Commitment Issues
January 16, 2008 7:37 PM   Subscribe

I can't commit to anything. Please help.

I never though I'd be this person, but over the past few years I slowly realized I have turned into a complete commitment-phobe. It's starting to affect all aspects of my life (not just relationships), and I will put some examples below. Background: I'm a 25 y/o male.

- I haven't completely unpacked in an apartment I have lived in for a year because I don't want to feel "tied down". I haven't put a single picture on the wall, or purchased anything that would make it so I couldn't leave at a moment's notice. I love the apartment (size, location, price) but can't seem to settle down and consider it home. I have had this problem in all apartments, but always thought it was because it wasn't my ideal living situation. Now it is (living alone, spacious, 2 minutes from work/friends) and I still can't commit to living there.

- I can't stay at jobs too long, because I'm irrationally afraid I'll end up working there forever. Prior to my current job, I never held a job longer than 6 months. I currently have kept this job for about 16 months (but hey, who's counting...) and will sometimes go through periods where I go absolutely INSANE and have to literally drink until I don't function so I don't quit for no reason at all since I need the money and this job pays very well. Granted, I'm not working in the field I want to be in, but when I start thinking about working in the areas that do interest me (music/photography/writing) I have anxiety about the amount of planning and commitment involved to truly make an effort at it.

- I usually refuse to make plans further than a day in advance. This drives my girlfriend insane, because I can't even tell her "sure, let's go away this weekend." I get very anxious when asked to make any plans in advance by anyone and it causes inordinate amounts of stress.

- Speaking of my girlfriend, I can't seem to commit to her either. She is, without a doubt, the best girl I will ever find. She's gorgeous, intelligent, makes good money on her own, loves to cook, and has strikingly similar interests and viewpoints on the world in general. We are utterly compatible, and have been together on and off for about 5 years (mostly on, probably 10 months total "off" in a couple chunks). Our last "off" period came about because I sent emails of a less than savory nature to another girl on the internet, and of course they were found. I wasn't planning on acting on anything, but she rightfully left me. I fell into a depressive episode (I have suffered from it on and off since after high school) and was eventually prescribed Lexapro after a psychosomatic vomiting spell that lasted over a month. I tried it, it kind of worked (at least, it curbed some of my more self-destructive tendencies) and now I'm off it, back together with my girlfriend, and feeling better than I have in a long time. However, I still can't commit to anything and every time I'm asked to think about anything semi-in advance I have massive anxiety. We want to take an extended trip to India toward the latter half of this year, which obviously requires at least SOME planning, but I can't seem to grapple with all the variables (I'm planning on quitting my job and finding a new one when I return, I play in a band which may or may not need to be taken seriously by that time, paying rent while I'm gone is unattractive but the logical option of my girlfriend moving in so we share that expense while gone also freaks me out).

Basically, I'm tripping out about everything all the time and especially when I need to commit to something (ANYTHING!). What basic ideas/exercisies/solutions are there to this state of existence? I never feel like I'm doing what I should be doing so I never feel like I can commit to doing anything. Help. (sorry for all the run-on sentences and generally confusing nature of this post - I start getting anxious just thinking about it so I need to get it all out and just hit 'post')
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (23 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
Seems like you don't want to make a decision more than a lack of commitment. If you don't decide, then you can't "fail". You are afraid of failing, making the wrong decision more than you are of committing to something.
posted by 45moore45 at 7:49 PM on January 16, 2008

How about: be very clear on what exactly you are afraid of. Being in a rut? Why is being in a rut bad? What have you observed in other people that makes you afraid of this? Is this a realistic fear, whatever it is? You need to be very concrete about this -- drill down, drill down, find the core(s) of your fear, the very concrete events you want to avoid.

Then you can decide what it would take to avoid them, and what you need to do.

This is not easy. A counselor could help you.
posted by amtho at 8:06 PM on January 16, 2008

I'm sure the depression and anxiety are connected to, and possibly causes of this, but I think you can still work on practical solutions. Maybe you could take small steps toward commitment that aren't TOO scary to you, then as you become more comfortable with your decisions, you'll be able to trust yourself more. Like, commit to unpacking your stuff, but let yourself hold off on the decision to have your girlfriend move in. Tell yourself that your job is working for you for now, but keep in mind that you may want to move in another direction in the future. On the other hand, I believe that sometimes anxiety and depression can be your way of telling yourself that you need to change something, so I don't know. I guess I'd say just take it slow and try to remember that even if you do make a bad decision, you can fix it. Good luck, and have faith.
posted by odayoday at 8:11 PM on January 16, 2008

i think 45moore's perspective is right on, expanding on that make some decisions that a re likley to fail and ride them out knowing that. Practice failing until you don't fear it in a sense.

