Monthly Archives: April 2015

When someone refuses your olive branch

A recent comment is the inspiration for this post: Kate asked “What happens when you reach out to your family to make amends and they don’t accept your olive branch?”

First you say OUCH. Because that probably really hurts. Whether you were the initiator or they were, it probably still hurts. Let yourself start there.

 

Then it’s time for a little soul searching. Did you do/say something that created the distance. If you were, have you given the other person time (as much as they need, not how much you think they should have) to process their hurt? Are you willing to make changes that the other person may be requesting from you? Are you willing to accept that person, as they are, if you have been critical about this in the past?

 

But let’ say you’re okay, they aren’t okay. You stepped out because things became intolerable for you. Or, they left you. Now you reach out because of any number of reasons to reconnect and they are still not willing to play nicely.

I wish I could answer this with a one size fits all happy instruction manual for how to get people to be reasonable. The truth is people aren’t always and that is part of life. But it stinks when you are the recipient.   Unfortunately, I don’t have that tidy little answer. In fact, I’m not sure I have any answer. Perhaps all I really have is compassion.

I recall when I was going through my divorce, I was also working on my doctorate. I had a very wonderful case supervisor, a woman in her late 70’s, full of vigor and wisdom.   Janet had lived a full life, but not one free from tragedy. She was widowed from her first marriage. As was often the case, she was as much my mentor in life, as she was, professionally. One day, I used some of my supervision time to talk about what was happening with the marriage and Janet said, “The longer I live, the more I am aware that some things in life just can’t be fixed.”   It was such a simple, yet profound statement that has stayed with me these many years later. It helped me give myself permission to stop trying so hard to fix something that wasn’t fixable. Something that, in all honesty, had been broken from the start.

I don’t know when the point is for someone to give up. It is different for everyone. But I do know that it is sometimes okay to do that. And I suspect it has to do with when you can look yourself in the mirror and know that you have done your best. It’s when you know that you have taken responsibility for your actions and decisions and made a sincere attempt to allow the other person to express their feelings about your choices. In other words, have you allowed them room to be them, at the same time, you are requesting to be you.

For some folks the most difficult part will be allowing others to be as they are. Other people will struggle with finding the acceptance to look yourself in the mirror and say I did enough. What makes this tricky is to separate the sense of “it was enough”, from an outcome of previously defined success. In other words, if I didn’t achieve the goal of fixing it, then either they or I didn’t do enough. But this is part of being a grown up as Janet said. Even grown ups can’t make everything better just because they wish it to be so. And finding compassion for the self and even for others is one of the hallmarks of maturity. It is also possible to find love for another even without continuing to have a relationship with that person. And that is what helps to make us better humans.

It is possible to love someone based on early times when we had a relationship with them even if it has ended. It is possible to find love for someone based on their relationship to others. It is possible to find love for that person as a human in the world. And all of these (as well as other ideas) are ways to allow ourselves to place emphasis on other feelings we may have for that person, because they won’t allow us back into their lives. At the end of the day, it means we are filled with less negative energy.

 

How long do I have to wait?

I heard Carolyn Myss tell a story a long time ago that I often repeat in therapy. She was working with a man, with whom, she felt needed to develop patience about some event or transformation in the future. Myss told him he needed to learn to wait. The man acknowledged this and asked how long he would have to wait. Myss replied “Until how long you have to wait no longer matters.”

 

Waiting can be stressful from the big to the small. Waiting to find out the sex of your baby during pregnancy. Waiting to see if you will get the job you interviewed for. Waiting to get test results on a health matter. You can try and ignore the wait, control the wait or as Myss suggests, withdraw your emotional investment in the wait. Then the wait simply is. The wished for end will either come or it won’t, but the tension invested in waiting itself, no longer exists.

It occurred to me that this idea was applicable to other sources of tension as well. Recently, someone asked me the question “Why does my self worth and value depend so much on what others think of me?” And I thought about Myss’ story in my reply: “Because it matters. And it will continue to matter until it no longer matters.”

Now of course, this is not rocket science but yes, I do try to think through what are seemingly obvious answers before, replying with what sounds like sarcasm at first glance.

When we fail to invest attachment to ourselves as valuable, to recognize our significance, that energy is a magnet waiting for a source of attraction. It might be to another person, an achievement or an aspect of our appearance. Why would we fail to fail to invest in ourselves? Any number of reasons may contribute, including the failure of our early life to model that for us so, we could internalize it, or because of some event, or series of events, for which, we feel shame. A shame powerful enough to override anything valuable that may have been put in to begin with.

