Your ability to be radiant

by Annie Kaszina on June 1, 2011

“Dear Annie,

Something is wrong with my life. I have been divorced from an emotionally abusive man for several years. I am living with a boyfriend who can’t find a job.  He doesn’t even seem to care anymore. He doesn’t talk nicely to me. I don’t work either.

My ex-husband and his girlfriend recently bought a house together. They both have excellent incomes.  Nobody comes to visit us. His family doesn’t call me.   My brother doesn’t call me.  I only communicate with my mother. I have no girlfriends. I used to but they don’t care about me anymore since my divorce.

Any advice?

Harriet

Dear Harriet,

I have to agree; there is something very wrong with your life.  But I’m not at all sure you and I will agree about what it is.

All I have to go on is the information you’ve sent me.  I don’t have to be a mind-reader to know you feel very miserable, and very hard done by.

You married an abusive man who made your life hell – that’s pretty upsetting.

Then you divorced him.  This could, and should, mean that your life started to look up.

Unfortunately, you hooked up with a boyfriend who is a different kind of awful.  He doesn’t work – but nor do you – and he doesn’t treat you well.

Sadly – as you are finding to your cost – there is more to having a happy life than just leaving an abusive partner.

Life doesn’t magically change for the better, the moment an emotionally abusive man no longer darkens your door.

You have to do the work on yourself – on your own mind-set – to break the old programming that createa a mutual attraction between you and abusive men.  You have to reset your mind-set to happiness, and optimism.

It sounds like you have yet to do either.

Now, I don’t say that to punish you.  But I do need to bring you up short.  You see, what jumps out at me from your email is that you’re telling yourself a story about how hard life is for you.

Life is hard for you – I wouldn’t argue with that statement.  As you tell it, your life sounds pretty horrible, almost pointless, at the moment.

But what are you doing about it?

And what can you do about it?

As I see it, you’re telling yourself a very sad story about your life.  The story goes something like this: “Life is really hard for me.  I married an abuser and left him.  He’s gone on to meet another partner, and they have everything I don’t.  I have a boyfriend, who doesn’t work and isn’t good to me.  I have nothing.  I’ll always have nothing.  Nobody wants to spend time with me.  Everyone, except my mother, has abandoned me.  Poor me!  Why does it have to be so hard for me?”

Harriet, I have to tell you, that kind of “why” question STINKS; there are no good answers, so it just leads to catastrophizing.

It has happened to you.  So why not ask yourself some much better questions like:

  • What can I do about it?
  • Is there anything about me that draws me to abusive partners and what Stan Laurel would call “another fine mess”?
  • Where can I start to make changes, no matter how small?”

By now, you’re probably humphing to express your disapproval of my response.

That’s your prerogative.  Far be it from me to try and stop you.

However, humphing, and telling yourself that I, too, don’t understand and don’t care, won’t help you at all.  Feel free to do it, if you like.  But, please understand, all you’re doing is digging yourself further into a hole.

My life wasn’t easy, Harriet.  Few people’s lives are easy, when you stop to look at them compassionately.  But, in any case, that’s not the point.

The point is your life, and the sense you make of it.

I believe that we are all on this earth to learn certain lessons.

Now, that may – or may not – be true.  But it sure as hell is helpful.  We all get to choose the lessons we decide to learn.

For a while now, you’ve been focusing on the lesson that it is always much, much harder for you; Life has treated you unfairly.  (And Life has, obligingly enough, given you all the information you need to prove that to yourself.)

So, you’ve learnt that lesson, and it hasn’t made you feel any happier, at all.

My take is that we’re here to learn how to be happy and create a great life for ourselves.  The quickest way to change direction and start doing just that is to start taking responsibility for ourselves.

Two questions for you, Harriet, that I always ask myself when times are tough:

  • What’s the gift in the situation?  (There is always at least one.  In this case it might be that you reach rock bottom and are forced to take stock – nobody said the gift in the situation is a quick fix.)
  • What do I need to do different?  (Trust me, there’s always something.)

I don’t know quite what you have been telling yourself, but here’s something to think about:

The only person who owes you anything that can transform your life is **YOU**.

Don’t believe me?

Fair enough.  It’s a notion you may have to think about, and turn over and over in your own mind, before it makes sense to you.

For my sins, I’ve been reading Marie de Hennezel’s  “The Warmth of Your Heart Prevents Your Body From Rusting”.  It’s not an uplifting read; although there is much in it to inspire hope and optimism, including these words from Stephane Hessel, a man de Hennezel calls a great humanist.  He says:

“When I was little, one of my mother’s favourite sayings was: “Let’s vow to be happy.  She used to tell me that the best thing any of us can do is experience and plan for happinessOne can also plan one’s sufferings, one’s pain, but there’s no point in that.  The first years of life see the formation of the psyche, whose ability to be radiant can be strengthened.”  (My italics)

I’m guessing, Harriet, you were never taught how to experience and plan for happiness.  You never knew that your psyche could be radiant, let alone, that you could strengthen that radiance.

But you did learn to experience and plan for suffering and pain.

And you have taken up with men who experience and plan for unhappiness.

Every abused woman I’ve ever come across had a talent for planning for suffering and pain – and an unerring instinct for taking up with men who experience and plan for unhappiness, regardless of the scenario.

Every time you say: “My life’s over; it’s never going to get any better.  I’ll spend the rest of my life alone/miserable/poor”…

You are planning for suffering and pain.

You didn’t know that was what you are doing, did you?

You do now.

How do you stop?

You make different choices.  You reach out to people.  You tell yourself you may feel terrible right now, but it is only a feeling.  You can’t read the future, but you can create your future.  It sure beats sitting back and hoping the future will recreate you.

Above all, you get the help and support you need.

Next week, I’ll be telling you about a fantastic offer to help you get out of that black hole, shake off the victim mind-set, and start experiencing and planning for happiness.

And if that sounds like a tall order, it’s only because you don’t know how.

You’ve learnt many things in your life that might not have seemed possible, if they hadn’t been broken down into small, manageable chunks.  The same goes for experiencing and planning for happiness.

It could well be the most valuable thing you ever learn.

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