Divorce with children

Unfortunately we are divorcing each other at an amazing rate.  Though lately the saying “more marriages end in divorce” seems to not be holding up (the divorce rate has fallen in the last 2 years), there are still a good deal of families that are splitting up.    I was blessed that my divorce was “easy” with no bitterness or anger (notice I did not say painless) and my ex-husband and I maintain an easy friendship.  I work with clients and have friends who are not so lucky.

Divorce on its own is traumatic.  Even a divorce as “easy” as mine was still is a trauma.  There are always hurts, feelings of abandonment, loss, and at times betrayal.  Adding children to this mixture adds another layer of uncertainty, frustration, hurt and fear.  Even the best people are able to become monsters around their ex-partner at this time of in-stability. Unfortunately often the children are thrown in to the mix and the trauma can be devastating.

A divorce is traumatic to a child.  Children are at a stage in which they are learning if the world is to be trusted, and part of that is based on the stability of their family.  If the parents are stable and display consistency children learn that the world is stable and consistent and approach life with optimism.  If parents display instability they learn to fear the world and tend to be more pessimistic.  Realize, these are generalizations and do not apply in all cases, but overall these themes tend to play out. Divorce adds a new mix to the concept of instability. Childadvocate.net  gives a great deal of information on this topic, but generally children generally jump to the following questions :

·  What if they both leave me?
·
  What is it that I did wrong?

·
  Did I cause the divorce?

  • Now what’s going to happen to me?

Divorce is painful.  It is a severe trauma that strongly affects both parties in the divorce.  Unfortunately, divorce with children is like being sick with children.  The kids don’t care that you are hurting,  or don’t feel well, that you are angry and feel abandoned.  And it is not their responsibility to be your support through this trauma.  Let me repeat that, as it is amazingly important. Your children are not supports for your divorce!  Just as if you are sick, you need to to continue to be strong, stable, caring and loving.  The worst case scenario unfortunately is often the norm today.  Children are placed in the middle, asked to pick sides and used as leverage in the fight against the other person.  This has drastic results that are life long.

Basic rules to interacting with your children in relationship to your divorce:

Do not burden them with information about reasons for the split.  Children will want to know.  Children are naturally inquisitive, and they generally feel the same fear, powerlessness and panic that you feel and  they know that knowledge is power.  The problem  is that in the middle of the painful emotions we are unable to be unbiased and we give information based on our own perceptions.  I know through my divorce I actually placed more blame on myself than my ex, but often people do the opposite forgetting that it takes two to tango.  Children can feel responsible for getting the parents back together, they can be placed in a parent role for their parents, and take on more than necessary.  It also puts them in a position to pick sides. When they want to know, switch to a nurturing role.  “That’s not stuff you need to worry about, what you need to know is that Daddy / Mommy and I love you, will always love you, and will always be here for you”.

Do not ask them to pick sides.  In doing this you will imply that they will loose your love if they don’t pick you.  If both parents do this it will cause panic.  Children still think in fight or flight, survival and death. This doesn’t make sense to us as adults, but they are still very primitive in their emotions without the ability to rationalize.  There is a distinct fear that “If I don’t pick mom, she won’t love me, she will leave me, and I cannot survive without her.”  This is very subconscious, and they probably can’t verbalize these fears. We all want validation that we are good people and in divorce we want to know that the reason we are being rejected is because of the faults of the other instead of our own.  Using our children for our own validation and to resolve our feelings of loss or fears of being unloved, or just vilifying our past partner is not OK. It creates feelings of abandonment and panic and can lead to behavioral problems, drug use, school difficulties, anxiety and depression.

 

Do not manipulate the children emotionally. This technically falls under trying to make them pick sides but deserves its own section.  Telling kiddo that you can’t make the rent because daddy divorced you causes confusion and hurt.  Even if this is the case, kiddo doesn’t need to know until they are older.  The kids are struggling to see where they are going to be safe in the world.  What they need from both of you is knowledge that the world won’t end, that they will still be loved even with the divorce.  Manipulating them in an effort to sway them away from the other parent, or get them to try to manipulate the other parent creates an unsafe situation and will cause a great deal of anxiety.  It can actually rebound on you, and make the child resentful toward you.  We think kids won’t necessarily see through this behavior, but they aren’t stupid, just young.

Do not fight in front of your children.   If you do find yourself fighting in front of your kids, either work to find a resolution then and there (one of the great disservices we do to our children is we do not teach them how to resolve an argument, we fight in front of them, but we never resolve anything in front of them.) or end the discussion until a time when the kids aren’t present (not sent to their rooms, but not present all together).  It is too easy to drag the children in to the fight, and that will exacerbate all of their fears instead of reassuring them. Sending them to another room does no good, as yelling travels very well through houses.  It will also display that there are weaknesses that kids are amazingly apt at manipulating.

