Keeping a Realistic Perspective on Expectations

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Philippians 3:12

Frustrated with a lack of measurable progress, a friend of mine who struggles with binge eating tells me she is tired of trying. Her support group is going to great effort to cheer her up and they send her slogans like “You can do it!” “Be the change you want to see!” and other catchy phrases that imply more effort will automatically yield desired results.

Can I level with you? Most of us are ambivalent about change. My friend says she wants to fit into skinny jeans. But is fitting into skinny jeans really an expression of a higher calling in life? If her goal is to fit into skinny jeans at her age, then no wonder she is discouraged! But what about the goal of….being healthy enough to play with her grandchildren on the floor with a reasonable expectation that she can get up afterwards? She has already accomplished that with her weight management program and fitness regime. What about being able to walk five miles without getting winded because, when she babysits, that is about how many steps it takes to keep up with an active five year old who LOVES to play outside at the local playground? Check. Done. Is pressing on really her issue? Or does she need to adjust her expectations?

Today, offer yourself and others a more realistic perspective on life - pursue that!!

Joy and Pain

2 My brothers and sisters, think of the various tests you encounter as occasions for joy. 3 After all, you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance. 4 Let this endurance complete its work so that you may be fully mature, complete, and lacking in nothing. 5 But anyone who needs wisdom should ask God, whose very nature is to give to everyone without a second thought, without keeping score. Wisdom will certainly be given to those who ask.

Yesterday we talked about perspective as a component of a flourishing life. Perspective is about recognizing that we have multiple types of experiences available to us at all times, even if one type (i.e., suffering) dominates at a given moment. The passage above talks about joy and suffering simultaneously. That requires perspective.

It’s not easy to talk about joy in a world where there is so much obvious pain. To even voice the word “joy” can seem pollyanna-ish, like an attempt to bury your head in the sand and pretend that heartache is not real. And yet, according to this passage in James anyway, joy can be found amidst suffering. Joy and suffering are not mutually exclusive. There can be overlap. The ability to recognize that is in itself a sign of flourishing. It is perspective.

Perspective is the ability to see that life offers us a myriad of experiences at the same time. When one experience is dominating, it can be easy to block out or ignore other important experiences, and we may miss what’s there. This is part of why it’s important to keep a gratitude journal when we’re struggling.

If you have questions, feel free to leave them in the comments section. More on this tomorrow.

Perspective and Experience

Yesterday I wrote that one aspect of flourishing is the ability to maintain perspective. This means, essentially, that though one type of experience may dominate our lives at a given moment, we acknowledge that it is not the only type of experience that exists or that is available to us. That sounds vague, I know, so let’s deal with an example. Families in recovery often have very tense interactions when they gather together. We see many families in fact who share a house with someone who is in active substance use disorder, and the house is not a pleasant place to be. The fear, the anxiety, the frustration, the anger, the resentment, and the tension can dominate the experience, but they are not the only experiences available to us.

There are ways to find moments of happiness and moments of joy, even if they seem fleeting by comparison at that moment. We can both actively struggle and find breaks from that struggle if we can be disciplined in setting aside the dominate feeling for a moment. One way we recommend doing this is to go to a movie, or go bowling, or go out to eat, without talking about anything serious.

How do you find breaks from your struggles while in the midst of the struggle?

Learning to Be Realistic

My lunch date that I referred to in earlier posts felt like a failure on every level.  Instead of trying to jolly her out of her failure mentality I asked her to go home and list all her failures in a notebook and bring them to me in a few days.  She readily agreed to this exercise in shaming because her brain constantly recounted these failures to her all day and night long.  I understood intuitively that if I had asked her to list her successes she would have acquiesced in the moment but I would have never seen her again.

Instead, she showed up with her notebook ready for me to acknowledge that indeed, she was a complete failure.  But here’s the thing that was so predictable and striking about her list.  Pretty much everything on her list was an item she NEVER IN A MILLION KAZILLION YEARS HAVE EVER SUCCEEDED AT!

Sample failings:
1.  I could not get my brother to stop using drugs.
2. I failed at protecting my siblings from my father’s abuse. (She was the youngest child.)
3. I failed to make my mother love me.
4. I have failed to ever have a normal, happy holiday event where my entire family gathered in peace.
See what she did there?  These are all things that are beyond her control.  But the tricky thing about an unhealthy family is members are often made to feel responsible without any authority or right to actually change anything!

Currently she is working on the following perspective shifts:
1. Change is a process not a crisis reaction.  
2. Process takes time.
3. Mistakes are inevitable.
4. Not all mistakes are mine to own.
5. Goals must be realistic and within the realm of my responsibility.
6. Some things are impossible to achieve without the support of all parties.
7. Resiliency and skills like perseverance are only useful if the objective is realistic.


Any of this sound familiar to you and yours?