Our Identity and the Call of the Mall
This is true of our possessions, of our clothing, of our very identities. We begin to believe the lie that we ourselves are inadequate, and we ask Stuff to make us better. We shape and define our identities by what we wear and by what we look like rather than by what we actually *are* to the point that we forget our original identity, or at least to the point that we believe that our original selves can never be what anyone wants to see. It’s exhausting to keep up an acceptable, presentable image.
Your Kids Don’t Need A Perfect Parent
I have good news: your kids don’t need a perfect parent.
You are not alone if you think parenting is hard. It is. It is a job that requires all of who I am, around the clock. I can love my kids well and serve them well for a few hours or even a few days in a row. I can be attentive to their needs, present, and engaged. I think there are even times I am good at it. But then there are days when caring for them feels like a cheese grater on my skin. It doesn’t come naturally and I have little desire to sacrifice on their behalf.
When you live with people, especially people dependent upon you for their every need, it is hard to hide the darker facets of your heart. This part of parenting creates a lot of fear and anxiety for many parents (myself included). When my kids get an angered response from me, or I thoughtlessly dismiss them, I can see the sadness on their face and sense confusion about why mommy is suddenly being unkind or impatient. In this moment— this moment we all face— we have a choice.
We can sail past it, pretending it didn’t happen.
We can grow defensive and justify our selfishness.
Or we can turn toward our child and ask forgiveness.
When we fail (which we all do!) the temptation to hide our imperfections, deny them, or simply disengage from our children grows stronger in our hearts. When facing the upsetting truth of our imperfection, we feel vulnerable. And that is scary.
I have found that owning my imperfections and asking for forgiveness–like the third option above–restores and enhances the relationship with my children. The pressure to be perfect dissipates for both of us and the freedom to be authentic is more defining of our relationship.
In a world filled with pressure to look good, where appearances are everything and self-sufficiency is glorified, we have the power to give our kids the tools to engage honestly and find their identity in something beyond appearing perfect. We can model and promote love and acceptance through being authentic amidst vulnerability, rather than doing everything “perfectly.”
So good news! Your kids don’t need a perfect parent. They need a courageous parent, humble enough to to risk vulnerability after messing up. How you honestly handle your imperfection matters more than your imperfections themselves.
By: Kim Hammans, PLPC
Increasing our ability to love and be loved –
Whew…I literally just finished reading this article (below) by Brene’ Brown, who happens to be one of my fav’s when it comes to teaching me how to live and love. I thought I would share of few of parts of the article that were highlights for me. This article is so good. So, so, good!
“To say no (to something or someone), we have to understand why we’re saying yes.” This is so true and needs no further words – if we don’t understand why we are doing something it just won’t last.
This next highlight I have never considered before, but I sure am now! Here it is, “I had to push myself to rediscover my own artistic side. Unused creativity is not benign. It clumps inside us, turning into judgement, grief, anger, and shame.”
“None of us get calmer by telling ourselves to calm down. we get it by understanding what calm is: being able to see clearly because we are not overreacting to a situation. We’re listening and understanding. We are letting ourselves feel the vulnerability of the moment (the call from the doctor, the meeting with the angry boss) and then managing that feeling.” To feel is to allow yourself to be vulnerable – what a great reminder for me!
Here’s my last highlight to share before sharing the article in its entirety. “We become what we do.” Yep, simple and true. The more I practice at growing a garden (my current hobby) the better I will become. Similarly, the more I practice loving who I am and not hating myself the easier it will become.
So those are the specific items Brene’ shared that impacted me. I wonder how it will impact you….
“5 (Doable) Ways to Increase the Love in Your Life
Can we increase our ability to love and to be loved? Brené Brown, PhD, author of The Gifts of Imperfection, on what wholeheartedness means—and how you can take a few practical steps to cultivate it.
Of all the thousands of people I’ve interviewed and studied over the years—looking for patterns in the data—only about 15 to 20 percent were folks living with their whole hearts, folks who were really all in when it came to their relationships. So I decided I wanted to find out why. What quality did these people have that made them so capable of both receiving and giving love?
