Can We Be Too Empathetic

I empathize.  Actually, I am an empathy-aholic.  There I’ve said it.  It’s not that I do it on a conscious level.  It comes automatically from somewhere deep inside my brain, I suppose.  I think I have some idea of where it comes from and how I got trained into being this way but, it hasn’t stopped me from doing it yet.

1a7177096b3a0f13ac832d9cb02a61e5

Being empathetic is a good way to understand others and what they may be going through.  When we draw on our own experiences with issues or situations that we’ve been through, the idea is that perhaps, we can more fully understand and help in some way, those who are traveling down paths that we’ve been down.  At the least, we can imagine what they must be feeling and offer them some form of help one way or another.

Sadly, that’s not how it always works out and there’s good reason for it not always being the case or a help for that person.

We are not that person and no two people are exactly alike.

No one is you or will experience things the way that you do.  Some will take things harder than you would while others will experience those same experiences to a lighter degree than we do.  A lot will depend upon the person, themselves as well as what other experiences they’ve had in their lives.  We’re all created differently.  What soothes me may make you simply annoyed.  What calms you may make me question other things happening because I’ve had a different set of experiences than you and therefore, see and feel things differently.  What your friend, loved one, partner or spouse might feel, you’re not necessarily going to feel the same way.  Vice versa, you may have had a set of life encounters and dealings or issues that your friend, loved one, partner, neighbour or whomever may not have had and you may react far more towards certain things than they will as a result of those things.

Possibly the best thing one can remember or keep in mind is that what you felt during something you’ve experienced, may or may not be what the other person has or is feeling.  Empathizing internally or externally with that person or group of people might be fruitless for them and you because they’re not feeling or reacting the way that you imagine they would be for all of the above reasons.

Trying to feel what someone else may be feeling won’t necessarily help them but, it can hurt you when done too often and to excess.

Each of us in this life will have our own sets of baggage to carry around or deal with.  No one alive is baggage free.  If we’re metaphysical or spiritual or religious, we can put it down to the fact that each of us has a certain number of lessons to learn.  In other words, we need to go through what we have to go through for some Cosmic reason that we’re unaware of as a “lesson” of sorts.

If we’re not spiritually inclined or religious, we can say that perhaps, what circumstances we’re in, we’re in because of choices that we or others around us have made or are making.  If that’s the case, it’s often up to us to either find a way to cope with it or to make other choices wherever possible.

Whatever the case is, we’re all going to be dealt some good and some crappy hands in this poker game we call, Life.  Some will get more cruddy hands than others will.  Is the luck of the draw or our own personal choices or, is it the choice of something or someone else or higher than us?  Often we’ll never know which but we can decide how we deal with it one way or another.

While we can try to give advice or opinions to others we cannot climb into their skin and brains with them or do it for them.  Not only is that not a healthy way for that person to deal with things but, it’s not healthy for us either.

Simply put, we cannot take on everyone else’s burdens, problems or issues too lest we become over-burdened.  Emotional and mental health is fragile when we take on too much of anything.  Certainly, trying to feel what someone else or even everyone else around us is feeling and trying to take some of the weight off of their shoulders, is unhealthy and unhelpful more often than not.  Do that enough times, with enough people and we’ve got a recipe for disaster for ourselves.

Those we empathize with, often move on and out of situations while we’re left feeling dragged out, worn out and depressed.  

Many times now, I’ve worked hard at trying to help someone out of a jam or situation by empathizing with them so that I can draw on my own feelings and experiences to do so.  Unfortunately, I’ve done it with everyone around me at the same time while trying to deal with my own too.  I can say first-hand that it’s not a good nor, healthy thing to do as I’ve been left feeling overwhelmed, burdened, even ill and it’s not solved the other person’s issues.

Worse than that, I’ve found that once I’m a mess, those people I empathized with so heavily, have found a way to deal with their situations and moved on in their lives while I’m laying in a ball, trying to pick up my own pieces.

Human Nature wants equilibrium and will seek it out.

