That “Settling” Feeling

“Be strong enough to let go, and patient enough to wait for what you deserve.” Author Unknown

Do you have that “settling” feeling?  

When I do, it usually means that I am selling myself short. And when I sell myself short (in other words settling for something less than what I need or think I deserve), sooner or later I end up feeling cheated, angry and resentful.

Look. In the total scheme of things, maybe settling doesn’t matter all that much when it comes to a commodity – an item of clothing, a holiday or a car. In 25 years you probably won’t even remember about it.

But, when it comes to a relationship – well, that’s a whole other thing, because settling, or making do, and a lifetime of satisfying love are two concepts that don’t fit easily together.

Here are some signs that you might be settling for less than what you need, desire or what is healthy in a relationship:

  When you are with someone that you are not deeply attracted to, you justify:  Well, attraction can grow with time. Maybe their other qualities will substitute for a lack of physical attraction on my part.

  When you are with someone who is emotionally unavailable, you tell yourself:  Some people have problems expressing their feelings. So, with my help, they will open up. After all, they just haven’t found the right person yet, someone they can trust with their feelings, someone like me.

  When you are with someone who has a dodgy relationship history – a pattern of short-term relationships and messy breakups – you think:  Well, no one’s perfect. Maybe with the right partner (me), they might see how good a relationship can be.

  When you are with someone who’s current financial situation is unstable, you tell yourself: Well, no one’s perfect. Maybe with the right partner (me), they might get motivated and find their direction in life.

  When you are with someone who has trouble meeting their commitments and obligations in life, you might reflect: Well, no one’s perfect.  Besides, I can help them meet their responsibilities.

  When you are with someone who is in active addiction, you tell yourself: Well, no one’s perfect. Maybe with the right partner (me), they might stop using and abusing their substance.

Of course. No one is flawless.

Maybe your new love is not the perfect physical specimen. Maybe your new love isn’t the high-powered, successful professional that you always dreamed of. But this person is good. This person is decent. This person can express their love and appreciation of you. This person is a listener. This person is open and honest. This person is fully adult and fulfils their responsibilities honorably.

And with each passing day, your love for them deepens and your appreciation of them grows along with the physical attraction.

Now, if that is settling, bring it on.

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Making the Worst of It

They say, when life throws you curve ball, that you just need to make the best of a bad situation.

Well, I don’t know about you, but I seem to have a talent for making the worst of almost any good situation that life chucks my way.

But what kind of talent is that? One that I would like to do without, because it’s a hard way to live.

Let me tell you some ways I make the worst of things. Maybe you can relate.

I scan for problems

My mind is relentless. No matter how well things seem to be going, it feels the need to constantly scan for problems, snags, delays and pushbacks. I won’t allow myself to just relax, enjoy and go with the flow.

I focus on the fleeting nature of the good

Perhaps some wonderful thing has just happened, something I should feel pleased about. But my mind, again, won’t let me grab hold of the moment and savour it. Instead it reminds me that this good moment won’t last. Life is unpredictable and mostly full of difficulties, my mind tells me, and I shouldn’t relax until all possible problems in my life are resolved.

I believe it’s a trick

Sometimes I tell myself that this good time, this moment that is potentially peaceful and happy, is a trick, one that will catch me out if I drop my defences. My mind says, “Don’t get too complacent or God, life or the universe will pull a swifty on you.”.

I believe that nothing less than perfect is good enough

Instead of sitting back and relishing the successful completion of a project or a job, I begin to critique it, picking it apart for faults and short-falls. Nothing less than perfect is acceptable to me, even though I rationally know that perfection is an elusive concept.

And so, I wonder what this is all about…

I’ve come to this conclusion: Making the worst of it is all about fear. Fear of not being good enough. Or fear that I’m unsafe in this world and, to survive in it, I must never drop my vigilance.

