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The question I’m in my mid-50s. I’m very lucky and grateful for all the great people and beings in my life. I have wonderful, pretty much grown-up children, and generally a good relationship with their father (we were together for a short time only, long enough, and never married). I have a close relationship with my boyfriend, a rewarding job and good health. I have the use of several houses. However, I cannot settle. I seem to need to move every couple of years. It’s not as though I like doing houses up either; I don’t. I am about to move again for what seem like perfectly good reasons. One of the reasons for my last move was because the garden was too small, and a factor in this latest move is that the garden is too much to manage – so I am beginning to see that the reasons I come up with might not be my only motive to move again. But I just wonder why I can’t seem to settle anywhere, and I feel I should.

Philippa’s answer When I hear the word “should” I usually get psychotherapy clients to play around with swapping it for “could” or “choose not to” to find out what they really mean by it. “Should” can make us feel trapped, which can stir the inner rebel to indulge in a bit of self-sabotage.

There are three main commitments to make in life. One, what we do; two, who we do it with; and three, where we do it. You are having difficulties, or if not difficulties, certainly curiosity, about your inability to manage commitment three. Astutely, you are beginning to understand that the perfectly good reasons you have manufactured for your latest move are not the complete story, and such reasons may be a mere post-rationalisation for something deeper, something unconscious and possibly something missing that you cannot put your finger on. You’ve even managed your life in order that you somehow have the use of several houses, so this wanderlust seems to run deep. And it’s probably not, to quote the Lee Marvin song, because you were “born under a wandering star”.

I expect what happens is that you feel a restlessness that you interpret as a need for your environment to change, then you move, and it works for a while but then restlessness rises in you again, and again you come up with a perfectly good rationale for another move. Our brains are excellent baloney generators. But the thing, whatever it is, that you are running from, remains buried. We call this “Doing a Geographical”. The problem with it as a defence strategy is that what you are running away from comes with you, because it is inside you. It is impossible to run away from and, in the long run, the moving changes nothing.

What is it in you that is so difficult to sit with? Where is this restlessness coming from? When the novelty factor of your new home fades, instead of Googling new places to live, sit with the restlessness. Feel the sensations behind it. Notice in your body where you feel it. It will probably feel uncomfortable, but stay with it. Feelings may surface. In this way you may identify the feelings you have been trying to avoid. When did you first feel them? When were you trapped? What was trapping you? It might be an old habitual mood left over from childhood where you wanted to run away but couldn’t. Perhaps if you can connect with such a feeling, put it into words and tell yourself you have already successfully run away, the restlessness may subside.

Sometimes when we don’t process events in our lives into words or images, we are just left with the recurring feelings from those events. We might unconsciously fear the resurfacing of those feelings to such an extent that we take avoidant action. And yet, the more you can face those events by putting them into words and images, the more you’ll have control of them, rather than those feelings having control over you. Remember feelings cannot hurt us; it’s how we act in reaction to our feelings that has potential to inconvenience or harm us, not the feelings themselves. Trace back the origins of the feeling to an event or events and put those memories into words. Unprocessed feelings are like an unusable, untidy room. Putting feelings and their cause into language means everything gets filed away, becomes tidy, becomes manageable and becomes usable, like a space you could use and live in rather than run away from.

Each time you move you may initially find yourself in a honeymoon period where things feel better. All the changes bring about a distraction and you may get excited by a future in the new place. Remembering that you feel like this after every move might be another motivator to want to move again when the new place is no longer distracting. But each time you distract yourself with a move, you are putting off doing the psychological work of discovering what you are running from.

You could do the work of finding out why you have this urge to move in therapy, which is expensive, but it might be cheaper than moving yet again.

psychoanalysis.org.uk

Philippa Perry’s The Book You Want Everyone You Love* To Read *(and maybe a few you don’t) is published by Cornerstone at £18.99. Buy it for £16.14 at guardianbookshop.com

Every week Philippa Perry addresses a personal problem sent in by a reader. If you would like advice from Philippa, please send your problem to askphilippa@guardian.co.uk. Submissions are subject to our terms and conditions

#Everythings #fine #feel #settle #Philippa

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