i can't think of a great example. maybe going to a racetrack and committing to an 'underdog' financially?
Play chess online with a strategy that doesn't always work but stick with it?
think of better ideas though, the problem with what I said is you won't really care about the outcome and it won't be effective....
posted by oblio_one at 8:16 PM on January 16, 2008

It's an issue of scale. You make commitments every day, all day long. You decide to get out of bed. You decide what to wear, and wear it all day long, I presume. You decide what to eat, whether or not to eat, when to eat. I don't want you to find anxiety with these things. I want you to see why you don't have anxiety about them. Where is the line drawn, to become something you can't commit to? Is it something that changes your life for more than a day? A week? A year?

Was there something major that happened in your life that you had no control over, a great loss, or your parents' divorce, something that now might influence how you view change? Could it be that you have trouble with decisions that lead to a great sense of change, because you fear losing control over them? Especially when they relate to other people, like your gf, since you can't control someone else.

--I am not a therapist-- though I think one could help you find the source of the anxiety. Anxiety is your brain's way of trying to keep you safe. Unfortunately, the best way to keep you safe is to keep you from doing anything, and this is paralyzing you more than you want. You need to find a way to convince your brain that the actions you want to take - vacationing, planning, unpacking - aren't going to harm you. It's difficult when you can't see into the future to convince yourself that some change can be good. Experience with change and showing your brain that you're unharmed is the only way, but don't jump into a ton of things at once, since that would do more harm than good. I think if you are patient and try to gradually accept more change into your life, it can be done. Good luck.
posted by veronitron at 8:24 PM on January 16, 2008 [4 favorites]

You don't have commitment issues -- you have anxiety issues. Serious, life-disabling ones. And you need to start seeing a mental health professional who can both prescribe and offer CBT.
posted by ottereroticist at 8:34 PM on January 16, 2008 [5 favorites]

Sorry for the categorical tone of my advice. IANOMHP, and I don't actually know what you need. But that's what I'd advise if you were my friend.
posted by ottereroticist at 8:39 PM on January 16, 2008

I think this is totally normal. Actually. In spite of the seek-help!!!! advice. Heh.

I was quite a lot like this in my mid-twenties. I couldn't bear to own any furniture that wouldn't fit in my car, in case I suddenly "needed to move". And I liked to do things like move to other continents. And I couldn't really bear to be in serious relationships. And when I needed to make fairly simple choices about, say, bed linens, I would be paralyzed by anxiety, because any purchase over 50 bucks that would be with me for a while was cause for soul-searching torment. And I switched jobs at least once a year.

And I grew out of it. I would try not to worry about it too much. I think it's part of being that age. Be kind to yourself, and keep reminding your brain that there are very few things you can't change your mind about later.
posted by thehmsbeagle at 8:53 PM on January 16, 2008

I don't know man. If you have these kinds of questions, it might help a lot to seek counseling. I mean, the internet is great, but counseling is better. Don't know how else to say it.

"Normal" is not really the point, from my perspective: if you are struggling and have anxiety, the question is how to resolve that anxiety. So, I believe you should look towards counseling, because that is what has helped me in my life. Granted, it's not for everyone, but for me it has worked.

But I'm really wary of the "you'll grow out of it thing" answer, no offence thehmsbeagle. I mean, that might totally be the case, but the fact is, you are making choices that you evidently feel really troubled with. Investigate for your own sake.

I guess bottom line is that there is no easy answer for these kinds of things. In the end, you are the only one who can answer the questions of what you should be doing and what you should be committing to. I do apologize if that seems flippant; I truly don't mean it that way. For me, it's been a revelation at times when I've realized I was the only one who could answer certain questions. I hope you can see what I mean.