Do not use your children as a tool to manipulate your spouse. This is nothing more than emotional assault both on your children and your ex.  There is no excuse or justification for this.  Unless your ex is a danger to your child there is no reason to limit their access, and using your child as a manipulative tool is nothing less than child abuse.  You are turning your child in to an object to cause pain, while it is not criminal, it should be.  If you can’t tell, I feel rather strongly about this. Don’t buy your child the cell phone your ex told them they can’t have just to piss him/her off.  Don’t manipulate to get more child support just to hurt your ex.  Don’t make it excessively hard to do things like visitation and communication.  These behaviors are childish and unacceptable.  This hurts more than just your ex, it hurts your child and ultimately it hurts you too. Being a mean and spiteful person is  a poison that slowly kills you. But most of all it hurts your children.  They learn unhealthy patterns that they carry through their adult relationships.  Moral?  Do not use your children to get back at your ex.

Don’t tell stories about your ex to your kids.  Children don’t need to know who daddy is supposedly sleeping with or that he didn’t pay his child support on time.  The don’t need to know that mommy is throwing tantrums and not able to pay her bills.  They don’t need to know how horrible mommy is, or how bad her friends are.  This is transferring your frustrations and fears on to your children.  If your ex really is that horrible, let kiddo find that out on their own.

Do nurture, support and reassure your children.  If there is fighting in the home they frequently believe that the fights revolve around them not realizing that their parents are fighting because of their relationship, not them.  If that is the case and all of a sudden mom and dad are splitting, it is natural to believe that you are divorcing because you always fight over the kids.  Even if they are not aware of the conflict (which is relatively rare) they now know that their world is being thrown about and they are probably terrified. They need all of the support and reassurance you can get.  If possible, reassure them together as a team.  They need to know that even though you will not be together anymore  you still love them and you are still a solid team when it comes to parenting them. They need to know that even with the divorce they are safe. 

Do be a united front for your children. As they grow this will be more important than you realize. The one thing you can both still agree on is that your kids are amazing, that you love them, and they come first.  Well, put them first.  You have to put aside all of the anger, hurts and frustrations.You have to put your differences aside when it comes to your kids.  You have to put your differences aside when it comes to your kids!  If you do not the fallout is amazing.  You will see behavior problems as they seek structure and stability.  If you think they split and manipulate you now as a solid couple, wait to see what they can do when they know that you aren’t together in your parenting. Kids will feel unstructured and unsafe.   They will seek out their friends for their support instead of their parents.  They will resort to drug use, eating disorders, stealing among other things to resolve their hurts and frustrations.  It is a loosing battle.They will also turn in to little terrorists, manipulating and scheming to get their way, going to the parent from whom they know they can get want the easiest.  They will play you like a violin and turn in to brats that don’t mind either of you.

Do work to resolve your differences in a healthy manner. Just because you are splitting with your partner does not mean that you have to teach hate to your children.  I will cover how this effects you as a person in greater detail in another post, but even if you feel hurt and hate right now it is important to teach your children how to resolve hurts and frustrations in a healthy way.  This is going to be a difficult time for you.  If you hit a point where you don’t feel like you are in control, leave until you are in control again.   Remember to always think what you are teaching your children with your behavior.   

Being a parent means being responsible.  I know throughout my divorce there were days that just keeping myself going took all the energy I had.  I know that putting that aside that pain and going about with  my daily life was like swimming up a waterfall. I fully understand the hurt and the trauma that this is causing you.  I know first hand the feelings of abandonment, hurt, fear, loss and loneliness. Divorce with children is not the same as divorce without. When you have kids you don’t get sick days, you don’t get hurt days, and you don’t get bad divorce days.  Because you have children you have to put your big-girl / boy panties on and be a parent.  That means putting your child first and your hurts and angers second.  Hopefully in doing this you will be better able to pull yourself through your divorce as you force yourself to work with your partner, resolving your hurts and create a healthier world for you and your children.

Resources :

Helpguide.com;

divorceandchildren.com; 

Childrens books;

Cooperative Parenting 

 

 

Act Confident

Getting our needs and wants met is a skill. It takes a finesse and a confidence that we think we should all know instinctively. Instead it is a learned skill that we start learning as a kid. As a kid we learn from our environment how to ask for wants and needs, and we learn specifically from our parents and family. If our family supportive and kind, then we learn to be confident in asking for our needs and wants. If our family is assertive, we may learn that we need to be overly assertive in asking, and if our family is abusive or domineering we often learn to be more passive or shy in asking for wants and needs.

