- in Self-Care
Every adult wants to live a version of what he or she imagines is “the good life.” Yet, many struggle with a default voice in their heads that tells them that whatever they do will never be good enough and that they will only be happy when they get a new job, relationship, physical appearance, etc.
In How to Survive Your Childhood Now That You’re an Adult: A Path to Authenticity and Awakening, author and psychotherapist Ira Israel explains that the origin of this voice of dissatisfaction is the wounded child within who is subconsciously and retroactively seeking the acceptance, approval, and love of primary caregivers who either withheld love, loved us conditionally, or treated us in ways we did not understand.
We hope you’ll enjoy this short excerpt from the book
Releasing the resentments that our minds create entails forgiving people who disappointed or betrayed or even violated us.
And ultimately we need to learn how to replace those resentments with gratitude. Why not? If we are walking, breathing, and thinking, if we got out of bed this morning, if we had food to eat today, if there is one person in our lives who listens to us, if we have roofs over our heads this evening, then there are things to be grateful for. One of the tools of cognitive behavioral therapy — writing gratitude lists — works because it subtly informs us that happiness is a choice, or that we can at least choose the lens through which we look or “change the station” playing on the radios in our heads.
The cliché about the glass being half empty or half full is a cliché because it is true.
Every act of perception is subjective. For example, when asked who his greatest teacher is, His Holiness the Dalai Lama is expected to reply, “The Buddha.” However, when I have seen him answer that question he replied, “The Chinese” — the people who ruthlessly slaughtered two million of his people. I was taught that when some Kabbalists in Auschwitz were led to be shot, they danced in order to thank God for giving them negative emotions to overcome. I myself, after twenty-five years, wrote a letter to the person who drove the car that almost killed me and caused me over forty hours of surgery, years of recovery, and a lifetime of scars, and forgave him. Most people hang on to their resentments as if they were life rafts in the middle of the ocean.
Unforgiveness — being unwilling to forgive — is our desire to share our suffering.
If we are not willing to forgive someone, it simply means that we are not finished with suffering yet. Unacceptance of reality causes suffering. Pain does not cause suffering. Pain is immediate, and it usually diminishes with time. As the bumper sticker reads, “Pain is inevitable; suffering is optional.” Since language creates our reality, please try on a semantic distinction between pain and suffering: pain is immediate and informs our body that something needs to be addressed imminently.
If we have a broken arm, the pain informs us to stop thinking about what we might eat for dinner or how fantastic our last vacation in Hawaii was. Pain is information. It directs all of our attention to a problem that must be remedied. If we have a toothache, that means there is a situation, probably a cavity or an inflamed nerve, that must be addressed. The pain will grow until it becomes insufferable (pun intended) and we have no choice but to fix the problem. Pain does not cause suffering; what causes suffering is an intolerance of pain.
In our culture we do not have a great relationship with pain.
For the purposes of this book, we need to distinguish between pain and suffering. If we wish to change our glasses from half empty to half full, then we have to give up our resentments, embrace our entire lives, be grateful for all of the gifts we receive and freedoms we enjoy, and not allow our minds to create suffering by nonacceptance, by making us think we are “not good enough” or that we will “be happy when we accomplish X in the future.”
If this sounds easy, it is not. It is the most difficult thing we will ever attempt, because it means a change in personal identity. And then it requires enrolling everyone in our lives in our new identities. And we fear change. We have gotten used to our narratives, are familiar with the pros and cons, and may even subconsciously enjoy the benefits of playing the role of victim or hero, of sucking other people into our dramas, exacting empathy, and so on. Change means uncertainty and we live in a culture that prefers the devil we know.
A larger problem is that many of us would not know who we were if we gave up our resentments.
That is why the process is arduous, why there is no quick fix, no hack for it. Well, yes, there is a hack: the hack is authenticity, but it takes time for authenticity to bear fruit. Authenticity requires daily practice — deciding who we are and what tools we will employ to be that person. And that is what this book is devoted to: to providing tools to change our perspectives.
The past is dead and gone; the future does not yet exist.
