When Life Is Difficult

We all experience painful times, but certain responses can help us cope.

Sometimes life is difficult. Things happen in life that are hard, that hurt. No one is immune. No one completelylife difficulties escapes those painful times. If you aren’t there now, you can be assured you will go there at some point. Sorry, but you know it’s true.

The difficulties of life may come on suddenly, like that dreaded telephone call with the bad news. A period where everything seems good can be shattered in a moment. Life can change forever in a heartbeat. Such events become the fuel for our fears, and sometimes keep us awake at night.

Sometimes our difficulties seem to take up residence. They linger. We wake up in the morning and they’re still there. We may have hoped that they would disappear in our sleep, but we’re disappointed when we wake to realize that it wasn’t a bad dream.

So, what can we do when we’re in the middle of life’s difficulties? How can we cope when faced with the major hardships of life? Here are a few ideas.

  1. Remember that you aren’t alone (Part 1). Reach out to those who love you. Talk to people who care about you and want to support you. Give yourself permission to lean on a loved one. Let them help you. You may fear that you’ll be a burden, but that may not be the case. Would you want them to reach out to you if they were experiencing the same difficulty? If so, shouldn’t you also share with them?

 

  1. Remember that you aren’t alone (Part 2). If you are a Christian, you know the promise that you will never be alone. This is one of the most frequent promises of the Bible. We are told to be dependent and to lean on Him. You may not know the future, but you can lean on the One who does. Simple faith has carried many through a multitude of hardships.

 

  1. Don’t create a second hurt. Experiencing a difficult situation carries its own unavoidable pain. Unfortunately, we sometimes add on a second pain by blaming ourselves for the situation. Of course, we must take responsibility if we made a bad choice or hurt someone, but we often blame ourselves when we are not at fault. We assume that we must have done something, but when we can’t identify what we did.

 

  1. Be compassionate with yourself. If a loved one was going through a difficult time, you would be compassionate. You would be kind, empathetic and supportive. Why should you be any less with yourself? If compassion is the best medicine for the loved one, why would it not also be the best medicine for you. A self-compassionate response will help you deal with many of life’s difficulties.

 

Everyone faces difficulties at times. When you face hard times, be kind to yourself and accept a little help from your friends. And remember, some events in life are so hard, that the very definition of success is…you survived.

The Responsibility of Being an American

Abraham_LincolnI like to see a man proud of the place in which he lives.  I like to see a man live so that his place will be proud of him.  ~Abraham Lincoln

Each person plays many roles. We have many aspects to our identity; parent, spouse, child, family member, friend, co-worker, and more. Today, we celebrate one additional part of our identity; that of being an American.

Today, July 4th, we recognize and celebrate our nation and our independence. In doing so, we remind ourselves of this part of our identity. We enjoy the gift of being a part of this great nation. This is part of who we are.

Regardless of our political disagreements and despite our current difficulties, it is still a great nation. We are free to express those disagreements. We are free to choose our path and work to follow it. This is part of who we are.

You don’t have to travel to many other countries to realize how much we take for granted each day. We have so much. We often have too much. Having been so blessed, we have a responsibility to seek ways to give to others. This is part of who we are.

We have the opportunity to grow as individuals, and in doing so, follow any path we choose. As my father used to say, “You can do anything you want to do, if you set your mind to it.” As a young boy, I’d roll my eyes and dismiss the statement, but it must have sunk in, because I came to believe it. Fortunately, in this country we call home, it is true. This is part of who we are.

Enjoy celebrating our country this July 4th, and then every other day, live up to the inheritance. As Lincoln said, live so that your place will be proud of you.

Are You Really Experiencing Your Life?

We live most of our lives mindlessly. We may be doing one thing, but our minds tend to be on other things. We live in the present moment, but our minds are on the past or the future.

I first learned about the technique of “mindfulness” on a PBS television program, called “Healing and the Mind.” The host was the excellent reporter, Bill Moyers, and each episode featured a clinic, somewhere in the world, that specialized in mind/body medicine.

