Everything was going wrong that could go wrong that morning.
First, I dropped a contact lens and spent 10 minutes looking for it. Then I received a warning about an unpaid cell phone bill. After my attempt to pay online failed, I hurried into town to pay in person. But the office was closed. I returned home and tried again to pay online and finally after a lot of resets the bill was paid. The morning had been spent frantically trying to resolve problems that seemed to come out of nowhere.
As I fixed myself a late breakfast, I found myself in a funk, frustrated for not being more careful putting in my contacts, angry with technology that seemed to make the simplest things more difficult and at myself for forgetting to pay my bills on time. I had planned on completing some writing projects that morning and instead my time was spent taking care of unexpected emergencies.
Life is full of challenges. Some challenges will be fairly straightforward while others will require major adjustment and reframing to meet the demands within them.
Years ago, when I was helping design and write a class on Chronic Illness, we reviewed a book by Arnold Beisser titled, Flying without Wings: Personal Reflections on Loss, Disability and Healing. Arnold was a young man ready to conquer the world. He was an athlete and tennis champion and had just completed medical school when polio struck. He found himself in an iron lung instead of in an office taking on new clients.
As he lay there unable to move, paralyzed from head to foot, he asked himself, Now what? His life seemed over. But he decided to take it back and gradually began to reframe his situation.
We collect a lot of unnecessary and unhelpful “stuff” over time – old habits, old lifestyles and ways of doing things that are counterproductive.
To explore new options and look for new opportunities, you need to let go of what isn’t working and open yourself up to new ideas and discoveries.
For us, it involved ways to travel and meet new people and make new friendships within our time frame and financial budget. It meant being willing to sacrifice when necessary to capture some of those moments.
Within all our travels and opportunities, we met new people, made new friends and experienced the history and cultures of the world. We gained a wealth of experiences that enriched our lives in so many ways.
Before I returned to school to get my master’s degree in psychology and counseling, I had the privilege to work for a company that provided two-week training workshops to injured workers in chronic pain. The participants were mandated to attend before their workman’s compensation expired.
When they arrived, they were angry and combative. Yet over the two weeks, we saw a profound change in individuals – they had hope again. They began to focus on what they could possibly do rather than what they no longer were able to do. It was an amazing transformation I witnessed many times.
However, some participants refused to consider such an option, and remained locked in bitterness over their injuries. When we believe we are limited or have no choices, we experience hopelessness, helplessness, resentment, anxiety and fear.
What situation do you find intolerable or unbearable – job, marriage, family concerns, health, etc.?
Perhaps you are trying to become more flexible as you age, adjusting to life as it is today instead of what used to be.
I listen to the poignant stories of people who are struggling to make ends meet, or overcome the loss of a loved one, or are re-fitting life to meet new health concerns. I include myself in many of these stories. And I tell myself as I tell others:
Nothing will change or get better until we first accept.
People’s first response when I say let go and accept is, “You must be kidding. Accept that my life is falling apart – accept that I have run into another setback?”
Life is going great when bam! The earth quakes and a landslide comes tumbling down, burying everything you had worked so hard on.
And without warning, as if on some internal cue, you are assaulted with doubts and misgivings. Buried under an avalanche, hidden from view, out of sight are all the things you have accomplished. You no longer consider and appreciate all the things you have done and are capable of doing. The rubble is not just life happening, it is a reminder of the bad choices you made and how inadequate you are.
In the blink of an eye, an old and unwanted visitor has just returned.
The voice is loud and clear. “You just won’t learn – you will never amount to anything, no matter how hard you try.”
What words do you use that lift another up or tear them down?
Words! They become the paint and paintbrushes to open the windows of our soul. They are the toolboxes of our brain used to convey our thoughts and innermost feelings.
We construct and sculpt conversations with creativity and imagination in order to share with another how we feel – to tell our stories. We want others to understand the difficulties we are going through and emphasize with our losses. We want them to be happy for us and rejoice with us our successes.
Words become the connecting tissue, linking old experiences with the new, melding together the past with what we are experiencing today.
The key to making good choices is the ability to accurately assess what is happening in the moment.
If our responses to people and events are based on old, outdated and inappropriate past reactions, it will be more difficult to become proactive.
Identify, Challenge and Replace
My last three posts have dealt with emotions and how patterns of thinking and feeling are established. Understanding how and why we feel the way we do can help us take advantage of opportunities. When anxiety, fear, or anger constantly overwhelm us, we will have difficulty finding the solutions we need.
How do we know if our emotional responses are based on the here and now instead of past experiences? We do that by becoming aware of our patterns of behavior and challenging the logic and reliability of the automatic thoughts and beliefs associated with them.
Some emotions are more troubling than others, such as anger and hate. If you find yourself constantly feeling angry and resentful you need to explore their origins.
Such strong emotions over time erode your ability to think productively, make good decisions and accomplish your goals. And even more troubling, there are serious consequences to your overall physical and mental health.
How negative emotions start
But where do these underlying and constant feelings of irritation, anger and hatred come from? Why have they become my typical response to life?