Most people will have to endure some not so lovely experiences.  We all have to face deaths of loved ones if we live long enough to see it or, we’ll all have money issues at some point or another unless we’re born with a proverbial silver spoon in our mouths and a never-ending stream of funds coming our way.  We’ll all feel the sting of rejection from one source or another, one type or another. We’ll all get sick even with only a cold.  We’re all going to die.  That’s the bottom line to Life here.  We’re all going go through negative spots or many.  The reality is, we will all seek out a more comfortable way of feeling and being.  Unless we have a true mental illness that keeps us in one state of mind, we’re going to automatically seek out feeling better and do whatever it takes to feel that way.  It’s part of Human Nature.  No one wants to feel down or depressed forever and we’ll do whatever it takes to feel better for the most part.  Empathizing with someone only takes the energy out of you in this case because:

  1. You can help but you cannot change someone else’s situation, pain, hurt or whatever they are going through.  That is their path to go down.  You can’t change it by trying to feel what they are feeling.
  2. By the time you’ve worn yourself out empathizing, they’ve likely found other ways to deal with their situations or emotions.  If they haven’t already done that, they eventually will.
  3. Because of the first point and the second, you’re doing no one any good except to weaken yourself to your own challenges in Life.

 

Not many will empathize with you in the same way nor to the same extent so, why not reserve some energy for your own struggles? 

oxygen

Have you ever noticed that you’re always there for others during their times of crises but, when you need someone or some help, everyone you’ve turned somersaults for during their bad times, is suddenly “too busy” to be there when you need someone?  I’m sure many of us can relate to this one unless we’ve led a rather selfish existence in not helping other soul.  Not many people can or will say that.

Not that we expect something in return when we try to help other people but, we would hope that the kindnesses that we’ve shown others will be returned to some extent or another should we ever need something.  However, that’s often not the case.  The question always begs, why doesn’t that happen?

“I’ve given and given to this person and that person and the other one down the street but, when I needed one simple favour, there was no one around,” you may be saying right now.  “As a matter of fact, the only time I’ve had someone help me, it’s been only half of the effort that I’ve put into them or less.  I don’t get it!”

You’re not alone in wondering why that is but, there’s often a simple answer.

You’ve been far too kind or generous with your time and emotions and, you’ve thought of others in ways that they don’t think about you or anyone else for that matter most of the time.  

If the truth is told, not many people can or will even attempt to empathize with you the way that you have done with or for them.  That doesn’t necessarily make them selfish but, it does stand as a lesson that putting too much effort into someone else, is not only not necessary but, it doesn’t get you anywhere except a lot of being overwhelmed then, frustrated and disappointed.  It’s time for you to turn down the volume a bit on your pouring out of empathy towards others.  That’s not to say that you don’t care about others but, it’s saying that you have to put yourself up there in the ranking of first place because while others may help you, they’re not going to take your problems over.  You need your emotional strength for your own issues.

Some points to remember:

  • It’s ok to understand what others might be going through on a “cerebral level” but, it’s not healthy for either of you to reach down inside yourself and try to feel what the other person is feeling.
  • If someone is in a hole, jumping into it with them (via empathy) is only trapping both of you.  You’re far more helpful to that person to stay safely on the side, being their for them to throw them down a rope so that they can climb out versus you being in there with them.
  • Expecting others to empathize with you in the same way or to the same extent as you’ve done for them, is not only unhealthy but unreasonable to expect because no one is you or can feel like you do and, not many people will be able to or even want to try.  Most people are in this world to look after themselves first and foremost.  Help but, don’t jump into that pit with them because they likely won’t do the same for you when or if you needed that kind of help.
  • There’s a difference between sympathy and empathy.  Sympathy is the ability to feel sorrow for what one is going through without the extra step of actually trying to put yourself in their shoes and feeling what they may be feeling.  Too much sympathy can be unhealthy too but, it’s easier to recuperate from and less intrusive to your life than full empathy.
  • You don’t need to feel what other people are feeling nor, can you really feel what they may be feeling.  As explained above, no two people are alike and even though they may be going through what you’ve been through, their other experiences in life as well as their personalities are going to shape how they react to a situation.  It’s rather fruitless, unhelpful and unhealthy for you to try to put yourself in their emotional shoes because they likely not only won’t fit but, it doesn’t help them or you.  Throw them a rope and let them climb out of the hole they’re in.
  • Look after your own needs first and think about yourself because not many people in your life will be there for you 24/7, trying to feel what you’re going through.  Those who have been there in their own experiences don’t want to re-visit it and those who haven’t, can’t feel what you’re feeling to help.  More to the point, not many will even try.

