|Many of us hold on to our beliefs about the way things should be even when doing this makes us feel worse. Thoughts arise in our minds justifying our position. I recently watched a movie that brought this home to me. The main character, Jordan, was developing a relationship with a divorced woman whom he really liked. Then he discovers that she is still occasionally seeing her ex-husband. Even though the man’s relationship with her is just beginning, he feels betrayed and he breaks things off, telling himself that he could never be with someone who does this.
He then ruminates about how bad his situation is, despite another friend pointing out to him that it was his decision to break things off, and that it is his choice whether to continue to feel slighted and miserable, or to let go of his belief that he could never have a relationship with a woman who continues to see her ex and maybe be happier. The friend tell him “It takes courage to be happy”. Ultimately Jordan recognizes that it is his fear of heartbreak, of being hurt again, that prevents him from pursuing the relationship. He decides to summon the courage to give it another try, rather than deciding it was over before it had even really gotten started.
“It takes courage to be happy”. I think this often describes situations we find ourselves in like the one in the movie. Our beliefs about the way things should be affect the ways we see our situations and we can easily get caught up in justifying our reactions. When we notice this happening, we can respond with curiosity rather than judgment. In the movie, Jordan initially judges his female acquaintance and her behavior and breaks things off with her. With the help of his friend, he becomes more curious about his reaction, and comes to the realization that it is arising from his fear of being hurt. It took courage both to be curious and open to other explanations, especially when they were about him rather than the other person, and it took courage to act on this recognition, to be willing to pursue a relationship that brought him happiness even if he might ultimately experience the hurt of separation again.
This type of exploration can be part of our mindfulness practice. When we notice a strong reaction to something someone else has done, we can notice the story we tell ourselves about what happened, and become aware of the “shoulds” that arise. For instance, we might notice the thought “my partner should appreciate all that I do for them more”. This thought could quickly lead to a whole litany of perceived slights, and before we know it we’re feeling miserable, and may then react to our partner in a way that just escalates the situation, resulting in our feeling even worse.
An alternative response might be to notice the “should” with curiosity, wondering why we feel we should be appreciated more. It can take courage to do this, because this exploration can involve acknowledging how much our reaction is about us and not the other person, and also because it sometimes leads to recognizing the role past trauma has had on how we view things. If we do have some insight into our beliefs about being appreciated, as Jordan did with regard to experiencing past heartbreak and fearing more, we can notice where we feel it in the body, just being with what arises with curiosity. This is not about fixing anything or changing anything, but rather just noticing “this is fear of heartbreak” and responding with kindness and compassion for our own experience. This can be hard and also requires courage. And recognizing this, we may choose to respond differently, which can also take courage. Instead of getting upset with our partner for their lack of appreciation, we might share what we learned, perhaps that we feel the need for appreciation because no matter how hard we worked as a child we didn’t receive any. In recognizing and acknowledging this we may find that our partner responds differently, and also that being appreciated, while still nice, doesn’t matter quite so much anymore.
Filed Under: Monthly Musings