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Is it a Reason or an Excuse? Maintaining Your Self-Respect in the Face of Life’s Challenges

Have you ever used a reason as an excuse for not doing something? If so, you’re definitely not alone!

It’s often very easy to confuse reasons and excuses. Lately I’ve discovered that I sometimes try to explain my excuses away as reasons – particularly when it’s about something I either don’t want to do or am fearful of following through on. And as usual, the more I notice this tendency in myself, the more I see that pretty much all of us do this on a fairly frequent basis – whether we realize it or not.

Sometimes there are genuine reasons for why we can’t or shouldn’t do certain things. When that’s the case, we need to honor that in ourselves. But does that mean we can’t challenge ourselves to do more, try something new, or to hold ourselves to a higher standard?

Excuses Leave Us Feeling Stuck

When we use excuses as reasons, we often unwittingly keep our lives small and stale – even while we ask ourselves questions like “Is this all there is?” or “Why am I so bored or unhappy in my life?” Sometimes this tendency also creates crippling anxiety and indecisiveness, or an inability to let go of a past trauma or event and move on.

But the fact is that the more we allow ourselves to use excuses, the more stuck we’ll remain. And the more we feel stuck, the more likely it is that we’ll reach for some kind of addictive behavior to help ourselves feel better.

As you may know from my earlier articles, I have Crohn’s Disease. This can be a very difficult illness to navigate; it’s often quite painful and debilitating, plus there is no known cause or cure for it. When I was first diagnosed in 1973, I was one of the earliest known cases to have the illness. The doctors didn’t quite know what to do with me; many tried to tell me it was all in my head and that I should “just get over it.

I’ve now had this condition for over 40 years. I’ve been very sick with it at times, and gradually found myself quite addicted – both physically and psychologically – to many of the medications that the doctors prescribed for me for a lot of years. But it wasn’t until 1987 that I realized I wasn’t getting any better physically and that my life was basically going nowhere. I found myself at a devastating personal bottom and knew I had a serious choice to make. I understood that I could stop my addiction even if I couldn’t cure my Crohn’s. As a result, I finally made the decision to reach out for help to put an end to what had morphed into a dangerous drug addiction. That determination put me on the road to recovery – slowly but surely, one day and one positive choice at a time.

Looking Back

It’s hard to believe that I will be celebrating 30 years clean and sober next summer. Looking back, it seems like it’s gone by so fast, even though it often didn’t feel like that in the moment! I’m a lot more holistically healthy now because I’ve learned how to take much better care of myself – physically, emotionally and spiritually – which I continue to do on a daily basis. I still deal with the various symptoms of Crohn’s Disease on a daily basis – it’s just not nearly as debilitating to my daily life now as it used to be. And I’m so grateful for that!

Even though I’m much better than I was and can live a fuller, richer life, I can still sometimes feel scared of becoming ill again. I’m now careful to deal with my stress in healthier ways and I keep myself on a strict food plan that my body can best handle. Even with such precautions, because of the unpredictability of the symptoms, my life still sometimes feels ruled by this condition.

I know that all of you out there who struggle with any form of chronic illness – whether physical or mental – can understand what I’m talking about. And trust me, I’m just like everyone else who sometimes wants to stop the world and get off for just a little while.

When I feel like this, I make sure I’m honoring that as a choice, rather than telling myself lies about why I’m doing it. To rationalize and tell myself I’m not doing something because “I can’t” is very different than choosing not to do it because I simply don’t want to. It’s really important for me to be completely accountable and honest with myself today – this is a huge part of what keeps me clean and sober. If I really cannot do something – and there is an appropriate reason for that, such as a physical limitation – then I will practice what renowned author Tara Brach aptly calls radical acceptance:

“It is what it is. So be it. How will I choose to handle that restriction, move forward, and make things even better for myself?” But if I’m making excuses from a place of fear or discomfort and trying to lie to myself, then I begin to feel like a ‘victim’ and I know I won’t be able to get away with that for very long. It’s just easier now – and much more self-respectful – to ask myself “Is this a reason, or is this an excuse?”


How Does This Play Out in Your Life?

Perhaps you have a large, somewhat daunting goal like finally becoming free from your addictive behaviors. Maybe you know you need to learn how to set (and maintain) better boundaries with the addict in your life. Or it could be that a series of other issues are yours to address. What might you be avoiding by using excuses and telling yourself rational lies in an effort to get away with that? Will you be able to maintain self-respect if you lie to yourself and others about these kinds of choices?

You can start by asking yourself this simple – but not always easy – question:

“What do I really need to do – or not do – in order to respect myself?”

Can you get past the excuses and accomplish what’s necessary? Additionally, can you make friends with your true reasons and have your own sense of radical acceptance if something truly isn’t possible for you?

Instead of feeling any lingering shame about using excuses in place of reasons, let’s remind ourselves that we all do this from time to time – and that it’s something we can change. Let’s start by talking about what we’d really like to accomplish in order to feel our heightened self-respect.



Images Courtesy of iStock

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