Are You Unable or Unwilling? Knowing the Difference will Change Your Life

Sometimes we feel unable to do something, anything. We can’t breathe, we genuinely don’t know, we cannot take even one step, we are not ready to accept. And sometimes, saying we are unable can be a defense.

Feeling temporarily unable protects us until we are physically and emotionally safe. But feeling that we are permanently unable is not protection, it will prevent us from living.

At times, we all feel unable. It can be a way that we react to trauma, an accident or grief. Feeling temporarily unable protects us until we are physically and emotionally safe. But feeling that we are permanently unable is not protection, it will prevent us from living.

Unable is a word that leaves you feeling powerless, numb, distant, blaming. You are a victim to circumstance, to your past, your memories and other things your mind will throw at you. Unable means that outside forces, people, life are against you. You are off the hook.

You may not like the choices that you have, but in any situation you have choices: leave, stay and just give up, or stay and decide to change.

No matter what happens to us, however painful, we can choose. We can admit that for now, we are not ready. Another way of saying we are not ready is to say we are not willing right now. This does not mean we are stubborn. Unwilling means that we acknowledge that we have a choice and we are exercising it. We may not be happy about our circumstance but are doing what we can right now.

No matter what happens to us, however painful, we can choose. We can admit that for now, we are not ready.

As we acknowledge that we are not ready right now, we are preparing. Acceptance begins when we own our unwillingness. But the amazing thing about change is that you don’t have to suddenly become motivated, visionary, inspired or well. You can make one small step. You can accept your choice and decide you are not ready. Then later, you can become a little more ready. You are now willing.

Willingness means that you may not like your circumstance but you are open. You are willing (or a little more willing…) to accept unpleasant emotions, circumstances, interactions or memories. You are not gung ho, and honestly, who can be gung ho when we face something uncomfortable, painful or triggering? Being willing means that we begin. We are willing to be uncomfortable even if we don’t like being uncomfortable. We take a step. We invest effort.

One of the best metaphors of willingness is your kitchen faucet. Sometimes you need to run the water full on until it becomes really cold, or really hot. And sometimes you just need a trickle, a few drips. Willingness means that you open the tap, you are willing to begin even if for now it is just a trickle. You allow yourself to feel, a little. You remember a few memories. You admit, to yourself, what you have done. You don’t have to change your life in order to make just one small change.

Being willing means that we begin. We are willing to be uncomfortable even if we don’t like being uncomfortable. We take a step. We invest effort.

Willingness grows as you become more present. You feel your body, your tension, your aches. You sense your anxiety, your pain. You notice your feet, your surroundings. You are not stuck in your thoughts or in your story or in your analysis, but you are willing to experience the life you are living. Right now. You may not like what you see, but you are now aware.

Awareness can move you and it can help you to be willing to keep moving. Awareness can also help you to remember what is important to you, what makes you feel alive and what makes you feel that your life is worth living.

Unable can be protection, but it can also become a permanent mindset that will prevent us from living our lives. Unwilling can begin our healing because we acknowledge that we have choices. We are not ready right now, we are preparing. And willingness is taking one step, investing yourself right now.

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If you enjoyed this article, I invite you to see some of my other work:

Addiction and the Myth that You Have No Choice

How to Heal From the Victim Mentality

Hate or Hurt?

I write articles that talk about the kind of changes I am trying to make in my own life. I hope that my writing also helps you. My topics include addiction and mental health recovery, relationships, and personal growth. I work as an Addiction Therapist, an Editor for the Good Men Project and freelance writer, and Adjunct Professor at City University, Edmonton. But what is most important is that I have a family and I am in recovery from depression and anxiety. My mental health experiences are part of my personal University degree, but they do not define me.

I hope to inspire you, to inform you and on occasion to entertain you. But most of all, I want to connect with you. Sign up for my blog if you want to receive the latest and best of my writing. If you like what I have to say, please share my work with your friends.

Lastly, if you like my writing, you can click here to vote for my page on Psych Central’s list of mental health blogs.

Keep it Real

Photos by Lee Thatcher and Sam Bald


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