Best wishes, sincerely!
posted by dubitable at 9:51 PM on January 16, 2008

I think 45moore45 is right in saying this is about fear of failure. I think veronitron is right in saying this is about control. The two are closely related. I think odayoday is right in saying this is tied to and likely caused by the clinical depression and anxiety. I think you are right in noticing that it is correlated with and affected by brain chemistry. I think oblio_one is right in suggesting that you experiment with deliberate low-impact failure to demystify it a bit. I think amtho and otteroticist are right in saying a counselor could help you with all of this. I think thehmsbeagle is lucky that she grew out of it. I didn't. I suggest speaking with someone about it. It is something that can be worked on and needs to be. Feeling like you're never doing what you should be but not knowing what that is, is a source of constant stress. Some of that is just life and can only be answered with patience and time, but your experience of it is torqued to a debilitating degree. There's nothing wrong with asking for some objective perspective on how to better deal with it.
posted by kookoobirdz at 10:08 PM on January 16, 2008 [1 favorite]

I agree with 45moore45 that some of this can be about not wanting to make a decision in case you're wrong. Fence-sitting causes anxiety.

This sounds very simplistic, but I've found it helpful in similar situations. Make a decision (whichever of the options that you want to try on), tell yourself that you are firmly committing to this decision until your gut tells you otherwise, and then go to bed. If, in the morning, you wake up feeling alright about your decision, you're good to go until your gut tells you otherwise. If you wake up in a cold sweat, you'll need to make a different decision the following night, and firmly commit to that, sleep on it, etc., etc.

You can try this out on small decisions at first, for example tonight you can decide that you will go to a movie on Saturday night with your girlfriend. With time, you can graduate to bigger stuff like, say, sleeping on the idea that you can put all your stuff in storage or sublet your apartment when and if you go traveling.

As thehmsbeagle says, you're allowed to change your mind.
posted by lunaazul at 10:19 PM on January 16, 2008 [1 favorite]

I agree with ottereroticist. This level of procrastination, anxiety and depression is a mental health problem, and it would probably help you most to be prescribed medication for it, and get therapeutic treatment. Ask your doctor for a referral to a psychiatrist, or other health care professional who can prescribe medication. Once on the right sort of medication, you'll find it much easier to address your condition.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 11:12 PM on January 16, 2008

How did you get so incredibly committed to staying ready to bail at a moment's notice? Figure out how you did that, and you might be able to apply it to other things.
posted by flabdablet at 2:11 AM on January 17, 2008

I'm the girl version of you. Seriously. Can't stay in one place too long, can't have the same job too long, even left my boyfriend temporarily (well, that was a result of lots of craziness in that period, but thankfully we've worked past it and we're back together now). I have depression and anxiety too, been off and on meds, now on Effexor-XR. The stupid thing about me is that in some way I'm attracted to change - but I'm too scared about deciding too.

Most of the comments above are spot on. It is a fear of failing, but also the fear of succeeding. Or rather, the "what if" factor. What if I did that instead? What if this sucked? What if this wasn't what I imagined? What if I'm unhappy? What if I do really well, but it was because of sheer luck and really it's just a fluke? (Do you have tinges of impostor syndrome? I have it by the bucketload.) what if what if what if.

Counselors and psychologists help a TON because they're able to be objective. Choose a good one, and make it regular. I'm on a 3-months holiday at the moment and I dearly feel the need because there's some stuff I'm still working through and all this alone time is doing me in. Meeting someone regularly, even if it's once every few weeks, helps you focus. (which reminds me, I need to email my old psychologist about something.)

How do you cope with it? Honestly, I don't know. I could have written your question; I'm still figuring it out. Often circumstances get in the way for me - as soon as I've planned and committed to something (no matter if I like it or not), something else happens that turns the whole thing upside down. This has happened so often that I'm wary of making plans for anything now. Letting go of the past, even though it's bloody difficult, helps too - you can't change what happens. Eventually, no matter what, things will happen, and you can choose to direct the flow, go with the flow, or swim against it.

Good luck, and if you find something that works, or just want to chat about it, MefiMail me.
posted by divabat at 2:36 AM on January 17, 2008 [2 favorites]

Also: do you tend to crave novelty? Do you tend to get really interested in something for the first few weeks, then have the interest fizzle away? I'm like that too, and I'm never sure if it's a good thing or not.
posted by divabat at 3:27 AM on January 17, 2008

Basically, I'm tripping out about everything all the time and especially when I need to commit to something (ANYTHING!). What basic ideas/exercisies/solutions are there to this state of existence?

Well, ask yourself how well it's working out for you, because you seem pretty unhappy and fucked up. Also, next time you want to send someone unsavory emails, tell your "gorgeous, intelligent" girlfriend to drop me a line at Oh, don't look at me like that. Better me than someone you don't know. Because that's how it's going to turn out if you don't get your shit together.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 5:04 AM on January 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

Meditation can help with this kind of anxiety. The Mindful Way Through Depression might get you started. It's no substitute for counseling, though.
posted by Estragon at 7:00 AM on January 17, 2008

You do very likely have an anxiety problem. Does it necessitate medication or therapy? Very possibly, but in the meantime, ask yourself: What can you do to feel happy about your life the way it is, right now?

