So right, the question today is this — why do people stay in bad situations when they’re unhappy? Why do people stay married when they’re miserable? Why do people stay in careers they hate?
If you’re happily married, cover your eyes. If you’re perfectly content with your job or career, look away. There is nothing for you to see here.
For the rest of us, I believe it is a question that deserves nuance.
Some people stay put for financial reasons, of course, and I would be remiss not to point out the obvious. We simply know some things must be done, or not done, as is the case with divorce, to keep a roof over our heads. And yes, sometimes there are kids involved and the situation is further complicated. These are undoubtedly true. I am more interested, however, in the psychological aspect behind our actions.
So, why do people stay in bad situations?
I have given this some thought and I believe that, at some level, it has to do with nurture, learned behavior, and human psychology. We’ve all heard the nature vs. nurture question — how much of our behavioral core is from birth and how much of it is from personal experiences and life events?
Let’s focus on nurture. We know there are lessons you learn along the way that shape who you are as a person, even if you don’t necessarily realize it at the time. One such example is the idea of commitment. If you played any type of organized sport as a kid, you were indoctrinated with the notion that if you don’t show unwavering dedication to yourself, to your teammates, to putting in the work necessary to improve, then you may as well just quit now — not only from your peewee football or soccer team, but from life. If you’re not willing to put in the work, just quit life now.
Quit life? But you’re only 10 years old.
What about if you play organized sports your entire life? What about if you join the armed forces? Do you think there’s indoctrination there?
The notion of being committed is ingrained into our conscious psyche from a very early age and it doesn’t stop. It only continues. And, guess what, it makes a lot of sense to do so, as it helps kids and teenagers keep their eyes on the prize, but what is the flip side of the equation? If, during your entire life, you have been told that once you start something, only weak-minded individuals quit when the situation gets tough, what then? It’s tougher to quit when you’re unhappy, no?
If you have always believed that the trajectory of a life is to go school to receive an education –> find a career –> get married –> have kids, you’d quickly resent yourself when you start feeling unhappy. You’d almost feel selfish for caring about yourself so much. How dare you put your concerns before your family’s? How dare you? Now this isn’t 1968, of course, but you’d be surprised how many people in this country still view marriage as a sacred institution. And maybe it is, but at what cost?
And what about your career path? If you’re terribly unhappy with it, is it far too difficult to switch gears? Actually, yes, it may be.
So yes, people stay in unhappy situations all of the time. Whether it’s because of indoctrination, whether it’s because of a lack of better options, or something else, we know this much — it is far more likely than you may think.