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Put The Glass Down - 10/12/2012

How many people do you know who hold onto grievances, resentments, depression, anger, physical problems and/or their misfortunes? You see them and it’s always the same old song, but second verse.  I would expect your answer might be, “More than you might expect, quite a few, or far too many.”

It’s apparent that there are numerous individuals of this ilk, all of whom wind up being victims of their own behaviors. They live their lives clinging to heavy emotional burdens from their past. Over time, it beats them down, bends their backs, mitigates their joy and causes them to be extremely unhappy victims and/or martyrs. Most of them are plagued by feelings of alienation from others, but are blind to how they contribute to that state. Nor do they recognize the part they play in creating their problems. Instead, they blame others for the upset they feel.

I recently heard a story told by a motivational speaker at a convention I attended that might be of help to these individuals.  I know it was to me, and I hope it will be for all of you. The essence of her message was, “There is a healthy way to manage your stress and upsets.” To illustrate the process, she half filled a glass with water and walked around the room. I knew exactly what was coming. She was going to ask, “Is the glass half full or half empty?” I had heard that one on numerous occasions. To my surprise, she asked, “How much do you think this glass weighs?” I then looked at the glass - estimated it to be 16 or 18 ounces and guessed its contents might weigh approximately 9 ounces. Allowing for the weight of the glass, the final estimate I verbalized was 15 ounces. She then said, “You know, it isn’t how much it weighs that matters, because all of you can easily lift 15 ounces. It’s really how long do you have to hold it? You see, if your job is to hold this glass in your outstretched hand for 20 minutes, the initial 15 ounces is immaterial, because, with every minute that passes, the glass grows heavier.”

Her point was obvious. If you live long enough, you’re bound to experience “heavy times.” In most instances, you can handle them. But, if you decide, consciously or unconsciously, to carry that weight all the time, even the strongest of you will eventually bend or break. The solution is fairly obvious.  Accept the fact that, at one time or another, you’re all bound to experience disappointments, stress, anxieties, hurts, sadness, loss, confusion or fears, most of which you can handle, depending, of course, on how long you hold onto them. The solution is apparent. Sometimes, you have to set the glass down, shake your arms a bit, relax the muscles, walk around if you have to, and lift the glass again. Well, it’s the same with life’s burdens. Sometimes, you just need to set them down for a while, not think about them, venture out and search for happiness. But, most importantly, every night before you go to bed, put them down so that they don’t keep you up all night. Then, if you have to, you can choose to face them again in the morning. But, when you carry them with you 24/7, it makes you old before your time, tired beyond your age, and blind to the joy and hope and promise that life and the world have to offer you. But please note, you can’t do that unless you’re open to it and aren’t exhausted because of the weight of the burdens you choose to cling to.

I have any number of patients who fit this description. But one, in particular, comes to mind. Every time I see her, she reiterates the story of her youth; the problems with her mother, the preference mother demonstrated toward her brother, and the pain she experienced living with this woman. But, if you knew all the facts, you’d come to see that, after age 18 or 20, she could have left. She didn’t have to stay there. In actuality, she married, had children whom she loved and cared for, but who were constantly exposed to her repetitive laments regarding the rejection and hurt she experienced early in her life. At the same time, it is important to note that, despite her hurt, she always went back to mother, always tried to love her and be the dutiful daughter that her mother would love in return. That never happened. Mother didn’t know how to love my patient as a child, and never learned how to love her as an adult. But the problem wasn’t mother’s, it was my patient’s. Unfortunately, she had difficulty realizing that. Instead, she complained, but still catered to mother. For example, she cared for mother every day until she died and then added to her story about how dutiful a daughter she was, how much she tried, and how little she got back. In some ways, I believe she thought she was deserving of a medal because of her behavior. The most she received from me was sympathy for the way she had been treated as a child, and reproach for the way she chose to live her life as an adult.

The moral of the story: when burdens, problems or upsets occur, don’t cling to them. Instead, resolve them, right or wrong, and go on with living. Set that glass of water down when it starts to get too heavy, when your muscles tighten up and your body aches, you can choose to do so. You don’t have to stay in a marriage that’s terrible, unless you’re the one making it terrible; or a job that causes you stress and isn’t rewarding; or hold onto friends who only take and never give. You must dare to be selfish. You need to develop a rational self interest. Not one that justifies you taking from others, or not giving to others, but one that requires you to rationally look out for yourself, prohibits you from clinging to problems, encourages you to discard painful ones and directs you to look for the joy that life can provide you.

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