Life is… something. One minute you think you have everything in control and you feel confident, and the next minute you get a phone call or accident that knocks you on you keister. As a therapist, I’m regularly meeting people who are on their butts because they’ve been knocked down… nothing like having a job where you need people to suffer in order to have work. I joke with clients that my goal is to help them just enough that they want to come back, but not so much that they don’t need me. It’s funny because it’s true… or it would be if I was a terrible person. The truth is there is so much trouble in the world that I want to help as many people as quickly and effectively as possible in order to make room for whoever else is in need. The fun fact is people would get a lot more out of therapy if they were in a good spot and not nursing wounds when they come in to see me. For instance, I once saw a couple who told me they were doing fine, but they wanted to come in a few times because they had the insurance to cover it and they wanted to see if I could help them at all. After a couple really great sessions, they were both excited with what they had learned and the one joked, “I’m glad we didn’t have any actual problems, so we could learn these lessons.” I pointed out that this was the best time for them to come in because, “You build a bomb shelter before the bomb hits and not after.” This couple is essentially preparing for when life knocks them down, so they don’t fall as hard, as often, and can get up easier when it does. Even when life hits them so hard they get knocked down on their keister, the following is what they’ll want to do to help their situation.
- Feeling that we’re not the only one in a spot like this and/or it could be worse: Going through pain is made all the worse when we feel alone or that no one understands us. After the initial shock has subsided, it helps to know others have been through this and/or we can see that someone has gone through worse experiences and got through it as hope that we can do it too. It’s one of the great things about music as some lyrics help us feel normal.
- Define the problem: When we go to the doctor we define what hurts us: “My leg is in a lot of pain after falling out of a tree.” For some reason we don’t do this with our emotions: “Why am I hurt? I’ll tell you why I’m hurt (10min rant that doesn’t make any sense).” When we feel angry or sad, we need to be able to say something like “I feel (thing I feel) because (one clear sentence).” When my dad died my sentence was, “I feel devastated because the life I knew has been shattered.” This later became, “I feel helpless because I know my mom is weeping in her room and there’s nothing I can do to take this pain away.” Defining the problem in one sentence helps the feeling make more sense. The mystery can be terrifying, so having one sentence can make it more tangible.
- We need to see an end to the pain (a timeline): When I first hurt my back last summer, the biggest problem was wondering if it would ever go away. It helped being told that I needed two good sessions with the chiropractor before I would see any real improvement. Seeing him once a week, I knew I was in for a tough couple weeks, but I had hope knowing there should be an end to it. Not seeing an end makes things all the worse because there’s no hope. That’s why when I ask clients to do difficult changes or to be nice to a jerk spouse, I suggest doing it for one month. It’ll be hard, but it’s only a month. Do it for a month and see how it is after. People often think divorce will be relief, but it typically sets them up for years of garbage. When there’s been an affair, I say expect the first month to be brutal, then it slowly gets better and by six months you’ll be in a decent spot, and then by a year you’ll be doing much better because this gives hope for relief. When it comes to a diet, I suggest do it for a month without looking at a scale and see where you’re at because if you’re checking every day it can be really discouraging.
- Have sources of encouragement (person and activity): When a dog has a hurt paw, he licks it to feel better. When we’re in pain, just like a dog we need soothing. Best case, we’ll have someone who is our cheerleader encouraging us on (e.g. parent, spouse, child, therapist, best friend, etc.) and an activity that gives us confidence and distraction.
- A safe place: The couples I see who struggle the most have a very limited world. They basically have work and home. This is fine if only one is a struggle, but there are many times when the one spills into the other. Years ago I was incredibly lucky because as tough as my youth pastoring days were I had a bunch of different worlds happening from a group at dodgeball, two Frisbee teams, church people, a young adults group, work out partners, girlfriend, my mom, and my Saturday night friends. Even if several of those groups were struggling, I had others to balance me and give me a place to just be safe. If you only have work and home, you’re setting yourself up to eventually feel completely alone.
- Safe Person(s): I was blessed with being born into a home where I grew up best friends with my brother and later became just as close with my sister. I even had an angelic mom who has always been safe… minus a few bad moments in my comedy years when I really disappointed her. Most people aren’t this lucky, but it’s up to each one of us to forge intimate connections even if it’s with a therapist. Whether we’re in a bad spot or not, it’s really helpful to have someone we can share our heart with and be vulnerable.
- Freedom from someone digging at you: When we’re struggling, the worst thing we can have is someone digging at us. The worst culprits of this are, unfortunately, spouses and parents. If you have this happening, there isn’t a guaranteed solution, but a good place to start is to say to the person, “I appreciate that you want to help me, but these comments make it worse. What I would really love is if (practical thing person can do).” Another option is to see a therapist and point out it feels like there’s some passive aggressive issues happening in your relationship.
May you find ways to limit the times when life knocks you on your keister, but when it does, may you find tools like these seven things helpful.
Rev Chad David, ChadDavid.ca, learning to love dumb people