When we approach people with aggression they feel put off and often resentful. When we are too un-assuming or shy people don’t take us seriously. I had a client walk in the office the other day with a grin, looking at the ground, shoulders slumped. She looked guilty as sin of something. She struggles to believe that she is worth having her needs or wants met, and as such does what a good deal of us do. She is passive, tender and quiet for a good deal of the time. She thinks “It doesn’t matter” and lets other people have their way over and over, and often is stepped on because she doesn’t set limits and boundaries with others. She works to see things from their point of view and only thinks of how they will be angry or mad at her if she stands up for herself or asks for her own needs to be met. Until she hits the tipping point. Then the raging bear comes out and instead of being tender, fierceness and aggression spew forth.

We all struggle with the balance of tender vs fierce. Tenderness is where we are kind and work to nurture others. Fierceness is when we set limits and boundaries. Tenderness without fierceness is victimization. We will be walked on even by the most well-intentioned of people. Fierceness without tenderness is aggression, either physical or verbal. Being fiercely-tender or tenderly-fierce is a skill. Being able to set limits on kindness is difficult, and we often worry that the person or organization we are setting limits on will be angry and punish us. If we don’t give our friend the $5 they asked for, they will be frustrated. If we ask for the last $5 back before giving them more money they will be mad. If we don’t work 60 hours a week for our job (when we only get paid for 40) they will fire us.

I work with so many people that don’t believe that they are worth having their needs or wants met. They either don’t bother to ask for their needs, wants, wishes or would-likes (secretly hoping that their partner / friend / job will just do what they need), or they hint and passive-aggressively try to get needs met. People either don’t understand these ways of communication, or intentionally ignore them. It is uncomfortable to be straight forward and say “I need this”. As a culture this is a taboo, especially for women. The struggle is that eventually when our needs, wants, wishes and would-likes aren’t communicated or met, we get angry and eventually resort to fierceness. And when we go at people like a raging bull, they tend to defend themselves and fight back instead of listening.

The client that came in to the office head down, shoulders slumped and shy grin on her face got a lesson in confidence that day.   As you read this, do the following: Lift your shoulders up to your ears, pull them back along the shoulder-blades and drop them down. Lift your head to where your head is at neutral, not looking up or down. This is what she and I practiced for an hour. We also practiced asking for what she wanted in terms of “I need”, “I would like”, and “I want” in a confident voice, without giggling. We practiced “I would like you to respect our house. I need you to pick up your trash and not leave it for my husband and I. This is important if you are going to live here.” A perfectly reasonable request, right? It was a struggle to find the confidence to say it.

There is a skill called DEAR MAN (Marsha Linehan, DBT).

Describe the situation

Explain how it makes you feel

Assert what you want

Reinforce

 

Maintain Focus

ACT CONFIDENT

Negotiate

 

I’m not going to explain the whole skill in this blog, but one of the key components is acting confident. Not cocky, not shy, confident. If I go in like an angry bear people will be defensive. If I go in shy and quiet, I probably won’t be taken seriously. Finding that place where I know that I am OK asking for what I’m asking for (even if I can’t get it, for whatever reason I’m still OK asking for it) gets me most of the way there.

Ultimately, if I don’t believe I’m worth it, no one else will. For whatever reason we have forgotten the skill of asking for what we want. As women we are seen as needy or demanding if we express our needs, and men are often seen as weak. I have personal found that while people may be surprised when I am comfortably forward with asking for what I want or need, they are rarely unreasonable.

Dating Hell

For those of you that have been thrown in to dating in the 21st Century you are probably very well aware that dating today should be one of Dante’s circles of hell. Online dating is a series of rejections and crazy people, trying to sort out someone that actually fits your concept of attractive, healthy and interesting. After my divorce I was active  in the dating pool for about 4 years. Moving through the dating scene was probably one of the worst things I could do for my self-esteem, and from everything I have gathered from clients most people feel the same way.

It is difficult to stay centered and confident when the people you are interested in don’t respond to your messages, or you get a date and never hear back.   With online dating you have one chance to make a first impression, and both men and women begin to objectify each other in to attractive and unattractive and only when someone meets the criteria as “attractive” does anyone bother to look beneath the surface to see if they like what’s under the cover. Some people don’t even bother to go that far, but just message anyone they find attractive. It is a new world where you aren’t seen for who you are, but who you portray yourself as and you can be dismissed for the lack of ability to be perceived as perfect.

