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A breakup sure as shit makes us feel like the biggest turd in the world. It deflates our self-esteem and worth and causes our negative feelings — anxiety, fear, stress, lack, grief, shame, anger, sadness, pain — to swell. Ironically, the more we try to suppress, avoid, forget, or expunge these feelings out of our system, the more pronounced they become.
Trying to be less angry only makes us more angry. Attempting to silence our anxiety only bolsters that anxiety. Asserting control over our sadness only ends in more sadness. Trying to escape our loneliness only invites more loneliness. Pumping ourselves up to be happy again only makes us feel less happy with ourselves and our life.
This, my friend, is called The Paradox Of Willpower. Or, in the words of the philosopher Alan Watts, The Backwards Law.
How The Backwards Law Works
The theory behind The Backwards Law goes that the more we pursue something, the more we achieve the opposite of what we truly want and the more disappointed and dissatisfied we feel afterward. In other words: the harder we try, the less likely we are to succeed.
Now, the way we short-circuit The Backwards Law and come out on top is to simply stop trying. As paradoxical as it sounds, stop wanting things to be different than they are. This works because the desire for more positive experience is itself a negative experience, and it’s only through the acceptance of our negative experience that that experience becomes positive. And it’s only when our experience becomes positive that we open the doors to achieving our goals and changing our current circumstances.
Think about it: why is it that the less you care about something, the better you do at it? For one, because you’re operating from a much healthier, more optimistic, and less stress-inducing mindset. But mainly, it comes right back to our Backwards Law, which says that since pursuing the positive is a negative, then pursuing the negative generates the positive.
Diving into the causes for the demise of your relationship is what leads you to a better understanding of what’s necessary to succeed in love. Suffering through your breakup pain is what leads you to develop greater psychological resilience and perseverance. Being open and honest about your insecurities and emotional baggage is what leads you to be perceived as more attractive and magnetic. Letting your ex go forever after telling them you want them back is what leads them to be keener about giving you another shot.
How To Apply The Backwards Law
A funny trick nature plays on us is that it deludes us into thinking that if we only obtain some arbitrary external thing (i.e., our ex) or change some arbitrary external circumstance (i.e., go from being hurt to getting closure and feeling at peace), we’d be forever frolicking around in our own version of Happy Land.
Turns out, it’s the other way around. And The Backwards Law proves this. It’s not obtaining this external thing or those external circumstances that lead us to feel content and happy. It’s accepting that we lack this external thing or those external circumstances that lead us to feel content and happy.
For instance, imagine you’ve set a goal for yourself that you’ll get over your ex in 30 days. But when that doesn’t happen, you feel inadequate. Or imagine you’ve told yourself you would get your ex back at some point. But then, while you’re trying to re-attract them, they reject you. Obviously, you’d feel like a worthless sack of shit afterward.
But now, imagine working toward hitting these goals but not actually identifying with them, expecting yourself to hit them, or tying your worth and basing your happiness around their completion. Instead, you’re okay with never reaching them. This is how you apply The Backwards Law.
Marching Beyond Breakups
The true beauty of The Backwards Law is that it transcends breakups and spills into every facet of our life.
The safer we try to make ourselves, the more insecure and afraid we’ll get. The more we cling to our loved one, the more suffocated and turned off they’ll become. The more we try to force or con others into loving or respecting us, the less loved and respected we’ll be. The more we try to persuade others into trusting us, the less trustworthy we’ll seem. The more desperately we desire to change ourselves, the more inadequate we’ll feel. The more freedom we try to seize in our lives, the more meaninglessness we’ll foster in it. The harder we try to find a deeper purpose in our lives, the more shallow and self-centered we’ll become.
You get the point by now. This isn’t rocket science. The more you try to squash, avoid, or silence the negative, the stronger it becomes. The only way to surmount it is through accepting it. Everything else you do will only blow up in your face — and it will fuck you up.
For anything negative, to borrow from a wise modern philosopher, is an inextricable thread in the fabric of our life, and to tear it out is not only impossible, but destructive: attempting to tear it out unravels everything else with it.
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