It’s also about a lack of trust – a lack of trust in life, the universe or anything vaguely resembling any protective power greater than me. However, rationally, I observe that the earth keeps turning on its axis without any assistance from me. And reflecting on the law of averages, I can see that typically things in my life go well and setbacks are usually either temporary or of no consequence.

And, at its base, it’s really about a lack of trust in myself. I need to remember that I have the internal resources to handle most things that come my way. And when events are beyond my capacity to deal, there are people and external resources that I can call upon for help.

When I look at it in the cold, sober light of day, I know that making the worst of it is a way of being that is personally costly. It is harmful to my body, mind and spirit.

Melody Beattie says, A good day does not have to be the calm before the storm. That’s an old way of thinking we learned in dysfunctional systems.”

This is good news, because it means that making the worst of it is a learned response. And as such, anything learned can be unlearned.

Unlearning an old response takes some time and it begins with a conscious decision to allow myself to enjoy what’s good without dredging for the bad.

The Delusion of Control

“Addiction is a condition in which a person engages in use of a substance or in a behavior for which the rewarding effects provide a compelling incentive to repeatedly pursue the behavior despite detrimental consequences.” Psychology Today

It’s impossible to determine whether another person is an addict or not.  Of course, some people, including medical and helping professionals, may have a differing view of that.

But I believe that it is up to the individual to accept that that is the case for them. This is vital, in my opinion, because his or her recovery depends on acceptance of their condition.  When a person accepts that they are addicted, they are more likely to seek recovery.

However, getting to acceptance can be a long, hard road for the person who is addicted to a substance (e.g. alcohol, narcotics, food) or a process (e.g. gambling, sex, spending).

Without acceptance the addict will continue to delude themself that they can control their habit.

The Lie of Self-Control

 “Addiction lies to you in the scariest voice of all – your own.” Lorelie Rozzano

A major stumbling block along the road to acceptance are the lies the addict tells themself – lies about the level of their dependency and their ability to control it. For example, “I can stop this at any time, but just don’t want to right now.”.

By this time, the addict will probably have engaged in any number of control attempts. Mistakenly, they might explain away their failure to control their addiction as a lack of commitment or an insufficiency of self-discipline.

Failed Control Attempts Shine a Light on Addiction

“There is no such thing as an addiction ‘under control’.” Break the Chain

There is usually one thing all addicts have in common and that is that they’ve tried and failed any number of times to give up, curtail or control their substance use or problem behavior.

While the control attempt details may vary from addict to addict, they have one thing in common – they end in failure and despair.

That alone should tell the individual something. Addiction is beyond self-control. It takes something far, far greater to stop using. So, by looking at their history of failed control attempts, a person might clarify for themself whether their substance or behavior is addictive or not.

Remember, the words “control” and “addiction” are mutually exclusive terms.

Surrendering Control Opens the Magic Door

That’s where surrender comes in.  One wisehead said, “In a power outage, the first step is admitting you are powerless.”

Admitting complete defeat is thus the key to the magic door of recovery.

It’s counterintuitive, that’s for sure — that somehow within a state of powerlessness lies a power much more potent than that of self-control. Especially when it comes to addiction.

So, after accepting and surrendering, what remains for the individual, who knows or suspects in their heart that they are an addict?

It’s to take the next right action — to take a step through the magic door to seek help and support for their condition.

As they say in the 12-step world: “You alone can do it. But you cannot do it alone.”.

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Creating Crises

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Sometimes they call us crisis-prone, conflict carriers or drama addicts

Some of us continually seem to find ourselves in drama-filled situations, so much so that it might give the impression that our lives are spent lurching from one crisis to the next.

Of course, there are those of us that are so accustomed to the drama, we might not even notice when we are in it. But for most of us, when things become uncomfortable, we wonder why we constantly find ourselves knee-deep in one calamity or another.

It’s true that crises happen over which we have little or no control. But there are any number of ways that we unwittingly create crises for ourselves.

For example, we create crises by starting arguments or generating other forms of conflict with others. Or we choose to do things the hard way. Or we see problems where there are none.  And, if it there are no crises of our own to occupy us, we insert ourselves into other people’s cuffuffles.