When I examined my research, I discovered that these were people who deeply believed that they were worthy of love and belonging. These folks believed this regardless of the circumstances, unlike the majority of us who think: “Okay, I’m worthy of love and belonging a little bit, but I’ll be superworthy if I get promoted. Or I’ll be superworthy if I lose 20 pounds.” These folks believed that they were loveable and that they had a place in the world, and those beliefs translated into specific choices they made every day. They were aware. They recognized shame, and they knew how to deal with it. They recognized vulnerability, and they were willing to feel it—rather than ignore or numb it.
What I wondered was, How do the rest of us cultivate these same qualities? It’s not like we can just decide to be vulnerable or say, “Hey, I’m worthy,” after which—poof—this instantly comes true. But there are practical changes you can make in your life which encourage these beliefs. Here are five basic everyday actions that can help you develop a deeper, more loving sense of wholeheartedness, both for others and for yourself.
Letting Go of Exhaustion
Everybody in the world says that you need to work less in order to live a fuller, more connected life. But so few of us address what prevents us from doing it. The reasons are simple: (1) exhaustion is a status symbol in our culture, and (2) self-worth has become net worth. We live doing so much and with so little time that anything unrelated to the to-do list—taking a nap, say, or reading a novel—actually creates stress.
Wholehearted people, on the other hand, know when to stop and rest. Personally, I had to learn this. I’m still learning this. I screw it up every now and then, but five years ago I made some huge changes in my personal and private life. I went from full time to part time at the university, and my husband, who is a pediatrician, cut his hours to four days a week. As it stands now, we never get less than eight hours of sleep.
What did this require? A constellation of choices. For example, one of the things I have to do to cultivate more rest is to say no. Last year, I turned down 85 percent of the invitations I got to speak. Because I have a commitment to be at the family table four nights a week.
To say no, we have to understand why we’re saying yes. One of the reasons is scarcity. I, like many of us, was so afraid that maybe all these opportunities would just go away, that maybe next year people wouldn’t ask for me to come speak, and maybe my work wouldn’t get the attention it needed, and that if I didn’t have my work, who would I be? So I thought I had to say yes, yes, yes. The only reason I can now say no is because I work on my shame “gremlins.” Gremlins are the tricksters who whisper all of those terrible things in our ears that keep us afraid and small. When the gremlins say “you better say yes, or they won’t like you” or “they’ll think you’re lazy,” I whisper back: “Not this time. I get to say no. I get to love myself, stay home and drive soccer carpool.”
Painting a Gourd
All of us were made to make things. During my studies, I found out a surprising piece of data: There is no such thing as a creative or noncreative person. Every single human being is creative. Every research participant could recall a time in his or her life when creativity brought him or her great joy. It was usually childhood, and the creative expressions ranged from coloring or finger-painting to dancing, singing or building. What was most fascinating was that the participants never talked about learning how to be creative—they just were.
As adults, what keeps us from being creative—from painting, cooking, scrapbooking, doodling, knitting, rebuilding an engine or writing—is what I call the comparison gremlin (a close cousin of the shame gremlin). People say, “I’m not good enough,” or “Why am I the only one with dangling modifiers?” or “I’m not a real sculptor…I’m a total poser.” In other words, we shame ourselves into stopping. While we may have all started creative, between ages 8 and 14, at least 60 percent of the participants remember learning that they were not creative. They began to compare their creations, they started getting graded for their art, and many heard from a teacher or a parent that “art wasn’t their thing.” So we don’t have to teach people to find joy in creating; we have to make sure not to teach them that there’s only one acceptable way to be creative.
I had to push myself to rediscover my own artistic side. Unused creativity is not benign. It clumps inside us, turning into judgment, grief, anger and shame. Before I turned my life around, I used to dismiss people who spent time creating. When a friend would invite me to go to an art class or something, I’d respond: “How cute. You go do your A-R-T; I’m busy with a real J-O-B.” Now I realize that was my fear and my own frustrated need to create.
To kick things off, I went to a gourd-painting class with my mom and my then-9-year-old daughter, Ellen. It was one of the best days of my life. I’m not kidding. I still paint, and now I’m having a serious love affair with photography. But start with something easy. Why not start with a gourd? Put a silly face on it. Make it smile.
