I’m not feeling well (cold), my husband’s bother in law died suddenly a few days ago (heading out of town today for his memorial), Anna was in the hospital for a few days (uncontrollable nausea), I have lots to grade (adjunct professor), and I am perplexed about what to do regarding my business office (I love my office and don’t want to leave but rent is ridiculously expensive and my lease ends soon). As I focused on all of these circumstances I felt overwhelmed by a sense of hurtling through life too fast. So I said to myself, “Breathe, Karen. It’s ok. You are going to get through each of these pieces.” I relaxed a bit. When I woke up this morning, I looked at my daughter Rebekah’s facebook post and I saw these words by Lysa TerKeurst. I found this incredibly helpful for me. Maybe you will, too! 🙂
I believe God and I read the Bible. There’s a lot of good information in there. There are some things I do not understand at all and there are some that are so challenging I wonder if I could ever do them. One particularly challenging action is loving my enemies. Related to my “I’m Back” post, I have been working on going beyond forgiving people to actually letting go of the bitterness I feel toward them. This has been incredibly hard. It’s easy to want good for my children, my grandchildren, my husband, people who are nice to me, people I don’t even know…But to truly love and want good for someone I have been hurt by or am angry with, well now, that is perplexing! When I am dealing with enemies, I want nothing to do with them. In my darkest moments I sometimes hope they drop dead (on their own, not by my hand; and yes, I really do think that way sometimes…not proud!).
Lately, I have been turning a corner toward loving and wanting good in the lives of people I haven’t wanted to love. This has been an elusive experience for me most of my life. It feels good to love and not harbor hate. I believe staying away from ruminating on the bad parts of these relationships has helped. All that tail swishing I learned from the horses through equine therapy is really paying off! I am not pretending nothing hurtful happened, I’m just not letting it rob me of joy or snatch my love for people.
I’m experiencing this breakthrough today. I take steps forward and steps back so I’m not saying I’ll never harbor icky thoughts or feelings towards others. What I can hold onto is knowing I’m capable of this previously unconquered thought shift. I will find my way back to it again because I know the way and it feels so much better than hate! 🙂
My last blog post was on June 21, 2018. Over the last two months I have written the beginning of many posts but none felt right. I try to write about my own experiences and weave in a useful tool for you but I just couldn’t find a way to accomplish this that sat well with me.
I unravelled earlier this summer. I could feel it happening and I knew I needed help knitting parts of myself back together. I see our journey in life as layers. When I first embarked on my healing journey in 2005, I looked at parts of my life and childhood for the first time as I sought clarity for why I was in such a mess. Thanks to the help of counselors, coaches, EMDR, Shadow Work, and various experiential groups I healed many wounded parts. But I wasn’t done. I often tell my clients our work is not a one time experience where we find “perfection” and then we’re good for the rest of our lives. We’re more like rehab projects. You do all the work to get the house that’s falling apart shored up and looking good but over time the paint peels, the carpet frays and things need to be mended.
I went through a major overhaul between 2005-2008 as well as several tune-ups in the years since. These are just new layers that need work. I discovered some devastating aspects of my family of origin. From my perspective it seems we do not always have each other’s back through thick and thin. We were raised to be independent, like islands. As long as we are all just humming along, not being real, we’re good. As soon as we do or say something that is against a person or idea, we’re shut out. The phrase “blood is thicker than water” is not true in my family. In full revelation, I have been both the recipient and offender of this approach.
To heal, I spent my summer in the company of human and equine therapists. Yes, horses have been part of my therapy! I am not a horse person and have limited experience with them. As I looked into equine therapy, I felt tears rise to the surface and thought, “I really want to try this”. Since then, I learned that horses do not do well alone. They need the herd–their family. What irony or is it fortuitous!?
Most of my work has been on setting boundaries (1400+ pound horses are intimidating!) while simultaneously seeking to understand as well as accept others’ messiness. This is not generally a huge issue for me in most arenas of my life. With family, it’s become a very painful issue. I’m still in process on this. I work daily to swish away negative and unhelpful thoughts like the horses swish flies with their tails. I’m focusing on loving others as is. I’m in process. I don’t have this all figured out nor do I execute it in every encounter.
