Latest update: June 12th, 2012
In the first part of this article (Family Issues 3-2-2012) I shared the many memories resulting from my year of avaylus (mourning) for my mother. This week I would like to connect those memories to a better understanding of how good could potentially come from bad happenings in an effort to improve relationships.
The questions are: “How does one make the best of a bad situation or turn it into an even better one? Do we have the capacity to look for the silver lining in bad situations? When things are tough, can we find the ‘toughness’ within ourselves to turn things around? Can we always say that we can find something good from bad?”
I believe most people would agree with me that it is not so easy to find good in bad. However, we should not assume that bad means bad. I believe that when something bad happens, we have to see it for what it is. Many would say we should think, “It’s not so bad. It could be worse.” Of course every bad situation could be worse, but how does that help?
Bad situations are usually perceived from the “me” perspective, but could also be viewed from the “us” perspective. In the “me” perspective we think: what is this event as it pertains to me? How does this event affect me? How does my life change because of this event? In the “us” perspective we ask how the bad event affects the bigger picture, the world at large or others outside our immediate selves. It’s very difficult to see things through both perceptions at the same time. Nevertheless, we can all view the “me” perspective and then the bigger “us” perspective in most occurrences.
A death in my family has a definite large and meaningful “me” effect, while having a very small effect on those outside my immediate family. Others might feel badly or they might even not care. On the other hand, a tsunami in a far off country has an immediate catastrophic effect on those directly affected, but has a very different affect, beyond emotionally feeling sorry for others, on me, thousands of miles away. That doesn’t mean I don’t care or feel bad, but the “me” perspective is very different. Furthermore, the “me” affect that I am experiencing is different from another person effected by the same bad situation. I recently paid a shiva call where four siblings and their mother were mourning the passing of the father/husband. They were all mourning the same person but in very different ways.
Once one recognizes the “me” effect the situation has, one must gather strength and determine how much power he will allow the situation to have over his life. The saying, “knowledge is power” is certainly true. I believe we cannot muster up the power to control negative situations without the true knowledge and understanding of the total situation. Of course, if the situation is very emotional it’s difficult to have a “free” understanding, because emotional “thinking” influences the way we can understand the situations we find ourselves in. This is why we often need an outside person, someone beyond the “me” thinker, to help us understand it from a different perspective.
First and foremost, it is important to always remember the following: “We act the way we feel and our feelings are based totally on our thoughts.” Don’t take this for granted, as it is imperative to personal control. How we relate to others, what we do in various situations and the effects of such behaviors and actions, all come down to our interpretations and understandings of the situations. Whether we are happy, sad, disappointed, etc. is all-dependent on the way we understand and think. From those thoughts develop feelings, which lead to our actions.
It’s important to understand the ways in which we think. There is both conscious thinking (whereby we are able to understand exactly what we are thinking while we process the thoughts) and subconscious thinking (where our brain is very active yet we are not actually aware of the process). Nevertheless, subconscious thinking has definite affects on our daily functioning and feelings. A good example of subconscious thinking is when someone is having an emotional reaction but cannot “put my figure on what’s bothering me.” This lack of understanding how one feels is a telltale sign of the unconscious at work.
Why is it that sometimes someone seems to be bothering us but we don’t know why we feel that way? Why is it that I feel very attracted to someone without knowing why? Our brain is busy working 24 hours a day, seven days a week. We can see this when we understand dreams. Our subconscious thoughts develop from our upbringing, our daily occurrences and people who have meaning to us (good and bad).
How do we understand change, especially our thoughts about changing bad situations into a learning environment? Victor Frankl, a famous psychiatrist once said, “When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.” Another relevant saying: “Change always comes bearing gifts” (Price Pritchett). Finally, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote, “Nothing that is can pause or stay; the moon will wax, the moon will wane, the mist and cloud will turn to rain, the rain to mist and cloud again, tomorrow be today.”
If you decide that you want to change your relationships, you have to realize that it can only happen with a conscious effort to understand yourself. However, if many of our thoughts, processing and understandings are subconscious, how do we better understand ourselves? Of course, we could all go into therapy, but before doing that let’s realize means of self-disclosure and understanding. By virtue of a thought being subconscious, we are not aware of it. What we are not aware of we can’t take control of and change. So we have to purposefully be more aware of our thought processes to be in control of our thoughts, feelings and actions.
How can bad situations produce good results? In fact, research has shown that many people diagnosed with a serious illness make significantly positive changes to their lifestyles and relationships. For example I recently had a parent in my office that was very upset that her fourteen-year-old son had “gone off the derech.” When I asked her what effect this has had on their home, she was hesitant to answer. She then described how she and her husband had initially gotten very angry with their son, who in turn got very angry with them. As the anger in the family grew and started taking a toll on the family relationships amongst the various family members, they were able to re-evaluate the situation by stepping back and taking a look at what was happening to each of them. They were able to see that the anger was tearing them apart more than their son’s behaviors were and they were becoming reactive to him and each other. This couple, with great effort and work, was able to let go of some of their anger, which they realized was actually more of a disappointment in both their son and themselves, and they were then able to see the bigger picture.
In fact, when they were able to better understand the situation by rethinking their understanding, they were able to let go of many of their negative feelings, making room for more productive and creative thoughts. In turn, they found themselves concentrating on loving their son and found themselves opening up their home to other kids who were either rediscovering, or discovering for the first time, their Yiddishkeit (Jewish feelings).
They were actually surprised how good they felt about themselves and how these good feelings could replace the disappointment they had felt for their son. By releasing themselves from these negative feelings and transferring the good feeling of helping others, they found more energy and positive reinforcement for their own son. Without all the negativism, their relationship with their son was improving.
The lesson we can learn is that we must first re-think and evaluate what the bad situation is. Sometimes we need help stepping back and seeing things from a new perspective, re-thinking what we thought was obvious. Finally, with a new perspective we can better understand the situation and make a conscious decision to try a new way of entertaining the relationship or situation.
We should all use our ability to look at the world both through the “me” perspective as well as the “us” perspective to see the immediate situation as well as the bigger picture. As we learn to step back and re-think we can be in more control of our relationship with others.
Mr. Schild is the Executive Director of Regesh Family and Child Services in Toronto, Ontario Canada. He is also a family therapist and certified specialist in Anger Management and conducts many therapeutic workshops in various topics. Regesh runs many programs helping families and youth dealing with personal and family issues in their lives. To arrange a speaking engagement, contact Mr. Schild. He can be reached at 416-495-8832 extension 222 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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