Your approach to adversity holds clues to success
Throughout history there has always been difficulty, and no one can escape it entirely. For a lot of us, the past 18 months have brought challenges to the top of mind. How we each experience and move through troubles or adversity in our lives is an interesting consideration.
Wisdom traditions tell us there are five major ways to cluster our reactions to distress: We might ignore the situation, become angry, fall into low self-esteem, obsessively try to grasp something, or become competitive or do too much. While we might use more than one of these styles, we often have a favorite. Reflect for a moment on how you respond when something stressful is presented in your life. How did you respond when the country was told last spring to shelter at home? What thoughts did you have when your children were home for online schooling? These questions are meant only as prompts for you to gather information, so if they don’t work, try out others.
The reason I bring up our neurotic styles as this topic today is for the antidote, the remedy to these ways of responding. Neurotic is a general word I’m borrowing to describe our negative expression of our positive qualities, our less-than-ideal responses, the ones we probably repeat, sometimes even believing they are correct. We all suffer in one form or another, and in my work as a psychotherapist I hear people’s expression of it. When I ask people what they want out of therapy, it’s almost always some form of “peace.” One person might want to use less alcohol, while another wants to be calmer or less anxious. A different person wants to feel less depressed, and others wants to find purpose in life, or have more time.
The remedy is inside
As we look more closely at the common therapy goals above, we can see neurotic qualities embedded in people’s aspirations. Wanting less alcohol might be related to obsessively grasping, desiring more calm can be about having too much anger, hoping to get out of depression can be the fall into low self-esteem, the person wanting to find purpose might be challenged with avoiding or ignoring situations, and the one who wants more time could be struggling with doing too much.
Remember, these columns are not intended to be psychotherapy so please don’t go out diagnosing yourself or anyone else. This is meant only to give you more boots-on-the-ground tools for working with your own mind.
Now for the good news
Each of the five neurotic qualities are simply obscurations of actual wisdom qualities that we already innately possess. In my office I have a fun snow-globe type thing that when shaken up obscures what is inside. Once we let the glitter settle, it is clear, and we can see the words “Be You To Full.” Most of us spend copious amounts of time chasing glitter only to not realize our true beauty. By chasing glitter, I mean, reacting in an angry manner, ignoring situations, obsessively trying to grasp things, lamenting our horribleness, and over competing.
The corresponding wisdom and neurotic traits are: ignoring/open and peaceful, anger/perceptive and intelligent, low self-esteem/resourceful and generous, grasping/warm and empathetic, and overly ambitious/productive and swift. Take a moment now to reflect on the wisdom aspects of your favored trait and notice how you feel, recognize this is your truer nature, your genuine self. The neurotic display is simply a shaken-up snow globe version of yourself. While it is generally easier to identify the neurotic traits in people, I’m inviting you now to search for wisdom traits in yourself and others – and specifically notice the difference in how you feel.
There is a lifetime of study and practice we could do around this topic so if you are interested feel free to reach out and ask for resources to help support you as you explore. In the meantime, I offer this for each of us to have a bit more clarity. When we notice our own neurotic display or someone else’s (let’s face it, it’s far easier to see another’s than it is our own), perhaps occasionally we’ll remember there is wisdom below. When we notice our own or someone else’s wisdom display, it is a time to rejoice. Think how the world can change if we routinely feel the joy, relief, peace.
May you enjoy getting to know yourself more deeply, below the waves of glitter.