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How to “Accept” a Bad Situation

griffin and his coachThe photo to the right is Griffin with his coach after another great game last Saturday.

I really appreciate Coach Chris because he manages to be unfailingly positive and supportive as he inspires his players to stretch and grow.

This week I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to coach – and to parent – effectively.

It’s interesting that in the process of coaching and/or parenting we have the opportunity to receive the encouragement and support we may not have gotten as children.

When we become parents, we can also learn how challenging it can be to offer the perfect words of encouragement and support when our own frustrations or disappointments get in the way.

(Incidentally, in seeing my struggle to parent “perfectly,” I’ve developed a lot compassion for my own parents!)

Whenever I find myself unable to shield Griffin from frustration and disappointment, it can be very challenging. I try to remind myself that all I can do is offer the tools that have worked for me when I am frustrated and disappointed.

And when I do offer those tools I often remember that I can apply them to the stress I feel about my child’s situation. If you don’t follow me, continue reading as I show how a mother’s concern about her daughter eventually allowed the mother to find her own peace.

One of my coaching clients recently went through a divorce. She has worked hard to get to a place where she can appreciate all the good that came from the relationship.

Her teen-aged daughter is foremost in her appreciation. But it is also in relation to her daughter that she struggles with the most persistent difficult feelings related to her ex.

You see, the ex is now withholding emotional and financial support from his daughter. My client sees that her daughter is hurting as a result of her father’s neglect and she wants to know how to best support her.

Although on the surface it may look like the problem is the no-good ex and the daughter’s hurt feelings, the solution lies deeper. In any event, we probably won’t be able to “fix” the ex’s behavior or the daughter’s hurt feelings.

letting go of disappointmentGranted, it is wonderful when people do the right thing at the right time, but if they don’t, it is our responsibility to make peace with the present situation. The way to do this becomes clearer when we appreciate that circumstances don’t determine our happiness, but our thoughts about the circumstances do.

Byron Katie’s Loving What Is provided me with the tools (what she calls “Inquiry”, or the “Work”) that became a key for me in identifying and letting go of my stressful thoughts. I have learned that I can be happy or, at the very least, peaceful in any conditions.

I still have stressful thoughts but I know that it is my thinking that is the problem, and not some unpleasant person or situation.

To do the “Work” you ask yourself four questions.

  1. Is it true?
  2. Can I absolutely know that it’s true?
  3. How do I react when I think that thought?
  4. Who would I be without that thought?

And then you do what Katie calls the “Turnaround.” You try to imagine yourself in the position of the person you have judged, or whose situation causes you distress.

It is sometimes challenging to do this, but you will have huge awakenings when you can. In fact, you will often find that you have also transgressed—or are also suffering—in some manner similar to people or situations you have judged.

In this instance I encouraged my client to do the Work on the stressful thought, “My daughter is wounded because her dad will not be ‘there’ for her—emotionally, psychologically, financially—as other dads are for their kids. She does not get how he can be so detached and unavailable. She is hurting.”

I asked my client to investigate those thoughts by applying the turnaround. Suddenly “My daughter is hurting” became “I am hurting…I can’t get how he can be so unavailable to our daughter.”

I know that even if you see the truth in this realization, you may be wondering how it helps my client to see her own suffering in this situation—and especially how it helps her daughter.

It helped because seeing her own suffering allowed her to exert control over her own feelings. She now had the power to find a better-feeling thought, or do the Work again to explore her own feelings toward the ex, or even talk things over with a trusted friend.

In all of these ways she could come to accept the situation without judgment. And whenever we accept a situation without judgment, we experience more peace and we can offer greater emotional support to those who are suffering.

In short, by recognizing and letting go of her own negative feelings for her ex, my client will have more energy to care for her own needs and those of her daughter.

She will be able to validate her daughter’s feelings—whatever she says is troubling her—and say “I know this is really hard right now. You and I both wish your dad “got” what an amazing person you are and wanted to celebrate and support you in every way.”

When her daughter’s feelings were validated she could then say, “I know you will find your way. You have everything you need inside you to be happy no matter what the conditions and this is more important than anything else. And I’m here for you, no matter what.”