There are terms for those of us who routinely generate crises… or chase them. We might be referred to as crisis-prone, conflict carriers or drama addicts.

There are many explanations for this way of behaving, however I wish to focus on just one. For the crisis-prone among us, crises can become a dodge.  By that I mean that crises can unconsciously become a way of avoiding the deeper issues or problems of our lives.

Now, some of us may actually believe that we thrive on the drama. We may even fancy ourselves as world-class problem solvers. Or we may have an overweening need to be at the centre of the frenzied cosmos that we’ve shaped for ourselves, so that the idea of a peaceful inner and outer world may seem dull and boring.

However, my contention is this. No matter how adept we think we are at drama, we are nonetheless dodging something more important. Something closer to our hearts. Something deeper. Something more essential to our wellbeing. Something more fundamentally important to the spirit.

And likely something that is very painful.

So, maybe it’s time to begin a self-initiated inventory in which we ponder these questions:

How crisis-filled is our existence? And what role do crises play in our lives?

Which of these crisis situations represent genuine conflicts requiring resolution and which amount to making mountains out of mole hills?

Which are our problems to solve and which belong to other people to sort out?

What situations or issues could we simply let go of?

In what ways have we knowingly or unknowing caused or contributed to these situations?

What productive steps can we take to resolve lingering conflicts or heal broken relationships?

What is the cost to us of a drama-packed life?

What deeper issues might we be dodging through immersing ourselves in constant crises? What do we need to face once and for all?

And the last question: 

Is it time to put our big-girl or big-boy pants on and take first steps toward bringing those deeper issues to resolution?

These will be but small steps in what will be a much longer journey, but it will be a journey  worth taking, because the quality of our lives will be better as a result.

 

 

 

In Defense of Your Heart

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Today I’m talking about your internal defense system – the filtering mechanism that protects your heart from the slings and arrows of other’s words.

People can be thoughtless, even cruel

People can be critical, even cruel, in their comments to you. People can be intrusive with their opinions about you.  And sometimes, even when they mean to be kind, their words can sting.

However, others’ words have an impact, because you allow them too.  Because you take them as truth and then to heart. Because you give those opinions the dignity of validity, even when they are not factual.

You have a choice, but it’s hard

But you do have a choice.  You can continue to give them far too much weight and importance or you can just see them as someone else’s viewpoint and nothing more.

Two reasons

For many of us, that can be difficult to do and that’s at least for a couple of reasons.

We’ve been conditioned to regard other people’s assessments as more important than ours. This likely began when we were young and vulnerable, sensing that our survival and well-being depended on our parent’s/caregiver’s approval of us.

We believe that we are not worthy of love if we are not pleasing to others. Again, this state of being often stems from our childhood experiences.

Three corrections

But there are some greater counteracting truths.

♥  You have a right to weigh and measure what comes out of other people’s mouths. Their opinions about you are just that – theirs. These people are not truth determiners.

♥  You have a right to feel good about yourself. No one has the right to diminish you or disrespect you.

♥  You have a right to protect your heart, mind and spirit from the judgements and criticisms of others. What comes in through your ears doesn’t have to pierce through to your core.

They are disqualified

Then there is this thought. If others really don’t think you are good enough, they are, in Dr. Rick Hanson’s terms, “not qualified”.

And you could take this concept a step further and say that if someone doesn’t think you’re good enough, they are disqualified from membership in your circle and your life.  Period. No exceptions.

Tough, maybe. But necessary.

You are the overseer of your internal defense system. But, remember, your internal defense system shouldn’t be a steel-girded barrier. Nor should it be an attack launching pad.

Rather, it is a wisely discriminating filtering system that sifts through what is directed at you, allowing in what’s helpful and disallowing what isn’t.

And you, and only you, are the decider.

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Letting Go

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There are things we can change and things over which we have little power to alter or influence.

