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Hope Forward: Surviving and Thriving through Emotional Pain: June 2010

Monday, June 28, 2010

Blowing Up the Gulf, Infidelity, Addiction and Empathy

What do our opinion about the President, blowing up the Gulf and emotional pain have in common? Besides Bill Clinton (check this out)!

In this clip, in case you don't want to watch it, Mr. Clinton says that we (for those of us who are) are unhappy with the President (Obama, he is referring to), is that we are unhappy with ourselves. He goes on to say that people are too critical of President Obama for not having enough empathy and that first we should concentrate on fixing the problem (stopping up the oil leak), then we can clean up the mess, then we can hold people accountable. And then empathy.

I was wondering as I was listening to this, whether this is a model for us all to consider when we are hurting, frustrated or otherwise in emotional pain. Or dealing with problems that cause pain and spillage in our lives.

First, (as Bill Clinton says), should we consider the idea that when we are harsh or critical of others, or unhappy with them, that perhaps we are seeing things through our own lens, our own pain or unhappiness? Are we more gracious toward others when we feel better about ourselves? Do we blame other people for our unhappiness? How much responsibility do we assign to others? How much to ourselves.

For those of us who tend toward self attack, this is a very loaded question.

So what is Mr. Clinton's suggestion? Fix. Fix the problem. Study why it happened later. Fix it first. Does this translate into addiction work? Or infidelity? Stop. Stop drinking, gambling, using, bingeing, cheating, first. Then clean up the mess. Make amends, tend to the hurt. Then figure out who is to be held accountable for this (why it happens), then garner up some empathy for all involved. Who is allowed to make mistakes, of what proportions? What is forgivable and what is not? But fix it first.

But what if it does not always work this way? What if you have to live with the leak, the oil gushing out all over the place while you study the problem? So that you don't end up with a bad solution? What if, like the gulf, stopping addiction, ending extra-marital relationships, getting out of bad situations, are not so quick and simple? Even if they are causing lots of pain, spilling unbelievable amounts of oil, with unknown affects for years to come? What if our own emotional stuff, our behaviors even, sometimes, are like that oil leak? What if there is no simple solution? The fix is not exactly clear? What if its not clear that blowing up the gulf is better than letting that oil flow? What if stopping whatever vice is keeping you somewhat functioning is worse than letting things go as they are?

We just don't know. We might think we do, but we don't. We tend to take drastic action, I think, when we are either at a real breaking point with consequences: loss of job, threatening spouse, heart attack, (oil all over the world?), or when we feel very very good about our lives, very safe, and can feel very very generous toward others. We don't tend to be motivated to solve problems either globally or personally from our normal stance of either not too much pain or not too much happiness.

And what about causing problems? Before we cheat on our spouse because we are unhappy in our marriage or our sex life is stagnant, before we pick up a drug, quit a job, hurt ourselves or someone else, before we blow up our own gulf to try to stop our own emotional pain, should we stop to study the options first. To talk them out a bit?

Do you think empathy always has a place? We can only be so hard on ourselves and others before everyone gets blown up.

Monday, June 14, 2010

It Was A Mistake. Please Disregard

Yesterday I got a letter from someone that completely did not make sense to me. I puzzled over it for a while, thinking that it must be a mistake, sent to me in error. It bothered me though, and I was conjuring up all sorts of scenarios in my head to explain it. Today I got another letter from the same sender saying, "The letter dated June 3, 2010 was a mistake. Please disregard."

Okay. Please disregard? That's it?

Could it really be that simple? No apology even. Just acknowledging the mistake and moving on.
If only it were always that simple.

Seems to me that sometimes maybe it can be. Certainly if we are hurt, or have hurt someone, the aftershocks can last a while. Sometimes we do have to talk it through, to study what happened, to make amends.

Some of us are prone to ruminating over mistakes to a point of despair. We are conditioned to rake over and over in our mind what we did, why we did it. And usually that's followed by a lot of self condemnation. Sometimes to the point of hurting ourselves. If we are frustrated with ourselves, we may think we are worthy of punishment, not grace.

Some of us are prone to wanting to punish others to the point of despair. To the point of permanently damaging the relationship. Of course we may choose not to stay in situations that continue to put us in harms way. And of course its a natural feeling to want to punish people that frustrate or hurt us, but perhaps there is a stopping point.

I am, of course, the biggest fan of talking things through. Of being understood, understanding one's self and others. I like to analyze things. I am in the right profession. I also think that sometimes we have the idea that prolonged agony will protect us from future harm, at our own, or others hands. And I think we might be well served to rethink this.

I know its often easier said than done, and that there are good reasons for this within each of our psyches, but I also think that there are times when keeping things simple has its merits.