Her support would come from a completely authentic place because she has found this to be true for herself.

Of course, maybe none of this will take away her daughter’s hurt. But again, we really can’t “fix” anything for anyone else. We can only let go of our own stressful thoughts and hope that by doing so we are more present and available to help others in their suffering.

We can shine a light for others on their path only after we have done the same for ourselves.

How to Forgive

Griffin and friendLast week Griffin had two days off for school to allow for Parent Teacher Conferences and we spent one of the days with one of his best friends by the river. It was a lovely celebration of great friendship and nature.

If you’ve been following along for the last few months, you know that the summer was filled with many crises and catastrophes – and the fallout, just like the warm weather, has been lingering into September.

Which leads me to wonder: Why is it so hard to ask for, and give forgiveness? I’ve addressed the former in previous articles, and I try to address the latter here.

One of my clients is going through a divorce. She wonders how she allowed her husband to “co-author her co-dependence” for so long. Of course she did the best she could with the awareness she had at the time. But now she has 20/20 hindsight.

What she can’t see is how she can forgive him, or even herself. We’ve all been in her shoes. We look back at some misstep or wrong turn and we wish we could’ve been more conscious, more able to act on the signs that things were not going well in our relationships so that we could have avoided the “bad” thing that happened.

But when we focus on the past, we ignore the clarity that is available to us right now. And we forego insights that can help guide us to an even better place. The first step towards that better place is forgiveness.

Make no mistake: that shift in focus from blame to forgiveness takes some effort. Blaming the other person is so much easier.

forgivenessAnother easy path to take is to pretend that we were duped or naive the whole time (which honestly simply amounts to blaming ourselves). But we are much more likely to find peace—as well as some benefit from the experience—if we withhold this kind of judgment and focus only on forgiveness.

So if you’re looking back on a bad experience or relationship and blaming yourself or someone else, try this instead: Rather than looking at the person with whom you had the conflict as the enemy, try to look at him as an old war buddy.

You shared a tough time, but you got through it. You did your best under hazardous conditions, and now you can recount your “war stories” without any remorse that things should have been different. Just accept that they happened and simply move on.

Do you feel some resistance to forgiving this person—a partner, friend, family member, or even a past you—so easily?

Then consider this: when you choose to forgive someone whose behavior hurt you, you do yourself a huge favor. Really. You don’t have to release the hurt, anger and sense of betrayal because the person “deserves” it. You should do it regardless because you will feel better when you do. (Someone once said that holding on to resentment is like eating rat poison and hoping the rat will die.)

What if forgiveness is out of reach right now? Then just don’t think about it. Refuse to think or talk about what happened until you can look at the topic with some equanimity. The less you return to the painful memories, the sooner that time will come. Then you can work on the approaches above.

Note that I’m not saying you should condone the behavior that hurt you. And I’m certainly not saying you should jump back in the foxhole with your old war buddy.

I’m just saying that when you can accept what happened—which means, more than anything else, that you understand that what happened truly did happen in a past you can’t change—then you’ll start to move on.

And where are you going? You are moving forward on the path in front of you, right here, right now.

And forget about figuring out what happened in the past “so as not to repeat it.” You don’t even have to feel like you “learned a lesson” or you got a “gift” from a relationship, or even any new skills or tools. You just have to start paying attention right now.

But how can you be sure that history won’t repeat itself? Again, the answer is simple, and lays the past to rest by keeping you in the present. Just learn to notice when things are out of balance in your life.

And how will you know? There’s a built in signal that will always let you know when things are out of balance. It’s called stress.

You want to take your awareness of the stressful feeling and try to find the stressful thought that is creating it. From there try to identify a thought that feels better. It may take some practice, but you will get better at it.

And when you consistently engage in the practice of identifying your stressful, negative thoughts and find alternative, better-feeling thoughts, research shows that you are creating new neural pathways that will lead to long lasting benefits, like decreased anxiety and depression, and increased satisfaction and happiness.

Bottom line: you will change, and as a consequence your world will change for the better, too.

Not everyone gets to make a new world. But people who want to put their past behind them have a golden opportunity to do so. And that is a gift. You can thank your old war buddy for it the next time you see him.

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