The utility of a breakdown lies in the simple fact that, by becoming unraveled, we’re able to see what was holding us together–what view points we clung to, what assumptions we made of the world, what defenses we hid behind, what patterns we chained ourselves to, what crutches we relied upon, what insecurities we compensated for. When things are chugging along smoothly, there’s no incentive to examine these things and sometimes we wouldn’t see them even if we tried. Our subconscious is running on the psychological equivalent of “don’t fix what ain’t broken.” It’s sort of like a computer program—the software is perfected for some number of months and once it’s fully developed the final product is sent out to pilot sites for a trial run. And sure enough, no matter how well-thought-out the program was, all kinds of hiccups start popping up once it’s put to use. It’s not until pre-sets interfere with functioning that we realize they’re a problem. So, if there isn’t a glitch to alert us that something isn’t beneficial, adaptive or good for us, then how would we know to go on a search to find it? The answer for most of us most of the time is, we wouldn’t.
I remember when I was in grade school how easy it was to get sucked into the rabbit hole of gossip–hell, even to lead the pack in the plunge. And when everyone’s laughing and no one’s getting hurt and you haven’t had a lot of experience in this department yet, it’s still wrong, but sometimes the pit in your stomach that alerts you to this isn’t there. Every so often when my inner jiminy cricket got quiet, I’d invariably put my foot in my mouth sooner or later in front of the wrong people or at the wrong time and there would be repercussions. Or even better, the endless trail of gossip would work its way around to my own life. Of course then I’d feel awful–I’d never wanted anyone to be hurt and I certainly didn’t like feeling hurt myself. But then there was also a glimmer of gratitude with it because I’d think to myself, “How could I have forgotten this is wrong?! Thank you, thank you, thank you, life for the reminder!” I’d get the pit in my stomach again and I would pray that next time I’d remember right and wrong before it happened instead of after. But again, if everything were to continue along just dandy and no one was ever harmed by our childish antics, where would be the incentive to stop?
As we grow older these experiences mount until we have a general framework for right and wrong so that we can generalize beyond the immediate situation in front of us–it’s one of the hallmarks of maturity, but let’s not kid ourselves, this framework wasn’t always so sophisticated. We had to learn it for ourselves. We needed the bumps and bruises to become refined and this process of refining never ends.
As we age, we (hopefully) graduate on to the finer details of self-improvement–the subtleties, the preconceived notions, the subconscious judgments, the limiting beliefs, the lies of omission, the things we take for granted. And because these are a more ambiguous bunch, they require breakdowns of a greater magnitude in order to awaken to. The right and wrong in these cases isn’t always so cut and dry. And sometimes it’s not even right and wrong we’re talking about, but rather the pursuit of becoming the best versions of ourselves, living with less self-inflicted pain & struggle, showing more love and more compassion, expanding our minds, strengthening our ability to connect with others, honing in on what’s most important.
And so, no matter how much we learn, the breakdowns continue, because without collapse there is no transformation. We must first fall apart before we can begin to blossom.