Programs like Tinder make this even worse, where if you aren’t viewed as “attractive” you are summarily dismissed. People become nothing more than a slab of beef to be auctioned off, and your self-esteem depends on someone giving you a “thumbs up”. With this program you can’t even see what they are about until you reply with a “thumbs up”. A saying about books and covers goes somewhere here. I know, I know… many of you will think that without an attraction there can’t be a relationship. And. Some of the most amazing people I have known have come in average wrappers, while some of the most vapid, ignorant, hateful people I’ve known have come in pretty ones.

Online dating has allowed us to spread our nets further than ever before, bring us in to contact with people we never would have met. It gives us an ability to find people with shared interests that never would have crossed our paths. It also gives us the ability to dehumanize ourselves and others, hiding our fears and pathologies behind a keyboard and a screen. When you move in to the online dating pool you are thrown in to a virtual meat market that can strip away your understanding of people and decent interaction, learning to look primarily at the packaging and not what it hides beneath. You know that you are seen the same way, and as time moves on and you don’t find the person this perfect for you, a fear starts to develop that because your outside isn’t perfect enough to find Mr. or Mrs. Right.

It is easy to start to doubt yourself, your attractiveness and your desirability as you move through the online world. So many people have related a feeling of emptiness that comes from having people they are interested in not reply, or walk away after a few interactions with no thought to their actions and how they affect others. People can be unnecessarily cruel and hurtful, and people can be unnecessarily crass and ugly, hiding behind the safety of their keyboard. Remember that this is a reflection of them, and a reflection of the system that we have created. This is not a reflection of you. A level of patience and self-confidence is a must as you wander in to the waters, knowing that they will be full of sharks and other creatures that don’t have your best interests at heart. It is also filled with thousands of people that aren’t right for you, but are looking as well. Don’t allow yourself to drop in to the world and become one of the sharks. Stay true to who you are. There is someone out there that will be your kind of perfect. You have to find the patience sort through all of those that aren’t the one, to find the one that is.

 

We’re all a little weird, and life’s a little weird. When we find someone who’s weirdness matches ours we fall in mutual weirdness and call it love. Dr. Suess.

Compassion Fatigue

Compassion fatigue  is when the caregiver is struggling.  When most people think of compassion fatigue (if they have heard of it before) they think of the caregivers for those with terminal or prolonged illness. They don’t think of those that care for family and friends with depression and anxiety. It can manifest in several ways, though the first one to be displayed is often irritability and criticism toward the person to whom they are giving care to. Followed by anger, depression and hopelessness.

The best way I’ve ever heard depression described is it is like wearing a 100lb backpack, with 20lb weights attached to each wrist and ankle. Even brushing teeth is a struggle with you are carrying so much weight, let alone exercise, working, cleaning, and spending time with friends. By the time a person with depression makes it through their day they are exhausted, and rarely have energy even for niceties at home. They often ask for help and prayers from friends when feeling overwhelmed or helpless.

In the beginning being the friend or partner that is sponsoring and supporting someone with depression actually feels empowering. It feels good to provide care and support to someone, to feel as though you actually matter. When the depression keeps going though, it starts to take its toll on both the person with the depression and the caregiver.   When the caregiver hasn’t experienced depression themselves they don’t have a good frame of reference, and often feel frustrated when it appears like their partner isn’t even trying. They offer advice and support, only to have it turned away and the depression continues. The caregiver starts feeling as though their love isn’t enough, that they aren’t enough, creating their own feelings of powerlessness and helplessness. Then the irritation starts. Instead of feeling compassionate a supportive the caregiver starts to feel irritable and resentful. It starts to feel as though nothing they do is ever enough and they start to give up hope.

Anxiety is very similar. Instead of feeling weighed down with every movement it feels as each task requires jumping through fire. In every moment there is some anxiety and fear. Sometimes, moving through the anxiety or fear is easy, until hitting a wall. After pushing through their anxiety throughout the day, but at moments a terror hits and makes taking another step forward the scariest thing they have ever done. People who do not suffer from anxiety struggle to understand. The times they have been hit with anxiety they have “dug deep” and just kept going. They don’t quite understand constantly living in a state of fear, and they think that the person with anxiety can do the same thing. There is confusion when the person with anxiety hit walls that the sponsor can’t see, and from the outside it looks like the person with anxiety just isn’t trying.

