Why We Fall Into Holes: The Things We Don’t See

Counselors tell this joke to their patients:

You fall into a deep hole. Somehow you missed seeing it, and the depth requires some time to crawl out. “Gosh, I won’t do that again.”

The next day you plunge into the identical ditch. Same spot, same walkway. Perhaps you’ve learned how to extricate yourself faster. The practice has value, after all!

Twenty-four hours later, you leave your home, but you recognize the crater ahead of you!

You lose your footing anyway and land in the now-familiar dirt. “Geez.”

On the fourth day, you note the hole once more, but this time you steer yourself around it!

At last, another sunrise and the real lesson reveals itself — walk down a different street.

The majority of therapists would agree. A new path needs invention, lest you keep making the same mistakes.

But much as that conclusion is essential, a short search finds more to ponder.

A Japanese novel, The Hole, by Hiroko Oyamada, offers additional insight within a remarkable 92-page story.

The protagonist, who fell into a human-sized hole, is told the following by her brother-in-law:

It seems like most folks don’t see what they don’t want to see. The same goes for you. There must be plenty you don’t see.

Consider the categories of things we miss:

  • Some of us feel unfulfilled but have difficulty pinpointing the source of our emptiness. Perhaps the absence of love, a rewarding career, friends, our parents’ approval, higher status, a better education, etc. Sometimes what we haven’t achieved is too painful to admit. Therefore, we don’t take on the problematic self-examination such knowledge requires. I’ve also known those who faked their way to the top but remained masked. They wondered whether the world would accept the real person behind the disguise. 
  • At another level, individualism and the lack of a sense of community have been blamed for this fulfillment deficit. Philosophers have suggested that without “something larger and more important than ourselves,” the self-focused satisfactions of life lack meaning. The loss is “felt” rather than seen.
  • We create obstacles but don’t recognize them. Thus, we repeatedly generate familiar and distressing situations of our own making, baffled by how they happened. I often asked my patients whether they’d discovered any repetitive patterns in their relationships or at work. To most, this was a new idea. More than a few blamed others for injuries without considering personal responsibility, including their choice of words, actions, and buddies.
  • A fourth grouping includes the various surprises and unexpected misfortunes found in life. Think of betrayals by trusted allies or loved ones or getting cheated of money. Accidents and disasters, too. Some find those possibilities unimaginable, believing they are clever enough to sidestep them.
  • We humans are puzzling. How often do our words match our deeds? We categorize people into friends and foes, thinking we and they are one or the other. This simplifies life but doesn’t admit that few homo sapiens are full-time saints or sinners. What we fail to realize comes at a cost.
  • When extreme enough, our weaknesses become intolerable to our sight. As a consequence, some of us inflate our egos. Research reveals more than 50% of drivers believe they are above average (a statistical impossibility). As the news reminds us, a selection of our cohorts seek a way to justify a claim to superiority over groups different from themselves. 
  • Even bright folks are sometimes so preoccupied with their work, phone, or personal issues that they miss noticing the physical beauty of the natural world, remarkable architecture, and people who love them. If one walks downtown in a giant-sized city, a keen-eyed pedestrian close by those talking or texting has been known to “save” their inattentive neighbors from walking into traffic.

We all have blind spots, but only a handful of us take an unflinching survey of our reflection in the mirror. Even so, I bet you agree you’ve missed things and wish you’d had Superman’s x-ray vision to get through life.

Might it be the time to reevaluate what you don’t see, the unexpected holes you fall into, and how you might begin to change?

The holes wait for all of us, but we needn’t dive into each one. Learn from them.

They might even signal the way to a better life.


The top photograph is an Old Tree Stump by Federmaus. It is sourced from Wikimedia Commons. That image is followed by two Joan Miró paintings. The first is Untitled, 1934. The second is Dancer, 1925.

