What to Do If You Feel Trapped by Your Circumstances

“As long as we know we’re trapped, we still have a chance to escape.” ~Sara Grant

Talking to someone last week who had to ‘volunteer’ to return to their country of birth, a country defined by the United Nations as one of the least developed in the world in terms of its economic conditions, was humbling.

While I often find myself feeling trapped by the longevity, monotony, and intensity involved in child rearing, I wasn’t sure what I could say that might help someone who had been the victim of identity theft and, through lack of resources, had no option but to leave their family and the country they considered home.

Hearing how anxious, depressed, and lonely she felt, I wondered what I could say that might make a difference. Then, as I relaxed, I realized that our situations might not be entirely different after all.

I won’t deny that my quality of life in terms of living conditions and freedom to move around is fabulous. And I cannot deny, having lived this way, to have that taken away would feel dreadful. But I knew my sympathy would do nothing to change her circumstances.

Instead, I took a different approach and, after the conversation that followed, I realized that what was being said applied as much to me as it did to her, and pretty much universally to anyone feeling trapped. While one person’s circumstances could be judged harsher than another’s, and there would likely be little debate about that, everything is relative, and we can all feel pain and entrapment in equal measure.

The question is what to do about it that is helpful right now?

Well, the overall aim is to feel your inner power, rather than a sense of hopelessness—no one can be free when they feel they are in chains. Regardless of our circumstances, how we think and feel about them is always within our control and our best hope of changing them.

Here are the aspects we talked through:


It’s our struggle with ‘what is’ that causes pain. The longer we try to resist the pain, the more it persists. Yet the worst has already happened; our circumstances are what they are.

On an emotional level perhaps you’ve sunk to the depths of despair, which sits in a pit of hopelessness. Understand that depression is healthier than despair, and anger and frustration are healthier still. So when you are feeling emotions like anger, you have begun to take back your power, to acknowledge your right to have your freedom of choice, and you are going in the right direction.

Do everything you feel inspired to do from a practical perspective to move in the direction you want to go. It’s also a good idea to sense check this with someone who can be objective about your situation and perhaps even offer other suggestions.

The key here, though, is inspiration. If something you are doing, or others suggest, feels like a lead weight around your heart, that is your intuition shouting “other way.” In that case, keep to the bare minimum of what you feel duty bound to in this moment.

I can remember back to trying to conceive and, after four failed pregnancies (my children are pregnancies five and six), there were a number of years when I couldn’t even get pregnant again. The well meaning advice was always “forget about it and it will just happen.”

That kind of advice infuriated me. I’d think, “How am I supposed to forget something that dispatches a monthly reminder?” My partner and I did everything we could think of that felt right and, in the end, had to leave it to fate. It was at that point I became pregnant with our first child.

Once you have done everything you feel inspired to do, let it go.

While we ultimately all want to experience joy and love, as that is our natural state, ease and neutrality are a good goal at this point.

I remember a scene in Nashville, one of my favorite TV dramas, where one character literally takes another who is wallowing in grief and anger and drops him in the middle of the woods. He was furious. It was actually a beautiful sunny day, but his only choice was to walk for miles. As he walked you could see him physically become unbound and relax more.

Meditation and getting out into nature are great ways to bring ourselves back into balance, especially if we can do them regularly. This advice should never be underestimated. Our natural world is an amazing companion in the face of feeling trapped.

Change the Narrative

In order to feel our power and create change in our lives, we need to stop seeing ourselves as victims. You are in fact the hero of your story, and it’s likely the best parts have yet to unfold.

You have to stop saying (even to yourself), “I don’t want to be here” because you are making yourself feel worse. That doesn’t mean you can or should start to think, “I love being here,” because you know that is not your truth. It is more about trying to focus on anything and everything that makes you feel better about being where you are.

For me that’s easy, as child-rearing is fairly paradoxical and, as energy-sapping as it can be at times, it’s just about the most inspiring, enlightening, and fulfilling thing I’ve ever done. For that person I was talking to, while she is currently trapped in a third world country, it is one of the most beautiful countries in our world and there is an abundance of opportunities to help others.

Take Your Power Back

Rather than worrying about how to break out of this hole, bring light into it and life will, in its right timing, show you the way.

In the meantime, look for other ways to find power and be purposeful. I have a friend who was feeling trapped by the need to make money, yet yearned for more meaning in her life. She took a job helping children with special needs, which—while not her calling—holds purpose for her, and she feels like she’s making a difference.

You must look for ways in which you can be free/ Your thoughts are key, as how you view your situation can make all the difference.

A powerful way to change your perspective is to consider that, while you may feel trapped right now, life-changing events can happen at any time—but you have to be open to notice them. If you look back on the amazing things that have happened in your life, you’ll start to see the importance of little unpredictable moments: chance meetings, something you happened to read or watch, or something someone said.