None of us get calmer by telling ourselves to calm down. We get it by understanding what calm is: being able to see clearly because we are not overreacting to a situation. We’re listening and understanding. We are letting ourselves feel the vulnerability of the moment (the call from the doctor, the meeting with the angry boss) and then managing that feeling.
Calm participants in my studies all have a few things in common. They breathe when they’re feeling vulnerable. They ask questions before they weigh in, including the three most important questions—ones that changed my own life. The first is, Do I have enough information to freak out? (Ninety percent of the time, the answer is no.) The second is, Where did you hear the upsetting news? (Down the hall? From a trusted source?) The third is, If I do have enough reliable information to freak out, and if I do that, will it be helpful?
When my daughter, Ellen, comes home and says, “Oh my God, Mom, the school moved my locker, and now I can’t reach it!” I stop. I remember what I used to say: “Oh that’s it! I’m furious! I’m going off to school tomorrow, and you’re going to get your locker back!” Now I say, “Tell me more about it.” And 15 minutes later, I find out that the guy she likes has a locker down at the other end of the hall; what she really wants is to have a locker nearer to him.
This is real change. Four or five years ago, I was the least calm person you have ever met. And when people describe me today—people like my co-workers, friends and family—they say, “You’re the calmest person I know.” Well, it’s because I practice it, the same way you practice the violin. We become what we do.
One of the things I noticed in my research was that wholehearted people tended to fool around a lot. This was how I described their behavior, “fooling around,” because I didn’t know what this behavior was. It was such a foreign concept to me that I couldn’t even name it correctly until I happened to be sitting in the backyard watching my kids jump on the trampoline. All of a sudden, I went: “Holy crap. Those grown-ups in my studies are playing! They are piddling and playing! They are total slackers!”
Then I found some research by Dr. Stuart Brown. He said that play is something you did “that caused you to lose track of time.” Which I called work. He called play “time spent without purpose.” Which I called an anxiety attack.
Clearly, I had a problem. So I sat down and made a list of nonwork-related things that I love to do where I lost track of time, I lost my sense of self-consciousness, I didn’t want them to end, and they didn’t serve any purpose except that I enjoyed them. Then I had my husband do the same thing. Then we did it with our two kids, and I made a Venn diagram to understand the data (sorry, I’m a researcher).
Our family-play Venn diagram showed us what kind of play we share in common, and we realized there were only three kinds that we all enjoyed. Because sitting on the floor playing Candy Land? I’m not losing track of time. I’ve been on the floor for 30 minutes; I could shoot myself. But swimming? Hiking? Going to the movies? All of us enjoy that.
So now, we totally build our family vacations around being outside. Because it’s play for all of us. It’s battery-charging for all of us. But that doesn’t just happen. We draw diagrams. We plan. And then…we goof off.
Doing the Scarecrow
What keeps most of us from dancing—at any age—is usually the desire to be cool, and being cool, even for grown-ups, is a refusal to be vulnerable. Cool starts early. Some of the latest research shows that rather than being an adolescent issue, our kindergartners and first graders are starting to feel anxiety over being cool and belonging. Imagine being 5 years old and deciding that it’s not so good to let others see how we feel.
When it comes to dancing, we’re afraid that we’re bad dancers or that others will laugh at us, so we don’t do it enough. About eight years ago, my daughter and I were at Nordstrom. She was in fourth grade, and there were these beautiful, put-together mothers in the shoe department with us. I was in my Jabba the Hutt sweatsuit; I looked horrible. And I was doing the whole shame routine…down to telling myself: “Argh. You’re a disaster. You don’t belong in this nice store with these fancy, put-together people.”
The kids’ department started playing a song. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw some movement. Then I saw three of the beautiful, put-together mothers and two of the daughters look past me, gasping. When I looked over, it was Ellen. Everyone was looking at Ellen. She had put her shoes down, and she was full-on doing the robot to the music—popping and locking. Without a care in the world. And you could tell these daughters were getting ready to laugh, and the moms were like, “Oh my God, girls, shield your eyes.”
At that moment, I had a choice. Previously, shame would have taken over, and I would have looked at Ellen and just said: “Pull yourself together, Ellen. Come on. Jesus. Stop being so…weird.” But I just heard this voice, the voice from my research and the voice from what I was trying to change in my own life, and that voice said: “Don’t betray her. Be on her side. Be on her side.” So I looked over and said, “Awesome robot.” And she said, “Hey, Mom. Show me the scarecrow again.”
