Some of the events of the past few months have tempted me to become bitter. However, I am a resilient person and thus I have not been overcome by it. But I asked myself this morning how I am able to refrain from falling into that trap, and I came up with a few things.
1) Self-talk. When I was working on my master's degree in counseling, I had to study the various theories of counseling. The only one that made sense to me was Albert' Ellis Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy which has as the fundamental premise that humans, in most cases, do not merely get upset by unfortunate adversities, but also by how they construct their views of reality through their language, evaluative beliefs, meanings and philosophies about the world, themselves and others. (Wickepedia) His basic idea was that the thoughts we have about something and the things that we repeat to ourselves in our head are what follow our emotions, not the other way around. In other words, I think and therefore I feel -- not I feel and therefore I think. Our emotions are coming from our heads because of how we are interpreting our reality.
So how does this relate to bitterness? Well if the actions of my kids around me having me repeating to myself in my head, "I can't take this another day. They are really going to drive me crazy? What in the world was I thinking? This is NOT a life I can endure much longer" my emotions are going to follow and I"m going to be all wrapped up in a pity part or an anxious frenzy that can't help but lead to bitterness. However, if I am saying things to myself like, "Wow, it's amazing to me how well I am handling my stress today. These behaviors aren't going to effect me today because I'm strong and it is the behaviors that irritate me, not the children. I love my kids" and other such things, I will remain more calm and positive. And so I do a lot of lecturing myself in my head.
2) I count my blessings. I find myself frequently looking for the good and being thankful. In the past I have used a grateful journal, or blogged about gratitude and making lists of things I am glad are part of my life. Doing this keeps me from focusing on the negative when I realize just how many good things are happening to me.
3) I find joy in the small things. One of my Twelve Survival Tips that I share when I speak is "Look for one moment of joy each day." I can always find one -- the hug of a child who loves me, the smile of a teenage boy when I call him sexy, the way one of my kids beams when I praise them, and now just a picture of my granddaughter -- and each of those can bring me a great deal of joy. I tell myself that the joy of that one moment was worth living the rest of the day for and that changes my perspective.
4) I realize who I can change and who I can't. You've read the anonymous "revised serenity prayer" on my blog before -- it is this
Lord, grant me the serenity to accept the people I cannot change
the courage to change the person I can
and the wisdom to know it's me.
I say this to myself several times a week. I cannot change the people around me, but I can change the way I respond to them. I am continuously working to figure out how I can change the way I do things to make things better for my children, my husband, my coworkers, and my friends. If there is a conflict, I only spend a little while now obsessing about all the ways that that person is wrong and how they should change before I move into a mode where I'm asking what I can do to fix me and my response to them. Over twenty years ago one of my mentors used to say that when it comes to relationships, the ball is always in your court. And that is how I view it. It's always my turn to fix things, to initiate things, to maintain the relationship.
5) I have faith in a big God and I have things to do. My motto has always been "the bigger the mountain, the better the climb." I had another mentor as a college student who remains my friend today. He used to say "When God wants to do something big, he starts with a problem. When he wants to do something spectacular, he starts with an impossibility."
As a teenager I had a poem that I cut out of a magazine somewhere and glued in my scrapbook. I can still see the small piece of paper. I have the first part sort of memorized, but it is not anywhere on the internet, so it obviously impacted me more than other people. But it goes something like this:
Why should I trip over pebbles of pettiness
boulders of bitterness
there just isn't time...
So onward I'll march
to sights oh so glorious
to heights where victorious
for God bids me climb.
I just don't have time to be bitter. Life is short -- and I've got "places to go, people to see, and butts to kick." And so regardless of how difficult my life may become, I hope that I can always keep myself away from those pebbles of pettiness, and especially boulders of bitterness.... because I've got great big mountains to climb, impossible situations to watch God turn into amazing victories, and a future that simply has to get better.
And if I use that kind of self talk, it's pretty hard to have a bad day.