“I used to be someone who loved life, and believed it was possible to go for your dreams. I was a real positive thinker and a real go-getter. However, ever since I learned that my husband cheated on me, I’ve found it impossible to be that kind of person. I know it sounds negative, but I just can’t believe good things will ever happen to me again. Do you have any insights you could share?”
Let me start by saying that I’m really sorry this has happened to you. It’s not the life you wanted, and it’s not the life you deserved either. This should never have been your story.
However, I would also say that where you are right now is absolutely normal when you’ve been so deeply betrayed. Almost anyone who found themselves in your situation would find it hard to hope and dream … because … “What if it all goes wrong again?”
That is an understandable fear.
My guess is that you still have a lot of grieving to do. That you still need to spend time processing what you’ve gone through, and you still need work on slowly recovering and healing.
I would also suggest bearing the following in mind:
1. Although we all wish that bad things wouldn’t happen, the fact is there are no guarantees in life. That means it’s impossible to dodge all of life’s bullets. That’s difficult to hear, and accept … I know.
However, I would also say that – on the whole – terrible things occur less frequently than we expect them to/ or think they will.
2. When something really painful and unexpected happens, it dominates our thinking, and distorts our expectations. It affects our confidence, and how we feel, as well.
It’s easy for our life to be over-run by fear, and to find we are ruled by anxiety. That is something we should fight to overcome.
3. It is stressful to always be on high alert, and to always be waiting for the next shoes to drop. It will drive us crazy; it is truly torturous. It’s debilitating, and it drains our energy.
4. For every bad thing that happens, there are likely to be another 20 good things that happen. Of course, when we weigh the good and bad together, we might feel that one really bad thing equals 18 relatively good things. I get that.
However, over time the good usually does out weigh the bad; and knowing this is true, can help us focus on the good. So, try to notice what is good, and what goes well.
5. Although trauma and heartache can feel unbearable, in reality we usually survive, and make it through. This doesn’t have to be the end. They don’t have to wreak our life.
Also, it’s in the bad times that we tend to get in touch with hidden strengths. We find that we’re resilient. We learn what matters most. It’s also when we find out who our true friends are.
6. My guess is, there are still some really good things in your life. Some things that give life meaning. Those are worth remembering. Because … those are the things that really matter the most.
“Hope is being able to see that there is light, despite all the darkness.”
“If someone makes a remark about you and it’s something you also judge in yourself, it will most likely hurt. However, if they make the same remark and you don’t have that judgment about yourself, it probably won’t bother you at all.” – Tiny Buddha
To me, this statement makes a lot of sense. Here’s how I unpacked it in a session with a client (Gill). You may also want to work through this process yourself, on an issue that is pertinent to you.
Note: My questions and counselling interventions are highlighted below in bold font.
1.Think about the kinds of remarks you find particularly upsetting. (For example, it might be related to the kind of partner, spouse, parent, daughter, son or employee you think others view you as being).
2. Next, try to summarize – in a sentence of two – what, specifically, you find so upsetting about these comments or remarks.
Gill stated the following here:
“I feel my siblings think I don’t do enough for our aging parents. But, honestly, it wouldn’t really matter how much I did, in their eyes it still wouldn’t be enough. There is nothing I could do that would ever be enough”
3. I then asked Gill to think about the following: “Why does this statement hurt so much? What do you feel is so unfair about it? Also, what would you like other people to know – so they have a clearer, and more accurate picture of things?”
Gill responded as follows:
“I have tried so hard to show my parents that I love, and care about, them. Yet, I feel as if all my efforts are ignored. No matter what I do, it doesn’t count in their eyes. It also doesn’t count in my siblings’ eyes.”
Gill then added:
“I live in a family where everyone is hypercritical. No-one ever looks for, or comments on, the good. And that means you never feel you get it right.
“And I try to be a good daughter. Because I care about my parents, and because I genuinely want them to be happy.”
“But I always feel I’ve failed. Somehow, I never seem to measure up. And that really hurts. I feel I’m being judged for being the opposite of who being I’ve honestly tried so hard to be.”
3. I then turned the conversation round to explore self-judgment. I asked Gill if, perhaps, there was an extent to which she, herself, she had internalized the attitudes and judgments of her parents and siblings? Was she actually using their measuring stick to assess herself?
This seemed to resonate with Gill – for she responded by saying:
“I think there might be something in that. When I hear my sister’s voice inside my head, I automatically think others will be thinking ‘She’s right!’ … And that all these imaginary people will be ganging up against me, and criticizing me, and putting me down. I then attack myself for being a failure, too.”
4. Next,I asked Gill to think about whether or not herself-judgments were reasonable and accurate. I asked her to create a list of concrete evidence backing up the negative self-judgments, and another list of evidence which contradicted these internalized self-judgments.
Gill found very little to confirm the negative self-judgments, and plenty of evidence to contradict her self-judgments.
This exercise was useful in challenging and changing Gill’s self-judgment, and emotional reactions.
I hope you are able to find freedom, too.
“Never allow yourself to be defined by someone else’s opinion of you.”
Not everything that’s broken needs to be discarded. Sometimes being broken can increase an object’s worth.
Take the example of the ancient Chinese art of embellishing the cracks in a valuable possession with expensive, exquisite and eye-catching gold leaf.
This sends the message that this object’s beautiful. And we dishonour it by choosing to throw it away, or by pretending that it’s perfect, and has never suffered damage.
There is no cover up or denial in this choice to mend the cherished item with the costly gold leaf. The decision says: “This item is so elegant and precious. It deserves to be repaired. Can you see how much it’s worth?”
The gold leaf gives it prominence. It catches your eye. In the end, we find the damage has increased the object’s value. It has a unique beauty, and it stands out from the crowd.
And here’s the thing ….
None of us will make it through this life unscarred. The damage we experience may be serious and extensive. But if our wounds are touched with kindness, and a healing balm’s poured in, then eventually the scars can be lovingly transformed into something that is rare, and is truly beautiful.
“She picked up the broken pieces of her life, and created something beautiful.”