The way we look at life determines our experience.
A simple insight presents each of us with an opportunity to make momentous changes in our lives.
I have recently read a life-changing book by Shauna Niequist titled Bittersweet: Thoughts on Change, Grace, and Learning the Hard Way. Afterward, I have come to see life as a bittersweet journey.
In all things, there is both something broken and something beautiful, there is a moment of lightness on even the darkest of nights, a shadow of hope in every heartbreak, and rejoicing is no less rich even when it contains a splinter of sadness.
This is what I’ve come to believe about change: it’s good, in the way that childbirth is good, and heartbreak is good, and failure is good. By that, I mean that it’s incredibly painful, exponentially more so if you fight it, and also that it has the potential to open you up, to open life up, to deliver you right into the palm of God’s hand, which is where you wanted to be all long, except you were too busy pushing and pulling your life into exactly what you thought it should be.
I’ve learned the hard way that change is one of God’s greatest gifts, and most useful tools. Change can push us, pull us, rebuke, and remake us. It can show us who we’ve become—in the worst ways, and also in the best ways.
I’ve learned that it’s not something to run away from, as though we could, and that in many cases, change is a function of God’s graciousness, not life’s cruelty
This is how it happens. The universe thinks of you and puts you on this planet, without a guide book, without any idea of what is going to happen to you, without any kind of warning for anything.
You learn everything you can the hard way—either from your own mistakes or from watching and listening to other humans: your parents, siblings, teachers, and friends. You learn about stability, and how important it is. You learn about spontaneity and how much humans need it along with that stability to enliven themselves.
You learn about happiness, kindness, sorrow, anger, and situations that will hurt you more than anything.
But no one, not a single person prepares you for the full tsunami that is grief.
Suddenly, all of these things you have learned and taught yourself are null and void, and you have to build the path called healing before you even walk on it. And no one, not a single soul prepares you for how isolating it is.
And yet, everyone thinks they’re saying the right things. Everyone thinks they are guiding you the right way. These are the people you meet when you are building this difficult, meandering, never-straight healing bridge back to some semblance of happiness. These are the people who meet you along the way, the bad, and the good.
1. The Fixer
For the most part, the fixer isn’t the worst person you meet when you are trying to heal. They have every good intention. They want to help you. They want to take all those broken bones inside you and set them straight, take the sadness inside you and throw it away.
But that’s exactly the problem. They want to do the fixing as opposed to letting you do it.
Unfortunately, the fixer ends up causing more harm because of their need to fix anyone who is broken instead of understanding that everyone heals themselves, and only they can do the hard work to heal.
When they cannot heal you, they grow more helpless and angry at themselves and you for not listening for what they have to say. They don’t understand that healing is a never-ending journey that may not have a final destination.
2. The Minimizer
This is the kind of person who regards the healing spectrum this way: the worse the tragedy, the worse you are allowed to feel. The smaller the tragedy, the less bad you are allowed to feel about it.
So when you meet them, chances are, they will try to “help” by making you believe that there are people out there who have it worse than you. They minimize what you are going through by saying things like, “Think about the people dying in a third world country,” or “People go through worse things and survive.”
Unknowingly, what the minimizer is doing is policing your feelings. What they are suggesting, accidentally, is repression, and the truth about grief is it must be felt, in all of its magnified emotions, no matter how big and intense they seem to anyone else.
This is your journey. Don’t let anyone tell you how to feel along the way.
3. The Impatient
This is the person who will try to decide for you how long you are allowed to be in pain. They will frequently come up with quips like, “Are you still focusing on that?” and “Shouldn’t you be on the next stage by now?” and “Not this again.”
In the head of the impatient, everything has its time and its place, and your healing has to work according to the very narrow path they have drawn in their heads.
What you need to watch out for is the way they try to guilt you, or hurry you along. Never ever rush your journey because someone else has decided to hurry you along. People heal at entirely different rates, and you are allowed to feel broken for as long as those feelings are inside your system. They’re there for a reason. In these negative emotions, you will find positive ones and growth.
4. The Comparer
The problem with the comparer is this: they have already decided that each tragedy has a fixed path.
So, if one of your friends has gone through a similar loss to yours, you must now follow the exact same path. They don’t recognize that healing works differently for different people, so they often either commend you or condemn you for the rate at which you are going depending on what they have seen someone else go through.
For instance, if it has taken you much longer to look and act (seemingly) fine, they compare your behavior to someone else’s and judge. And judgement is the very last thing we need when we are trying to heal.
5. The Savior
There is a one marked difference between the savior and the fixer. Whilst the fixer wants to fix you and make everything okay again, the savior regards you as a project that will never ever be fixed, and actually prefers it that way.
They get their joy from thinking that they are aiding you, but the minute you start looking happier, they become insecure about losing you and sabotage it so that you keep needing them in your life.
Most saviors aren’t even consciously playing saboteur, they’re acting on emotional impulse. The savior is only happy when they have a project, and a grieving person falls into this role well for them. Allow no one like this into your life when you are still trying to heal. You will save yourself—you have before and you will again.
6. The Listener
This is one of the best people you will ever meet on your journey. The reason is because when you are grieving, all you really need is someone who is there and someone who listens.
The listener is a good friend in that they simply hear you out. They contribute with empathy, but tend to just let you talk without judgement about where you are in your journey or how you are feeling.
The opposite of the impatient, the listener is extremely good for the mending of your soul and allows you to walk without trying to hurry you, get in your way, judge you, or decide for you where you should be on your path.
7. The Survivor
There are many, many kinds of survivors out there, but all of them share this in common: they have all dealt with the isolation and magnitude of grief.
Most survivors understand, from both experience and dealing with many, many people like the kinds described in this article, that healing is a deeply difficult, deeply isolating, personal journey.
These are the kind of people who will genuinely help us.
They will give us the kind of advice that stops us from drowning, they will encourage us to feel all of our emotions, they will tell us about what aided them, and how unique our journey is going to be for us. These people are rare because survivors come in all sorts of forms, and rarely share their journey.
If you meet a survivor who does share their journey, there will be an immeasurable wealth of true help and knowledge they can give to you whilst understanding that your journey is one that must be experienced on your own terms.
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