On this particular episode, he featured a clinic at Massachusetts Medical Center, a major teaching hospital where many Harvard medical students do their rotations and internships. People come there from all over the world for assessment and treatment of serious medical disorders.

In that hospital, is a clinic that was originally called “The Center for Catastrophic Illness,” and was founded by a psychologist, named Jon Kabit-Zinn. Patients are referred to this clinic who have any illness that has proven to be a catastrophe in their lives. The clinic has been enormously effective in helping these patients deal with their various illnesses.

The clinic teaches the technique of mindfulness. The technique has been practiced in Asia for about four thousand years, but has only been applied to healthcare in the US for about twenty years. While mindfulness practice cannot directly cure many physical illnesses, it can help patients deal with their difficulties with much less distress and discomfort. It has even been shown to cure some stress-related illnesses.

The technique involves three components, (a) noticing, (b) without judging, (c) in the present moment. To notice means to truly experience, to really be in the moment. Focus your attention on that event. Experience it with your five senses. If you are somewhere, really be there. Focus your mind on what you are doing, rather than something in the past or the future.

For example, if you are driving, notice the experience of driving. What do you see? What do you feel? Notice the unconscious movement of your hand on the steering wheel. Notice the subtle rumble of the road noise. Do the same with any experience. If you are interacting with a loved one, really focus your attention on that person and the interaction. If you are washing dishes, notice the various aspects of the experience, the feel of the water, the feel of the soap or the movements of your hands.

Now, try to recall some of the favorite moments of your life. I would bet that you experienced each of these favorite moments mindfully. You were focused on what you were doing at the time. If you experienced the moment mindlessly, you wouldn’t recall it as a favorite moment. I wonder how many other moments could have been favorites, if we had experienced them mindfully rather than mindlessly.

The second part of mindfulness is to notice “without judging.” This means to not analyze our experience in our minds, but to just experience it. We don’t focus on whether the experience is good or bad. It just is. For example, patients are actually taught to be mindful of their pain. This may seem strange, but we find that, when patients notice pain, without thinking of it as good or bad, the pain lessons, or at least becomes less distressful. We usually try to escape from our pain, and in doing so, make ourselves more tense. This tension actually worsens the discomfort.

The last part of mindfulness is “in the present moment.” This means to focus your attention on the present moment, rather than experiencing the present moment with your mind thinking about something in the past or something in the future.

Let’s think about time for a moment. All time can be divided into three parts; the past, the future, and the present. Everything prior to this moment in time is the past. Nothing in the past actually exists, except in our memories. Everything after this moment is the future, and nothing in the future actually exists except in our imaginations. The only thing that actually exists at any moment is that thin slice of time we call the present.

Yet, we live most of our present moments thinking about something in the past or something in the future. We don’t really experience the present moment, because we are analyzing, reminiscing or regretting past events or anticipating, dreading or worrying about future events. We thus miss the experience of the present moment.

Take a moment now to be mindful of the present moment. Notice what your five senses are experiencing. Notice your breathing. The act of noticing the breath can always bring you back to the present moment. Your breath is always with you. Let yourself simply be in the present moment now and experiencing this moment fully. If your mind wanders to the past or the future, it’s okay. Just gently bring your attention back to your breath and the present moment.

Practice this for a few moments at a time. If you can stay in the present moment for a few seconds, that’s good enough at first. After being mindful of the present moment experience for a little while, notice what you feel. Most people report that they feel a sense of calm or peace.

Practice mindfulness several times per day. You don’t have to take time out of your day at first. Just be mindful of whatever you’re doing. Then, if you like, take a few moments out of your day to get in a more extended time of present moment awareness. Give it a try!

Question: If you have tried present-moment mindfulness, what did you experience? Also, report any difficulties you experienced in trying the technique.

