wrongturnsMy wife, Hope, wrote this post recently and I thought I’d share it with PsychCentral readers. Enjoy!

Life is a series of wrong turns…that’s a pretty good metaphor for a lot of us. The way we see life is pretty powerful in determining the way we live life.

If I tell myself that life is a struggle, I’m probably going to respond to the majority of situations prepared to struggle. If I say that life is a party, I’m probably going to have some fun and may be somewhat irresponsible.

How do you see your life?

Are you happy with your metaphor for life? What if you could change the way you see it?

Life metaphors come from our own past experiences. If I have failed at many things over the years, I might come to say that life is a bummer. Or, if I was raised with parents that were very strict, I might say life is a prison. If I’ve had my heart broken a lot, I might say life is a series of let downs.

Another way a metaphor can form is by the way someone close to us sees life. Maybe my mother found it difficult to get by, so I might grow up saying, life is a struggle. Or maybe my parents were really successful and I grew up with not a care in the world. Then, I might say life is a breeze. If I was spoiled, I might say life is a bore.

We see life differently depending on our influences and personal experience

Sometimes experiences are positive and bring us success and sometimes they are negative and encourage failure. Or sometimes, we pretend to see life in a hyper-positive way to protect ourselves from the fact that we really see it negatively.

Unless you are one of the lucky ones that has a naturally positive view of life that brings joy to everyone, you probably want to think about the life metaphors you carry around.

I’m someone who believes it is not good to be one way or another. Striving to be too positive is usually compensating for something and allowing yourself to be too negative is just self-indulgent.

Ever met someone who’s just so cheerful and happy that you want to slap them?

You know they can’t possibly be that way all the time. You know that they clearly aren’t that way when things aren’t going well. I know this firsthand, working with advertisers in our newspaper, Healthy Times. I would meet these women who appeared so enlightened, almost like they lived with a glow around them. Everything was “wonderful” and they “love everyone.” Phooey! As soon as something went wrong with their advertisement, they changed into monsters.

I really did believe, for the longest time, that there was something wrong with me because I couldn’t be that happy and loving all the time. As it turned out, neither could they. What a relief!

So, it is important then, to pick a metaphor that you can keep up with

Pick one that is honest. How do you honestly feel about life? If you say life is a banana split; is it really? Is it sweet and gooey or is that just too much? If you say life’s a ball; is it? Is it always fun?

The thing about metaphors is that many people choose a positive metaphor when they don’t really see life so positively. For example, you tell yourself that life is a grand adventure, when you really behave as if life were a grind. In this case, you aren’t really seeing life as an adventure. Your behavior says that you see life as a grind!

Now, the big question is, how do you begin to break down and change a disempowering metaphor?

Question it!

Let’s say you see life as a constant struggle. Is it really? Are you also able to have happy days and take care of many things without too much trouble? Is there ever a time when your life is relaxing? Do you ever catch a break? Be honest. Maybe it really isn’t as bad as you’ve made it seem to yourself.

If you can say it’s not 100% struggle, that life can be a struggle sometimes and sometimes it can be OK, or even fun, then you can begin to let the metaphor go.

Let’s try another. Life’s a bitch. Again, the same process applies. Is it always that way? Is it sometimes enjoyable? Has life ever been kind to you in any way? So, a reframe would be life can be a bitch sometimes and sometimes it can be enjoyable. That seems a bit more realistic.

Now for the overly positive person: Life is a dream. Really, it’s always a dream? Don’t you ever have a bad day? Even a bad hair day? Of course you do. A good reframe would be life can be a dream and sometimes it isn’t. That is more balanced and honest.

You can begin to let go of unwanted metaphors by questioning them and finding the right balance

How does all this apply to life being a series of wrong turns? Try to reframe that one yourself and see if it feels better.

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