Believe It or Not, Your Life Is Actually Working for You
Our lives naturally want to guide us towards healing.
Posted Nov 28, 2020
Over the years, I’ve worked with a broad range of couples, individuals, and families understandably struggling with a wide range of issues. But what I’m most aware of, regardless of their presenting concerns, is that there are generally two common underlying drivers driving whatever their presenting problems may be: Empowerment and healing.
Empowerment is about…power. You may have reached some bottom line -- you're fed up or angry - and you need to feel more in charge of you and your life. On the individual level it may be physical – literally wanting to feel stronger, more in your body – and so you focus on exercise. Or maybe about emotional habits: instead of being emotionally driven – I do what I do based on how I feel - you work on being more focused, planful, and proactive in how you run your day, or you work on control and experiment with letting go. And in relationships it is often about being more assertive – taking the risk of speaking at a staff meeting at work when before you felt too shy, or speaking up at home when your partner left his work stuff piled up on the dining room table or she didn’t put her dishes in the sink. Assertiveness is about no more taking what you get.
While the content of what upsets you is ever-changing, it is the change in your process, the speaking up itself that is important: the saying what bothers you, saying what think and feel even though there is still some part of you that is tentative and worried about other’s reactions. Empowerment is about giving voice to a truer or more honest self rather than holding back, feeling afraid, walking on eggshells.
In contrast, the drive toward healing is more subtle. It is often a slow-moving forward, less about your taking active steps, and more about your life unfolding in a way that is leading you towards a different path, away from your old coping styles, away from recreating your old relationship wounds and providing you with healing experiences. You enter new relationships that are different from those of the past – a new friend who steps up and reaches out to you in contrast to all those other relationships where you felt like you were always initiating and doing the heavy lifting, or you suddenly find yourself in a more intimate relationship where you finally feel listened to and understood rather than dismissed or criticized.
But both empowerment and the need for healing can combine. Here you reach out to your parents and talk about what has been haunting or upsetting you all these years, or you do push back and say to your friend that you are tired of always initiating, or you not only speak up in the staff meeting but diplomatically say to your supervisor that you would appreciate her comments being more positive, less critical. This is not about staff meetings or friends or even parents. This is about empowerment and healing crossing: You use your empowerment to heal; you feel empowered because you begin to heal.
Your life is always at the ready to provide these opportunities, these challenges to change your old coping styles, to get out of your little-kid ways of seeing and dealing with the world, to have that do-over. You either seem to find others who are different and healing because they are different, and you accept them because you are already healing, or you change what you do and in the process of changing what you do, you speed the process along and are able to break those old cycles, have different outcomes, and see others, yourself and the world in a new way.
How you can screw it up
If you buy into the idea that your life is working for you, then ongoing problems are your life telling you what you need to learn; once you learn the lesson embedded in the problem, the problem goes away. It may be about being more assertive or making yourself a priority rather than others, learning to manage your emotions, or letting go of the past. Or dealing with a more chronic problem that is undermining your life - an addiction, or overwhelming anxiety, or being self-critical.
But if you hold on to your old perspective – that life is a struggle, that problems are life constantly dumping on you, that others can't be trusted and are always out to screw you over – and hold onto to this despite opportunities that your life offers you to think differently, the lessons are lost. By holding fast to your views, despite your empowering emotions, those opportunities to be assertive or see that others can be different than what you expect are lost. If you cling to being right, cling to being in control, hold onto your view of others and the world, you’ll only be right if you live alone.
The challenge here, and it is a tremendous challenge for many, is to see that your life working for you: To see problems as lessons to be learned: to look for and take advantage of those opportunities to look at you and your relationships through a new lens; to take the challenge of swapping out old behaviors with new ones, however small. It's about believing that I will get better if I don’t get in my own way.
What is it that your life is teaching you, guiding you towards? Are you ready to get out of your own way?