The Violin Nobody Wanted

ImageThis post is a little longer than most. I have had several requests to share the following story from my book, “Parables for a Wounded Heart.” I hope you enjoy it!

Once there was a family that bought an old house. The prior owners had moved out of the house some time earlier, so this new family never met them. On the day they moved in, they had some items that they wanted to store in the attic. When they climbed up the attic stairs, they found that the previous owners had left some junk piled in one corner. The new owners didn’t have time to go through the stuff and throw it away, so they just stacked their things around the leftover pile. They didn’t think of it again.

After several years, the family decided to do some spring cleaning. They planned to have a yard sale to get rid of some of the things they had stored in the attic. When they went up to get their items, they saw the pile of things left by the previous owners. They decided they might as well try to sell those things too. Perhaps they could make a little extra money.

As they sorted out the pile, they found several items they could sell including an old violin in a case. The violin looked in pretty good shape, but the case was very dusty and all scratched up. They decided to put a $20.00 price tag on it and see what they could get.

On the day of the yard sale they put all the items on tables, and  people began to stop and browse. They sold many of their items and were about to call it a day. There were a few stragglers milling around the tables checking for any last minute buys. A car pulled over and a tall, thin older man got out. He too browsed the tables for a while.

He came to the table with the violin in the opened case. It seems no one had needed a fiddle this morning, not even for $20.00. He leaned over and studied the dusty violin for a couple of minutes before he spoke to the owner behind the table. He inquired, “Do you mind if I take it out of the case?”

“No”, the owner replied, “Help yourself.”

He picked the violin up very slowly and carefully, as if it were going to fall apart in his hands.

“May I tune it?” the old man asked.

“If you can,” the owner answered.

The old man slowly tuned the violin until he seemed to be satisfied with each string. The owner waited patiently since most of the crowd had dispersed; and this seemed like the most promising chance of getting rid of the instrument.

“May I play it?” the old man asked.

“Sure, see how it sounds,” was the owner’s reply, now feeling that a sale was in the making.

The old man slowly placed the violin under his chin and began to play. The straggling shoppers stopped and stared as the notes drifted across the yard in the spring sunshine. The old man crafted the most beautiful music for several minutes before he stopped. He lowered the violin from his chin and placed it very gently back in its case. The owner moved in to make the sale. “You make that thing sing, mister” he said with a grin. “You can have it for only $20.00.”

The older man’s face was somber. “I can’t give you $20.00 for that violin,” he replied.

“Well, how about $15.00?” said the owner, now thinking a sale was slipping away.

“Sir, you don’t understand.” noted the old man, still serious. “I can’t take that violin from you for $20.00. It wouldn’t be right.” Looking directly into the owner’s eyes, he lowered his voice and smiled slightly, “I don’t know how you came upon that violin, but you don’t know what you have there. You see, that violin is a Stradivarius. You can tell from the markings in the sound hole. It was made by Antonio Stradivari in Cremona. His instruments are the best in the world. You see, his mark is there in the sound hole. This violin is worth at least $1,000,000 and probably much more. It’s a very, very special instrument and very precious. You just didn’t realize what you had.”

The violin had always been precious. It was valuable because of its creator. The violin was valuable because its creator only made precious instruments, and it carried the unmistakable mark of that creator. The earlier homeowners who left it in the attic obviously didn’t know what they had and treated it like trash. The new owners didn’t know what they had either and left it in the attic with the trash. The yard sale shoppers who left it on the table didn’t know what they were leaving behind. They treated it as if it was not even worth $20.00. It took the old man to recognize the violin’s value. He didn’t have to play it to recognize that it was precious. The old man knew it was precious because he knew about its creator. He knew that it had the mark of its creator.

You may be like the violin. You may have grown up in a family that wasn’t able to recognize your true value. They may have acted as if you were in the way or just something to be tolerated. Or they may have made you feel that you couldn’t do anything right or were always messing up. Later in life, you may have dealt with others who also acted as you weren’t worth much, who acted as if you were trash.

