understanding “i don’t know”

“i don’t know …”

when we’re confronted with a difficult issue, we often come up with these words, “i don’t know”.

“why do i always end up drinking more than i wanted? i just don’t know.”

“i wish i could change how i talk to my son. we always seem to end up fighting. i just don’t know what to do.”

“i can’t believe it. once again, i’m in a dead-end job. how does this happen? i really don’t know.”

the question is, do we really not know?

i believe that in most cases, we do know. two of the main reasons why it appears to us that we don’t know are that

a) we suffer from information overload, and our knowing is buried somewhere in that mass of information; and/or

b) at some level we believe that our knowing is dangerous.

i’m thinking of a client i once had, let’s call him michael, who drank too much. he was the very peaceful sort of drinker – he’d come home, open a beer to relax, then another one before making dinner, then another one while making dinner – and so on. he’d just quietly and peacefully get drunk through the course of the evening, rarely going to bed without having consumed 8-10 cans of beer.

“why?” he’d ask “i know it’s not good for me. i hate spending all that money on booze, i hate how it makes me fat, i hate how my wife looks at me when i open yet another can. i want to stop but i don’t know how!”

you’ve probably had similar frustrations before. maybe not with drinking, maybe about smaller issues. but most people are familiar with the general train of thought.

“train” is maybe not a bad word. because, as i listen to michael speak, i hear a crescendo, a speeding up of frustrations. it’s as if the “i don’t know” is the finale. one frustration heaps on top of the other, crowned by the exclamation, “i don’t know!”

this is where the idea of information overload comes in. we don’t only talk about these frustrations but every time we invoke them, we are flooded with a host of (mostly unpleasant) memories, thoughts, self-talk and emotions.

as michael talks, for example, he remembers all those nights he ended up spending fifty, sixty dollars at a pub when all he wanted to do was catch a quick beer. as he does that, he hears a voice inside him calling him a loser. he feels full of shame and anger, all directed at himself.

by the time he’s done with this train of thought, he’s bombarded with all these negative pieces of information (because everything that goes on in our head is a type of information). in exhaustion, he crowns his statements with “i don’t know!”

in this overload and exhaustion, no wonder the knowing he does have about why this is happening and how to stop it, gets totally lost.

let’s continue this in the next entry.

isabella mori
counselling in vancouver

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