From my little corner of life, I see helping others as something that should be done when your own needs have been met and you’re able to emotionally be strong.  It does not mean hurling yourself into an emotional tailspin.  No one need do that to help others.  Heaven knows that were doctors, nurses, police officers, first responders, fire fighters etc., were to do that, they’d be crippled and couldn’t do their jobs after one or two incidents.

Do yourself and other people a favour.  Stay healthy by helping others in a healthy way.  Empathy has its place but, it’s limited.

Be well.  Love and Light.

 

 

When Your Adult Child Becomes Abusive

miserable

If your adult child or children were anyone else on this planet, would you allow them the leeway that you are giving to your abusive child or children?

Tough question to answer, isn’t it?  Part of that is because we have that “bond” with our child or children as a parent that supersedes any other relationship that we can have or have had in our lives.  Love is blind as they say so, we often blindfold ourselves to the three dimensional view of our child or children.  We can see glimpses of their flaws and faults but, that’s as much as our guilt will allow us to see.  It’s nearly impossible for us to be as fully objective about our own child or children as we may be able to be with other people.

The word “guilt” was used for good reason. As parents, not only does the love we have for them become overwhelming and blinding but, we tend to tie our own self-worth into our child or children.  The moment we dive deeply into being critical of our own flesh and blood that we brought into this world or even adopted from someone else’s womb, we tie ourselves to that child or children in a way that we cannot tie ourselves to anyone else on this planet.  A put-down of our child even from our own minds and whether we gave birth to them or not, is oftentimes, felt as a put-down upon ourselves as both parents as well as who we are in general as people.  If our child or children are not doing well in life or is somehow “flawed”, we can unconsciously or even consciously, figure that it’s our faults.  We can leap to the conclusion that somehow, we have failed as parents and therefore we are also flawed as people in one way or another.

Not everyone will completely blame themselves for their child’s failures in Life.  Some parents will be able to see that our children have made choices in friends or groups that they’ve chosen to hang around and blame them instead of ourselves.  However, somewhere, deep down inside of us, there’s still a feeling of somehow being imperfect as a parent because our child or children have made those choices whether we’ve discouraged it or outright forbidden it or not. On some level or another, we feel “guilt” in one capacity or another and can tear ourselves to shreds as both parents as well as people.

This then leads us back to the question of whether or not we would allow any other human being to treat us the way that we allow our adult children to treat us.

First of all, were someone else to be treating us with any level ranging from disrespect to outright abuse, we’d likely toss those people from our lives to some extent or another, for some time frame or another or, more likely, until there was at least a sincere apology from that person.  If it was a long-termed thing, we’d likely walk away and not look back.   With family, it’s not quite that easy.  We can even find ourselves being victims as adults to poor treatment from our own parents and siblings out of a feeling of obligation and duty.  However, having said that, we can also come to a point where we begin to distance ourselves either somewhat or totally from them and their abusive or manipulative ways.  Friends or others in our lives are even more likely to be walked away from under these circumstances.  Our children are not quite as easy to distance ourselves from because of the above and for other reasons.

There is likely few people that we put more of ourselves into than we do with our child or children.  Even as adults, we are still invested in many ways in our children’s lives and well-being.  After all, isn’t that our job?  At least, that’s what we may reason with ourselves but, the answer to that is a resounding “no” once our children become adults and, we don’t need to continue to allow them to use, abuse or treat us poorly once they have become adults.  Our “jobs” are done.  We gave birth to them, loved them, raised them, gave them what we could reasonably give them and we supported them in more than a roof over their heads.  There are exceptions of course in the parenting world to this but, we’re talking about the average parent here, not those who were abusive to their own children or neglectful in any way.

There are a few things to take into consideration in how parents can deal with their adult-abusive or even estranged child (a topic that not many sites will deal with).

Your influence over your adult child was watered down many years ago.