It’s important to remember that the violin never actually lost its value. It was just as valuable when it was left in a corner of the attic as it would have been in a symphony hall. It was still valuable when it was passed over by the rest of the customers in the yard sale. The creator had left his mark on it, and that made all the difference.

Every child is valuable. Each child is as valuable as any other child. We all know this to be true. There is no defect, deformity, characteristic, or behavior that can make a child less valuable. We also know this to be true. A child’s actual value is not diminished when her family doesn’t recognize or act as if she is valuable. You know this to be true.

The child is hurt, of course. The child learns to believe that she is not valuable. Such lessons are learned deeply. Such beliefs are hard to change. Just because a belief is deeply learned doesn’t mean that it is true.

Question:  Share your thoughts about the meaning or moral of this story. Do you agree that all children are valuable and deserve to be treated as such? Can you apply that truth to yourself? Can you begin to do that now? What do you think?

This story was inspired by the poem, “The Touch of the Master’s Hand” by Myra “Brooks” Welch (1921).

Self-Esteem Versus Self-Compassion

Developing self-compassion can help anyone deal with self-esteem wounds.

For years now, I have been working on helping people identify and correct negative self-beliefs that were formed byself-esteem harsh criticism, rejection or abuse. I knew that these beliefs triggered negative thinking, depression, anxiety, damaged relationships and sometimes even suicide. I referred to these negative self-beliefs as self-esteem wounds. I said that my work focused on the self-esteem, but I never liked the term.

The term self-esteem is very overused, and has several negative connotations. Some earlier self-esteem programs focused on positive affirmations, such as “I’m very smart” “I can do anything I want” or “I’m a great athlete.” Several self-esteem programs were introduced into the schools in the 80’s and 90’s, but were later found to be fairly ineffective. Some went so far as to say that you shouldn’t point out a student’s mistakes, as that might hurt their self-esteem. Some programs were said to even foster narcissistic tendencies. The negative side of self-esteem work was epitomized by Saturday Night Live’s character, Stuart Smiley, who stared into a mirror, while reciting, “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me.”

Many self-esteem programs seemed to foster feelings of superiority, or seeing oneself as above average. The reality is that everyone cannot be above average. Except, of course, in Garrison Keillor’s imaginary town of Lake Wobegon, where “all the children are above average.”

My work focused on helping those who saw themselves as inferior to everyone else. I wanted to help them recognize that they were human, with positive and negative traits, successes and failures like everyone else. I tried to help people see themselves as equal with others. I’ve tried to help them have compassion for themselves, while taking full responsibility for their behaviors.

Then I discovered the term self-compassion. Self-compassion can be defined as extending compassion to oneself in instances of perceived inadequacy, failure or general suffering. In other words, you recognize your difficulty, but show kindness to yourself, as you deal with that difficulty. Kristin Neff, Ph.D. has led the study of this concept. Research has shown that self-compassion helps us deal with the inevitable difficulties and failures of life. We bounce back more quickly, remain stronger under adversity, and show more compassion toward others, when we practice self-compassion. We see ourselves, and treat ourselves as being equal to other human beings. And after all, aren’t we?

The Impact of Terrorism

Terrorist attacks can change our perceptions and choices in more ways than we imagine.

Recently, the world woke up to yet another terrorist attack in Europe. A small group of men had killed several peoplepsychological impact of terrorist attacks and wounded many others. The victims were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. They did nothing to deserve the attack, and had no warning. It could have been you or me, and that’s the point.

Terrorism acts are usually small in scope. The number of people killed or injured are fewer than those killed in traffic accidents on that particular day. The force of terrorism cannot defeat an army or take over a country. So, how does it work?

The most obvious impact of terrorism is psychological. Those survivors in the immediate vicinity of the attack will often experience Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and family members of the deceased experience grief. More broadly, however, the terrorist attack impacts the psychological well-being of the entire society.

