For years I have understood that the way a person looks at self is among the most important factors in the person’s life. Rarely is the only significant factor found in a person’s view of self, but always view of self is a significant factor.
The tendency: the more significant the degree of a person’s dysfunctional background or environment, the greater is his or her distortion of the people he or she sees (whether it is self or others). During our early years of life, we are highly impressionable. It seems that in this period of our lives we form most of our basic values and determine our personal significance. Both basic values and personal significance often come into being as much through absorption as through a conscious teacher-pupil exchange.
Surely, we as adults are more than the sum of the influences exerted on us in this period of high impressionability. Surely, with time, we can change our views of self. However, those changes are possible: (a) when we are honest with self about self, and (b) when we are willing to see how we formerly looked at self. If we are to change views of self, we must acknowledge the impact of former views. Our adult efforts to be “who we want to be” commonly are powerfully impacted by our views of self as we developed.
No one comes from a “perfect” background or a “perfect” environment. However, there are backgrounds and environments that are especially destructive to many people. Especially destructive are backgrounds or environments that (a) justify hurtful acts and (b) declare those acts are “normal.” When the victimized person is in a prolonged social or family setting that allows the person to realize such acts are not “normal,” the usual result is profound confusion or internal conflict or both.
A distinct physical problem can produce sudden realizations that “demand” a person change views of self. Confronting a physical change can require coping skills never before used or that are nonexistent. This change in physical reality quickly becomes “How do I cope with my new situation?” That often dramatically leads to an assessment of “Who am I?”
Keep Your Situation in Perspective.
I had the good fortune to be visibly reminded each week that there were many physical conditions worse than mine. My initial treatment/guidance required frequent visits to a rehabilitation facility. It was common on those visits to see people younger than me struggling with conditions visibly worse than mine.
No, seeing someone else with a more severe problem did not remove my problem. That was not the point (and is not the point). The fact that someone has a bigger physical struggle than I have does not remove my physical struggle. The objective of seeing someone with a more severe problem than I have does not to enable me to say, “Oh, goody! My situation is bad, but it is not as bad as yours!”
The objective is to develop perspective. The first “coping skill” people are tempted to develop is self-pity. Self-pity commonly validates itself (a) by delighting in someone else’s struggles or (b) by saying, “My total situation is worse than yours.” It is as though “my” situation has to be worse than “yours” or “my” situation is not real.
Self-pity is not a coping skill! It is an evasion! The objective is not to minimize our struggle! The objective is to develop a perspective that avoids self-pity by realizing our situation could be worse.
Self-pity wants to believe that no one’s situation is as bad as mine. Self-pity is not our friend, but our enemy. Rarely, perhaps never, is our situation the world’s worst. All self-pity does is blind us to the reality of our blessings while “justifying” why we waste time and opportunity.
When my immediate family lived near the equator, we saw people who endured a daily malaria headache. These people often had little or no access to medical help and did not own an aspirin (single). Most could afford nothing but continued headaches. The help I now have available to me is to most of those people unheard of—in their experience, if a leg cramps, it cramps!
There is a vast difference between thankfulness for the treatment of symptoms and the “justification” of self-pity! One sees blessings; the other does not. One develops perspective; the other hides from perspective.
To use time wisely, a person must have perspective.
Accept That Your Struggle Serves A Purpose.
I find explanation of this concept difficult. The concept results from the previously discussed primary coping attitude, “Existence is about more than me.” In a real sense, life, to me, is not about me, but life is about everybody. People do not exist for my benefit. I exist to benefit people.
We easily are consumed with fear. Have you considered how much of our resources are consumed by our fears? Everything from locks to insurance, from nightlights to surveillance cameras, from warnings on car dashboards to street lights, from door peepholes to guards, from police to prisons, from armies to bombs exists because of our fears. My point is not that any of this is unnecessary. My point is that much of life is consumed with the protection of self.
We easily can reason from fear that nothing is more important than self. When we decide that nothing is more important than self, in difficult circumstances we invite self-pity to victimize us.
An important key to (a) coping with fear and (b) refusing to be consumed with self-pity is to understand that our existence serves a bigger purpose than us. People resort to this understanding in a number of ways: “I exist for my grandkids’ future,” “I will serve in the military to protect my country,” or “I will do anything necessary to preserve freedom” are examples. In this understanding, a person will endure hardship or give life willingly to serve something “bigger than me.” That view does not look upon the loss of life as necessary to be significant, or see sacrifice as an impediment to the meaning of the person. The significance of the sacrifice is not measured in what the person gave, but in the significance of what demanded his or her sacrifice.
As the person has fewer situations “bigger than me,” the person’s life becomes increasingly meaningless to anyone but self. The result is an existence which features a growing self-centeredness.
