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Willingness vs. Willfulness

Updated: May 13, 2020

So much of life, and certainly recovery, comes down to these two things. Our willingness to be an active participant in our life, to do the next right thing no matter how hard, can make the difference between being stuck or moving forward. Many times we are unaware when we dig in our heels and become willful. We don't see that our unwillingness to accept a situation fully and take active steps to change or improve it prevents us from taking steps toward healing.

Here is an analogy I really like when it comes to willingness vs. willfullness: Your house burns down, and it is awful and unfair. Anyone would be devastated under these circumstances. You now have two choices; you can sit on the curb and stare at the charred ruins of the house focusing on how unfair it is, or you can get up, find a place to stay, and focus on what you need to do next, despite it being awful and unfair. One choice will lead to forward movement and eventual healing while the other will keep you stuck.

Willfulness can become a self-sabotaging behavior. In recovery, it can present as not following a recovery plan, refusing to talk about difficult topics in therapy, withholding information or hiding behaviors from your therapist, or not challenging ingrained behaviors. An unwillingness to fully participate in one's recovery can not only result in a failure to move forward but lead to relapse. The lack of movement can cause frustration and feeling as if recovery is not possible when it reality what is needed is the willingness to sit in the discomfort of doing what is required.

It can be hard to identify willfulness as it can be sneaky and present in many ways. Maybe you are having a hard time finding the motivation to do what is needed, or you find yourself procrastinating, always telling yourself that you will do it tomorrow. It can come in the form of excuses, finding reasons why you can't or haven't done something, or perceived helplessness, the belief that you cannot do what is needed. Emotions such as fear, anxiety, anger, or resentment can fuel willfullness. The resistance to change, even if that change can lead us to a happier life, can be intense. Doing what we need to do, despite these feelings, not due to the absence of them, is the practice of willingness.

If depression has been ruled out or addressed, then it is time to look at the other reasons you find yourself stuck or repeating the same, self-defeating behaviors. Are you sitting on the curb of your life, or are you an active participant in creating the change you desire?

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