We cannot change either of them. But we can change the story about the past that our mind created, or at least the judgments that our mind added to that story; and we can mitigate our expectations about the future. For every time our mind tells us: “I will be happy when...,” what we are really saying is: “I do not accept my life today and who I am. I want things to be different from the way they are.”
I believe that what we call a midlife crisis is really a questioning of personal identity that occurs when someone accomplishes many of the things he or she set out to accomplish but fails to attain the happiness he or she expected to accompany having 2.3 children, a home/mortgage, two automobile leases, luxurious vacations, and so on.
Popular culture — films, songs, television, books, magazines, and countless websites, apps, and social media — teaches us that if we attract a spouse, earn excessive amounts of money, buy a home or homes, and raise children, we will be happy. But after accomplishing these things, many people are not happy.
They are simply unhappy parents and homeowners with countless stresses, financial obligations, and perennial pressures weighing on them such as leases, mortgages, credit card bills, and student loans. Then they feel betrayed. The voice in their heads asks, “Wasn’t accomplishing all these things supposed to make me happy?” But there is no end to the hedonic treadmill, since children, houses, cars, boats, and wardrobes appear to be in constant need of expensive
It is possible, though, to shift our paradigms and perceptions.
If we would like to alter our perceptions, the first thing to do is to analyze our frame — the way we were taught to view reality and accept what society (law, ethics, religion) tells us is good and bad, good and evil, right and wrong, correct and incorrect, order and disorder, ease and disease, and so on.
As Jiddu Krishnamurti famously said, “It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.” Western culture can be viewed as a matrix of beliefs buttressed by capitalism, science, and religion.
America was founded on the inalienable right to pursue happiness, which meant having the freedom to believe what we want to believe religiously. But we have learned so much in the past 250 years. Consciousness has evolved in so many interesting ways — we have new understandings of reality thanks to quantum physics, philosophy, psychology, medicine, technology, and so on. And Americans today enjoy more freedoms and privileges than most human beings who ever walked on planet Earth. So why is it so difficult to attain and maintain happiness?
I believe it is due to the fact that in our culture we are taught to desire the wrong things.
So even if we attain them, any happiness they bring is relatively brief. We are consciously and subconsciously taught that if we behave in a certain manner, do certain things, and accomplish certain goals, we will be loved. Yet anyone who believes that he would like to have “Accomplished Much,” “Worked Really Hard,” or “Richest Guy in This Cemetery” on his tombstone, rather than “Beloved,” is insane. Why do so many people brag or complain about how hard they work?
Maybe it is time to reframe the way we see afflictions and the poor or impulsive or misguided choices people make.
Maybe when people become catatonic, it is really a signpost that reads, “I do not feel loved unconditionally.”
Maybe when someone drinks a bottle of tequila and drives fast around a crowded city, it is a signpost that reads, “I don’t want to act like a dancing bear anymore in an effort to be loved”?
Maybe when someone goes $4,078 in credit card debt (the average for American individuals), it is a signpost that reads, “I feel I have to buy more more more in order to be accepted and loved by others”?
Is it possible that many of the things we consider to be afflictions are actually signposts, or cries for help, from people who want to feel they are loved and lovable, who have negative or critical voices in their heads telling them they are not good enough, that their lives should be other than the way they are?
Excerpted from the book How to Survive Your Childhood Now That You’re an Adult: A Path to Authenticity and Awakening. Copyright ©2017 by Ira Israel. Printed with permission from New World Library — www.newworldlibrary.com.
About the author
Ira Israel is the author of “How To Survive Your Childhood Now That You’re and Adult: A Path to Authenticity and Awakening” and creator of the best-selling "A Beginner's Guide to Happiness," “A Beginner’s Guide to Mindfulness Meditation,” “Mindfulness for Anxiety” and “Mindfulness for Depression” video series. Ira is a Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor, a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, and Mindful Relationship Coach. He graduated from the University of Pennsylvania and has graduate degrees in Psychology, Philosophy, and Religious Studies.
For more information please visit www.IraIsrael.com.