The scarecrow is when you swing your hands like they’re not connected to your elbows. I did not want to do the scarecrow in Nordstrom. Inside me there is a seventh grader with sweaty palms who doesn’t have anywhere to sit in the cafeteria. But I did it. My daughter and I danced. Maybe I was faking it at little, but actions are far more important than anything we tell children. We have to show them love and self-worth, just as we have to show ourselves love and self-worth. We can’t just overlay these ideas on our lives. We have to change the way we live—and, fortunately, there isn’t just one way to do it.”
There is something quite amazing and magical about watching a persons life being transformed by the power of being loved and accepted by others – When People Love Us, We Are Transformed.
After watching Despicable Me 2 for the 6th time with my sons I started to wonder why exactly we all seem to love it so much. I mean think about it, we have watched it 6 times and the movie is 98 minutes long which puts us as having spent 588 minutes of our lives on this movie. So I started thinking – is Despicable Me 2 really worth the 588 minutes of my life I have given it? Why yes it is!
For starters, who doesn’t love those Minions? Seriously, they are so cute and hilarious with all of their funny noises and behaviors. This movie has me and my sons laughing over and over again. But then I thought, “There has to be more to why we love this movie….what is it exactly?” Then it hit me.
A huge part of the story in both of the Despicable Me movies is watching Gru, the main character, learn his true identity and self-worth through being loved by others who see him for who he truly is.
We see his character go from a cold-hearted villain who is mean and is literally stealing the moon from the sky, to a man transformed by the love of three little girls he adopts in the first movie.
When we are experiencing the love of another, and I am talking about deep love that moves us – a natural response to this kind of love when never experienced before is to go on defense.
And defense, at times, looks exactly like what we see happen to Gru – the more the love of others (specifically his three daughters and the character Lucy in the second movie) challenges his current view of himself (his identity, self-worth, etc.) the more his relational fears surface. The closer Lucy gets to Gru, the more we see flashbacks to Gru’s childhood. We see Gru coming up against the “demons” in his past – being made fun of, seeming unloveable to all humans, unaccepted, and fearing rejection. It appears that the more he is loved and delighted in by his daughters and Lucy, who ultimately becomes Gru’s wife by the end of this movie, the more his “demons” seem to rear their heads. Ultimately Gru has to choose to trust their love of him, embrace the changed man he has become, and no longer allow the “demons” of his past to rule his current life.
These movies do an excellent job of showing us how love can profoundly transform us if we risk letting it in.
By: Lianne Johnson, LPC
While looking through my ever exciting and thrilling Facebook page a few months ago, I saw a blog post a friend of mine shared. The title caught my eye. It read, “Let’s be gentle with each other. Let’s read each other’s signs.” After reading the title I thought it sounded interesting so I clicked it. Little did I know how powerful the story I was about to read would be. Have you ever asked yourself the question, “How different would my friends and family be with me if my pain (this includes all types of pain) didn’t scare them?” I have often wondered this in my life. I have wondered how much more care I might receive if the people trying to care for me weren’t so wrapped up in how my pain/problem(s)/fear(s) were impacting them.
This post I am about to share with you is written by Melody Ross. She shares with us her story. It’s a story about personal pain, being cared for by others, being judged, and most of all surviving. If you take the time to read it I would enjoy hearing your thoughts about it and how it impacted you.
Here it is…
After a dear friend telling me about a hurtful experience she’d had this week. I began thinking again about a story I have told a few times…. a story that my children will tell to their children, and maybe even beyond that… because it was such a learning experience in our family, maybe even a turning point.
It’s a story that I think about often because we were the main characters in it 3 or 4 years ago, and even though it was something that lasted less than 15 minutes it changed all of us and now I see others differently, especially when it seems that they might be main characters in the same story…or one a lot like it. I used to be too embarrassed to tell this story… but I am not anymore. This is a human story that everyone needs to hear, I truly believe this. I hope you will stay with it, it’s kinda long.