Once our source of value is outside of us, it serves like a carrot being wheeled around by a speeding car. We might be fast enough to see it in our sights, but we can’t ever manage to catch the darn thing. So we try to run faster, manipulate circumstances to try and get a little closer. Some will die trying.

And how do we get out of this race? Back to my answer. “When it no longer matters.” The “it” is the outside source. When “it” ceases to have as much power as the inside of us has. When the source of value comes from within us, we are no longer under the desire to pursue what is outside for validation. This doesn’t mean we don’t still have goals that we work towards. It means only that we don’t assign things and people outside of us to determine if we are “enough”. That job remains ours. Maybe Hollywood producers won’t find me pretty enough to cast in their movies. I won’t be an actress, but that doesn’t determine if I am valuable as a human being.

So often, I watch people struggle to get validation from sources and people that they themselves don’t like or value. Yet, they still aim to please. Is it any wonder that in the rare exceptions that praise actually does come, it falls short of satisfying the seeker?

How do you value yourself if you don’t value yourself? (I bet more than one person was about to post that comment). It’s a process, not an event. It takes practice. Start small with what feels authentic. Maybe you can only value the way you behave with your kids or your dog. Start there. Build on it. Be truthful and use the same scale to measure yourself that you would for others.

 

 

 

Is it time for you to lose wait?

NOTE to readers:     There was an issue with the captcha for new commenters- If you were not previously permitted to leave a comment, I believe this has been fixed.  I apologize for any inconvenience or frustration this may have caused!

Is it time for you to lose wait?

I know I’ve made a lot of typos lately, but the one above isn’t actually one of them.

I heard a story the other day about a guy I’ll call Fred who was estranged from his family for several years.   When Fred learned that his mother, in her late 80’s was on her death bed he tried to make the arrangements to visit her. The arrangements including getting time off of work, and creating travel plans. Unfortunately, Fred didn’t get everything worked out in time and he never saw his mother again.

A couple of years later Fred learned that one of his siblings had passed away from a sudden illness. The person telling me the story reported that Fred was once again devastated as he had been when his mother passed. Although he had not had any contact with his sibling in 30 years, he said he regretted not having spent more time getting to know him when they were kids. Despite these two occurrences, Fred remained distant from the remainder of his family.

Even without seeing Fred, I can tell that, he the kind of person with a lot of wait. Too much wait. Fred is waiting to do things he thinks are important, until the wait is over because the opportunity passes. He just sits around feeling sad that his wait has kept him from really enjoying life as he should.

Our wait is personal. We all carry it differently from each other. Some of us, like Fred wait to let people in our lives know they are important to us. Some wait to start a project, finish a project or develop our talents. Others wait to start their career, get an education or acquire skills. And still others of us wait to change behaviors that are setting us up for consequences we hope we will never have to face.

Would you be willing to start a wait reduction program? What area(s) in your life are you waiting to take action on? What are you waiting to discover about your passion and let yourself move forward on? What holds you back? Are you allowing yourself to fall victim to the rewards of short term behaviors that satisfy your urges long enough to help you postpone the longer term successes?

I’d love to hear your comments and stories!

Reflections from a cruise ship

Seriously, it IS a new topic, I promise.

So the other part of my vacation was a Disney Cruise. Before anyone starts to envy me, let me say I’m never going on another cruise with any of the men in my house. Turns out they aren’t fond of lying on a beach for all the daylight hours like I am- but enough complaining. Let’s get to the real stuff.

Disney cruises are cool for passengers because there is a low staff to guest ratio. They are pretty much there to spoil you. In short, they prevent you from having to do anything for yourself including use up any brain cells unnecessarily while in their care. However, there is limited space on a ship and that means to achieve everything they do, the crew works sometimes very long days. And very long weeks. And very long months.

The cruise director said that a passenger once asked him if the crew slept on board. Tongue in cheek he told her no, they are helicoptered off and on at the start and end of each day. But of course they sleep on board. When they sleep that is. Depending on their contract, the crew may remain on board for 2-8 months at a time, with the latter being more common. The following information is from the Disney employment site:

  • Agree to share a cabin with another crew member
  • Be able to work a seven-day, 70-84 hour week with limited time off

The workers come from all over the world.   They have to pay their own transportation to get to and from the boat. And with the handful of workers I informally surveyed, many repeat their contracts after going home to their native country and family for a month or two.