Very few people escape all forms of adversity in the course of existence. Perhaps that is just another way of saying, “All of us will endure something, and most of us will endure several somethings.” For most, the issue will be “How will I endure the ‘somethings’ in my life?” Will I run from all adversity, seeking to escape in a sense of “me”? Or, will I find the courage to face inescapable adversity and define myself by that faith/courage? Will I face adversity, or will I seek to escape adversity? How do I define “unnecessary adversity” versus “necessary adversity”?
The issue rarely will be “Can I escape adversity?” The issue for most of us is focused on how we react to adversity. The way we handle adversity when we live for something bigger than self and the way we handle adversity when we never live for anything bigger than self are obvious and different. In one, there is commitment to others. In the other, there is no commitment to others.
One of the most powerful ways to combat selfishness is to exist for something rightfully bigger than you. Exist for something focused in what you are rather than what you can do/give.
Redefine Daily The “Feeling Good” Feeling.
One of the most difficult and often one of the most frustrating questions I receive is “Are you getting better?” I am not frustrated because the person cares enough to ask. I am not frustrated because the person expresses concern or love for me. I understand that it is awkward for others who seek a way to encourage me. I understand that most people are genuinely concerned about my physical health. I also understand concern for me is just one of many concerns they have.
Then why do I find that question difficult and often frustrating? To me, the answer is simple—because I do not know how to answer their question. I do not wish to appear unappreciative of their concern. I do not want to make the asker feel awkward. I do not wish to enter a long answer/explanation that likely would bore the most concerned person (I am likely to give the questioner more information than is wanted). How do you answer that question with those things in mind?
I usually say something brief like “I am okay,” “I am still walking,” “I am managing,” or, “I’m still tapping along.” Yet, I am never sure that I answered the question or addressed the concern. I do not wish to create the impression that everything is okay, and I do not wish to tell people more than they wish to know.
The bottom line is simple. My body is unhealthy and is slowly becoming unhealthier. All efforts I make are made to slow the physical deterioration down to a rate that is as slow as possible. Physically, things will never “get better.” My analogy is this: I am like a big bucket with a pinhole in the bottom. I wake up in the morning feeling like the bucket is full of water. Within less than a half-an-hour I know the bucket is not full. By mid-afternoon the bucket is empty. No matter how I feel in the morning, that happens every day.
Our society is not accustomed to “not okay” and “will get worse.” In our culture it is not okay to get worse. We as a people have no way to handle getting worse. In our society, we approach everything with a “we will win” philosophy.
From the time of diagnosis and explanation of diagnosis, I understood the point of knowing that there were some things I would never do again. I do not mean there were some activities that were questionable. I do not mean that there were some activities I would need to approach differently. I mean there were some activities I knew I could not do and should not attempt to do.
Perhaps the best way to explain is to illustrate. There were some things I was told immediately. (1) My stamina would decrease as my muscles lost the ability to coordinate with each other. (2) Falling must be prevented at all costs. A broken bone could become a catastrophe. (3) I should not sweat. (4) I needed to avoid activities that had a significant potential for inflicting injury. Thus, I could evaluate the potential for an activity posing harm to me by honestly considering those four things.
I have referred to my love of the outdoors. I love to be in the woods in the fall. I especially enjoyed deer hunting. For me and my hunting buddy, that was often a spring, summer, and fall activity. We much enjoyed planting food plots, building and situating ladder stands, and cutting trails. In fact, actual hunting was often anticlimactic. Since the deer were commonly smarter than we were, we did more dreaming than shooting. My son-in-law, who does not kill anything, once said of me, “I did not know a person could hunt without killing anything.” No matter—I just liked being out and seeing. At times I would spend all day scouting in the late summer without eating.
However, being in the woods requires stamina. It has abundant opportunities to fall, and I sweated a lot (after a cold morning turned into a warm midday). The potential for self-injury was ever present. I knew immediately that my days of going to the woods were over.
I spent the better part of forty-five years assembling and honing my hunting gear. I studied, I dreamed, I saved, and I acquired. Yet, in less than a month from diagnosis, I sold and gave away what I had assembled for years.
Why? Being in the woods was something I enjoyed so much that I knew I needed to eliminate temptation. I could not go to the woods if I had no gear. If I eliminated my gear, I eliminated decisions. If I eliminated decisions, I eliminated temptation.
Did I do this because I wanted to? No! I did it because I needed to. I am good at deceiving myself. I am good at saying to myself that I can when deep down I know I should not try. I am good at hanging on to “maybe” too long. Eliminate the problem by eliminating the gear.
Like it or not, I do not need to be my own enemy!
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