The old saying, “where ever you go, there you are” is a great one. How often do we change our location, job, or friends, and yet find that things still seem to remain the same? But it’s really tough to admit that even with external changes, unless we work on who we are INTERNALLY, the habits, triggers, and coping skills that make us US remain the same and cause replication of the very things that we were trying to rid ourselves of!
I grew up going to church, and one of my favorite times of year was Lent – not for reasons that you would think, but because the church gave out butterfly kits! The kit came with a live caterpillar. You assembled the mesh netting, laid out the food, and waited. After a couple of days, one morning you would wake to find that the caterpillar had turned into a chrysalis! A few weeks later (what seemed like an eternity!) the chrysalis would begin to move and the creature inside – THE BUTTERFLY – would struggle to push its way out. It was always tempting to tear the chrysalis to help the butterfly, but the instructions were very clear: LET THE BUTTERFLY GO THROUGH THE STRUGGLE. In struggling to squeeze out of the tiny chrysalis, blood was forced into the wings so that they came to life. Without the struggle, the wings would remain limp and the butterfly would quickly die.
I have always loved this metaphor. It is the very pain we try to avoid that actually helps us to create our wings to fly!
While having a year off from work seems like bliss (and it is in many ways!), it is quite apparent that all those ‘stressors’ that created issues in those work days really had nothing to do with work. They all had to do with my approach to work, projects, deadlines, work-life balance, etc. It is funny that, even without work, I have been able to replicate those feelings of urgency, conflict, anxiety, etc in items that, in the scheme of things, are relatively mundane. This is when it is time to look WITHIN.
Living with someone all day every day is not easy. I have HUGE respect for retirees who manage to continue to love their spouse even after they retire and stay at home all the time! Our recent stint of living in the cold North Carolina mountains was a scenario where most of our time was spent together, forced (by weather) inside an 800sf condo with thin walls. You better believe that we found the good, the bad, and the ugly of each other . . . and it felt like mostly ugly! But I am a firm believer in the power of Imago therapy – the concept developed by Dr. Harville Henry – that focuses on how we were attracted to our partners because they simulated enough of our family of origin to help us heal from the issues there (check out Getting the Love You Want). So, the goal is to embrace the differences of each other and grow through understanding another’s world. In essence, it’s not about YOU – and YOUR WORLD is just one way of looking at things, but there are many ways, so don’t let YOU stand in the way of learning from your loved one.
Someone once said, “A familiar Hell is better than an unfamiliar Heaven”. It seems we all believe this. The noted psychiatrist and philosopher Alfred Adler stated that people don’t change, because they don’t know what to change to. He believed that “exaggerated self-protection, self-enhancement, and self-indulgence prohibited courageous social contribution.” ( check out http://alfredadler.edu/about/theory )
It seems there are a lot of people around me going through transition: my mother is moving into a retirement community, my sister just moved to a new city, my brother took the great leap to change careers, and of course there is me and Marc and our crazy year long journey. What is noticeable from an outsider perspective is how we all trip ourselves up during transition simply by getting in our own way. We let our fears, irrational thoughts, or behavioral habits take precedence over what will help us move with grace into that next stage. Yes, it is so easy to see it in another, but it is much harder to sit ME down and take a check on how I am being insane – you know, doing the same thing over and over but expecting different results.
After rolling my eyes at how my family members were getting in their own way, I finally woke up and realized that it is a part of the human condition, so maybe I should check out MY unproductive thoughts rather than judging theirs! And what do you know, it was right there – stupid thoughts and feelings that got in the way of my joy and accomplishment during transition. So here’s my story.
Marc and I are both very independent people. It’s one of the things that makes US work. But on the boat, he is like a mother hen: “don’t talk while going down the ladder”, “hold on while moving on the deck”, “let me show you how to tape off the paint area”. And on and on! It would push all my buttons and ignite numerous fights as I stood up for my independence and ability. But when I finally stopped to consider his behavior from HIS side, I had to admit that it had nothing to do with me and everything to do with his fear that something might happen to me . . . or to our project. His ‘nagging’ was deeply rooted in concern and anxiety – not judgement. So I began to look at his ‘nagging’ as a statement of care and it is amazing how, once I put my ego aside, the fights dwindled to almost nothing. I transferred this concept to the fights we have about my driving ( I am an aggressive driver, but it scares Mr. New York City!) and suggested that he drive from here on out. . . and what do you know, lovely periods of time spent in the car! And I truly didn’t lose a thing except the stress of bickering. I didn’t lose my independence or surrender my competence – I just let someone else take the reins a little. Whew! That was easy – why didn’t I think of that 10 years ago??
So let my ignorance be a lesson to encourage you to consider what simple irrational thoughts might be clogging up your flow toward transition. Usually they are thoughts that we learned in childhood and have stubbornly held onto, to our own demise. Thoughts like: “what would the neighbors think”, “don’t let people see you cry”, or “ but what if . . . “.
I am not suggesting that it is easy to let go of such long standing (and often self-sabotaging) thoughts and behaviors, but awareness is truly the first step. And if you want to delve a little deeper check out Alfred Adler’s writings, or google Albert Ellis’ Rational Emotive Therapy ( REBT).
WANT TO TAKE A DRINK?
Consider one thing that is a source of conflict between you and another: your parent, lover, friend. Consider doing things the other’s way simply for a week. Maybe it’s how the dishwasher is loaded, whether the toilet seat is up or down, debating who is right . . . Don’t tell the other – just ‘give in’ for a week and see what happens!
Courage to you all!