As humans, we maintain a constant background impression of our relative safety. We have a general sense of how safe we are in any particular situation. We tend to feel safer in our homes than we do in public places, safer in our hometown than when traveling, safer when surrounded by friends than when in the company of strangers, and so on. Of course, we feel safer in our daily routines than we would if we were soldiers fighting in a war zone.

Terrorism disrupts this impression of safety. Watching a terrorist attack, where people were killed or wounded while carrying on their daily routines, eliminates our assumption of safety. These victims weren’t fighting in a war. They weren’t doing some dangerous activity. They were doing what we all do. They were busy living their lives. If it can happen to them, it can happen to us.

Our estimation of the danger is exaggerated by our distorted perceptions of probability. When we see an event occur, we tend to overestimate the probably of it happening again. This can be illustrated in several ways. Watching news coverage of a plane crash creates the feeling that planes crash frequently. This feeling can occur, even when we remind ourselves that thousands of planes take off and land every minute, and that we are in greater danger while driving to the airport. Likewise, seeing some lucky winner of the lottery makes people buy tickets, even when the odds of winning are almost zero. So, seeing a terrorist attack makes us overestimate the danger that it will happen to us.

Since terrorist attacks increase our perceptions of danger, they tend to make us less trusting in general. We tend to become more defensive and hardened in our opinions. Brene Brown, Ph.D. has suggested that the 9-11 attacks had the impact of polarizing our country. She said that our decreased feelings of safety made us more entrenched in our positions. And the division between Republicans and Democrats, conservatives and liberals is greater than I have seen in my lifetime.

So, what can we do? Of course, we must take the necessary steps to identify and prevent attacks when we can, and to fight the groups that carry them out. But, we also need to remind ourselves of the truth that terrorism has a much greater chance of changing our lives than it does of ending our lives.

A Common Marital Pattern

They say that opposites attract, but understanding how we differ can be enlightening.

Through the years, I have done a lot of marital counseling. Couples usually seek help because of frequent conflicts, emotional distance or to recover from one member’s affair. They may disagree on finances, parenting decisions, or decision making. Sometimes they schedule an appointment more as a preventative, because they see the potential of a serious difficulty. Sometimes, they have already separated, and are on the verge of divorce.

While the specifics will differ from couple to couple, one pattern seems to be quite consistent. Over-and-over, I have seen this pattern emerge, often in the first counseling session. As we talk about the nature of their communications and their conflicts, I see that one of them is an Internalizer and the other is an Externalizer.

These terms refer to their personality styles, their emotional vulnerabilities and their reactions to conflict. The traits seem to be consistent over time, and the pattern holds true in about 95% of couples.

The personalities have nothing to do with being an introvert and an extrovert. An Internalizer can be an extrovert or an introvert, as can an Externalizer.

The Internalizer:

An internalizer reacts to hurt by withdrawing. He gets quiet or distances when he is hurt. He tends to not talk about his feelings. The more he is hurt, the more distant he becomes. Occasionally, however, he will react with an outburst of anger, and it is often intense.

Internalizers hate conflict. Arguments, relationship or emotional discussions make them nervous. Because of their anxiety, they often have trouble thinking what they want to say. Their minds go blank during a discussion. Their most feared words are “We need to talk.” They may not get anxious about other issues, but relationship issues do trigger anxiety.

Internalizers are most sensitive to being criticized or feeling inadequate. They are vulnerable to feeling that they have messed up, or that they can’t meet the partner’s expectations. They perceive the partner as being hard to please.

The Externalizer:

The Externalizer reacts to hurt by getting angry, irritated or frustrated. Her hurt tends to turn into anger fairly quickly. She may try to talk about her hurt, but it often comes out more as frustration or anger.

While Externalizers don’t like conflict, they really hate non-resolution of problems. They want to address issues. They need to talk about the problem and the feelings it creates. They want to feel heard and understood. They get more upset when their partner avoids talking about the issues.

