When we encounter difficult life situations like stressful jobs and relationships, leaving is often an option to consider. In this article, I will discuss factors which will help you decide whether leaving is a reasonable course of action.
In my previous two articles, I focused on the concept of avoidance and its role in perpetuating anxiety counselling issues. The take-home message I stressed was that avoiding situations and stimuli which lead a person to experience anxiety may give some short-term relief from discomfort but ultimately serves to keep the anxiety issue going. But what if a person leaves difficult situations which are not directly related to the experience of an anxiety issue? Is this another form of avoidance which gives the person temporary relief but is ultimately unhealthy because it keeps the person’s problems going? Here are some factors to consider in deciding whether to stay or go.
Have you made efforts to improve the situation?
One criterion to use in deciding whether you should remain in or leave a difficult situation like an unpleasant job or relationship is whether you have tried to improve the situation. In some instances, these efforts will lead to improvement so that you can remain in the situation. For example, working on your relationship in couples counselling may address the difficulties which have led you to consider leaving the relationship. Leaving before you have made such efforts may therefore be premature. If you do this regularly, you may find yourself moving from job to job or from one relationship to the next. Addressing difficulties is a necessary part of making a situation work and doing so allows you to develop resilience and confidence in your ability to handle adversity. On the other hand, if you have made a concerted effort to improve the situation and you have not observed positive results, moving on may be a reasonable choice to make.
Do you have a pattern of leaving difficult situations?
If you have a record of leaving situations when you encounter difficulties, particularly if you have done so fairly early on, breaking this pattern by trying to work through the difficulties may be in order. On the other hand, if you haven’t exhibited such a pattern then your decision to leave a particular difficult situation is more likely to be a valid one.
Are you equipped with a good set of skills for coping with stress?
Difficult situations are much easier to deal with if you have a good set of skills for coping with stress. These include problem-solving and communication/assertiveness skills for addressing difficult situations directly along with self-focused coping skills which make it easier for you to manage your emotions while you are dealing with these situations. The latter set of skills include having pleasurable activities in your routine for balance and relaxation, practicing skills to manage your body’s reaction to stress, and applying cognitive skills to thinking patterns which can help you manage your emotional reaction to problems and stressors.
If you are lacking these stress-management skills, then working with a psychologist to help you acquire these skills and apply them to your current difficult situation may be a better option than leaving. On the other hand, if your current situation is so negative, toxic or abusive that applying these stress-management skills is necessarily limited in its effectiveness, leaving may be the right decision to make.
Do circumstances allow you to leave at this time?
Even if it may be reasonable for you to leave the situation, circumstances may make it difficult for you to do so immediately. For example, you may need to remain in a toxic work environment for the time being to support yourself and/or your family until you can find another job. On the other hand, leaving a difficult situation promptly is easier without such obstacles in place.
How do your values, religion and culture affect your decision?
People’s values, religion and culture often factor into their decision whether or how long they should remain in a difficult situation. It is up to the individual to decide how much weight these factors should carry.
Given the number of factors to consider in choosing whether to leave a difficult situation along with the challenges of assessing and weighting them, you may find it helpful to discuss your concerns with a psychologist who can help you to think things through in an effective manner. Helping my clients make effective decisions by assessing and weighing the relevant factors is among the services I provide in my work as a Calgary psychologist and a Cochrane psychologist.
May you make effective decisions to stay or leave,