Almost everyone, at one time or another, has been in a “Catch-22-type” situation; feeling “damned if you do and damned if you don’t.” Licensed clinical therapist, lecturer and author, Barbara Cowan Berg, in her latest book, How to Escape the No-Win Trap, offers invaluable advice on how to avoid getting into “no-win” traps or dilemmas with no satisfying conclusions – how to identify them, what to do if you’re in one, and how to get out of one! The book also offers helpful exercises and techniques that empower readers to recognize negative patterns and make wiser choices in order manifest the happiness they deserve.

1. A person is in pain – at work, in love or in another situation – how do they determine if they are in a no-win trap?

A person is in a no-win trap when they are in a situation where the harder they try to do or to please – the worse they feel. You’re in a winning situation when you make an effort and you are satisfied with where you wind up. So, if you are trying hard or making too much of an effort, and you feel more and more frustrated, then you are in a no-win trap.

2. Why is “pain the messenger, not the roommate”?

Pain means there is a sign that something isn’t ok. It’s a signal that you need to look deep inside yourself and at your situation. It means you need to change something; your actions, or your perception. If pain is the roommate, then you’re accepting life’s crumbs. You get to say, “this is my lot in life” and dwell in the complaining. So pain is really a message that a situation – or your perspective of it – has to change. You can’t afford to live unconsciously anymore!

3. What are the three main types of no-win traps?

You think to yourself:

  1. I don’t really feel good enough, yet I feel I deserve better than what I have.
  2. Everyone gets what they want but me. Whatever I get isn’t any good.
  3. I have no one to lean on and I can’t count on the people in my life.

When you walk around with even one of those beliefs, you don’t stand a chance. You are committed to losing. These beliefs are the foundations that get you into no-win traps.

4. No-win traps often offer hope, keeping people tempted to stay in them. Explain.

When you’re in a no-win trap and feel hopeful – “if only I improve, he/she will treat me better” or “if I love more or understand more, he/she will change.” Understand that people generally don’t change. If you’ve been been accepting less than you deserve, they are even less likely to do so. So, look at actions, not words. Accept reality. By accepting reality, you accept responsibility for the way you perceive things in your life. Only then do you have the power to change what’s negative.

5. Can a no-win trap ever be turned into a win-win situation?

Yes, when you clearly express what you need, what you want, and what you’ll accept right up front. And with that said once, don’t say it anymore. The way to really be clear and understood is to say something once and then don’t talk anymore. Go immediately into behavior mode. Your behavior will speak volumes. The person will either come around to your way, or you should take the highway!

6. Why are no-win traps so difficult to accept?

The hardest thing about a no-win trap is that no-win traps defy what we know to be true. For example, let’s say you’re in a relationship where you are nice to someone and you “do” for them (you understand them, try to rationalize or put up with bad behavior, go out of your way for them, make compromises, etc). Yet they are not reciprocal. If you keep being nice and doing for your partner, hoping that your partner will give you the same in return, odds are it still won’t come. Why? Some people have more of a need not to have a good relationship than to have a good relationship. Furthermore, some people can take from others but cannot give back. In this type of situation, if you insist on being a giver, and don’t understand why a person you’re giving to won’t give back, then you’ll continue to be frustrated in a no-win trap. You’ll either have to accept the situation, or leave. Don’t mistake the notion of giving the benefit of the doubt as a reason to stay when in reality you’re making excuses for a deadly red flag.

7. In love relationships, where do women trip themselves up?

Many women get sucked into relationships too soon, giving their all. They get so emotionally invested, It’s hard to get out – even when “danger” lights are flashing. A man gives his all at the beginning. A woman needs to sit back and watch and gracefully accept what attentions are shown to her, but carefully watch over time to what and to whom he is committing. Discover who this man really is. Find out about his character. Once the cow’s out of the barn, you’ll learn what you have! This is where self-esteem comes into play. If a woman has a positive self-esteem, she’ll learn to be patient. She’ll learn not to accept crumbs, nor constantly give her partner the benefit of the doubt – setting herself up for a no-win trap. She’s not needy for love. She’s willing to wait for the right man and the right situation. She can make herself happy. A man is the icing, not the cake.

8. How can a person get out of a no-win trap?

Escape is possible by consciously recognizing that there is nothing in the situation for them in the long run. A person has to really know and believe that the Universe has more for them.

9. People are often driven by unconscious desires, hoping to heal childhood wounds. How can they become more conscious of their motives?