14 thoughts on “Why We Fall Into Holes: The Things We Don’t See

  1. Tamara Kulish from https://tamarakulish.com/

    Wow! very provoking, and very true. Provoking because we need to look at how we are creating our reality, consciously or unwittingly. We all have difficulties seeing our blind spots, yet it has a shadow that we can see from the results. The shadowy areas are always the most difficult to explore, for we fear we may find a monster, yet what is there is often a hurt person.

    Liked by 3 people

    • drgeraldstein

      Agreed, Tamara. I’d add that the task is (or can be) a painful one. Who among us was taught how to do this, possibly outside the class of helping professionals who, being human, can miss their own issues, as well.

      Most people feel comfortable in the belief they know themselves. A smaller number will do the work, and a very small number take on any monsters they find, as you so eloquently put it.

      Liked by 3 people

  2. Dr. Stein — so many things in this post struck me as on-point, powerful and pointed…none more so than this, this, this: “We create obstacles but don’t recognize them. Thus, we repeatedly generate familiar and distressing situations of our own making, baffled by how they happened.” Yes…the trenches, the places that we fall into, repeatedly…as you said, without awareness. Even the most distressing situations and scenarios carry the imprint of familiarity, and if we’re not careful, we fall in… repeatedly…into what’s “known”. Thank you so much for your post. 🤍

    Liked by 1 person

    • drgeraldstein

      Thank you, Vicki. To me, there is at least one more interesting question: to what extent does this metaphorical blindness serve us? It is still here despite man’s long evolutionary history.

      It is telling, as well, to think of the character of Tiresias in Greek Mythology. He was a blind seer and prophet, the implication being that those of us with a conventional physical and psychological sightedness are the ones who are blind to some very important things.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Such a bold and provocative question, Dr. Stein — why, indeed? My Greek Mythology recall is rusty…thank you for the reminder of Tiresias.
        I’m not sure where the thought is headed but you’re giving me something to ponder around inherent laziness, an unwillingness to be open to alternative paths. Lack of courage? Need for safety? Thank you for sparking thoughts. 🤍🤍🤍

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Yesterday I was telling a friend that I am in a rut. Rut or hole, the idea is the same. Thanks for prodding me to expand my world today.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Why does it seem so easily apparent to understand these truths when they are right before our eyes, yet by tomorrow it will also be easy to go back to the usual routines…the holes! We humans, I believe, just don’t want to do the work it takes to fill in our holes, especially the deeper ones. Great reminders Dr. Stein!

    Liked by 2 people

    • drgeraldstein

      You have hit on a big question: why are we what we are, warts and all? Insight and self-awareness are surely among those qualities that virtually all of us believe we have. Yet, as you suggest, they are slippery things at best. Thanks, Deb. Much appreciated.

      Liked by 3 people

  5. drgeraldstein

    I write in some significant part to spark readers, just as you’ve been sparked. Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. So much to think about here, Dr. Stein. For twelve years in Brazil, I literally lived in a residential hole that I struggled to escape. Until I learned to overcome the fear of venturing into the unknown by moving to a better neighborhood, I clung to the sense of safety by remaining in the hole. Only the gods know how many holes I’ve fallen into over the years. The hole that engulfs us all as citizens in society is the one to be most feared.


  7. Such a wonderful and deep post – but not deep in the way a hole is, just to be clear! I love your conclusion that we don’t have to “dive” into our holes, that we can work to recognize patterns, de-inflate the ego, and own our accomplishments and mistakes. But the one that really has me floored is that we label people as friends or foes without remembering that people aren’t all good or bad. Wow, wow, wow. I love the whole list but that one has me thinking, in concert with Vicki’s post today – to remember to keep expectations realistic. Thanks, Dr. Stein!


    • drgeraldstein

      You praise is much appreciated, Wynne. I’m glad the essay provoked your own thoughtful consideration. I am not tied to agreement, but rather, to help people to open themselves to the world.

      Liked by 1 person

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