Externalizers are most sensitive to feeling rejected, unimportant or unloved. They tend to feel that the partner doesn’t care about them or their opinions. They see the partner as distant, detached or uninvolved. They often feel alone in the relationship.

You can probably imagine how these opposite personality traits could cause difficulties. When the Externalizer feels unimportant, she reacts with frustration or anger. The Internalizer perceives her anger as criticism, which he is sensitive to. He reacts by withdrawing. When he withdraws, she feels that he doesn’t care about her or love her, which makes her angrier. The vicious cycle continues.

These two personalities can learn to live together in harmony, but they have to understand what is happening. Each person has to understand his own tendencies, as well as his partners. Understanding that your partner is different from you and thinks differently can help. Trying to express hurt, rather than anger or withdrawal, can make a huge difference.

On Being Judgmental

Judging others can make us feel superior, but we need to wait until we're ready.

I’m looking forward to it. I can’t wait. I imagine that it will be so satisfying. I’ve been trying to be patient, but it is difficult. I’ve seen others do it, and they certainly seem to enjoy it.judging

So, what am I talking about? I’m looking forward to being judgmental. I’m looking forward to judging everyone around me. First, I’ll turn up my nose to those who have messed up. Then, with my head pointed upward, I’ll be able to look down on those who have faltered. Finally, I’ll sneer at those who have stumbled.

The self-satisfaction will be sweet. The arrogance will be awesome. Like the kid, who is assigned the job of taking names while the teacher is out of the room, I will be sitting tall. My head will be scanning the crowd, searching for any infraction. My pencil and paper will be ready.

The advantages of being judgmental will be abundant. I will be able to feel superior. Looking down on someone will remind me that I am above them. I won’t have to examine myself, of course. I will be much too busy for that.

Unfortunately, for now, I’ll have to wait. I’m not quite qualified to be the name-taker. I fall short of the requirements to be judgmental.  But when I become perfect, I will jump at the job. That’s right, when I become perfect, I plan to become judgmental, and I can’t wait.

Hmmm, I guess I really can’t wait. You see, if I’m totally honest, I must admit that I’ve tried it out a few times. I’ve sampled that feeling of superiority that comes from judging others. I tried to resist, but the temptation was just too strong.

The bad thing is that practicing judgment prematurely isn’t completely satisfying unless I pretend. To make it work, I have to pretend that I’m already perfect. Acknowledging my own faults ruins the taste. Like the green apple, judging another before I reach perfection can be a bitter fruit.

So, I guess I need to wait to be judgmental. Until I reach perfection, I’ll have to remember that I’m in the same boat as everyone else.

The Loss in Loneliness

Loneliness or feeling disconnected from others can impact your mental and physical health.

We were created for connection. We are naturally social animals. It begins in infancy. From the moment of birth, the infant needs human contact and connection for survival. Years ago, we discovered that babies deprived of humanloneliness hurts mental and physical health connection fail to thrive, and sometimes die.

As humans grow, the impact of isolation continues. Disconnection from peers is a major reason for school dropouts. Teenagers, who identify themselves as outcasts, often slip into delinquency, other forms of antisocial behavior, violence or suicide.

In adults, extended loneliness can lead to depression, alcoholism, and physical illness. Studies show that a lack of social or family support can increase the risk of heart disease. It tends to elevate blood pressure, make the heart muscle work harder, and raise the levels of stress hormones. Loneliness can also heighten our perception of stress and cause insomnia.

So, is loneliness the same as being alone? Not really. Feelings of loneliness are experienced most acutely when other people are around us, but we feel disconnected. In his book, “Traveling Light,” Max Lucado points out that “Loneliness is not the absence of faces. It is the absence of intimacy. Loneliness doesn’t come from being alone; it comes from feeling alone.”

There are many potential causes of loneliness. As we get older, we experience the death of more-and-more relatives and friends. The older we get, the more likely we are to lose our core social connections. The feeling of disconnection is a major cause of depression in the elderly.

