If “Ifs” and “Buts” Were Candy and Nuts …


In a post on Elephant Journal, Wendy Reese writes about her addiction to making excuses. She describes how her life revolved around her excuse for not “showing up fully” and how she hid behind perceived limitations.

I started thinking about this idea of making excuses and the beliefs and rules attached to that. It seems to me that Reese was being a bit hard on herself. I think of an excuse as a rationalization for doing or avoiding an activity. But applying that definition to issues related to vulnerability and relationships doesn’t really get at the complexity involved.

In the context of therapy, “I’m just making excuses” does not move the conversation or exploration along. If a client says, “I was going to go work out, but it was too cold to leave the house,” I could see this as excuse-making or as a clue that something deeper is going on.

Often, our Protector parts disguise themselves as excuses. The client who avoided working out because of the cold weather might find going to the gym to be a terrifying experience. Perhaps she has a pattern of over-exercising and fears that this behavior will emerge again. Or, maybe he has never used a treadmill and worries others will judge him harshly or look down on him.

What seems like an excuse (“it was too cold”) is actually revealed to be a Protector (stay home where you are safe—don’t take the risk). Addressing just the excuse portion of the statement tells only half the story.

Reese writes about her addiction to excuses as stemming from a lack of acceptance and love. She didn’t show up fully because it wasn’t safe. That actually sounds pretty wise to me. We have evolved to avoid painful situations and it takes time for our brains to accept that the danger is no longer present.

Sometimes an excuse is just an excuse—and we all make them. I’m notorious for putting off chores because of a Law and Order marathon. But what Reese describes is much deeper, and she addresses that by noting that fear is at the core of limiting beliefs.

Being fully connected and present in the world and in relationships is risky business. Vulnerability is a tall order for anyone who has been hurt or survived trauma. Healing comes from taking risks and challenging limiting beliefs. It also comes by acknowledging and appreciating how Protector parts (AKA, excuses) ensure survival and safety.

Sometimes we do need to give ourselves an ever-so-gentle kick in the rear, but not all the time. Judging yourself for making excuses doesn’t foster confidence and self-assurance. You might just be adding to an already too loud chorus of critics.

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