It’s a perfectly natural reaction. When there’s a problem, we tend to look for someone to blame. The problem can be a too-long line at the checkout counter at Smith’s (can’t that old woman count out her change a little faster?). It can be with our families (can’t my mother give me the benefit of the doubt when I say it’s impossible to come visit next weekend?). It can be with our kids (“You’re driving me nuts!), and very often, it’s with our spouses and partners. I don’t think we need any examples for that last one.
The thing is, a lot of times? Others are worthy of blame. I can think of a well-qualified friend who is in his fifties and has a ton of great business experience. Due to the contracting economy, he was laid off about a year into the Great Recession. I’m telling you, the reason he can’t find a job is not because he doesn’t have the credentials. And it’s not because he’s not a good interview, or can’t pass a background check, or any of that. It’s because the economy hasn’t come back to the point where companies are looking to hire experienced workers. They’d rather pay lower salaries to newbies, work them overtime, and pray they don’t make any catastrophic mistakes.
There’s not a darn thing that my friend can do about the economy, really. And most of the time, there’s isn’t all that much that we can with the old woman at the supermarket, our tunnel-vision mothers, our impossible kids, or our spouses who look at us and don’t really see us.
We may long for a world where we are as powerful as a god. I don’t know about you, but I don’t know many people who have the kind of clout to make the supermarket grandmother hurry up.
What we’re left with to change is that which we can change. We can change ourselves, our thinking, and our framing of the situation or our lives. As humans, we have control over our thoughts. Maybe not our feelings so much, though feelings can follow thoughts as easily as thoughts can follow feelings. But we can definitely adjust our thoughts in a way that reframe situations and defuse them.
Here are some examples:
- With the old lady at the supermarket, instead of thinking about our own frustration, think about what it would be like to be that woman, who is either aware that she is holding up a line, or so old that her faculties have diminished to where she does not have that awareness. In either case, it’s better to be us than to be here.
- With the mother who won’t take no for an answer, instead of thinking about our own irritation, think about the mother’s infantile neediness and how difficult it must be to live that way. Yes, a Sunday visit will be inconvenient to gratify her needs, but those needs can remind you of how you do not want to be.
- With the children who are driving us crazy, instead of thinking of how the top of our heads feel like they’re about to come off, think about the unsteadiness that children must feel growing up among other kids who can’t be sure of their mother and/or father’s love. We all drove our own parents a little nuts. It can be thought of as a bit of divine retribution.
- Finally, with the spouse who is looking at us but not really seeing us, instead of thinking of how that person is wrecking our lives, think back to a good memory that the two of you shared. Think about what must be stressing or affecting your partner so that he can’t see you. Think about what you might be able to do to help, on your end and on your own.
The key for all of these reframes is a solid sense of yourself. Even my friend who’s been unemployed for such a long time can blame the system, or find a way to pull himself together and remake himself for the new economic reality. Neither the woman in the grocery store, our mothers, our kids, or even our spouses is on this planet to complete us. Our thoughts and our feelings are our own. We can shape them in the way that help us the most, or that make our lives more painful.
The choice, more often than not, is ours.