If they find they are running into the same pattern two or more times, they are stuck in their childhood. They are trying to fix the past. A good way to break the cycle? Try something different. You have a better chance of succeeding working with new material. Even if it doesn’t work out, the red flags will be more obvious to see.

10. What part does self-esteem, or lack of it, plays in the no-win trap?

When a person feels that they must have pain in order to get the good stuff, self-esteem is an issue. Where there is love there should not be pain. Again, trust the Universe to provide – and know you are deserving. Don’t accept crumbs.

11. Can no-win traps be avoided?

They can be side stepped, and if you look, you can see them coming. However, you have to be actively conscious and willing to look at life without rose-colored glasses. When you spot a no-win situation in the making, do not breath any energy into it. Becoming adept at reading between the lines – more of what is shown, not said, is key. Never assume that because a person or situation has a few good qualities, that It’s the only way to go. Buyer beware. Look deeply. Evaluate the situation with a clear head.

12. What is a “Martyr Lover”?

Remember the song, “I’d rather be blue thinking of you, I’d rather be blue over you, than be happy with somebody else?” This is the theme song of a Martyr Lover. A Martyr Lover, be it male or female, is someone who accepts a bad situation when the world holds infinite possibilities for something better. Martyr Lovers have low self-esteem will do anything to justify or stay in the game. They are afraid of being alone. Martyr Lovers can single-mindedly focus on those they don’t already have in their corner, and forget to nurture the solid relationships they do have or are capable of having.

13. Many women are brought up to believe their Prince will come. Why is this a sure recipe for disaster?

The woman who believes this is looking for the idealist side of her daddy – forgetting that the Prince also has a horse that poops on a regular basis! Women have to develop their inner selves – not just their outer selves. They have to take responsibilities for their lives – emotionally and financially. They have to become their own Prince Charming. Only then can they attract mutually fulfilling relationships.

14. Why do so many women turn down Mr. Right when he’s standing right there?

Because she’s trying to heal the wounds of her past rather than accepting what’s healthy for her right now. Familiar is always more alluring than different.

15. What is the “Fix it” disease and why must it be cured?

It’s arrogant to think you can fix an intolerable situation – arrogant to think that you are the one for the job. People enjoy fixing other people when they are afraid to look at their own problems. Furthermore, sometimes people actively recruit people worse than they are, just so they can be assured they’ll never have to face themselves.

16. How do you educate people to see their glass as “half full” rather than “half empty” and to trust the process of life?

I work with them to see what they actually get over time…and to appreciate what they do have and receive, rather than what they don’t have. Why not commit to being happy instead of to not being happy? The grass isn’t always greener. Appreciation of what one does have can increase the quality of life tremendously. It’s important to see that the glass may be half full, or even close to full. However, don’t confuse this with just a few drops at the bottom of the cup.

17. What are the mental tools people can use to keep themselves strong in extricating themselves from a no-win trap?

Recognize that meeting with the pain now will keep you out of long term suffering – which can reek havoc on your health and your life in general. Surround yourself with supportive people and the things that will make you happy. The important ingredient to all of this is that you have to be willing to wait for it. Good things can and will happen! So don’t accept the pain!

18. In the workplace, what are the three types of no-win traps?

  1. I’m too good for this job but I don’t feel good enough for the job I really want. This belief can set people up to hurt you; making them feel they aren’t as good as you will build resentment.
  2. Everyone gets away with murder and I have to do everyone else’s job and never get any of the credit. The more you do what people don’t ask you to do, the more they will expect you to do.
  3. No one does the job as well as I do. You get stuck doing everything by yourself. People need to ask for help. People with low self-esteem have to show that they can do the job better than anyone else. People with high self-esteem come to job, eat lunch, and go home. They live happier lives.

19. How can an emotionally positive and safe work environment be cultivated?

It starts with one-on-one communication. Make eye contact with the people you work with. Say hello to everyone and treat everyone with respect. Don’t act as if you’re above anyone. If you feel something or someone is beneath you, unconsciously, you are actually feeling that you are less than them, not better. Think about it. A person with high self-esteem doesn’t have to belittle people, they are happy with who they are and they spread that happiness. People with low self-esteem have to make a point by proving they are better. So if you put yourself in a position where you feel above everyone, and set yourself apart, you are contributing to terror in your workplace.

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Maryann Ridini
Ridini Entertainment Corporation