We all like to think that we still have some sort of power or control over our children’s lives once they are adults.  For some, this is true but, for the most part, our influences over our child, all of our teachings, morals and values that we feel we’ve instilled into them, was long ago watered down by the influences of many other people in our children’s lives as they grow.  We are no longer their sole source of influence.  Peers, bosses, teachers and society in general, also including technology as well as entertainment venues, have taken over the largest portion of what affects them or doesn’t affect them once they are adults and have been doing so for many years before this point.  Oftentimes, those sources are the biggest reasons for their actions, decisions or choices at this stage of their lives versus us, as parents.  We therefore, cannot continue to place blame upon ourselves for everything that our children decide to do or not do.  Those choices were influenced by many other sources and we are the least likely sources at this point in our children’s choices or lack of them so, we can halt the self-deprecating right there for their poor choices or in taking the blame for the way they treat us now.

Having given your child too much attention or in short, spoiling them.

A lot of parents from the 1980’s onwards are likely guilty of having given their child everything they could possibly give them including monetary things as well as attention, devotion, praise and love.  Parents of children from the 80’s onwards were also victims to a new way of thinking about parenting. Society was at a point where the theory was to reward children for almost everything that they did, including potty training.  They got stars, praise and even rewards or trophies for simply participating no matter how well they did or whether they did anything or not.  They simply had to show up more than half of the time in order to get a reward of some type or another.  Even education was play based and grades were given out according to effort, not necessarily, achievement.

This was a time frame in which parents were also encouraged to praise our children to the hilt for even small endeavours in the home and, it was done by most.  Support, praise, rewards and more of the same.  No matter what children did or didn’t do in those times, they were rewarded for one thing or another.  Not only did that lead us to believe that our children could do no wrong but, it led them to feeling “entitled” to getting rewarded in one way or another no matter what they did or didn’t do.  It was that entitlement that turned a fairly good chunk of those children into little narcissists who believed that the sun rose and set on them no matter what they did or didn’t do.  That wasn’t just parental influence but, also that of society in general.  Even were children to be disciplined at home, they were rewarded for even poor attitudes and skills outside of the home. Parents couldn’t override an entire system and if they tried, the parents became “The Hated Ones” because the rest of society and its systems were telling these children that they were “entitled”.   We did them no favours as human beings because it made it tougher for these kids to grow up into a tough, dog-eat-dog world where they weren’t able to cope well because everything had been handed to them up until this point.  That wasn’t necessarily parent’s faults but rather societal experimentation that failed these children and turned them into narcissistic tending little monsters who eventually, would grow up into adults who felt entitled and angry when they didn’t get what they wanted anymore from Life or their parents.

The “experts” are still saying that parents should tell their children they are loved no matter how badly they’ve treated us or, even if they have walked away on us and are now estranged from us.

Not to put down the so-called “experts” but, how many parents have tried with their children, always telling them that they are loved, only to find themselves being either doormats or punching bags for their children?

Answer:  Lots!

Sadly, many parents of children from the ’80s onwards are now finding their either fully adult or nearly adult children, treating them like yesterday’s garbage and being tossed to the side while they’re still telling their child, “I love you” and continuing to do so no matter how badly they are treated by their children.

Far be it from me to tell parents to not tell their children that they are loved and wanted.  Every parent needs to let their children know that much but, when that child not only disrespects that parent but, treats them poorly, it’s time to give up on the loving words and time to get real with their adult children by letting them know that while they are still loved, their attitudes and abusive, using actions will not be tolerated.  Enough already with sending them messages of “I love you” and leaving it there while rolling with the punches.  These are no longer 10 year old children who can’t understand the meanings of their actions fully.  These are fully grown adults who must learn that for every action, there’s an equal or greater reaction.  That doesn’t mean withdrawing love for them however, it does mean that these adults don’t get to treat their parents poorly and still get the benefits that they would if they were treating their parents with respect and love too.  Poor actions get poor reactions.  Withdrawal of love for them is never a solution but, rewarding them by permitting poor treatment is not the answer.  They need a wake-up call for their sakes as well as the parent’s own well-being.

If you wouldn’t let others treat you this way and would walk away from them, why are you letting your child do this to you?  

As has been said throughout this piece in differing ways, rewarding poor behaviour is akin to a form of abuse from parents.  We are not doing them any good by rewarding our children for their poor treatment of us or by putting up with it and giving them more and more of ourselves.  Life doesn’t work that way so, why should we?