I'm still guilty of a handful of these things, with the exception of the job-jumping. At some point I decided that having a stable, well-paying career where I have a reasonable amount of accomplishment and satisfaction was something to hold on to. Find something like that, and just take it for granted. Unless a major issue pops up at work, or some giant opportunity presents itself, don't question work. It's great. Maybe set a deadline (six months, a year) where you'll re-evaluate your work situation.

If you're constantly thinking that something could be improved, you will never appreciate what you have. If you really want to improve your life, part of it is accepting that you can't do everything at once, and going into "maintain" mode on most things while working on a select few.
posted by mikeh at 7:05 AM on January 17, 2008

I think most of your problems are rooted in your anxiety.

I had agoraphobia, panic attacks, and the whole bit for a little over 10 years before finally being able to function "normally" just very recently, but then I had to go and realize that, at 25 just like you, I'm still not doing what I really want to. I'm functioning but I'm not happy. I still have to get over my fear of failing at what I really want to do.

I particularly understand what you are talking about with fearing the planning required to start on some new project. I think there is no set track for success, it only happens when we are honest with ourselves about our personal abilities and desires from life. You're just delaying the inevitable first step.

I'm planning to take small steps to my goals everyday. Writing everything I think of as it comes to me on little slips of paper I carry around. Bought the book "Getting Things Done" on a recommendation from a friend.

Not sure what to recommend other than what I'm doing for myself at the moment. Good luck to both of us.
posted by fan_of_all_things_small at 8:18 AM on January 17, 2008

The source of my own fear of committment (which was pointed out by my mother(!) this Christmas) was a job that I had in Toronto for four years. I had to carry a pager, which would go off every four hours or so, and this meant exiting social events because I had to leave and go do "work." This, and two devastating romantic relationships where I was totally blindsided by the dumping, make me shy to commit to a weekly yoga class nevermind a significant other. (I still have a job that makes me work late with no notice, but at least the pager is gone.)

I'm trying to get my confidence back by making small commitments, and following through. I've asked for help by getting friends to (gently) nag me. I hope that enough small victories will restore my confidence in making bigger commitments, like joining a sports team again.
posted by Mozai at 8:41 AM on January 17, 2008

The Futile Pursuit of Happiness is a NYTimes magazine article about the tendency to overestimate the intensity and the duration of our emotional reactions to future events.

"On average, bad events proved less intense and more transient than test participants predicted. Good events proved less intense and briefer as well."
posted by brooklynexperiment at 9:05 AM on January 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

When reading this AskMe, I had to seriously stop and think very hard about whether I got drunk last night and posted this anonymously. This sounds almost exactly like me.

I agree with thehmsbeagle, and I think 45moore45 nails it perfectly and concisely. You know what really helped me out? I took an Improvisational Theater class. Near the beginning of the class, we were working on exercises in front of everyone, and the warm-up exercise was for each person, one by one, to step out in front of everyone else and spectacularly announce that you have failed. At this announcement, everyone else in the audience would clap and cheer for you as loud and enthusiastically as possible.

I think that's what you basically need to do. Realize that if you commit to something, even if it fails in a completely catastrophic manner, you've still got your audience (good friends and a supportive girlfriend, from what it sounds like) cheering for you. Suddenly, failure doesn't seem so terrifying after all.
posted by Zaximus at 1:21 PM on January 17, 2008 [3 favorites]

I just wanted to say thank you for having the courage to post this. I like divabat, am the girl version of you. Although oddly I just got off Effexor XR as it was having some crazy side effects.

Here is what helps me, maybe it might help you too. I find witting my goals down in mind-dump format helpful, however far off in the future the may be. Some actually surprise me. This seems to get my head on straight. I will also write, just letting it flow out regardless of structure, what is bothering me about my current situation and come back to it a few hours later to really find out what is triggering the stress.

Also going to a counselor has helped me tons. After looking at my the writings I described above, she was able to pin-point my triggers and help me overcome some of them, through different techniques. Things ranging for meditation to exercise, tailored to my personality.

Like the others, I would suggest going to a counselor as soon as you can; They will be able to help you with techniques best suited for you personality type. Good luck .
posted by redfusion at 8:20 PM on March 10, 2008

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