If you can imagine that the new circumstances you dream of require some of these serendipities to line up, and you have an important contribution to make or an important lesson to learn in the process, it may help you feel better about your present circumstances. Think of it as a journey paved with stones that you can only see when you are looking for the best in where you are right now, and then jump from one to the next as inspiration arises; these are your lifeline.

As you get used to feeling your freedom and power again in the smallest of ways, life will start to respond.

Fill Your Cup

To get there we have to focus on anything other than those aspects of our circumstances causing us to suffer. Do things, big or small, that distract you and make you feel better. Read, watch, and listen to whatever fills your cup.

Again, make it a priority to get out among nature. It sounds cliché, but our natural world is like a strong, steady heartbeat, and it really helps you to gain perspective while holding you in a nurturing space.

Write down all the things you are thankful for. I used to write out “I am grateful for…” but found it more personal and powerful to say “Thank you for…”

If you struggle to get started on this, start with things that mostly everyone takes for granted, like the sun coming up each day. Despite our circumstances, there are usually people, places, knowledge, experiences, and other things—aspects of our selves—we are thankful to have had or currently have in our life.

Reach out and help others in ways that are meaningful to you. Your experiences can help people, which will help you to reconnect with the love within you. It is harder to be lonely when you allow this broader part of you to take its place in the light.


Circumstances change; this is not forever. You have to trust that, in time, solutions will present themselves and you will be inspired to act in ways that lead you where you want to go.

Here is a practice I learned from Anthony William to rebuild trust. Each evening as the sun is setting, take time just to notice it. This small act, done regularly, helps us to reconnect at a primordial level with the rhythm of life. Just as we can trust that the sun will rise and set each day, as we reengage with that our basic trust in life to support us also restores.

I believe there are no accidents in this life. This means there is something about your situation that will help you (and likely others) in the long run. While you might not feel it right now, you are powerful and you are here to make a difference. Do not give up on yourself, this world needs you.

I also believe you’ve been called to this point for a reason, and you are not ever given anything you can’t handle. You can get through this and even find the best parts of it.

In the meantime, be strong, be kind to yourself, and know that you are enough and you are worthy.

About Shona Keachie

Shona teaches by the power of example how to find our inner truth among the often harried day-to-day practicalities of life. She regularly provides people from all walks of life with a fresh perspective on anything they feel stuck with and is happy for you to get in touch. To follow her blog click here.

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When You Reframe Your Breakup as an Opportunity, Everything Changes

“Sometimes the most uncomfortable learning is the most powerful.” ~Brené Brown

Seems impossible, doesn’t it?

How can you look at your breakup as an opportunity when it feels like someone cut your right arm off and ripped out your heart?

Breakups can be rough. When you open yourself up to another person, love them unconditionally, and compromise your own needs for the “betterment of the relationship,” you put yourself all-in. It’s no surprise that you feel lost, confused, and unwilling to move on when that connection is torn away from you. You gave everything to your relationship and now it’s gone. Forever.

Breakups have taught me something that I never learned in school: I’ve learned that losing love is hard. Brutally hard. I experienced more pain after the toughest breakup of my life than completing an engineering degree, doing standup comedy for the first time, and walking 400 kilometers in two weeks with 50 pounds on my back. When I lost my soul mate, I didn’t know how I was going to move on.

At first, I didn’t. I did everything I could do to escape, suppress, and avoid my feelings. I wasn’t nice to my body. I cried in the shower. I hid in the park close to my apartment since I was still living with my ex for a month after the breakup.

It was my “grieving period.” We all need one after a breakup. But although we all need different lengths of time to grieve, it’s important to put a time limit on it. Since I knew I was going to be living with my ex until we got our arrangements sorted out, I decided that I was going to give myself that month to grieve. And grieve, I did! I was a drunk, unproductive puddle of sadness.

Eventually I said goodbye to my ex, my cat, and my apartment. I cried on the metro on the way to my buddy’s condo. That first night away from the place I’d called home for years was brutal. But I knew my grieving period was over in the morning. And the next day, I got to work.

The road to recovery wasn’t easy. There were many ups and downs. But I stayed focused on letting go and moving on in the healthiest way I could.

That was two years ago, and I’m proud to say that I did let go and move on from the toughest breakup of my life. I’m a better version of myself today than I’ve ever been and I’m still a work in progress. We all are.

When I was recovering from my breakup, I did a lot of “reframing.” I tried looking at things through new perspectives so I could develop more understanding and empathy, for my ex and for myself. Today, with the advantage of hindsight, I can put my finger on an idea, or reframe, that helped me start moving on faster:

Breakups are an end, but they are also an opportunity for a fresh start.

First, a breakup is the end. Accept it. If you’re reading this and thinking, “Maybe I can still get my ex back if I just do this…” then you’re reading the wrong article. Because if your mind is set on getting your ex back, this is not your new beginning. At best it’s a rerun of the same show that’s been playing for too long.

Because guess what? When a breakup happens and people get back together, usually they break up again. And again. And again. The chances that you’ll get back with your ex and everything will improve and they’ll change into the perfect partner is as likely as me playing first base for the Yankees.