The anger and resentment builds with the impression that the person with anxiety or depression is just dragging them down. The person that is trying to be sponsoring and supportive starts to be feel contempt and starts making critical statements, which just exacerbates the problem. The person that started out as a sponsor is now one of the problems. They are struggling with compassion fatigue. This is when the works begins for the caregiver.

The first step is to take care of yourself. Make sure you are eating healthy and exercising regularly. It is easy to get lost in your partner’s or friends problems and forget basic self-care. The caregiver is then often quick to become resentful, believing that they are giving and giving without getting anything back. Make sure that you are working toward your own goals and doing your own hobbies. Make sure you are doing the things that you usually do to pamper yourself, following your usual exercise and work routine. Make sure you are spending time with your friends. If you aren’t taking care of yourself then there is no one to blame but you.

One of the worst struggles of a partner struggling with depression is the lack of support for you. Make sure you aren’t just bitching to your friends, but some kind of professional support for yourself. There is a good deal of emphasis on finding outside support for the person struggling with depression, we don’t think of outside support for the supporter. This can include support groups found through NAMI or finding your own therapist. These resources can provide education and the knowledge that you aren’t alone in feeling the way you feel. They can help remind you to take care of yourself, and give you tips on how to move through their struggles and remain supportive. As much as your partner and friend need help and validation while they move through their struggles, you need some as well.

In the process of supporting a friend or partner that is struggling with depression it starts to feel like you don’t know where you stop and they begin. You feel guilty when you are happy or enjoying yourself while they are obviously miserable or terrified. You don’t feel as though you are able to tell them where they are pushing you too far, or tell them when you need to take care of yourself. There is a fear that if you do, you will be struck down by the universe for being a bad person. After walking on eggshells for a while you the irritation spikes until blow up on the person you are trying to support. The eggshells aren’t as necessary as you think they are. The person with depression or anxiety doesn’t think you have to lose yourself for them, or that you should never have your needs, wants, wishes or would-likes met. It is your responsibility to figure out what your needs are. It is your responsibility to know what your wants, wishes and would-likes are. It is also your responsibility to ask for them. Nicely. If someone is struggling with depression or anxiety they have enough difficulty taking care of themselves without trying to read your mind. There is no need to snap at them because they didn’t figure out what you needed and give it to you.

Living with depression and anxiety is a struggle. Both for the person struggling and their sponsors and supporters. It is easy to get dragged in to the struggle and start to experience frustration, anger and hopelessness, even depression and anxiety of your own. It is easy to see your partner or friend as not trying and feel resentment. If you take steps to take care of yourself; find your own support, take charge of your own needs, set personal boundaries, and find support of your own you will find a much smoother path for yourself, and even possibly for your partner or friend.

 

Finding Forgiveness

Dr. John Gottman identifies the four killers of relationships as criticism, contempt, defensiveness and stonewalling. If we want to make a relationship work, we have to get rid of these four things. What about your relationship with you? If I want my relationship with myself to work, do I have to get rid of the criticism, contempt, and defensiveness towards ourselves as well? The answer is yes. These four things will lead to anger and resentment, no matter at whom they are aimed. If I only greet myself with contempt and criticism, I will become angry and resentful and the world. If I only notice where I struggle, or put the blame in the wrong place, I will struggle to do well.

The opposite of contempt is compassion. Take a moment and think of someone you are really frustrated with or hurt by in your life. Now try to find a place where you can hold any kind of compassion for them, seeing them as more than just the asshole that is making your life difficult. For anyone over the age of 25 that is usually pretty easy to do. We see the whole picture and know that even though this person may not be our best friend, they aren’t a complete and total horrible person. Now find a part of yourself that you consistently hold in contempt. Find one thing about that part of you that you can hold compassion for, even for a second. Much more difficult, right?

When we look in the mirror and see nothing but the warts and the problems we aren’t finding compassion. We aren’t seeing the whole picture, only the parts that are bad and ugly.   Often we hold ourselves in contempt in as an effort to force ourselves to improve things, but it doesn’t actually work. It creates depression and pain and often creates stagnancy.

Criticism often starts with a “why” question. In a past post I discussed why “why” is a problem. It is accusatory and judgmental creating automatic defensiveness, no matter who you are. “Why don’t you ever do the dishes?” “Why are you such a jerk all of the time?” “Why do you never get off your ass and help me?” “Why don’t you have a job yet?” These create anger and resentment and defensiveness when we ask them of other people, and at the same time we throw these questions at ourselves all the time. Often we add a little bit of contempt in there as well. “I don’t know why I can’t get off my fat ass and go to the gym”. “I don’t know why I’m so lazy.” These statements often do the exact opposite of what we want them to do, which is to motivate us. We think “Well, if I call myself a fat ass I will move and it will change”.   But what they really do is encourage shame and depression.