As we move along… I want you to think about some of the big signs with big messages that I bet you wish you could wear around your neck sometimes so that people would be more gentle, or even that you could put around the neck of someone you love — so that you didn’t have to go into a big long story to defend yourself or someone else– so that people would just stop judging and and just be kind.
I need to start this story by giving you a little bit of background. You see, my husband had an accident in 2004 that injured the frontal lobe of his brain. It has taken 6 years to get him back, but in the middle there, between 2004 and now, lots and lots of stuff happened. He was essentially out of it, but not just that, he changed to someone else, we lost him.
His personality changed completely, he could not work, he was angry and depressed and could not cope with human beings. He did not feel love or affection, really he only felt anger, rage, and he was suicidal most of the time. He did not remember a lot of things. He could not take care of our family or even himself, really (and I want to mention again that through lots of miracles, he is 100% recovered now…we are so thankful….he is even BETTER than he was before his accident).
But during that time he would have these confusing and amazing glitches of time when he would be totally normal. It was bittersweet. They would last for an hour sometimes, and sometimes for days or even weeks then he would sink back down into that horrible place. When he was sick, I protected him fiercely. I didn’t want anyone to see him like that. I had faith that someday he would recover but man oh man it was lonely. I wished every single day that I could just walk around with a sign like this…
because on the outside I looked like I had EVERYTHING GOING FOR ME I looked like I might just have a perfect life but I was hiding a very painful secret…
Well, a lot of other things happened too. You can imagine what might happen over the years while we have a 7 acre farm, a pretty big international business that we own with lots of employees, a life that HE managed before his accident, while he just let me do the fun and creative stuff. Now we had lots of medical bills, lots of sorrow and lots of distractions, we also had LOTS of kids — and no one competent managing the business.
Well, after a few years, I couldn’t hold it all together. Our business was suffering for all of the reasons listed above and a few more reasons on top of that and we discovered that we were really SINKING. Well, one day when he was partly lucid…he was THERE…he was coherent — I told him the condition of our life.
He kind of panicked and he went straight to work figuring out what he could do. It was insanely heartbreaking when he would “wake up” after weeks or months and I had to tell him how much things were deteriorating financially, etc. It was very hard. But when he could, he did what he could before his mental illness sucked him back into the prison it kept him in most of the time.
He called a sign place and had a huge sign brought out to our house…the kind that you can put letters on, and it was electric and lit up. He put it by the road in one of our horse fields. Then he drove our Suburban, both of our trucks, my classic Thunderbird that he got me for my birthday a few years earlier, our tractor, all of our tractor implements, the boat that I worked 10 years to get for him (and that caused his brain injury, incidentally), and he lined everything up along the fence and he put a price tag on every single thing. Then, he put the letters on that big huge sign and plugged it in.
You have to understand that we had worked for MANY years for those things. We started a business in our twenties and we sacrificed everything we had for all of those years to make it work. We owned almost all of it outright, but, when I told him that the business was struggling, this is what he did.
Sooooo…there it was. All in a row. All of our stuff –out in our field.
All of the neighbors driving by, our friends, the community, people who knew us most of our lives and people who knew nothing about us…we were just the young family who lived in that beautiful little farm house on Beacon Light road with the perfect lawn….or what USED to be.
You see, in addition, for months, our once beautifully manicured yard started to be filled with weeds that were now several feet high. I just couldn’t keep it up. The lawn was a nightmare. Everything was just falling apart all around me and my heart was broken over my husband, too. It was humiliating and exhausting and horrible, really.
Well, the sign was not up in the field for more than a few hours, when my husband’s phone rang. It was someone who saw all the stuff and my husband’s phone number on the big huge sign. We were sitting out in the yard while he was still coherent and he was feeling devastated about the condition of our lawn. I was apologizing that I just couldn’t do all of it. He was so heartbroken at his limitations and that he had left me to try to handle our life alone. We were trying to make a plan.
He answered his phone. I saw that he was just listening. I could hear that the person’s voice was getting louder and louder and louder. My husband just listened. He turned his back to me a little so I wouldn’t hear. But I could hear it. It seemed to go on and on and on.
These were the things I could hear on the other end of the phonecall:
“You are bringing down the value of my property with that ugly sign!”
“What are you doing?”
“That is the most obnoxious sign, do you have a permit to have that out there?”