I’m grateful for my unravelling; the closer I stay to my humanity, the more compassionate I am with my clients. It also opened up my understanding of equine therapy (it is not just about brushing and riding horses…I did neither of those) but about bringing in their way of partnering with me in my healing process. I’m grateful for my four legged therapists – Three Socks*, Pierced With Light*, Guinness, Samwise and of course, Courtney (my two-legged therapist). 🙂
*Not their real names. I took the liberty to name them when I didn’t know what their real names were. When I learned their real names, I liked mine better! 😉
Angry with anyone today? Think about the things the person is doing that contribute to the anger you feel toward them. Then think about this: Sometimes we are so quick to point the finger at others and forget to look within. Is there something you might be doing that is contributing to the situation? Perhaps in other areas of your life are you doing the very same things you are angry at the other person for? Maybe…maybe not.
When we get in our self righteous stance, we sometimes forget someone else might be angry at us for something we have done…or not done. When I am really angry with someone it’s easy to list all of the reasons why I am justified. Another thought occasionally finds its way into my mind, “You know, Karen, people are probably angry at you right now for something you may have done.” That thought stops me for a moment. It softens me.
Sometimes our anger is justified but even in justified anger we can get really hard and unloving. It turns into bitterness that can eat us up from the inside out. It’s ok to be angry but bitterness is not good for us or anyone around us.
Is there an area in your life where it might be helpful to soften the intensity of the anger you are feeling? To recognize you aren’t without fault in this life? The softening might give you a healthier perspective of the situation. At the very least, it will be better for your emotional and physical health.
PS I’m working on this, too!
Relationships are fulfilling and exhausting! When we see eye to eye we usually get along better. But we don’t always see things the same way. How do we navigate the space of different views, different experiences? I think we have to be willing to accept that the process will be messy.
I’m in a space like that right now. My siblings and I own a business my father gave to us years before he died. Prior to us being involved, it was just his. He made all the decisions. Now, the task of making decisions falls on the shoulders of me, four of my siblings and our children. We are strong, independent people. We have different ideas of what success looks like. We have different ideas of how to grow and when to grow. It’s unbelievably challenging navigating these waters.
I see life through my filter. They see life through their individual filters. We are currently in a state of “my filter or experience is not like yours”. Our rough edges are showing. Harsh words have been spoken. Hard feelings are on the surface. Where do we go from here?
We must step back and listen to each other. We must understand where each person is coming from and why each has the view they have. It can’t stop there. We must own our part in why the discord exists and ask ourselves, “What am I doing that is contributing to the dissonance?”
This doesn’t mean I give up on my view of the situation but it does mean that I not hold so tightly to my view that I “make” others accept it as the only possible view. I am a work in progress on this one. In the end, we are not talking about literal life and death. The consequences could, in a worst case scenario, mean the end of our family business. It’s a business. Businesses come and go just as empires rise and fall.
How does this apply to you and your life? Are you in a disagreement with someone?
- Step back, give time and space to see the other person’s point of view.
- Repeat back what you are hearing the other person saying, as this may bring some clarity. Sometimes what we think the other person’s view is and what they actually mean are different. Avoid assumptions by asking questions.
- Be honest about your experience without bringing in shame, blame or criticism.
- Work toward solutions that are a win for all concerned, if possible. I’m actually a fan of the belief that if a win/win cannot be found, no decision is the best decision. Table the issue and come back to it after you have had a chance to process as well as get neutral input.
In the end, I think relationship should trump a decision. Life is short. Is anything really worth sacrificing relationship? We think so sometimes, but I believe nothing is more valuable than healthy, human connection.
Personally, I’m still in process on all of this. It’s much easier to say than do. 🙂
(This is a rewrite of a previous post from November 2014.)
It’s the holiday season! Are you ready to be around people you find challenging? You know, the ones who say things and suddenly you no longer feel very good about yourself. Perhaps drama trails around them like Pigpen’s dirt cloud. Approaching these situations with understanding and compassion can help.
To begin, recognize you are never very far from hurting others. This awareness generally helps with the next valuable action to deal with dysfunction: seeking to understand. Understanding where someone might be coming from, what he might be thinking or feeling, helps us develop compassion for him. Understanding does not require that you agree.