Sometimes, loneliness in adulthood can be traced to negative childhood events. Children who experience parental distance or rejection are more likely to feel lonely as adults. They tend to see themselves as less likeable or lovable, making them less likely to approach others. They may reject others before others have a chance to reject them.

Often, we feel lonely because of inaccurate perceptions. We do mind reading, where we assume others are thinking critical or disapproving thoughts about us. We assume they don’t like us or don’t care about us. We may assume we are disconnected, even when others like us or love us. We assume that we are different from others.

So, you were created for connection. Your mental and physical health will benefit from having positive relationships. Put some energy into reconnecting with old friends, strengthening current relationships or creating new ones. Don’t assume that they won’t like you or won’t have time for you. Make a call. Set up a lunch date. Start a conversation. You’ll feel better for the effort.

The Oppression of Other’s Opinions

Worry about other's opinions will increase your stress, and limit your life.

So, how much do you worry about other people’s opinions? Do you guage your choices or behaviors on what othersworry would think? Is your life measured by anticipation of their approval or disapproval? Does it limit your joy, your peace, or even your life?

 

It’s a common problem. We all do it sometimes. In fact, a total disregard of other’s opinions may be pathological. It can be one symptom of a sociopathic personality.

 

The habit may even have survival value. In primitive times, your survival depended on the approval of the tribe. If your actions earned their disapproval, you may have been ostracized from the tribe. You wouldn’t survive in the jungle alone.

 

Fear of disapproval may have served our ancestors, so it is a natural tendency. But today, it can do more harm than good. Worries about other’s opinions doesn’t protect us today. In fact, it hurts us because it creates significant stress. Imagining and fearing negative judgment creates the same bodily reactions as a physical attack. Our hearts race and breathing speed up. Our muscles tense, and our bodies release stress chemicals, which damage our organs and speed up the aging process.

 

So, let’s imagine that you have messed up. You made a bad choice or a mistake. You did something embarrassing. You imagine that everyone is judging you or disapproving. Let’s consider some reasons why such thoughts are a waste of time and energy.

 

Most importantly, you need to remind yourself that you are mind reading. You can’t read their minds. You don’t know what they are thinking. You may feel quite sure of your imaginings, but the ultimate truth is you don’t know. You are only imagining. Also, you are more likely to assume disapproval than approval. We tend to assume the negative.

 

Breaking the imaginary “others” into categories can be helpful. The people you’re worrying about can be divided into the following groups.

 

  1. Most others fit into the group of “don’t know or don’t care.” Many people don’t even know what happened. News of your mistake has not spread as much as you imagine. It has not been a focus of everyone’s conversation. Some may have heard about the mistake, but haven’t thought about it since. They are focused on their own life events and haven’t given your mistake much thought.
  2. A second, much smaller, group has heard of your mistake, and are busy judging you. They may take pleasure in gossiping about your mistake. They may feel superior because they haven’t made the same mistake. They may look down on you. But, do these people really count? Most likely, they are simply judgmental people. They like to judge and gossip. If they are judging you, they are giving someone else a rest. It seems to me that Jesus was hardest on the Pharisees, who were the most judgmental people of the day.
  3. The last group consists of those who have heard of your mistake, but view the event with caring and compassion. Their opinion of you hasn’t suffered. They are supportive and understanding. They don’t think less of you.

Try this mental exercise. Think of someone you like and respect. Now put them in your shoes. Imagine that they were in the exact same circumstances, and that they made the exact same mistake. How would you judge them? Would you think less of them? Would you be as harsh in your judgment of them as you are with yourself? I suspect not. The people in group 3 perceive you in the same way, and group 3 is the only one that counts.

Monitor your thoughts for worries about the opinions of others. Treat such thoughts as a bad habit, and remind yourself that such thoughts are destructive. We should always strive to do the right thing in any situation, but we shouldn’t allow our lives to be limited by the opinion of others.