There are world events so huge, collective problems so complex, and personal concerns so vexing, that individual or unilateral action or effort would have very little impact.

To know the difference between what we can change or that over which we have little power requires, as the Serenity Prayer suggests, discernment and wisdom. Getting to that place where our wiser, deeper knowing is available involves moving the ego aside and doing some inner listening.

So, we might inquire of ourselves:

♦  If I move my egoistic wishes and wants aside, what can I reasonably do about this situation?

What’s best for me – my mental, physical and spiritual wellbeing?

How can the greater good be served?

If the result of that inquiry is greater confusion, it is likely a good time to do nothing. If we feel overwhelmed, it is probably a good time to look after ourselves and maybe to seek help and support from others.

And sometimes the best response to those overwhelming, perplexing and complex events or situations is to just let them go — or turn them over to something (an entity or an idea) that’s greater than we are.

We can’t change others. We can’t solve world problems single handedly. So, letting go and letting good is often the best solution along with a healthy bit of detachment from all those problems within and without.

As the Buddhist teacher, Ajahn Chah, said:

If you let go a little, you will have a little happiness.

If you let go a lot, you will have a lot of happiness.

If you let go completely, you will be completely happy.

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Where Energy Flows

There’s a Tai Chi martial art saying, “Chi follows intention”. Or chi, meaning energy, flows where the mind goes.

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Directing chi is important to mastery of any martial art. Because the mind and the body are inextricably linked, directing our chi is also essential to mastering our thoughts. Our health, both mental and physical, depend on it.

So, let’s say that if you place your attention largely on what’s wrong with your life – your fears, worries, regrets and doubts — you deplete the inner resources or energy required to create a more fulfilling present as well as working toward future goals.

You could even say that focusing on the negative simply produces more negativity.  Let’s take mood as a for instance. While it’s true that some of our biology does work against us in the negativity department – our brains evolved to have a negativity bias to help us survive on the African plains — the fact remains that the more negative our thinking, the more negativity we produce.

It becomes a cycle that’s difficult, but not impossible, to extract ourselves from. It does, however, take some effort and some strategies to buck the trend. What’s required is to deliberately redirect our focus toward the positive. Consider these:

Mindfulness Practices

Mindfulness practices, like meditation, breath work and yoga, help us to stay in the moment. Staying in the moment helps to produce inner calm, which is more conducive to creativity or intuitively-driven action.  Mindfulness practices get us out of circular thinking, which is self-defeating.

Planned Distractions

While it is important to acknowledge our feelings, we don’t need to get lost in them either. So, learning to turning our thoughts and feelings to the positive is helpful.  For instance, we might focus our thoughts on completing enjoyable or even necessary projects. Or engage in creative activities that transport us into thought-free space.

Interrogating the Truthfulness of Our Thoughts and Feelings

Not everything we think and feel is true. So, when negative thoughts and associated feelings do come up, we can interrogate the truthfulness of them. For example, after even a minor disappointment, we might engage in repetitive thinking about our uselessness. Thoughts of uselessness, constantly replayed, increase our stress and affect our mood. And worse, we begin to accept these thoughts as true. That’s when the rational mind can usefully be employed in interrogating the truth of these thoughts. We might ask: “What is the evidence for this belief?” And, “What else might be true?”.

Re-framing Negative to Positive

By seeking and then acknowledging the deeper truth about a thought or feeling that is disturbing our peace of mind, it will be easier to arrive at a balanced view of a situation or person. Or even of ourselves.  For example, in the case of a minor disappointment and subsequent self-judgment of uselessness, we could find a helpful re-frame: “This is only a minor setback. I am resourceful enough to find a way through this as I have done many other times.”. This is the deeper, wiser part of us helping us to make empowered meaning of the situation. Rinse and repeat as necessary.

So, in effect, we are disrupting the pattern of negative thought by turning our thoughts, and hence our chi, to that which benefits our lives.