The opposite of criticism is what Dr. Gottman calls the soft start-up.   This involves changing the statement to a wish, want or would like that comes from a neutral tone. “I would like you to help me with the dishes more.” Identifying feelings about what or isn’t happening. “When you don’t help with the dishes I think you aren’t invested in keeping the house running, and I feel alone and overwhelmed.” We can use the same skills with ourselves. Instead of using shame to try to motivate, change the language you are using and identify what you want. “I want to exercise more and spend more time with friends.” Identify the feelings that are related to the lack of success, and that often get in the way. “I’m feeling very dismayed and ashamed right now and they keep me from doing what I know I need to do”. Changing the way we approach talking about difficult concepts, moving from judgment to desires changes the dialogue.

The opposite of defensiveness is accountability. This will mean something very different from the judgments that you’ve already been throwing at yourself. You already tell yourself how horrible you are. This isn’t accountability, this is shaming and damaging. Accountability is difficult and scary, because it means seeing what the problem actually is. It means being able to look and identify the reason that you aren’t able to meet up with friends is because you’re embarrassed about something and you are afraid that they will judge you as harshly as you judge yourself. You struggle to go the gym for the same reason, but tell yourself that you’re just too lazy to go. It’s admitting that you struggle to stick with a diet because you feel that the only good thing in your life right now is the food you get to eat and you are afraid that if you give it up, there will be nothing. Accountability is being honest with the things you’ve been avoiding and a way to move past the avoidance instead of using shame, criticism and contempt.

I titled this blog “Finding Forgiveness” and until I haven’t mentioned the concept. These three things: defensiveness, contempt, and criticism all get in the way of forgiveness with ourselves and with others. They keep us stuck in a cycle of shame and anger, fear and judgment. When we are in that cycle, we aren’t able to find peace or forgiveness for others or ourselves, and we can’t find health. Letting go of the judgment that leads to contempt, criticism and defensiveness is difficult. It is rewarding. When you can find compassion for our own short-comings we are better able to face them and improve. When we learn to let go of the language of shame and learn a language of motivation, we move forward. When we take accountability for the truths in our lives instead of the hurts in our lives, we aren’t as angry. This is what forgiveness is.

Finding our way back to each other past shame

Vulnerability is our most accurate measurement of courage.  Think of that statement.  We are so scared of being seen as weak, and having others take advantage of our weakness.  Every single one of us has had someone take advantage of our vulnerability in the past.  We have been stomped on and hurt through our vulnerability, and so we start to associate vulnerability with weakness.

Brene Brown is a renowned researcher that found that vulnerability is the key to living a full life.  One of the roadblocks to vulnerability is shame.  Shame keeps us from each other and from ourselves.  This 20 minute ted.com talk is revealing, and throws our beliefs and our fears in our face.  Take the time to watch, think, and wonder what you need to do to move past shame to vulnerability and connection.

 

Waking up on the wrong side of the bed

We all have those days where just waking up goes wrong. Whatever it was; the dreams, the weather, the dinner the night before, the day gets off on the wrong foot. The thing we have to remember as we start to get going is that it is just a feeling. It isn’t who we are, and shouldn’t be how we act as we move through our day.

It is easy to fall in to the bad day. All you have to do is treat everyone around you the same way you feel; crappy. You just take your bad mood and your frustration out on the people around you as you move through your day.  It is easy to see all of the small bumps and frustrations of the day, frustrations that normally would slide right off your back, as the universe just digging the bad day in deeper. You can cut people off in traffic, snarl at the grocery clerk, and be impatient with co-workers and friends while you yell your frustration to the stars for waking you up in a bad mood. It leads to greater and greater frustration both for you and those around you, compounding the bad day. It leads to more bad days, resentments and hurts.

There is another option. It takes a little bit of digging, a lot of patience with yourself, and a lot of patience with the people around you. Begin by looking for the beauty of the world that you would normally see. If you would see the beauty of the clouds even on a rainy day, try to find that beauty. If you would find humor in the irony of the news, try to find the humor. When you greet the grocery clerk with a smile even though you’re grumpy, instead of returning your grumpiness they smile back at you. When you tell a joke to your co-worker even though you want to snarl at everyone, they laugh and even if the day doesn’t get better, it sure doesn’t get worse.

