If I take any credit for the way my kids have turned out, it is because I modeled for them a love of lifelong learning. And each of them, by choice, has followed suit. Now as adults if they’re curious about something, they investigate. If they question something, they look into it. If they doubt something, they search for the truth.
They don’t wait around for others to tell them what to think or do. They are self-motivated because they see the direct correlation between cause and effect; action and result; cowardice and regret; wisdom and reward.
They think for themselves and develop their own opinions yet have learned to play nicely with others. Few things are more disturbing than to see people “express” themselves at the expense of someone else or, to “be themselves” in an obnoxious way.
While none of us is perfect and we all learn from our mistakes at our own pace, some of us learn more easily than others. It took my brother, at eight years old, only one time of jumping off a stone wall with an umbrella to learn that cartoons weren’t a reliable source of reality. A broken heel reminded him that, unlike our mouse friend, Jerry, an umbrella would not break his fall. It’s a good thing he learned quickly, otherwise he might have jumped off a cliff like Wile-E-Coyote with drastically different results!
And yet, many of us jump off the proverbial cliff over and over, expecting a time-lapsed float instead of the free-fall that plummets us to earth. We get hurt by a person or situation, and yet we return time and time again.
A friend of mine recently told me she always seemed to choose the wrong men. She ended up with the ones who needed to be rescued and she wondered where all the good men were. It wasn’t hard for me to see why: Her radar was set on men who needed rescuing while emotionally healthy men passed by without her notice. Now well into her third miserable marriage, she recognizes the problem but can’t find the solution.
I’ve made similiar mistakes. Because of my lack of self-identity, or rather, a reluctance of sharing the real me for fear of rejection, I married men who saw potential and thought it was their duty to change me. And later when I resisted, to control me. Two failed marriages later, I see why. Because I was open to the idea that someone else might know what was better for me than I did, I attracted men who were more than willing to take on the job. Except that, it wasn’t their job or their responsibility. It’s only one person’s responsibility to fix me, and that person is me.
Most of us are more comfortable trying to fix others than to work on ourselves. It’s easier to see their problems than to see our own. And we think our problems are their fault. “If only he would treat me with respect ….” Maybe if you respected yourself, he would either follow suit or leave. “If only she wouldn’t spend so much money ….” “If only he wasn’t so lazy ….” “If only she wasn’t so moody… ” “If only …..” The list goes on and on. And if we’re honest with ourselves, we see how the behavior of others trails directly back to us.
“Do I respect myself enough to not allow someone to mistreat me? But how do I do that?” you might ask. “Are you really saying that if he mistreats me, I should remove myself from his presence? Not take his phone calls? Not answer the door when he shows up unexpectedly? Go to safe places and hang out with safe people? But …. but …. but…. You don’t know what you’re asking!”
Yes, I do. I’ve done it. Remember the whole lifelong learning thing? If what you’re doing isn’t working, well, we’ve all heard the definition of insanity coined by Alcoholics Anonymous: Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. If what you’re doing isn’t working, by all that is good and holy, stop doing it!
In her book, The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity, Julia Cameron discusses the two main hindrances to our recovery from whatever is not working in our lives. Crazymakers are external barriers to an emotionally healthy life, and skepticism is an inner enemy that sabotages our efforts to make improvements. While Ms. Cameron is writing specifically about recovery from blocked creativity, what she says can be applied to all areas, physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. In my own life, I apply her insights to my recovery from being stuck in unhealthy patterns of living.
She also refers to the crazymakers as poisonous playmates. Other authors use different words to describe them: Unsafe people, toxic people, narcissists.
You know who these people are in your life. They’re the ones who make you feel like you’re the one going crazy. When you catch them in a lie, they accuse you of not trusting. When you ask them why they are so grouchy, they accuse you of being negative. They put a spin on every situation that makes no logical sense and then somehow turn it around to make you look like the bad guy. They leave with a smug grin that says they won the argument, and you’re left wondering what happened. You had logic on your side and yet they seem to have come out on top once again. Things just don’t add up.
She also refers to skepticism as, the secret doubt. Just when we start seeing some improvement, skepticism jumps in and says, “Whoa. This can’t be true. Nothing ever goes my way. I must be imagining it.” This thought gives us permission to give up without looking bad. After all, we’re just being realistic, right? Getting our heads out of the clouds like we were admonished as children?
The temptation here is to step back, give in to what is, and once again accept things the way they are. “After all, it’s not all bad,” we console ourselves. “It could be worse. I need to be thankful for what I have. No one’s life is perfect. We’re suppose to be content where we are, right?”
