviours can, and often do, escalate if they are left unresolved. While some situations do resolve themselves, many don’t without some sort of intervention by those involved, and those around them. Left unchecked, they can become serious, and sometime fatal. Neglect, self harming, suicide, and worse can all result if desperate situations are left unresolved for long enough.
With this in mind, I can look towards my own crashes, and my own incidents of self-destructive behaviour. Abandoning my projects when they result in too much stress is the most typical response and reaction, and just one example of the self-destructive nature caused by the trauma of stress.
It might be hard to appreciate why this reaction is such an issue for me. However, when you take into account that successful completion of such projects are a key means of building and preserving my self-esteem, the self-destructive natures of this act should become clear. Likewise, as a professional games designer, have a wake of abandoned projects on my resumé is an act of self-destruction against my chosen career. With each failed project, it becomes harder for me to complete future ones, as my self-esteem bottoms out, and opportunities to take part in such projects diminishes.
Fighting my instincts to abandon my projects is tough. I find that this is the case regardless of the size of the project, be it a product manuscript of 100,000 words, studying for a university degree, or trying to complete a computer game. Even this article series, right now, is a challenge to finish because of other stresses – I find myself writing the articles later and later, creeping closer to my self-imposed deadlines, and just itching to press the delete button.
So what can I do about this. Firstly, I can, and I am, acknowledging this issue. It is a problem, but with a mixture of determination, reason, and support, I can hopefully overcome this issue. However, it will always be a daily struggle – each incidence, and each project, will have to tackled as it comes, and hopefully I will be able to teach myself how to handle these feelings.
This series, in fact, is basically me going through this process of teaching myself and tackling this issue head on. Firstly, I am asking questions and trying to answer them openly and honestly. Why do I feel the urge to quit? What is it that causes this “crash”?
Well, I think that the true cause is actually low self-esteem, and feelings of inadequacy. I constantly worry whether any of my projects are good enough, or even viable, as I strive to deal with my need to prove myself as being worth something. Not just as a games designer, but as a part of society and humanity.
What can I do about these feelings? Well, firstly, I can, and do acknowledge, that I have these feelings, and more importantly, that these feelings result in a positive feedback cycle of stress. The more I worry about these things, the more stress they cause, until I “crash.” This is the typical process of someone who suffers from constant neurosis.
Yet, I shouldn’t dismiss or ignore these feelings, because this too causes stress. Rather, the best approach is to acknowledge that these feelings are okay, and that they are a result of my neurosis. That is, that I am stressing about stressing, which is okay when handled with care.
In addition, there are two different, yet similar, actions that I can take to try and resolve my feelings to quit when I get them. The first is to place myself in a controlled, supportive environment, where I can be reassured until these feelings subside. Situations where I can’t hurt myself, or others, when I become desperate. For example, I might spend the day in bed, away from my PC, or doing household chores. I might keep myself isolated, so that I don’t end up stressing anyone else until I feel better. In the worst cases, I might surround myself with things to hurt and destroy that I can do so without significant impact – for example, pillows that can’t get damaged as opposed to my PC.
The second action is basically a form of substitution or replacement. This means that rather than quit or abandon something that is important to me, I might do a similar, but less impacting action. For example, starting a new PC game (often overwriting an existing one as I “Redo From Start”) is a common action. By doing so, I can abandon the game, with little or no consequence. I think that this, in itself, might be a big cause of my gaming addiction – something that I amusingly try to justify as “research”.
Ultimately though, I aim to also reduce my reliance on such behaviours, by directly tackling the causes themselves. By challenging my own inadequacies, and my reactions to them, I can hopefully train myself to limit the impact that these have on my life. As it stands, I am often able to challenge my inadequacies head on, reminding myself of my achievements.
I remind myself that I am AWESOME, and that makes me adequate. After all, being AWESOME means to try and better yourself, to be the best that you can be, and that in itself, is more than enough to make me adequate. After all, I am judged solely by my own standards, and I remind myself why they are, in fact, my standards. I remind myself that I am trying to be who I want to be, and that is all that anybody can do.
This can be hard to do when you are gripped in the depths of depression and neurosis, but I just remind myself that I am me, quite often with the help of others such as my friends and family, and directly challenge and disrupt the cycle that results from neurosis.
I have the serenity prayer on my wall, and it’s words comfort me:
“Lord, grant me the serenity to accept the things that I cannot change,
the courage to change the things that I can,
and the wisdom to tell the difference.”
This poem reminds me that I should try not to worry about the things I cannot control, that I should be brave enough to challenge what I can control even if it is just to take responsibility for my own behaviours, and that I should strive to be aware about my own thoughts, feelings, and reactions as well as those of others.
With that in mind, there is only two more articles in this series to go, so until next week – stay AWESOME!