But just because you accept this as the end of your relationship doesn’t make it a negative experience. Most things come to an end in our lives—jobs, friendships, lives, your favorite Netflix series, the tub of cookie dough ice cream in your freezer (okay, in my freezer).

When one door closes another opens. You just have to have the guts to lock the old door behind you and walk through the new one.

I realized that my breakup was my opportunity to:

  • Do things I’d wanted to do for a long time but hadn’t because I had a partner to consider in every decision I made.
  • Peel back the layers and look within myself to see where I was going wrong in my romantic relationships, and most importantly, how I could improve so that I would be better in my next relationship.
  • Reconnect with friends and family who had been relegated to the sidelines for five years because my relationship consumed a lot of time and energy.
  • Meet new people and get excited about a fresh chance at love.
  • Inspire other people to get over their breakups without the typical clichés and bad advice.

Let’s face it, you’re here on Tiny Buddha because you’re interested in self-improvement and self-growth. You’re on a journey toward becoming a better version of yourself. That’s why if you’re struggling to let go and move on after a breakup, you need to reframe it right now so you can continue on your journey.

You need to tell yourself this is your opportunity to become better. This is your chance to fix things that went wrong in your past relationship so next time you don’t end up with a partner who isn’t right for you.

Remember, relationships end for a reason.

You and your ex had your problems. Sure, you had love and a deep connection, but did you also have rock-solid communication, clear boundaries, and unwavering honesty? Did you share the same core values?

I’ll say it again: relationships end for a reason. And when it happens, it’s okay. Your ex wasn’t the only person on the planet who is capable of loving you. On the contrary, if you use your breakup as an opportunity to improve things about yourself, you will attract a partner with whom you’ll find so much more love and connection that you’ll wonder how you lasted as long as you did in your past relationship.

That’s what life is all about. None of us get things right on the first go. Finding a soul mate is no different than learning a new language or getting in shape. You have to practice. Look at your ex and breakup as a practice round. Because of that relationship, you’re stronger, smarter, and more prepared for the next one.

This is your time. It’s your opportunity to sort through your past relationship issues and figure out how to be better.

Because no matter what, we all play a role in our breakups. Even if you were lied to, cheated on, duped, or betrayed, you still played a role. That might be hard to hear, but it’s true. My mom always said, “It takes two to tango.” And my mom ain’t no fool.

I had to get comfortable with my role in my breakup, too. I was no angel.

I had to accept that I hadn’t been true to my core values. I wanted children, my ex didn’t. Still, I put that to the side because we were in love. I also realized I had a lingering fear of commitment. I was still battling with jealousy and insecurity issues even though I thought I’d left them behind in an earlier long-term relationship. It wasn’t easy accepting those things about myself, but when I did I knew exactly where the nuts and bolts needed to be tightened. And I got to work.

For you, perhaps there were co-dependency issues or a need for validation. Maybe you stayed for the sake of the children, the dog, or the mortgage. Who knows. But I do know that you played a role and you need to accept that before you can move on.

Looking in the mirror and accepting the not-so-good things about ourselves is difficult. People resist peeling back the layers of their personality because it means leaving themselves vulnerable and exposed.

But you’re different. You understand the importance and power of vulnerability. And your breakup is the best chance you might ever have to rebuild yourself in the image that makes you feel like the confident champion you dream of being.

I know your breakup sucks. I know you miss your ex and still have love for them. I know it’s hard looking to the future and wondering if you’ll ever meet your true soul mate.

Remember: the greatest opportunities for growth in our lives come when we’re the most uncomfortable. And a tough breakup takes us way outside our comfort zones.

That discomfort is your opportunity. Accept it, embrace it, and cherish it. Big breakups don’t come around often. This is an exciting time! You’ve proven to yourself that you’re brave enough to take a risk on love. Just because the relationship is over doesn’t take away that bravery. Now it’s time to be courageous in the face of adversity.

And guess what? If you can shake off your breakup in a productive, healthy way, it’ll build new skills and resilience for the next time a difficult, unexpected life event happens. Jobs will be lost. Friends will drift away. People will die. Change is inevitable in your life. Now is your opportunity to prepare yourself for those times that will come whether you like it or not.

A breakup is your opportunity to show everyone around you—friends, family, colleagues—how gritty you can be. It’s going to be hard work. It’s never easy coming to terms with our limiting beliefs, fears, and ghost in our closets.

You have an important choice to make:

You can choose to sit in your basement waiting for “time to heal” and hoping that by some miracle you’ll get better.

Or you can choose to look at your breakup as an opportunity to improve the way you show up in your relationships so you can attract the right type of person into your life.

You will let go and you will move on. But you have to start, today. The last thing you want is to look back on this moment and realize you waited too long to accept this as your opportunity. Time is too precious to waste feeling stuck.

About Eric Ibey

Eric Ibey is a relationship and leadership coach, member of the International Coach Federation, and the creator of the Breakup Challenge. He lives in Montreal, Canada.

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