When a child is rewarded for poor behaviour, attitudes, actions, choices or decisions, it re-inforces that behaviour within them.  No, they won’t like being said “no” to nor, will they love the idea that they’re not getting their own way or what they want if we do start to stand up to them as adults and let them know that it’s not ok to treat us in a poor manner.  However, continuing to give them what they want, expect or feel entitled to getting, is only bolstering the idea that poor behaviour, temper tantrums, threats of withdrawal from our lives and whatever else they can throw at us to manipulate us into giving them what they want is simply training them to continue treating us as parents, wrongly, poorly and with disregard as well as disrespect.

Let me say something perfectly clear here.

Giving more of yourself and handing everything to someone who is treating us badly, let alone our children, is a recipe for becoming a “doormat” for others.  In short, we are laying ourselves down on the ground and letting people walk on and wipe their feet on us.  That’s not right.  We are people too and it doesn’t matter who they are to us.  

Sadly, sometimes, we have to let them go and hope that they will eventually come back otherwise, we risk our lives becoming infected with toxicity.  

There’s no bigger health threat than having someone we love, treat us like dirt beneath their feet and making us feel like we don’t matter in this life.  That goes for our adult children.  We all need to feel wanted, loved, respected and treated fairly and well.  We deserve that from others especially, the very children that we lovingly raised to the adult level and oftentimes, sacrificed more than a good night’s sleep for.  Many parents can tell stories of having given up great careers, being able to travel or do things that they, themselves wanted to do for themselves that would have made them happy, in order to give everything to their child or children, leaving themselves unhappy, unfulfilled and only to be treated in an abusive, uncaring manner or worse, have that child or children walk out of their lives, without contact, care or concern for their parent(s) and their well-being.

More to the point, those children have become what one can consider a “toxin” to the parent, making them feel as though they’ve wasted those years of their lives on someone who cannot or more to the point, return that love, care or respect to their parents.  Not only that but, it wears on the parent’s psychological well-being and soon after, their physical health.  It’s a vicious cycle especially, when the parent continues to feel as though they simply need to do more, try harder, give more or plead with that child to keep their love or the adult child in their lives.  It’s akin to a dog or cat, chasing their own tails.  It’s a fruitless exercise in not only futility but in a form of an illness of one sort or another.  It won’t change your child and sometimes, the only way to make one person’s lives healthier, is for the parent to either distance themselves, limit their time or exposure to that child’s ill behaviour and treatment or, to completely walk away if the child doesn’t do it for themselves.

Yes, that all sounds counter-intuitive to what we feel or have been taught to think of as “proper parenting” but, this all leads back to the original question….

If this were anyone else in your life, would you continue to let that person abuse or mistreat you?

If your answer is “yes” then you, yourself need to find some counselling because you’re not valuing yourself as a person and instead, are valuing others above yourself.

If you answered “no” to this question then, why are you allowing and encouraging your adult child to continue to do it to you?

From my little corner of life, while this is a longer piece than I usually write, it’s an under said topic that needs addressing more and more fully.  We’ve turned out a couple of generations of children now, both adult and children who need to learn that you aren’t rewarded for treating others poorly.  There are consequences to their behaviours and reactions to their actions of equal or greater proportion.

Be well and let me know what you are dealing with in the comments, please.

Best wishes from one parent to another or to adult children who might be reading this and recognizing what may be happening in their own relationships with their parents.

Comment!

 

 

 

Celebrity Deaths Can Help Us

Three celebrities died during August and early September of 2014  Robin Williams, Lauren Bacall and Joan Rivers all passed away within a couple of weeks of one another.  One was barely talked about, another was covered for a couple of days and the other was and still is being talked about.  What made the difference?

Lauren Bacall had been out of the limelight for awhile.  She was also 89 years old which led to an acceptance that Life has to end at some point or another.  This was hers. More to the point, Bacall’s death came a day or so after a tragic suicide of another celeb who was more in the spotlight at the time of his passing.  It was with little wonder that Bacall’s passing got little more than a media notice and the public was still engaged in William’s suicide.

Comedian/Actor, Robin Williams on the other hand, was only 63 years of age, had a number of projects wrapping up and was moving onto the planning stages of yet another.  His sudden death by suicide was shocking to the world as he was well known around the globe.