“Nothing can harm you as much as your own thoughts unguarded.” Buddha

Resentment Rebound & Recovery

“Resentment is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die”, said St Augustine.

Interesting observation. But resenting the hell out of someone can be satisfying, even fun at times, don’t you think? After all, this person has offended you in some way (or you’ve decided that they have). Or they’ve achieved something that you envy or possess something that you desire.

So, of course, resenting others, at least in the short term, soothes your insecurities and makes you feel better about yourself. But, trust me, eventually carrying resentments in the long run will cause you more problems than it cures.

Here are some reasons why:

Your resentments are a heavy burden to carry. They consume a lot of energy and block you from focusing on that which will really benefit you, like what you can do to make your life more fulfilling.

Your resentments divert your attention away from the good people in your life who wish you well – those folks who really deserve your time and attention. These important relationships need nurturing to thrive.

Your resentments have no real effect on the object of your poisonous thoughts. Most likely those people go about their lives oblivious of the negative vibes that you direct against them.  It’s kind of like whistling in the wind.

Your resentments are a handy dodge. They provide an excuse for you to not get on with your life, your goals and your dreams.

Your resentments mask your fear of not enough-ness and/or a myriad of other not-good-enough fears. As Donald Hicks said, “At the heart of all anger, all grudges, and all resentment, you’ll always find a fear that hopes to stay anonymous.”

Your resentments negatively affect your health. They cause stress which affects your mental and physical well-being.

Your resentments can lead you into harm — for example, the harm inflicted by addictive behaviors. Those of us who are recovering addicts soon learn that holding resentments are the single worst thing that we can indulge if we wish to stay clean, sober and abstinent, because they provide an easy excuse to start using again, thus taking us back into substance-abuse hell.

So, let’s just say this about your resentments: they are a diversion from the main game which is improving your life and relationships.

If that’s the case, what do you do with your resentments?

Well, it’s time to do some gentle reflection to explore the purpose your resentments serve, because you can bet that they serve a purpose of some kind.

Here are some things to consider:

You could reflect upon what you’ve been avoiding – perhaps difficult feelings, conflicted relationships or life goals that you’ve given up on.  You could then begin to take small steps to resolve or address what you’ve been avoiding.

You could consider healthier ways to build your self-esteem and feel better about yourself.  For example, you could complete a difficult task or take one step, even a small one, toward achieving a goal. You could do a kind turn for someone or seek the appropriate professional help to begin the process of healing your sense of self-worth.

If you’re in recovery from addiction, you could work your program more diligently. You could find a sponsor to support your recovery. And you could reach out to help another addict.

You could explore and name your fears. By giving those anonymous fears a name, you diminish their power.  You could allow yourself to feel the fearful feelings without giving them the dodge. By allowing your feelings they will reduce in their intensity and fade away naturally. You could interrogate the reality of your fears (I’ll bet many are baseless or at least overblown). You could then take steps to address the real fears and discard the rest. And lastly, you could choose to replace fear with love by finding ways to be more forgiving, caring, kind and helpful and not just toward others, but also toward yourself.

Your heart will sing as a result.

Desperation Is Not Your Friend

On the journey to love, desperation makes a rotten traveling partner.

Why?

Because underneath that desperation is a ton of fear. And fear takes us to bad places.  For example, when fear is in the driver’s seat:

We’re more likely to pick a make-do lover. We “settle”. And when we settle, we sell ourselves short.

We’re more likely to choose and stay with an abusive partner.

We’re more likely to repel healthy partners. People with even a modicum of self-esteem can smell desperation (and its miserable companion, neediness) coming a mile away and they will give you the big swerve.

And…

Well, I could go on, but you get the idea, yes?

So, the cogent question is what to do about it? The answer, as always, rests with you. In my view, it’s your mental machinery or mindset that requires attention.

While there is no magic fix, there are some things you can do to step out of desperation and fear and move into empowerment. Yes, empowerment. Because when you are in your power, you’ll be a heap more attractive to someone who’s worthy of you and you’ll be a heap more satisfied with the result.