“Are you starting a used car lot?”
“You have got to get all of that moved and out of here or I am calling the authorities”
I sat there, mortified, embarrassed, humiliated, mad, sad, devastated. I was certain that this would snap my husband back into his dark hellish place.
But, when the man was done ranting, my husband waited a second and then very calmly said something that I will never, ever forget.
“Sir,” he said, “There was a time in this country, in this community…when if you drove past your neighbor’s house and saw every single thing they own was for sale in front of their house…and that their lawn had not been mowed for weeks….that you would stop and say….WHAT IS GOING ON, SOMETHING MUST BE TERRIBLY WRONG, WHAT CAN I DO TO HELP YOU?”
The man was silent, and then my husband went on to tell him a few details about what was going on with our family.
The man waited a moment and then his tone changed. He apologized. I mean, really apologized and then said:
“I am going to call all of my friends and see if any of them need any of this stuff….”
I wish with everything in me that we could have put a sign up on that big stupid lit up billboard in our field that said OUR LIFE IS FALLING APART, but all that we really could put up is a sign with the price of everything that we owned that was worth any money.
WHAT IF we could all wear a sign that said what WE REALLY MEANT? What if we could go straight past the small talk or the masks, and we could actually go straight to the heart of the matter. What if our friends and family wore signs like this?
…we would treat each other differently.
I think we should just try to imagine it. That when a friend is quiet…or not showing up to stuff she usually shows up to, or acting a little “off”, or a family member is wearing pajamas to the grocery store for weeks on end, or not answering the phone, or the lawn is not mowed…
whatever it is…
IT IS A SIGN. It is not a sign that can be read in words and letters, but it is a sign that someone needs to be treated gently. That they need help. Most of all, that they need love, understanding, and that they DEFINITELY DO NOT need to be judged.
Every time I think of this story I want to be better. I want to do better, I don’t want any silent signs to go unread before my eyes or my heart. I don’t want to make up my own answers to what must be going on. I don’t want to assume…
Let’s be gentle with each other. Let’s read each other’s signs.
—– The original post can be found at: http://www.mamamia.com.au/news/her-husband-had-an-accident/
I remember a time when I experienced loss. As I walked home that evening, I remember telling myself this isn’t going to ruin me. I made a vow that I wouldn’t let it affect me. I wouldn’t be weak. I wouldn’t feel. I would forget; pretend it never happened. And then it wouldn’t hurt me. Then it wouldn’t touch me. I would ignore the wound; pretend it wasn’t there. Then it would go away.
But it didn’t go away. Neither did my memories. I started watching more TV to try to divert my attention. I had trouble concentrating on work, my mind wandering back to that event. To that pain. I had to distract myself, numb myself. I mustn’t think about it ever again. It was too painful. If I thought about it, something bad would happen . . . I had to avoid it at all costs.
by Jonathan Hart, LPC
In order to experience life more richly and more fully, you must become a student of your own heart and mind. Many of us walk through life working very hard to feel happy and to not feel sad. It is a human instinct. When we feel happy, we accept it as normal and good. When we feel pain or sorrow, we try to avoid it, snuff it, or overcome it because on some level we believe that it is not normal and therefore it is bad. There is little examination of how joy or sorrow take shape in our own hearts. This leads us to a blandness of experience that we find acceptable only because we have not tasted the richness that is possible.
Let me explain. When we feel sadness, our first instinct is often to try to get happy. It seems foolish to allow the sadness to stay. If we can’t “get happy”, we wonder what is wrong with us… which leads to more sadness, and even to shame. We try to anesthetize the pain with all kinds of things, from shopping to substances to adrenaline rushes. Somehow the sadness flattens all of these eventually. Our attempts to feel better are not what they cracked up to be. We need something different, something more authentic.
What if, instead of running from the sadness we acknowledge it and not only allow it to stay, but poke at it, study it? What if we learn what it is really about, how it works, why it is there? This is not an attempt to make it better. Rather it is an attempt to know it more fully, to give it room to exist.
“Why on earth would I do that?!” you might ask. The answer is simple: sadness is normal. If you have lost your job or a loved one, had a friend move away, had a car crash, or had a child move on to college, the sadness you feel is supposed to be there. It is a normal emotional response to loss. If you fight it, you will lose.
