My son had a stroke a couple of months ago. He was 7 months old at the time. A tiny human being who knew nothing about pain or suffering suddenly being forced to face a terrifying situation even for an adult. From seizures to painful procedures. Spending days in the fear and sadness that fills a hospital ICU to be released with motor skill shortcomings. And having to face everyday these motor deficits that make reaching normal developmental milestones so much harder, therefore facing months of rehab ahead of him.
I always believed people transformed into someone else when they faced a life-altering event. Almost like who they were in the past would suddenly vanish and they would become this whole other person. That’s what I anticipated would happen when I got married, whenever I made a big career move, and then again when I became a mother.
This past month I’ve been struggling with my personal view on growth. A concept so dear to me considering it’s been the underlying principle of my whole existence. See, I’m one of those persons who firmly believes life is an opportunity for continuous improvement. And that individuals should always strive for ongoing self-enhancement.
As human beings we have a natural need to understand and control. We want to make sense of our world. And in a life that is so uncertain and unpredictable, we want to have power over the outcome of our experiences. And as we struggle to find certainty in life, a certainty that can never be found, we cling on to ways of thinking and acting in an effort to gain that understanding and control we’re searching for.
As ordinary as we may feel, we each possess special gifts that make us unique. Gifts that if we were to acknowledge and apply to our lives would not only make us happier, but would provide us more satisfaction and well-being. Positive psychologists (those that study the science of happiness) have found that knowing our strengths and using them in different ways increases our positive emotions and reduces our depressive symptoms. In other words, making the best out of our strengths makes us happier!
A friend of mine once asked me how I managed to get through a painful divorce. She asked because she saw me broken once and now I seemed complete again. And not only did I seem complete, but happy. “How did you get through it?” she asked me crying. Her 3-year boyfriend who she was planning on marrying had just broken up with her and she felt like her world was falling apart. All of her dreams and wishes had been shattered and she wondered how anyone could survive from a broken heart.
Whether we realize it or not, we each have an inner critic that speaks to us. An invisible auditor who resides in our mind and is constantly inspecting (judging even) our actions. A “necessary evil” that as annoying as it is, makes sure we stay on track. But that if not handled with the proper discretion, can kill our self-esteem by fooling us into thinking despite our efforts we’re just not good enough.
Last night I had a terrifying nightmare. I dreamt that I was trapped in someone else’s life. But not just anyone else’s life. I was trapped in my own life. The one I had 5 years ago. A life I created for myself for all the wrong reasons. A life that made me feel empty and miserable. Have you ever felt like that? Waking up one day and realizing the life you’re living is not really yours. Wondering: “How did I even get here?” Have you ever experienced that horrifying feeling of being a captive of your fears, doubts, and insecurities? Like a straightjacket you just can’t get out of. Feeling like a prisoner in a life that you chose for yourself. A life that nobody forced you into. But that still feels as suffocating as prison itself.
Have you ever felt threatened by a situation that in reality was not threatening at all, as if you were reacting to a different place and time? Or ever caught yourself reacting absurdly to a present moment because it somehow reminded you of a past experience? Or felt furious at someone for no reason whatsoever, probably because those feelings were really about somebody else? If you have, then you understand the power of the unconscious. Those inner forces outside our conscious awareness that in so many ways control and dictate our thoughts, feelings, and actions.