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Section 7
Reward Process and Confusion

Question 7 | Test | Table of Contents

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In the last section, we discussed various ways that holiday triggers can become recurring times of anguish and how to recognize patterns regarding these negative habits. Also, we included the "Morning Attitude Log" to address these issues.

In this section, we will acknowledge how the endless demands and stresses of the holiday season have created a whirlwind of thoughts, emotions, and desires that you can barely explain that have left you feeling lost and directionless. Then we will describe a four step Uncovering the Confusion Cover-up technique to help you rebuild a calm inside yourself.

Holiday stresses take many forms: seemingly endless traffic jams; grocery stores that are out of that one last item you need; buying that one perfect gift; visiting family; kids screaming and running through the house. Our peace of mind is under constant attack from the demands of friends and family plus our own senses of devotion and obligation.

Eventually, you're so confused you can barely decide what clothes to wear or where to go for lunch. This confusion or disorientation eventually leads to a feeling of absolute desperation, as if, since you have no control over your life, you might as well not be invested in it.

But confusion doesn't have to be a one way ticket to holiday let down and depression. Let's take a closer look at why we allow ourselves to get confused in the first place and then we will offer a technique you can use to peer through your confusion and regain a solid sense of your identity.

According to Barbara DeAngelis, "Being confused is always covering up something else. The experience makes emotions we would rather not feel, challenges we would rather not face-so instead we tell ourselves that we're confused." Confusion serves as a diversion during the holiday season. You have been told all your life that the holidays are a time of giving and love and families getting together to reminisce about the good times. And this is certainly true, but the other side of that truth, is that holidays are a lot of work.

There are lot of expectations and a lot of possibilities for disappointment. Some aspects of the holidays are negative and confusion is one of the ways that those negative feelings can be covered up. Confusion is a tool that has its rewards. Unfortunately those rewards are misleading and will not lead you to where you want to be. The four rewards of confusion are Attention, Advice, Addictions, and Avoidance.

4 Rewards of Confusion

♦ Reward #1 - Attention

In all the hubbub and excitement of the holidays, it is easy to feel lost in the noise and acting confused is a great way to attract attention. Are you really finding it that impossible to slow down, take a breath, and get done those things you need to get done? Or, do you actually prefer to appear hectic, rushed, and confused? It turns out that if you act confused enough, people may feel sorry for you. They may reach out and ask you, "Are you OK?" If you're confused enough, you turn into a martyr. But this is not the kind of attention we really want. We would rather be praised for a good job than to feel pitied.

♦ Reward #2 - Advice
Being confused is also a good way to avoid responsibility. When you are confused you can't make decisions, so you have to ask for advice from others. Then, if something goes wrong, you can always say, "Well, I was only doing what So-and-So told me." Except, that, in reality, we know that we haven't avoided that responsibility at all and we still feel judged for our failures.

♦ Reward #3 - Addictions
Confusion is also an emotion that makes a good excuse to continue in your addictions. Especially around the holidays with all the New Years resolutions and the "getting to start with a clean slate" talk that goes around. Being confused offers the convenient excuse, "Well, I'd quit smoking but it's so hectic around here right now, I just know it wouldn't work." Or "I'm so confused right now. I know I should quit-and I will-this just isn't a good time."

♦ Reward #4 - Avoidance
The biggest reward from confusion is that you can avoid those things you need to face to actually get rid of your distress. Being confused means that you are always acting busy. When you're busy you don't have time to deal with your sister-in-law's snide comment, that, if you were to respond to her, would only lead to a fight. Being confused means that you don't have time to consider that the reason that helping in the kitchen is so miserable is because you're afraid of letting down the family if you fail.

Let's take a minute to try and peer through your confusion to the real issues.

♦ 2-Step "Uncovering the Confusion Cover-up" Technique
In this technique, "Uncovering the Confusion Cover-up" all you will need is a piece of paper and a pencil.

Step 1: On the paper, make two columns. Label the left column "What I am confused about." Label the right column "If I were not confused I might have to…"

Step 2: Try to find something you're confused about. For example, you know that your family is expecting turkey for the big meal, but last year's bird was an absolute catastrophe. In the left hand column you would write "I don't know what to make for the big family dinner." In the right hand column, consider the consequences of not being confused.

If you were not confused you'd have to make a decision. What could that decision lead to? It might lead to disappointing your family. Either you will serve them something they don't want, or you will have to face your fears of trying to bake another turkey. So you'd write "Make a decision about dinner. Face my fear of disappointing my family."

Perhaps in the left hand column you would write that you are confused about your health and which diet is best for you. In the right hand column you would respond that if you were clear you might have to…"Choose one diet and stick to it." Or you if you wrote that you were confused about how to handle your frustrations at work; in the right hand column you might have to admit that your supervisor is sabotaging your projects and that you need to confront her.

Feel free to list anything that you have been reluctant to make a decision about. Then, in the right hand column, be honest about what consequences clarity would bring. You will probably find that much of your confusion is merely a way of avoiding, or covering up, the negative characteristics that this supposedly happy time brings out in you.

In this section, we have discussed the four rewards of confusion and why those rewards do not aid in the actual relief of stress. We have also presented the Uncovering the Confusion Cover-up technique so that you can see how confusion masks your real anxieties and fears.

In the section, we will discuss how prioritizing your tasks can help you free up and focus your energy on getting rid of those things that cause you the most distress.

Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Fayn, K., Silvia, P. J., Dejonckheere, E., Verdonck, S., & Kuppens, P. (2019). Confused or curious? Openness/intellect predicts more positive interest-confusion relations. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 117(5), 1016–1033.

"Reward processing and future life stress: Stress generation pathway to depression": Correction to Mackin et al. (2019) (2019). Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 128(6), 492. 

Silvia, P. J. (2010). Confusion and interest: The role of knowledge emotions in aesthetic experience. Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts, 4(2), 75–80.

Smallen, D. (2019). Practicing forgiveness: A framework for a routine forgiveness practice. Spirituality in Clinical Practice, 6(4), 219–228. 

What are four rewards from confusion or overwhelm? To select and enter your answer go to Test.

Section 8
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