Six things we all can do when faced with a painful situation
I see a lot of pain. I see children who don’t receive the love they deserve from their parents. I see husbands who have hurt their wives and wives who have hurt their husbands. I see people who are lonely. I see people who have been rejected.
Sometimes the situation that caused the pain can be reversed. Sometimes it cannot. But there are a few things we all can do when faced with a painful situation.
1. My mind is my temple.
I am the only one who can decide which thoughts stay in my mind and which don’t deserve to be there. Thoughts that make me feel small, thoughts that tell me I’m worthless, thoughts that tell me I’m a horrible person, thoughts that make me feel rage – those thoughts I do not allow to stay. Those thoughts I shake off and allow them to flutter away. Thoughts that make me stronger, better, wiser, kinder can stay.
If I think “I am unlovable,” that’s a thought which doesn’t deserve space in my head. Instead, I replace nasty thoughts with loving, kind, gentle ones. Like, “I will love others and so become lovable.”
2. My body is my temple.
Only substances and foods and items that are healthy and invigorating physically, spiritually and emotionally will I allow into my body. Junk food, drugs, self-harming behaviors – those don’t have a place in or on my body. My body is sacred. God gave it to me to take care of. It is the house for my soul, the vehicle to carry my spiritual, emotional self through this physical world. It is a temple and only good will go into it. That is my choice, and no one else’s. Whatever anyone else has done to me, I will never willingly choose to hurt my own body.
3. I will give goodness to others wherever I go.
I will be a force for good in my world. I will replace darkness with light, cruelty with kindness, anger with calmness and nurturing.
If we spew cruelty, rage, jealousy, fighting, hatred because of the bad things done to us, we are just perpetuating the cycle of negativity. If someone was always angry at us, we can remember how it felt and not do that to others. We can choose a better way than the wrongs that were done to us. If possible, we can even tell the people who are being unkind to us, “I won’t accept that behavior from you anymore. Go find someone else to be unkind to. Even better, please start behaving better. Please speak gently, be thoughtful, and treat me as a friend.” With some people, you will have to explain to them how a kind, gentle friend should behave and speak. Some people need to be taught, almost like a child (but without your being condescending). Some people truly never learned how to behave properly.
Let’s say your parent has just screamed at you for 10 minutes straight. You could calmly say: “When you speak to me that way, it really hurts my feelings. Instead, you could have said, ‘I would have preferred if you hadn’t done that.’ [And you model the tone of voice and the actions accompanying that line.] I’m always willing to have a conversation with you. I just will hear you much better if you treat me nicely and say it gently.”
There are a million different scenarios and a million different scripts to go with each of them, but the idea is this: if they yell, scream, hit, punch, punish, get angry, etc., you teach them calmly but firmly how to tell you in a different, better way. Sometimes they’ll soften; sometimes they won’t. But you will have done your part.
4. I will use my talents to help others and to give to others.
The act of giving fights loneliness and despair like no other force ever could. Volunteer at a soup kitchen. Volunteer reading to kids at an orphanage, or playing ball with them, or supervising them on field trips. Go visit people at a residence for the elderly. Take care of people with special needs. When my sister was alive, some of her most doting caretakers were people who had been badly hurt, badly abused. They were giving to counter the darkness in their lives, and it fulfilled them tremendously.
5. I will ask for help when I need it.
People who are hurt love to withdraw and lick their wounds. The more we’re hurt, the more we withdraw. We see this most drastically in horribly abused people who develop split personality disorders to “fly away” from the pain. Instead of withdrawing, go seek help. A good therapist can help you heal. A mentor can, too. An AA sponsor. A good friend. Don’t try to white-knuckle your painful situations alone. Join a synagogue – and go once a week. Join a local JCC – and go once a week. Make a community for yourself. Make friends and talk to them. Don’t suffer alone. Being alone makes you feel worse.
Of course, you can take alone time. But it has to be balanced with connection to others, with friends, with therapy to help you heal.
6. I will discover beauty.
I didn’t realize that last month was national poetry month until I heard a poet being interviewed. He was from a poor inner city neighborhood where life is tough and rough and the streets are mean. He talked about finding beauty in words, and in the rhythms of life, even in the inner city. He had written a poem (which he read during the interview) about two friends who happened to meet at a run-down, dirty gas station, and hugged each other, while the teenaged gangsters walking by pretended to be cold and unfeeling and not to notice the love between the friends – but they looked back longingly as they passed by.
There is beauty to be found everywhere, we just have to be on the lookout for it. Food, trees, the sky, rocks, even a dandelion poking out of a crack in the sidewalk – these are all beautiful. And you can bring great works of art into your life, too, which help us all to recognize beauty: music, paintings, books, plays…. There is beauty everywhere. Bring some into your life.
Here’s a little exercise in bringing beauty into your life: go buy a $2 plant from home depot, cut a shoot from the plant, and put the end of it into an empty glass iced tea bottle, like a vase. Then put fresh water into the bottle. The water is beautiful. Notice it. The glass is beautiful. Notice it. The plant is beautiful. Notice it. Keep it on your windowsill to remind yourself that beauty is healing, and beauty is everywhere.
Others may cause you pain. They are wrong to do so. But you can make yourself strong despite what they do to you, or what they’ve done.
These are some of the things we can do to maintain and to rebuild our strong self.