From Confusion to Clarity

(The personal reflections on confusion quoted throughout this article were generously shared by "Michele." Thank you, Michele.)

"I often find myself feeling confused. It is a theme that has run through my life over many years. Now in my 60’s this trait has had long innings. It is confusion that often leaves me feeling inadequate and foolish, as if 'why can’t I sort things out, others seem to manage.' Confusion rears its ugly head when I have decisions to make. It also crops up when I am in a conflict and when I have a difference of opinion with someone."

Being confused about what we want, what is the right thing to do, or even who we are is distressing. The mind seeks clarity and the body feels best when we have certainty. While a state of confusion isn’t comfortable by any means, in the world of brain change it’s often a positive marker of growth or at least growth potential. Confusion means we are straddling change and motivated to find clarity.

What makes clarity difficult to achieve is that with clarity comes emotional risks. When we know what we want, we risk disappointing and angering ourselves and/or others. Clarity of who we are leads to consequences that come from living an authentic life - this is who I am. Will I still be loved and accepted?

So one way to understand confusion is to think of it as a protective defense. I’ve mapped it on the Change Triangle, my favorite tool to understand and work with emotions.

Confusion is a defense on the Change Triangle because it protects us from conflicts and emotions.

What helps move us from confusion to clarity is the ability to sense and work through emotions and conflicts in very specific ways. Specifically looking at confusion through an emotionally aware lens using the Change Triangle tool helps to:

  1. Understand confusion and the accompanying anxiety as a signal that underlying emotions need naming and processing.

  2. Recognize, soothe, and transform shame, guilt, and regret for potential mistakes.

  3. Validate, and move through core emotions like sadness, anger, and fear. For example, we might have to move through sadness to be ok with missed opportunities. Anger may arise towards others who have negatively affected our confidence. We may have to address fears stemming from younger parts of us that live inside our minds anticipating punishment.

  4. Summon courage and self-compassion by shifting into an openhearted state.