These working conditions would not fly (or cruise for that matter) in the U.S. At least not at the pay scale cruise workers receive. In fact, when someone works for a couple of weeks without a day off, we are generally appalled. One client recently told me of a woman he knew that had worked over 100 days without a single day off. As a man who had himself run his own business, he was amazed by what he felt was a rare work ethic. Yet, the people on the ship do it for months a time, willingly gratefully, and usually with a pleasant disposition.

But how about working conditions for our own military? I don’t have personal experience, but I suspect they too ,work long hours, days and months on end without time off. It’s not like a soldier in the middle of a mission, can say “ I’d like to take a personal day off next week for my son’s birthday.”

While I’m hoping to not sign up for a job that requires me to be alert and on my game 24/7 any time soon, I do think it’s worth dissecting this idea a little bit. What makes it possible for people to plunge in to these types of experiences and not feel totally abused, while others feel like they will fall apart if expected to work a little overtime?

Maybe it has to do with a mindset more than a temperament. Does someone from a third world country view the opportunity with gratitude that there is continued work, because it means continued financial support for their family back home? Does someone in the military value the opportunity to learn a skill or complete a mission without the interruption of other things that naturally occur in a more traditional job?

The reality is that we can do a great number of things both positively and negatively depending on our mindset. Marathon runners tell me they can complete a race because of their mental strength not their physical stamina. Anorexics can continue to push their bodies far beyond reasonable physical limits because of the image they hold in their minds eye. One is positive, the other negative, but they are alike in the sense that, it is the story held in the mind, not the body that determines an individual’s course.

Perhaps Henry Ford discovered this truth a long time ago when he said “Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right”.   Is there anything that you think is impossible that could become possible if you change the story you currently hold?  I always appreciate your comments and insights.

 

 

 

 

 

Reflections from a theme park part 2

Reflections from a theme park part 2:

Last week I discussed looking at amusement parks as a metaphor of life. That entry dealt primarily with the idea that we spend most of life in the “waiting, anticipation” phase working towards the much shorter time of “pleasant experience” portion.   I got a lot of great comments- thank you! I so appreciate your feedback and especially your insights and stories.

In this post, I’d like to take it a step further. How prepared are you for the ride to be over? Could you do it with the feeling that you got your full four minutes of fun and willingly turn your seat over to the next incoming group? Or do you want to keep yourself strapped into that seat demanding that you get another turn because you’re either not yet satisfied, or you weren’t ready to fully participate in the experience when it began. And even if you could have a do-over or second turn, would it give you the same thrill that it did the first time around?

I remember when my children were babies; they were the center of my universe.   I’m sure I was guilty on more than one occasion of sharing their every achievement with the rest of the world.   My boys are older now and I hear similar stories from other younger mothers about their babies. My boys are equally important to me as they once were, but their day to day moments are not share worthy. At least not in the proportion they once were. Now it is someone else’s turn to take the floor and highlight the achievements of cooing, smiling, and going on the potty the first time.

We are a nation obsessed with youth. If we inject enough Botox into ourselves will it let us stay on the ride longer? Does looking 30 when we are 40 make us 30? While age is in many respects just a number, there is still a passing of time that occurs. And in that passing of time there are experiences both positive and negative that accumulate into making us who we are. Is stretching the skin to erase the lines meant to erase the effects of that accumulation as well? If you continue to ride the ride at 40 that you did at 30, does it give you the same sense of thrill?

Kudos to the 90 year old that lives on their own, drives themselves about town and still shovels their own driveway. But I’ll take the risk of being called judgmental when I notice the mature woman dressing in a mini skirt and boots with enough cleavage showing to leave little to the imagination. Sexy at 40 isn’t the same as sexy at 20.   How about the guy with the comb over who is willing to be asked if his date is his daughter? I can’t help wonder what either of these two examples are trying to hold on to or avoid. A man told me once that he stopped dating younger women after a date where he took one to see the movie “Apollo 13”. Upon leaving the theater she asked him “You mean that was based on a true story?”

How about when the ride is really over and its time to leave the park completely?

I have sometimes described life as a game of musical chairs. For now, I can still hear the music playing and I usually feel agile enough to grab a chair when I hear it stop. That said I realize there will come a time when I won’t be the person who gets a chair. I can only hope I will have the grace to let someone else have the chair and step aside. I don’t have a particular need to die anytime soon, but I do hope as I age my way to that point in time, that I will feel the same sense of fulfillment that I do about my life now. The only way I can imagine that being true is to live well now. To live as if this is all there is and ride with my eyes open, taking in every curve and twist as if they are all part of the fun. And if I have to wait in the lines in order to get my 4 minutes…. So be it. It’s all part of the ride. And all part of the fun if I choose to see it that way.