Understanding, and its closely linked cousin, compassion can dramatically change any dysfunctional system, at the very least for you. As you put on understanding and compassion, you will notice you are not so negatively affected by the dysfunction. You more easily notice the dysfunctional barbs, recognize them as a product of the other person’s pain, process the feeling, and realize, “This is not about me.” Once you have metabolized your own reaction, you can then shift your focus onto at least being kind to this person.
I frequently talk about Viktor Frankl with my clients. He survived Nazi concentration camps from 1942-1945. His freedom came when his camp was liberated at the end of World War II. A Psychiatrist, he was intrigued by the motivations and actions of himself, fellow prisoners and guards in this unplanned and unwanted research experiment. After the war, he turned his discovery of the power human beings possess to survive horrific experiences into a therapeutic method: Logotherapy.
In the most unlikely of places, Dr. Frankl made a decision to be the best prisoner he could be. He didn’t execute this perfectly as he admits in his book, Man’s Search for Meaning but his intention gave him purpose and the will to survive. He reasoned if he was able to do this in a concentration camp, then anyone can. As human beings, we have the ability to choose our thoughts, words, actions and attitudes.
My circumstances are not even remotely as challenging as Dr. Frankl’s. Still, I recognize I have the same choices. In simple trivial situations like driving behind a slow vehicle I can get upset about it or relax, recognizing I have no power over the driver. I only have power over myself. I know that unhealthy, illegal and unwise decisions will have a negative impact on me and potentially others so I choose to breathe, be calm, and recognize that my impatience is likely my own responsibility for not leaving enough time for the inevitable slow driver, accident or heavy traffic.
The same goes for the more painful situations in my life. It’s important to note, this doesn’t mean I pretend to be fine. Oh, no! We must be real about the emotions we have in all situations whether trivial or intense. Acknowledge your emotions, understand why you feel what you do, validate your emotions then have a conversation with yourself about what to do. I go into this process in greater length here and here.
Remember, you have the power to decide what you think, feel, say and do in all situations. No one decides that for you.
“The challenge is to always do what is right and good and true, even if others don’t appreciate it. Making the world a better place can’t depend on applause. You have to keep striving, no matter what, because if you don’t, many of the things that need to be done in our world will never get done.” ~ Kent M. Keith, author of Anyway – The Paradoxical Commandments
The Paradoxical Commandments by Keith M. Kent:
- People are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered. Love them anyway.
- If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish ulterior motives. Do good anyway.
- If you are successful, you will win false friends and true enemies. Succeed anyway.
- The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow. Do good anyway.
- Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable. Be honest and frank anyway.
- The biggest men and women with the biggest ideas can be shot down by the smallest men and women with the smallest minds. Think big anyway.
- People favor underdogs but follow top dogs. Fight for a few underdogs anyway.
- What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight. Build anyway.
- People really need help but may attack you if you do help them. Help people anyway.
- Give the world the best you have and you’ll get kicked in the teeth. Give the world the best you have anyway.
I resonate with Kent Keith’s ideas. Our job is to leave a positive mark on this world through our actions and words. Our ripples may be small or large. The size isn’t the point. The healthiest approach is to detach from the outcome or reach of the good we do and do good anyway! 🙂
I laugh when the very thing I write about catches me and spits me out! We planned a once in a lifetime trip for my husband’s mother. She is Norwegian but has never set foot on the soil of Norway…or anywhere outside of the United States. My husband had been promising her he’d take her there someday. At 81 someday needed to happen soon! So we decided to take the plunge this summer. The itinerary is planned, tickets purchased and passports are ready to go! Then, the unplanned jumped out and smacked us. My father-in-law’s health plummeted and my mother-in-law needs to stay with him. Go figure!
At first I was understanding. Then this nasty poison crept in. I realized we planned this whole trip for her! What!? You mean we’re spending all this money and taking time away from work (which for me with a private practice means zero income) and she isn’t even going? What?! Visualize my red face, temper rising, anger beginning to leak out all over the place!!!
In church a woman prayed, among other things, to speak blessings instead of cursings…healthy conviction began sinking in…well, after I had a little fit! Now I am amazed at my behavior. Really, Karen? You are incredibly self-centered sometimes. I must give myself grace as I always tell my clients and yet, I do hope that one day I can be more concerned about others than myself. Oh, and roll with the unpredictable a little earlier in the process.