It is natural to want to kick the people around you when your down.  We see people around us that aren’t in a bad mood and we feel alone.  We see people around us that ARE in a bad mood, and we feel frustrated that they are dragging us down.  It really does just make the day worse.  Finding the strength to be nice to those around us when having a bad day doesn’t always make the day lighter and easier to bear.  Often though, as we fake the good mood we make the good mood.  At the very least, it rarely makes the day worse.

It is also important to drink a good deal of water, eat healthy even though you want Krispy Kream, avoid alcohol even though you want to drink your frustrations away, and exercise.  The you of right now may be angry while you’re walking, frustrated when you’re drinking water instead of wine, and just down right bitter when you can’t have your donuts.  The you of tomorrow will thank you, and you are a good deal more likely to be in a better mood the next day when you aren’t hung over and bloated from trying to digest a ton of soda and junk food.

We all have bad days.  Sometimes we have bad weeks, or even months.  It is absolutely possible to make it worse for ourselves.  If we treat the people around us the way that we feel, if we try to pull people in to our misery so we feel a little less miserable, we start a slide it can be difficult to get out of.  When you’re in that place find one person you can be nice to, even if you’re neutral to everyone else because you’re having to work to not bite everyone’s head off.  Find the one thing you can find beautiful, magical or funny in your day.  It will probably help you pull yourself out of the funk of the day, and if it doesn’t it rarely makes the day worse.

A Can Do Attitude

When running a marathon there is an event called “hitting the wall”. It is a place in the race when you’ve run about 18 of the 26 miles and you’re exhausted. You hurt. You’ve run so far, and yet you still have another 8 miles to go. You start to wonder if you can keep running. While many of you have not run a marathon, you have had a difficult task that took physical or emotional effort to complete. You have had something that you made it ¾ of the way through and you’ve hit the wall I speak of. The place where the physical or emotional strain of the goal made finishing seem huge, and almost impossible. The words “I can’t” went through your mind.

It happens to all of us. Every single person out there has hit this wall, some have bounced off, some have broken through, some went around, and some went home. What is different about the people that bust through or find a way to continue when the going gets rough, and the people that stop or run away?

A willingness to be uncomfortable.

People that go further than the first couple of belts in Martial Arts have a strong understanding of this concept. There comes a point in the process where stuff just hurts. Your knees, your hips, your nose after someone kicked you in the face, something just hurts. There are days when there are bruises on your bruises. Your ego especially is bruised, over and over again. Any physical sport has this. This concept is easy to explain to people in sports, in construction, in any physical hobby or employment. It is easy to understand the concept of pushing through physical discomfort.

You actually know very well how to deal with being uncomfortable. You’ve gone to work when you were sick and pushed through. Being able to push through discomfort comes from knowing you can make it through to the other side and it will get better. You will finish the race. You won’t stay sick forever. You won’t hurt forever, and there will be some kind of reward or relief on the other side. It comes from knowing that even though it hurts right now, it will be better.

It also comes from knowing there is no other choice. In 2010 I did a 60 mile trek to Mt. Everest Base camp. It took 14 days, 9 days there and 5 days back. There would be days where I was tired, hurting, sick, and wanted to stop. My choices were: stop and sit on the side of the mountain; or keep going until I hit the Tea-House we were staying at. Can you guess what I picked? You’ve also had these moments, that didn’t feel as though they were moments. The place where your choice was to power through or to stop, and you think “but I had no choice”. You did. You had a choice to give up and stop, and you didn’t.

When we think of a “can do” attitude we think of chipper and annoying. We don’t think of just moving through an experience that is miserable and horrible, knowing that you can make it through to the other side. A “can do” attitude is hitting the most difficult moment, and thinking “I can do this”. It’s easy to say “I’ve got this” when the experience is easy or moderate. When you’re in the crucible and fire is all around you, “I’ve got this” is more difficult. At the same time, you have successfully moved through every single experience in your life up to date.

I can do this. There are moments in everyone’s life when they are thinking the exact opposite. There will be those that push through the fear through to the other side. It may take a moment or it may take a year. There are those that fear the wall so much that they don’t even start. There will be a moment when you are faced with a choice. Do I give up, or keep going. A can do attitude is knowing that you can do it. No matter how scary, difficult, or hard it is.

 

 

New Years Resolutions

Every year I dread January at the gym.  I go regularly twice a week, and all of a sudden during the month of January I have to fight all of the New Years Resolutions to get to the machine I want or to a lane in the pool.  A month later everything dies down and goes back to normal.

