To The F*cked Up People

May 3, 2021

You're not f*cked up. At least not any more than anyone else. If there's one thing my work has taught me, it's that everyone's got something. It's just that people are in varying stages of knowing about that something. And there are various somethings that our world at large seems to actually approve of, rather than pathologize.

Ever heard of the Transtheoretical Model? It's also known as "The Stages of Change." Developed by James Prochaska and Carlo Di Clemente, it hypothesizes that humans go through various stages when trying to change behavior. It's usually applied in the context of substance use disorders, but I think it can be applied to virtually any kind of behavioral change process, or even large-scale social change. Here's a helpful diagram of the cycle:

The most interesting part of this diagram, for me, is the relapse part. It's an admission of something that I think we're all lied to about from childhood: the idea that you ever arrive at some point and just stay there, unchallenged. That you ever make it. You never do! You're always just in a process of getting from one place to another, often without ever actually getting anywhere. The only real point of origin is birth, and the only real destination is death. Basically, life requires constant maintenance. You're never done paying your bills. Your body requires constant upkeep. You have to keep watering your plants.

But that sounds a bit hopeless, right? Well, there's another part of the diagram that will make you feel better, and it's pretty revolutionary. It's the part in the center that refers to the "upward spiral." Basically, the cycle becomes a tighter circle each time you go through it. So each time you screw up, you learn something. Then you can start the cycle again with that new knowledge. And the length of time it takes you to move through the stages will be shorter on this next go-round.

What does this have to do with being f*cked up? Well, either we all are, or no one is. That's because everyone is somewhere in this cycle in some way. If they're in the pre-contemplation stage, they don't even recognize that there's a problem at all, or that anything even needs to change. It's not so much that you're f*cked up and other people aren't, it's just that those other people might not even recognize that there's anything f*cked up about them. Even worse, they may never have an opportunity to figure out that there's something about them that's f*cked up, because the world around them tells them that everything about them is okay, even admirable (for example, white supremacy and patriarchy are two ideological systems that tell their adherents that they're all good and everyone else is the problem).

This is a very small blog post for a very big idea. But I guess writing it has made me think about a few things: what does it mean to be f*cked up? Who gets to be the arbiter of what needs to change (either individually or socially) and what doesn't? Where am I in the cycle when it comes to change in various areas of my own life?

Things to think on.