So, here is a path to changing your mindset:

First. Recognize the fear that drives your quest for love when it’s operative. So, notice when you are in fear. Fear feels different in the body as opposed to e.g. feeling self-assured or feeling loved and protected. Notice the body-felt difference between those states. This is important because don’t want fear to be your driver / motivator in seeking love.

Second. Endeavor to understand the beliefs that underpin that fear. Yes, beliefs drive fear — false beliefs. Name them, then write them down. Such beliefs could include, “I’m unworthy to be loved as I am.”

Third. Interrogate the validity of the fear-based beliefs. How true are they, really? Remember, not everything you think and feel is true – especially when they are fearful thoughts and feelings. Therefore, dig below the false beliefs to find the deeper truth e.g. about your worthiness to be loved in equal measure.

Fourth. Replace the false beliefs with the truth about e.g. your worthiness. State this clearly and succinctly. Say it to yourself, then write it down and commit it to heart. Then, whenever a false belief rears its ugly head, you remind yourself of your deeper truth e.g. “I am worthy of reciprocated love with a partner who loves and values me.”

Fifth. Keep that deeper truth front and center in your heart and mind throughout your day. Be creative in doing so, e.g. design a morning and evening ritual to anchor yourself into your truth.

Sixth. Make a commitment to yourself, to one important other (e.g. a trusted friend) and to the Universe that you will stand for your truth and you will not go backward into fear. When a fearful thought arises, don’t engage it, just note it and then send it on its merry way as quickly as possible.

 

Me and My Shadow

“One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.” Carl Jung

The Shadow Self is the self that is hidden from view. That place in each of us that holds our secrets – those things of which we dare not speak to anyone, not even to ourselves.

You see, the Shadow Self is the metaphorical container of our repressed thoughts, shames, fears and desires. All those things that we learned so long ago were unacceptable and thus kept best kept hidden.

But, if you’re looking for a clue as to what might be held in your Shadow Self, then look at what you intensely dislike or react to in others — their behaviors, their attitudes, their characteristics, even their physical attributes. What happens is that we often project what is unacceptable in ourselves onto other people.  Interesting, yes?

Out of Sight Out of Mind?

Even though we repress our Shadow Self, it doesn’t go away. While the Shadow Self’s thoughts, feelings and desires are largely unconscious, they are still active, much like a roiling undercurrent that can surface when under stress.

As such the Shadow Self can cause us a lot of problems in our day-to-day life, playing havoc in our relationships and other aspects of our lives.

But, according to Dr. Stephen Diamond, the Shadow Self can also be a container of positive creative energy, because the Shadow does not just hold negative secret elements of ourselves, but many positive ones, perhaps in the form of desires of the heart, that we’ve been too afraid to give voice to or acknowledge.

Shining a Light into the Darkness

To confront a person with his shadow is to show him his own light” Carl Jung

So, how do we deal with our Shadow Self – turn a negative force into a positive one?

Firstly, we can make the unconscious conscious. Give those thoughts, emotions and desires permission to reveal themselves. Then acknowledge them and give them words. Psychotherapy, Jungian or other, can be very helpful in this regard.

Next, we can remove any negative labelling attached to such thoughts, propensities and feelings. We can see them as normal as opposed to evil, unacceptable or wrong.

We could even consider that our Shadow Self may hold the key to potentialities that we haven’t yet fully developed and that may be beneficial to us in some way.

And most importantly, we could accept that these thoughts, feelings and propensities aren’t going away. So, if repressing them doesn’t work – even making things worse — then we need to explore imaginative ways to deal with them. Re-purpose them, if you like.

As all of this requires deep work, the safe container provided by a helping professional is highly recommended.

Jacob Norby said, “Every pain, addiction, anguish, longing, depression, anger or fear is an orphaned part of us seeking joy, some disowned shadow wanting to return to the light and home of ourselves.” 

So, the question is this: What gems lurk in your Shadow?