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Day 15: Is everybody suffering?

October 29, 2023

Matthew Perry’s death was announced this morning. In case you’ve been holed up in a cave since the 90’s, he’s the actor who played Chandler in “Friends”.

Matthew famously battled with addiction for most of his adult life though it’s unclear whether his death was caused by a relapse into addictive behaviours. I doubt it. More likely is the possibility that his body simply gave out after years of stress from the drugs, alcohol and mental anguish he experienced.

Over the last couple of days, I’ve written about misery and how, for those of us who wish to live joyfully, the goal has to be to stop “making misery out of everything”. Matthew Perry’s story really helped drive this point home for me today because his story is one that shatters the illusion of “stuff” ever having the capacity to bring us joy. No accolades, awards, achievements, possessions or relationships were ever enough to free him from the pain of living inside his head.

That’s how it is for many of us – except that for those of us who don’t reach the same dizzying heights of success, we think we might feel happier if we had more money and more stuff.

It feels so clear to me that we have the whole thing wrong. We’re all trying to make the pain go away and that’s probably what’s making it worse. Joyful living, (I think), requires us to be ok with the pain – to know it’s part of what we’re here to experience and to learn from.

The Practical Implications

The way I see it, there are “the big things” and the “the little things” that we struggle with.

The Big Things

These include the existential things we carry within us that change how we see ourselves, what we think is possible for us, whether or not we’re good enough or loveable.

These pains take root early – usually in the first 7 years of life. They sit within our subconscious programming, shaping the way we see the world and how we interact with it.

The big things are difficult to see consciously without the help of a trained professional and, even once seen, can require a fair amount of work – sometimes over many years – to truly break free from.

The work I do as a HeartHealing® practitioner addresses “the big things”. I am good at helping others unearth these things and work through them but I need help to unearth and work through my own.

I cannot underestimate the importance of doing this work because, without doing it, I’d never really get to show up for the people I love in the way I intend. I see this very clearly in my relationship with my daughter right now. She is probably one of the most kind-hearted people I know in this world and it’s my absolute privilege to be her mum. Yet, the “big things” can drive a wedge between us and when that happens, it is one of the greatest sources of pain in my life, not just because it’s painful for me but because I know I risk passing some of my “big thing” pains onto her.

I handle this by talking to her about it, sharing the “big things” I can see and helping her see that these things reside in me but are no reflection on her and do not need to taken on and carried as her big things. She was already gifted a weighty bundle of big things by her birth family and I guess my desire to avoid adding to that bundle is the main reason I invest so much time in energy in figuring this stuff out.

The Little Things

The “little things” are the everyday emotions that many of us find so challenging. These are things like anger, sadness, fear, hurt, guilt, boredom, helplessness, vulnerability, frustration, embarrassment etc.

Often it’s the “big things” that hide behind these so our ability to tolerate these emotions can often lead us into that world anyway, but even when these feelings aren’t related to the big things, few of us know how to manage them effectively.

In fact, as kids, a lot of us are taught to shut emotions down. As parents, we’re taught to distract kids so they forget about whatever it is that’s upset them. We give them sweets, make funny faces, do funny dances, whatever it takes so they stop the unhappiness in its tracks. If we have to, we shout at them for making a scene. For God’s sake! It’s not that big a deal! Calm down! We send them to their rooms, berate them and withdraw our attention and positive regard when they express emotions in ways we can’t tolerate. What are the specific lessons we’re hoping to teach about emotions, how they work and how to navigate through the difficult ones in healthy ways?

So it’s not too surprising that many of us are afraid of feeling our “negative” emotions. We have very few skills for coping with them or managing them apart from distracting ourselves, numbing them out or judging ourselves and withdrawing from human contact when we face emotions that aren’t palatable to others.

In my case, I’ve traditionally numbed these emotions out – with food, wine and entertainment. Part of what I am devoting my attention to these days is in developing the skills to be in my own company when feeling these emotions without numbing them out or withdrawing from the people I love.

For my money, learning the practical skills required for emotional management would likely be a game changer for almost all of us who want our presence on the planet to make a contribution to the joy left behind.

I intend to devote my time to my continued learning in this area and to sharing that learning with leaders, parents and teachers who would also like to leave the world every so slightly better for their presence in it.

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