The New Year is a great marker to make changes in your life.  It does create a start line for what often is a marathon that often has no finish-line.  New Years Resolutions are often resolutions that are made for health reasons.  New Years resolutions often consist of drinking less, eating less, eating healthier, exercising more or letting go of a bad habit or addiction that is dragging life down.   Instead of starting the healthier lifestyle as soon as it is realized that it is necessary, people create an imaginary start line in their head and wait until January 1 to get going.

The difficulty with this is people start out the New Year like many mistakenly start real races, pushing hard and fast losing steam quickly.  In a real race people rarely just give up and quit, but with resolutions there is no one to see if you walk away from the goal.  The going gets rough, life gets in the way, and the realities of the change one has to make in their life start to seem overwhelming.  There are challenges and temptations at every turn, leading to the frequent failure of resolutions.

The goals we set on for Jan 1 generally fall in three categories:  Finding greater peace in life, achieving greater health and find greater happiness.   Giving up on these goals a month or two in to the year.  There was a reason the resolution was set, and walking away keeps the goal setter in the same rut that they’ve been in that keeps them unhealthy and unhappy.  There often are high stakes for keeping New Years resolutions.

Instead of throwing yourself in to a resolution with the plan to just carry it through, think of your resolution as you would any other goal.  Think of goals you have completed in the past, races run and finished.  Often these goals were long term goals, such as graduating from school or learning a new skill.  There are ways we set ourselves up for success. First, look at the underlying motivation for setting the goal helps us to stay on track. Why did you set the resolution you set?  What will it bring you when you follow through on it?  This is motivation that you will need to keep in mind when the going gets tough.

How can you help yourself make the resolution do-able when life gets in the way, when you’re having a bad day, or when the steps you have to take are painful?  Break the resolution in to smaller pieces, things you can do day by day.  There is a reason that the Alcoholics Anonymous saying is “Take it one day at a time”.  Thinking of the entirety of the change you have to make will make you feel like you are drowning in an avalanche, burdened and overwhelmed.   If You start thinking of what you need to do tomorrow, instead of everything you have to do to make your goal a reality it starts to feel a good deal less overwhelming.

Find friends and family that will help you stay accountable. If your goal is to improve your fitness, find work-out buddies.  If you’re changing your diet, get your family on board so they will help you with the goal. If you’re looking for a greater peace in life, find spiritual leaders that will help you on your path.  Don’t feel as though you have to conquer the resolution on your own.

You set your resolution for a reason.  There was something you wanted to do that will lead to greater happiness in general in your life.  Don’t allow yourself to give up on it easily, as many resolutioners do.  Find your path to success and let the New Year be your clean slate for the you that you want to be.

 

 

Be True To Yourself

Have you seen the motivational posters that instruct you to “Be True To Yourself”? And we think “Yeah, I need to be true to myself”. Have you ever pondered what that means? Does that mean that I need to take care of myself, or that I need to speak my mind, or that I need to take what I want to take or do what I want to do? What does “being true to myself” actually mean?

It means living within your values and morals. To be able to do that you have to identify what they are. In general we get out moral compass from our environment. Our family, our community and our culture tell us what good morals are, though it is very easy to see that all around us our families, religions and communities say one thing about values and morals, and often do something very different. This leads to confusion and difficulty defining our own values and moral compass, and “being me” becomes difficult when we don’t know if we are supposed to be the person we are told we are supposed to be, or be the person society acts like we are supposed to be. Through this what needs to happen is a little soul searching.

First we have to search the messages we got growing up. What did our community think of self-care, or taking care of others. How did your community and family view emotions and love? How did your community and family view vulnerability? Was helping others seen as kindness to fellow humans, or helping lesser beings?   Did your family or community focus on having nice things, and see belongings as a right, not something to be earned?   After looking at the answers to these questions we start to look at our own beliefs about self-care and helping others, emotions and love, vulnerability and kindness. We take a look at how we view people and objects.

Next we start to look at what is important to us. What do we value? Values include everything from ideas and concepts such as honesty, humor, kindness and love; to pets, objects and people. If objects and pets are listed higher than ideas or people then the concept of “being true to me” actually gets in to dangerous territory and often ends up hurting the people around us, often the people we care about. When ideas like honesty, humor, trust and love are at the top of the list and we aren’t living by our values then we are not being true to ourselves. If we value health and self care and we aren’t making sure to take care of ourselves, sacrificing this value for our job or even our kids, we will become resentful.

Being true to yourself does not mean stepping on others. The people around you are part of your values as well. It does mean working to make sure all the things that you value are sponsored in your life.  When we put one set of values over another for extended periods of time it leads to resentment and anger.  Working to find balance within meeting your needs and values will help you find a greater peace within yourself and your relationships.