Comedienne, Joan Rivers’ end came at 81 years of age and was just as much of a shock as Williams’ death but, was seemingly the result of a medical error or condition. The final cause of her death is still under investigation.  Rivers was also still extremely active and in the spotlight at the time of her passing.

While one can accept that Bacall had lived a full and long life and this was simply her time, it has not been the case with Williams’ nor, with Rivers’ deaths.  Yet, there is seemingly more fascination with Rivers’ death than with Williams’.

Perhaps, the reasoning for the public’s fascination with Rivers’ death, in spite of being 81 years of age by comparison to Williams’ death at 63 years of age, has to do with a number of factors.

Williams’ death had a known cause.  He ended his own life.  Furthermore, it was known that Williams had been suffering from depression and anxiety as well as early stage Parkinson’s Disease.  We quickly dismissed his death as being one of “choice” in a loose fitting way and accepted the explanation given to us as the public, being that of depression.

Rivers on the other hand, seemingly full of life, no depressive episodes known to us, going in for a routine procedure many people go through on a daily basis, seemed implausible to have happened especially, given her fame, fortune and connections with the best of medical care and, we still don’t know for certain what it was that happened during that procedure that caused her life to end.

What also made a difference were a couple of more pieces that our minds can’t seem to accept.

Williams’ family quickly had a very private funeral without public notification.  No one knew that his remains had been quickly cremated and ashes spread.  While the public was still chewing on the horror of his tragic death, his family was discreetly carrying out his funeral, unbeknownst to his fans.  It was over before it began for the public.

Secondly, suicide still has a taboo attached to it.  For many, suicide is still thought of as a “sin”.  Not many want the “shame” attached to a family member’s death via suicide.  It has the ability to cast a form of blame onto those who were closest to him.

Rivers, on the other hand, did not look like her chronological age of 81.  Thanks to her many rounds of plastic surgery and cosmetic procedures, we were fooled into feeling her to be younger than the years she actually had lived.  Her vim and vigor at this age, with a full plate of both ongoing and future public appearances were of little help in the public’s mind of her being the age that she was.

Next to those facts, the idea that her death was one that shouldn’t have happened while undergoing such a routine procedure that millions have every year, in a clinic that allegedly had the most state of the art equipment and, she could afford the best of doctors, was a shocking revelation to most that things can and do go wrong in spite of all of the above.

Finally, we don’t know yet what actually caused Rivers’ heart to stop and deprive her brain of the oxygen that damaged her brain beyond the capacity to live.  For all intents and purposes, this never should have been the case but, we don’t yet know what it was that caused it to happen.

What is saddest of all (beyond the obvious that world stars have gone) is that Williams’ death by suicide has been all but dropped as a topic of discussion.  The stigma of suicide has once again, caused the topic of depression to be swept under the carpet when it needs to be front and center and discussed to help others who may be facing a similar fate.  Many are in need of this type of a discussion being had and the families of those who have or will face the ravages of guilt from family or friend’s suicides through depression, also need the support that can only come through such a discussion.

On the same hand, we need to know what happened to Rivers in the clinic so that future patients will not end up with the same outcome.  Though extremely rare for this type of thing to happen during a procedure such as this, there are lessons to be learned for all.

Williams’ death needs to be kept in the lime light as much as or more than Rivers’ death.  Until we can remove the stigma attached to depression, mental illness/disorders and suicide, more will happen.  At least, that’s the way that I see things from my little corner of life.

Be Careful What You Tell Yourself

Think but, think the right thoughts. Change a thought and you change an emotion.

It’s dull and gray with a misty rain today.  It’s also Saturday so, I had the luxury of pulling the covers back up and resting in the idea that there was nothing urgent to be done.  I had the ability to stay in bed another hour or two, which I did.

I found myself thinking firstly, about the rain and the dullness…how “gloomy” it was.  Yes, I told myself it was depressing simply by using the word that I did.  Instead of simply telling myself that it was raining, I leaped directly to the word that connotated, depressing and actually felt somewhat depressed at that moment.

How could I have gone from a simple fact to feeling depressed?

My big mistake was in using a descriptive word that brought on that emotion.

If we allow ourselves to stand back far enough and simply become observers of our own thought processes, it’s amazing just how we can jade ourselves into a bad mood by what we are thinking.

