15 Jul Tough Stuff
I was talking with a client just last week about this. We were looking at the circumstances that brought him to see me. We discussed how it would be really great if the other people involved would just make some (seemingly reasonable and productive) changes. If they would, things for my client would truly get a lot better even as we knew the odds of them making those changes were very low. Then, we started talking about the changes my client could make in the face of this enormously dysfunctional system. He looked me with a sad resignation on his face and said, “That’s hard.” He was right.
I have these sorts of conversations every day of my professional life and sometimes even when I’m off duty. The theories, the advice, the object lessons, and the teachable moments have happened so many times, the words roll out of me almost without having to think about them. “Think about this”, “do that”, “position yourself here”, “don’t go there”, and “control your reactions” are some of the common parlance of my profession. I suspect that I address them so often and so casually that people get the notion that I think what I am suggesting should be easy. It’s not easy. It’s hard.
It’s hard to break a pattern that has been habituated for years. It’s hard to catch yourself and redirect yourself in the heat of the moment. It’s hard to give up on things you believe gave you comfort even after you realize they are costing you more than they are rewarding you. It’s hard not repeat what you saw your family do throughout your entire childhood. Even when you swore you would never become like someone from your past, it’s hard not to slip into what you were taught. It’s hard to stay quiet and loving in the face of red-faced contempt. It’s hard not to break when someone you love threatens to leave if you don’t give in to their dangerous and defective expectations. It’s hard not to look away or move away when you see pain, fear, terror, shame, and sadness on the face of someone you would give anything to help but know that you cannot. It’s hard not to take that next drink or call that person who is feeding your co-dependency or gorge on more junk food. It’s hard to get up again and again and again. My friends, it’s all hard.
But…..I also have a deep belief in what people can accomplish. I’ve seen people who were grossly and serially abused recover and find joyful and satisfying relationships. I’ve seen yellers calm down and feelings-swallowers open up. I’ve seen addicts recover and grievers let go. I’ve seen terminally ill people accept their fates with dignity and I’ve seen people do what has to be done to change their outcomes. I’ve seen couples survive affairs and blended families thrive. I’ve seen lost people find their way and lost relationships survive. No, none of it was easy but it also astonishes what people can do when they dig deep and refuse to stay where they are. I’ve said before what an honor it is to be a witness to these stories but today I want to say to you and to myself, even though what we may need to do is hard, we are most likely capable of more than we believe.