My second installment in my “storm survival” series is how to walk the fine line between being gentle with yourself in hard times and being a victim.
“In the long run, we shape our lives, and we shape ourselves. The process never ends until we die. And the choices we make are ultimately our own responsibility.”
– Eleanor Roosevelt
Life is not fair – get over it. This was a saying my mom was fond of…it would come out most often when I was complaining about something my sister got but I didn’t…or so & so’s mom lets her do that why don’t you…or how could you do that to me I didn’t deserve it! (To be fair to my mom I’m sure that I did deserve it 🙂 ) Even though we’ve heard this statement over and over the reality of “Life’s not fair” takes a long time to sink in…if ever. It creates a cognitive dissonance because where is the justice? Good things should happen to good people. Bad things should happen to bad people. Maybe this is the way it should be but it most definitely is not. Does that mean we stop trying to be good people or actually fighting for social justice? No, it just means that we recognize that even though we’re good people bad things can still happen. The next question is “What are you going to do with it”?
When something unexpected/unfair/devastating happens most of the time the first days/weeks are an emotional blur. It can be difficult to function. There can be pain, grief and overwhelming questions. You might have to deconstruct what you thought you knew about life and reconstruct another reality. You might want to sleep all day or turn to another method of numbing the pain. Or maybe nothing this dramatic. In this initial season all I can say is be gentle with yourself but do your best to not react. Don’t push yourself too hard. Focus only on the things that need to be done. Let people support you. Give yourself space to just be _________ (angry, sad, hurt, etc) but don’t let it turn you into a person you aren’t. Here is a question to ask yourself: “If I wasn’t feeling _(insert emotion)_, would I make this decision? would I treat people this way? would I write that nasty e-mail?” If yes, more power to ya. If no, take a breath…say a prayer…this intense season will pass.
BUT…there will come a time when you need to decide how this new situation is going to shape who you are. And it will shape you. Now that it is part of your reality you can either choose to be a victim of your circumstances or choose to let it add to your life. No one can tell you when your season of being gentle is turning into a pity party because everyone is different but internally you know it. It’s the moment when you spend more time thinking about the injustice of the situation rather than the pain you are experiencing. Holding on to injustice can be a comfort. There is someone or something else to blame and you don’t have to take any responsibility for your pain…it is much safer to point fingers.
“When you blame others you give up your power to change.” -Unknown
Taking responsibility and letting go of blame requires humility. Especially if you are truly a victim of a another person’s bad choices. You didn’t ask for it…it was dealt to you. Nobody would blame you if you became bitter. Taking responsibility for yourself may feel like you are letting them off the hook and justifying bad behavior. It’s not. It’s steering your life in the direction you choose. But if you don’t come to peace with things that have happened it will control you. And THAT, ultimately, is your choice…but no one will ever say it is easy.
A few practical suggestions:
- Be honest with what you have the energy for. Don’t over commit. But on the flip side don’t under commit and be a hermit.
- Sometimes you need to turn off Facebook. When things are difficult the comparison game is especially bad.
- Decide if there are some things that are best worked out with a counselor – the time I spent in counseling was invaluable. What? You didn’t think I came up with all this on my own right? 😉
- Do something little that makes you smile – I bought myself sun flowers, My mom during tough times bought herself a Latte every morning. Treat yourself. Brighten your day.
- Make lists of things you can control and things you can’t. Focus on what you can. Set small goals and work toward them when you are ready.
- Sign up for Streams in the Desert a daily inspirational e-mail that always seemed to provide the encouragement I needed in the really tough times. You can find the link here.
If you’re reading this and some of what I said resonates with you…you’re probably facing a tough time in your life. For that I am truly very sorry. Now…what are you going to do with it? Til next Wednesday.