With all the things going on in our lives today, it is a challenge to have peace of mind. In thinking about it, having peace of mind seems like something you either have or you donít. You have it when circumstances are going right and you lose it when circumstances are negative. What is the underlying rule we use to determine our overall positive and negative circumstances?
I recently read a book about toxic thoughts called, "Who Switched Off My Brain?"by Dr. Caroline Leaf. We decide whether circumstances are positive or negative because we hold an expectation about those circumstances. In of itself, this is not all bad, but what happens when we get out of balance in focusing more on what is negative verses what is positive. As the author explained, positive thinking only gets you so far. In my opinion, happy thoughts fail over time when we keep our underlying rule where the rule doesnít allow for flexibility. What do I mean by that?
Letís use an example of an underlying rule many of us have and how it flunks the flexibility test. Then we will look at a modification of that rule to allow for greater flexibility where exceptions to the rule are not so devastating. That is the key to flexibility. What does it emotionally cost us when our rules are violated? If the rules are not absolute, we are able to forgive more freely and deal with disappointments more easily. This does not mean that the violation was not wrong, it just means that we understand the bigger picture and realize that not all rule violations are a complete disruption to what we thought was true.
1. First Rule Example: Parents always say and do things to benefit their children. Many of us are facing taking care of elderly parents. We are becoming their care givers where they were once ours. Yet, our expectations / rules have not changed. When the rule of parents always say and do things to benefit their children is violated by the parent, the child has no place to heal from. The hurt and pain stays within the child and becomes toxic to their opinions about themselves and the parent. Even when the hurt and pain is expressed, it does not go away because the rule has not changed. The violation of the rule lingers like an open wound that refuses to heal.
2. Modified Rule Example: Parents, under normal circumstances, say and do things to benefit their children. The reality is that we donít really know what "normal circumstances" are for the parent. Notice that replacing the term "always" in the First Rule with the words "under normal circumstances" in the Modified Rule allows flexibility. We donít even have to understand what "normal circumstances" are. We can accept that circumstances are not normal for the parent when they say and do things that are painful to the child. This is a much more flexible way of dealing with the raw emotions that emerge as a result of aging and disease. The pain is still felt but the child has a place to heal from by acknowledging the condition of the parent. There is no need for the child to defend their character with the Modified Rule because they are not adopting the hurtful words or actions as truth about themselves. The child is just acknowledging the existence of those expressed thoughts of the parent at that moment.
What rules are you governing your life by? Do they contain words like, always, must and should? What if you replaced those words with, usually, may and sometimes? Many times we do not behave according to the rules we expect others to abide by. Play around with it and see how it makes a difference in mastering your world.