The True Purpose of Chaos
Anytime you think the problem is out there, that thought is the problem.–Stephen Covey
Some people just never seem settled in their lives. They never seem to be on an even keel, always flailing around for some stability and normalcy. Or sometimes they seem settled in one or two areas of their lives but unable to get other areas on track. If you spend enough time with them, you can get the impression that they like it this way: that they find some sense of excitement from feeling not-quite-in-control of their lives, or at least, of certain aspects of them.
It’s true: some people thrive on chaos. They operate from the seat of their pants, making impulsive decisions with little apparent reason and flit from project to project without ever really taking time to sort through thoughts, reasons, or even feelings about what they’re doing. From the outside, they look scattered and in need of help, but even though they might ask for help occasionally, they don’t really seem to want it–at least, they don’t really seem interested in changing.
This is because chaos serves a specific, valuable purpose. Chaos is a very successful strategy to keep yourself from looking within. As long as you have at least one area in your life that feels out of control, you can focus on it as the problem. This is also why people who live in chaos often lament their situations and ask for advice, but rarely change. Like any other addiction (which is what chaos really is), a person has to “hit bottom” to truly want to change. “Hitting bottom” is the 12 Stepper’s way of saying that you’ve reached a point of desperation that makes you realize change is better than than what you’re doing. Sometimes, this bottom leads to desperate acts like suicide. But sometimes, it leads to recovery. The bottom, awful as it is, is the point when real change begins for many people.
Anyway, as long as a person keeps his life chaotic enough, he can avoid introspection. He doesn’t even necessarily have to blame the chaos. Some chaotic people are always blaming circumstances for their problems, but others are honest enough to blame themselves–yet still won’t change. I’m not sure why this is, but it’s probably because being focused on any blaming at all is counterproductive. Blame of any sort focuses on the problem and not the solution. People can say, “Men/Women/Bosses/families are no good” or “I know I should do this differently,” but either way, they aren’t really interested in changing.
Whether chaos is of the blame-placing or blame-owning variety, it serves the same purpose. It provides a nice, cozy security blanket that insulates people from their real issues. Either way, it keeps people focused on the wrong things so true change is not possible.
Chaos has many faces, and this list is not exhaustive. But here are a few common ones:
- addiction in any form
- never finishing anything
- having turbulent romantic relationships, either a string of short ones or a long, unfulfilling one
- always having a feud going with someone
- being unable to prioritize
- frequent fighting with your kids, spouse, or friends
- staying too busy to find quiet time
- never saying no to people
- always feeling unsettled and in flux
- having a messy, disorganized house and work space
Some of these you may recognize in yourself. This doesn’t necessarily mean you have a problem. Mostly it depends on whether your behavior is a distraction for you or not. Maybe you’re just messy. But if you know, or even just suspect, you’re avoiding something (or several things), then you may want to look deeper; that niggling feeling is there for a reason. And of course the biggies, like addiction or a chronic sense of being unsettled, are certainly indications that there are things going on inside of you desperate for some attention.
In any case, chaos is no way to live. It doesn’t feel good and more importantly it prevents you from moving forward in life, however you choose to define that forward motion. You are like a gerbil in a cage, forever running on that little wheel and never getting anywhere. Sure, you may keep yourself distracted from your demons, but at what cost? Isn’t a little pain up front, in the interest of healing, better than pretending the pain isn’t there?