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Three Keys to a Joyful Life
A friend asked me, based on my experience as a psychologist watching people develop personally and interpersonally, what I think are the three most positively transformative lessons to help people enjoy life. Wow, narrow it down to three! Here are some concepts that I can say for sure change people for the better if they really get these on an emotional level (not just going through the motions – although “fake it till you make it” helps in the meantime). The first 2 are for you and relate to yourself and your life, and the last one is for relationships, which we all know play a huge role in how we feel and how much we enjoy each day.
1. What we resist persists. We cannot control our feelings. We can only choose to avoid them. Some people call this “rising above” them, but usually with a little stinging the sensation is just below the surface draining their energy. The only way I have seen to effectively relieve painful emotions is to accept them and work through them. The more you can make space to fully feel something, in fact, the more the feeling can transform and release. This idea is counterintuitive for many of my clients, especially when society tells us to be strong and many parents tell their children to “get over” their feelings or grow up. Suppressing, or saying “no” to an experience that comes to you is, in my opinion, asking for more of that feeling for a longer period of time and sometimes even leads to physical illness.
Many of us keep our sail up until we get blown into rough waters and then we decide we don’t like it so we pull our sails down. That is the worst time to decide that you want to resist what life has brought, because a boat without a sail up goes nowhere and therefore is stuck in the rough water! Put the sail back up and you might go a little further that way, but you’ll turn around and get back to peace faster. So, say “yes” to your feelings and let them be as big as they really are. That doesn’t mean acting them out (if you feel like yelling at a friend, you don’t act on it, but you do embrace and care about the experience of WANTING to yell instead of resisting or ignoring it).
2. Love yourself. This one is painfully obvious, yet so difficult for most people. One of my happiest parenting days was a few months ago when my 2 year old daughter said, “Mom….I love you. I love you and I love me.” I had such a positive reaction to her saying she loved herself that she said it at least 10 times since then-with a big smile on her face. She knows I like to hear that. Why? Loving yourself is not only the key to your own happiness, but also to your nice treatment of others and tolerance for them as well. Loving yourself will not make you arrogant; instead it takes away the need to be better than others because you have confidence that you are intrinsically valuable and always loved.
Many wonder how to learn to love themselves, and it is certainly not easy. A good therapist, friend or lover who constantly reflects your beauty is a good way to start. If you have such a person, focus hard on receiving from them as deeply as you can – really understand how they see you and let it sink to your core, to your cells, to your whole heart. You will find places that resist, reject love and feel very uncomfortable or unclear. Just go ahead and let those places surrender. don’t stop Wounds and parts of you that have negative beliefs about yourself will have to die to accept love and restructure around it, so learning through this deep acceptance requires actively tolerating discomfort and trying to open up more than you think possible.
Teaching yourself without the help of another person is also possible. If you’ve ever loved someone or anything, get in touch with that feeling of caring and then direct it at yourself. It can help to see yourself as a young child, so your own innocence and sweetness are all the more apparent. Even in the child version of yourself, you may be able to see the deep need for love and the dependence on others without being embarrassed by it. We are, of course, naturally dependent creatures. People are often ashamed to hide it, but people need people. Once you love yourself, you will find the right people to depend on, people you don’t feel guilty needing and who you can trust to be there. Ideally we have “diffused dependency,” where we spread our dependencies among many loved ones so that no one feels the full responsibility for meeting our needs. Practice visualizing yourself at whatever age inspires the most compassion and try to deliver that love right into the heart of that person who is your own heart.
These first two concepts combine to create healing. When you don’t resist your experiences or feelings, but accept them, loving yourself is easier. Connect your feelings with love and you will heal. Even anger or sadism is a feeling you can say to yourself, “Awwwwww….darling,” about it, because it was born out of pain and will be relieved with acceptance and compassion.
3. Only one person goes mad at a time. In relationships, especially romantic ones, it is important that only one person “goes crazy” at a time. I learned this from Dr. Jev Sikes. I like this term because I think it’s true – when we have strong feelings triggered by our childhood stuff, we’re not rational or technically sane no matter how much we pretend to be and believe what our stuff tells us. Even those with the healthiest backgrounds have crazy areas. You may fear abandonment, for example. If this thing gets going, you will feel as if your partner is leaving you, no matter what the truth is. Unfortunately, your belief that you will be abandoned can lead you to act in a way that will cause just that. So, in this example, you would act in a way that would distance your partner or make him/her want to leave you (perhaps because of your anger, clinginess, unreasonable/unfair assessments of him/her, etc).
It helps, however, if each partner in a romantic relationship understands the other’s issues and therefore cannot take them so seriously. Instead, give love and compassion to people you care about when they’re acting up – and don’t try to reason with someone who’s mad at that moment! Crazy things are meant to pull the other person and make him/her act in the expected way (leave yourself, in the example we used). So it takes great willpower to give love in return and not react with your own corresponding crazy thing (feeling misjudged or never good enough could be triggered by someone’s abandonment issues, for example). The key is that one person’s crazy feelings and behavior don’t trigger the other person’s (which it will naturally do without active resistance).
Only one person can act crazy at a time and the other person needs to stay in a caring role rather than being pulled into an argument or corresponding crazy place. If couples learn to avoid this dynamic of going crazy together, they will avoid many fights and actually be able to heal each other’s problems by giving love in the key moments instead of reacting in ways that reinforce their partner’s fears. Also remember that you can either be “primary or in a relationship”. Choose to focus on feelings and take care of each other’s feelings instead of fighting over logistics (who is right/the facts, etc), which often don’t matter or if they do, should be discussed in a less-emotional moment.
Good luck! We talk much more about the healing process from different perspectives at our website http://www.deepeddypsychotherapy.com. I also wrote a book, which is listed there, about healing relationships. I wish everyone a love for yourself that grows every day, and the ability to surrender in this beautiful journey of life, including its pains. As you grow in self-love, I hope you find greater tolerance for the tender (or crazy!) areas of your loved ones where they have been hurt in the past and that you can give them the love they need to heal too.
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