Week after week, I want to reach out and share some inspiring thoughts to help those of you who are feeling frustrated, anxious, down and plain fed up.
Without sounding too prescriptive or trite, I want to find uplifting words to help:
Find the path of least resistance – that is, choose a way of being and a course of action that is the least taxing, the least demanding and difficult, but still allows for opportunities to create meaning. Stay mentally and physically healthy & strong. Find daily moments of quiet and solitude.
The fear and the reality of COVID, combined with the impulse for safety can contribute to various constrictions – in our bodies and minds. Find ways around this, so that you can feel open, carefree and light-hearted.
p.s While masks make it difficult to connect, I have found that eye contact is much much more interesting.
On vacation in Andalusia, in southern Spain, I have hiked in three different mountain ranges in the provinces of Malaga, Granada and Cadiz.
It feels wonderful to enjoy the beauty and sounds of nature and to get lost in my own thoughts.
But there is apprehension, too.
Over the last few years, leg and back injuries have muted the old pleasure of mastering physical challenges. My self-confidence has diminished, when it comes to hikes and the like.I usually plan to reach a set destination or to follow a specific route. Sometimes I care if I get there, and sometimes I don't mind ending up elsewhere. As long as the hike covers well-marked trails and easily-walked terrain, with occasional uphill challenges, and wraps up in three hours or so, I'm happy. I do prefer huffing and puffing uphill to putting on the brakes while going downhill, where I feel my knees and hips absorb too much force.
And something very unpleasant happens to me when the trails are not well-marked, the ground is uneven or strewn with loose rocks, the ups are too steep or go on for too long, and the 3-hour limit has somehow passed.
Walking along a narrow path, with little room to maneuver, I see myself falling over the cliff. I look up at boulders that have been there forever and wonder if they might come tumbling down. I look down at the Mediterranean and imagine a hypnotic urge to do something crazy - like jump. The end looms. I tell myself that I'm running out of energy and won't be able to make it much longer.
These unsettled moments are among the many ways we can experience anxiety. The continuum ranges from the passing hiking fears I have been facing to feeling out-of-control with endless nervous thoughts experienced by all too many others.
Because I'm interested in my own experience of feeling anxious, I play with my mind and experiment with how different thoughts and actions (even breathing) can worsen or improve my state.
I am discovering how to calm myself, diluting the worries and irrational fears that 'one false move and it's all over.' The quiet mind is less prone to the grip and power of fear.
Turning down the volume on your worries may not be a once-and-for-all end to anxiety, but it's a quick fix when you still have a couple more hours of hiking to do under a hot sun.
I was given a thin well-used book when I was a little girl called, Tzedakah - a way of life. It was a collection of simple stories, dealing with the Jewish concept of justice or righteousness (Tzedakah). Each was only a few pages long and written in large font designed for young readers. The parables centered on how a poor person in the village, from the beggar to the local rabbi would make a significant sacrifice for another without any regard for personal benefit. It would be a kind deed of great human kindness, ‘right’ and ‘just’.
The characters were my superheros. I was impacted by the depth of their kindness and generosity, especially because they had so little. My family was firmly committed to the spirit of Tzedakah, so this too was inculcated in my home.
Except for parental love, most of us can’t quite match this level of righteousness, but might occasionally demonstrate selflessness with no expectation that our good deeds will be acknowledged, recognized or appreciated. From time to time, we all have helped someone without expecting anything in return. But prioritizing the well-being of others at any expense, financial or emotional is not always the cornerstone of everyday helpfulness.
Although not all people derive the same sense of purpose, happiness or meaning from helping others, I believe in varying degrees, most of us have this helpful trait. It is what allows us to have friends, family and get along at work. It is what makes us feel good.
There are exceptions of course. Psychopaths or full-blown narcissists do not have this trait to any extent.
As a helper-type myself and as a coach to other helper-types – including those who work in the helping professions, I am sensitive to how sometimes one may engage in inappropriate amounts of helping and caring. When one finds themselves saying: “my needs are always on the backburner”, “I’m tired of giving all the time”, “my self-respect is being compromised” or when a loving friend or family member brings attention to the lack of reciprocity in your relationships, it’s a good time to take stock of what is motivating and driving your helpfulness.
If you are chronically neglecting your own needs and have a feeling of being taken for granted or advantage of, or unappreciated, maybe you are overextending yourself in relationships – at home and at work. Or maybe you have a strong attachment to fix, influence or change someone. While taking responsibility for improving someone’s life may feel initially rewarding, empowering or fulfilling, it can result in resentments on both sides, particularly when you are over-invested in the outcomes of your suggestions. A telltale sign that self-coercion is at work is when being helpful feels onerous, like you have to do it or you are not a good person. You should feel free to give.
The presence of feeling resentful or frustrated in your relationships is not evidence that the ‘other’ is in fact guilty of taking advantage of your kindness. The giver might be exceeding normal expectations of giving. When you over-extend or over-invest, people sometimes recoil, feeling your desperation to be liked or acknowledged. There is an exaggerated expectation to match what is being given.
We can speculate that unhealthy giving or people-pleasing, also referred to as ‘codependency’ can be linked to family of origin issues or rescuer roles within the family, spiritual or religious beliefs, personality traits, emotional needs and boundary issues.
Motivations run the gamut:
I love kindness, generosity and taking an interest in others. I believe in Tzedakah as a way of life. Over-extending oneself in relationships and being out-of- balance may be part of the give and take of life. Maybe you are madly in love or maybe duty and obligation require it.
There is great freedom and joy in being invested in your own life and of creating an identity that manifests your values in many domains and not just in helpfulness and generosity.
If you feel a generalized lack of satisfaction or you are neglecting your own needs because of inappropriate amounts of helpfulness, maybe it’s time to find more balance in how you “do” relationships.
I believe that even the most intractable inner critic, the most raging of inner voices can be quieted, even domesticated.
As a life-work coach, the personal issues that I am contacted about usually relate to: challenges of procrastination & perfectionism, poor lifestyle habits, burnout, personal effectiveness and career concerns.
When I ask first-time clients, what was the pivotal moment when they decided to contact me, reasons might include:
The reasons vary of course, but at the heart of this decision is a desire to “FIX” the problem. When there is commitment and motivation and a willingness to make the effort, CHANGE is achieved. The FIX works.
Of all the barriers to making change, the one that seems to hijack people’s commitment and motivation, is not discipline, self-control or even their effort – it is the voice of the inner critic.
The inner critic is the enemy of the people. It is a negative powerhouse that generates feelings of worthlessness, inadequacy and shame.
When I discover that the harsh critic is at work within my clients, sabotaging their efforts at a successful outcome, my task is clear. Teach them to dial back the volume of this voice:
My family, relationships, movement, nature, flexibility of mind, exploration of alternative perspectives & openness are central to my life.