David M. Burns, writes in his book “Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy”   that we cannot have an emotion, without having a thought.  He demonstrates that point with several different analogies.

One analogy for instance, involves two men, sitting in a car that is stuck on railway tracks.  One of the men notice a train, heading straight for them.   He is panicked and trying to get both himself and the other man, out of the car and to safety.  The other man, is blissfully unaware of the train heading for them so, he feels no panic, no worry, no fear (bringing new meaning to the phrase “what you don’t know can’t hurt you”).  Yet, both men are facing the same fate.  The difference is that one man’s thoughts are acknowledging the danger fully, while the other man is not even aware of it.  He is going on with his pleasant thoughts and thus, the difference in the two men’s emotions.

My personal favorite is where a husband and wife are both about to sit down to a lovely dinner together.  The husband looks at the very same table that his wife is looking upon.  The dishes are beautiful, the food looks and smells wonderful, they have each other’s company to enjoy.  Yet, both have very different feelings or emotions about the meal and the time together.  One is enjoying it, while the other is ready to leave, feeling their stomach in a knot.  What makes the difference?

It’s easy to figure out should we be able to listen to their thoughts.

The husband is having thoughts like,

“What a wonderful looking dinner.  I’m starving and this all smells so fabulous.  My wife is looking especially beautiful tonight and I can’t wait to taste that roasted beef.  It’s the perfect end to a long day.”

The wife, on the other hand, has thoughts like this,

“That roast looks dry and we’re going to pay so much for it.  Wonder how many calories there are in this meal?  I’m going to have to make sure to get to the gym tomorrow to work some of these calories off.  We have a party coming up in two weeks and I’ll never fit into my dress as it is.  Oh…wait….I can’t get to the gym tomorrow.  I have a late meeting at work.  Which reminds me, I’ve got to ask someone to pick up the kids and I’ll meet them at the soccer field.  How will I do all of that?  Oh, I can’t eat and enjoy this dinner now.”

How many times do we do to ourselves what the wife in this situation has done to herself?

I was in the grocery store the other day.  The line-ups were long as they only had two cashiers on.  I fretted and fumed.  I found myself clenching my teeth, angry with how a large chain grocery store could have only two cashiers on at one of the busiest times of the day.  Didn’t they know that people have other things to do with their lives?  How was I going to get dinner made, cleaned up and get out in time to meet a friend for coffee?  I found myself, wondering whether I really needed the things I was picking up but, realizing that I did and I was stuck, right there, having no choice but to wait.  I could feel the muscles in my neck tense with every moment.

Just ahead of me in line was a younger woman, two young children beside her buggy, who by all means, should have looked been much more stressed with the wait than I.  The children were antsy, bugging her to buy them gum, open up the chips, asking questions and generally, annoying me when I wasn’t the one who had to contend with them both.

I took a moment to watch this woman, much to my surprise, only to see that she didn’t at all seem stressed by the wait nor, her children’s incessant naggings, restlessness or fidgeting.  Instead, she reached into her cart and opened a box of cookies, giving both children one each and proceeded to pick up a magazine, reading it, while waiting.  The hurricane that could have ensued, was thereby, halted in its tracks and the woman was calmly and seemingly enjoying her wait time.

I couldn’t help but wonder what made the difference between her level of peace and the inner tornado that was ripping through my entire body at that moment.  Suddenly, it dawned on me that it was the difference in how we were thinking and handling the situation internally.

At that moment, I realized that all of the teeth grinding, fuming, fretting and toe-tapping in the world wasn’t going to make that line move anymore quickly.  It was my thoughts that were making this situation totally unacceptable to me and creating the levels of stress that were doing no one any good, least of all, me.

I reached into a refridgerated display case beside me, grabbed a Diet Pepsi and a magazine from another stand and stood there, enjoying both while I waited with everyone else.  Much to my chagrin at that point, I was next and having to put my groceries on the belt, feeling much more relaxed and actually, somewhat disappointed that I didn’t get to finish the article I had been reading.

What a difference a change in thinking can make in how we’re feeling.

Today it’s raining outside.  There’s water coming from the skies.  It’s giving the dry ground a much needed and long overdue drink so that the grass can become a lovely lucious shade of green and my rockery garden can bloom with its brilliant colors soon.

It’s actually a beautiful day and I have an umbrella.