Ms. Cameron sums up our struggle with our two main enemies to recovery, crazymakers and skepticism, this way:
“One of the things most worth noting in…recovery is our reluctance to take seriously the possibility that the universe just might be cooperating with our new and expanded plans. We’ve gotten brave enough to try recovery, but we don’t want the universe to really pay attention. We still feel too much like frauds to handle some success. When it comes, we want to go.
“Of course we do! Any little bit of experimenting in self-nurturance is very frightening for most of us. When our little experiment provokes the universe to open a door or two, we start shying away. “Hey! You! Whatever you are! Not so fast!”
“I like to think of the mind as a room. In that room, we keep all of our usual ideas about life, God, what’s possible and what’s not. The room has a door. That door is ever so slightly ajar, and outside we can see a great deal of dazzling light. Out there in the dazzling light are a lot of new ideas that we consider too far-out for us, and so we keep them out there. The ideas we are comfortable with are in the room with us. The other ideas are out, and we keep them out.
“In our ordinary, pre-recovery life, when we would hear something weird or threatening, we’d just grab the door knob and pull the door shut. Fast.
“Inner work triggering outer change? Ridiculous! (Slam the door.) God bothering to help my…recovery? (Slam.) Synchronicity supporting…with serendipitous coincidences? (Slam, slam, slam.)
“Now that we are in…recovery, there is another approach we need to try. To do this, we gently set aside our skepticism – for later use, if we need it – and when a weird idea or coincidence whizzes by, we gently nudge the door a little further open.
“Setting skepticism aside, even briefly, can make for very interesting explorations. In…recovery, it is not necessary that we change any of our beliefs. It is necessary that we examine them.” (pp. 41-51)
Ms. Cameron’s last statement is key: “In recovery, it is not necessary that we change any of our beliefs. It is necessary that we examine them.” (p.51)
Often times we feel trapped; like we’re stuck with no way out. That’s a lie. Reality is, we all have choices and there is always something we can do. It may be a small, seemingly insignificant step in the right direction, or it may be a big one-time move. It doesn’t matter. Figure it out and do something. Stop feeling helpless or victimized, and stop expecting some kind of brownie points for being a martyr. There aren’t any. There’s only more suffering ahead if we choose to do nothing.
Those of us who were raised with a strong sense of right and wrong are often the most plagued with a sense of misplaced duty. Showing unconditional love and being steadfast in the face of adversity are admirable qualities. But when our sense of duty is hurting us and those we love, it would be advisable to step back and evaluate where our true duty lies. Is it in sticking with the crazymaker and letting her have her way, thus sidetracking us from our other responsibilities?
We’ve all heard the old saying that the squeaky wheel gets greased. This is never more true than with crazymakers. They are always squeaking because things are never right and we are never doing enough. Their needs are endless.
Thus, crazymakers eat up an inordinately large portion of our time and energy to the point where we simply cannot take adequate care of ourselves and those we are truly responsibility for. Skepticism, as the evil twin, joins right in and says, “What’s the use of fighting it? She’s my mother so I have to do what she says, even though I’m an adult. She has to come first,” or, “He’s my brother-in-law so I have to keep peace in the family,” or, “I married her so, that’s just the way it is.”
Enough with the excuses. It’s time we get off our fearful hinnies, make some tough decisions, change what isn’t working, and create a life worth living. We’ve wasted enough time and energy on those who don’t appreciate our help. It’s time we looked around and saw what’s been in our faces all along: those who truly deserve our time and attention. It’s like a person petting a stuffed animal while his dog looks up expectantly. We waste our lives on what we can’t change, and make no effort to change what we can.
I love this prayer, often referred to as the Serenity Prayer, written by Reinhold Neibuhr in the 1940’s: “God grant us the serenity to accept the things we cannot change, the courage to change the things we can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” (www.crosswalk.com)
When conflicting thoughts come, and they will, ask a safe person for help. Now is not the time to put on an invincible facade. We’re not fooling anyone other than ourselves when we claim to be OK when it’s obvious we’re not. It’s time to admit what everyone else already knows. We’re human. We’re vulnerable. We’re afraid. Now, let’s do something about it, together.
When all is said and done, we each have a choice. Stay where we are, stuff down the disappointment and frustration, maintain the status-quo, delude ourselves into thinking there’s virtue in suffering, and die unhappily at the end of a miserable life. It’s up to you.
But, if I were you, and I was, I’d do something to get back on the right path. There’s no better time than the present.