Rather than fighting it, I suggest making friends with it. Observe and experience your feelings at the same time. Get to know it. Learn how it works in you. Allow it to be present, and actually feel it for a change.
Do not only do this with sadness. Do this with joy and contentment and peace as well. Instead of just rolling past it, pause and examine it. Feel it more fully. Know why it is there and how it comes to be. Pick apart why the joke was funny to you, explore the layers of irony or innuendo.
In short, become a student of your own heart. Don’t measure yourself against others’ reactions or patterns: they are not you. Be yourself, and be yourself more fully. Stop striving for the illusion of perpetual happiness, and strive to know the full range of human experience on a deeper level.
by Jonathan Hart, LPC
SPOILER ALERT: for those who haven’t read the Harry Potter or Hunger Games series, there may be plot spoilers in the following paragraphs, though I will try hard not to reveal too much.
My wife and I were discussing some of our thoughts about how the books The Deathly Hallows and Mockingjay ended, and how they served to wrap up their respective series. We were thoroughly disappointed in each and for similar reasons. The core of our disappointment was the principle of “putting a bow on ugly”.
The Harry Potter series ended with an epilogue titled “19 years later”, that (we felt) too neatly and agreeably attempted to wrap up all the threads from the series. The fact that Harry named a child after the person who most utterly despised him and treated him viciously even behind closed doors was just too much. I can see coming to respect him, but one simply does not name a child after an abuser of this magnitude. All the ugliness seemed to have inexplicably vanished.
The Hunger Games series tried to do the same thing, though the attempt at closure was somewhat better. The author at least attempted to acknowledge that ugly existed in the post-story world, but it was still resolved too simplistically and without the flesh to make it believable for me.
Hollywood and fiction train us to expect that all the loose ends can be resolved, that resolution equals “happily ever after” or at least a reasonable facsimile thereof. They train us to need things to work out that way. This is most plainly true in the (despicable and utterly useless) genre known as “Romantic Comedy”. I cannot say more without using profanity.
Think of the sense of disappointment or unease when you watch a movie in which resolution is not clean or neat. We recently watched the movie Moneyball, which does not conclude with a “Hollywood Ending”. I can only say that the events depicted happened within the recent lifetimes of many, and as such could not be modified to fit the pattern described above. I feel that if they were more ancient history they would likely have been changed into something completely victorious.
This is fine, and even necessary (to a degree) for celluloid. The unfortunate side effect is that because reality is very much different, many people are left with a sense of disappointment and even despair when real life does not work that way. The truth is that human beings are generally a broken, selfish lot that is capable of both great goodness and great evil, often within a single breath.
The fact is that intimacy, real relationship, and engaging responsibly with another human being is often like a wrestling match. The very best relationship in the world experiences conflict and disagreement, hurt and offense, misunderstanding and tension on an ongoing basis. The couple who tells you that “never a harsh word is spoken” is either whitewashing, outright lying, or they are not experiencing real, deep intimacy.
If you are going to really do deep, intimate relationship with another person, you’d better know how to fight. I don’t mean knowing how to eviscerate your opponent in the shortest period of time. I mean knowing how to hold in tension the following two truths: 1. This other person and I are on the same side, and 2. There is pain and friction between us.
When I talk about knowing how to fight, I mean knowing how to understand and express my own feelings and thoughts in a way that does not accuse or attack the other, even when it is plainly and wholly their fault. I mean learning how to uphold their honor and dignity while feeling the painfully powerful desire to rip their eyes out. I mean knowing how to view conflict as a necessary part of doing relationship, and not as a threat to relationship.
It is often one of the hardest lessons to learn in relationship that resolution is not about coming to agreement, but rather it is about coming to a deeper understanding of the other person, and thereby learning how to craft a unique relationship between the two of you. No part of that process is clean, neat, or simple. It is ugly, and to expect or demand otherwise only leads to disappointment. You can put a bow on it if you like, but that doesn’t make it easier to look at. It takes patience, forgiveness, grace, mercy, and love. When you’ve come to the other side of it, it will still be ugly, but there is a beauty in what has been created by moving through it that will last a lifetime.