But...this isn't how it was supposed to be

There is nothing truer about life than this statement.  At some point in our life time, we face the unexpected.  Of course, a lot of us do anticipate bad things happening. That’s why we buy insurance, isn’t it?  People die, natural disasters happen, we get sick, we lose our property and other assets, we are fired from our job, we face the criminal justice system. All of these, no matter how well anticipated, are a shock to our system.  We find ourselves in the crosshairs of life’s disasters more often than we would like and it hurts every time.

So, what do we do? First, we feel. We feel angry, anguished, sad, anxious, devastated, numb, befuddled, confused and restless.  We feel helpless, hopeless, unable to think through the easiest things we once handled with ease, and you have such low energy that fighting gravity seems like a monumental and utterly unimportant undertaking. Exhausted and drained of internal resources we resort to maladaptive behaviors. Drink too much, change our eating and sleeping habits to our own detriment and isolate from others. After-all who wants to be a drag to others or a burden on those in their circle of friends?  No one could possibly understand what you are going through?  They can’t carry your burden for you so what is the point? And the ultimate, unanswerable question: Why me?

Sound familiar? What did you do when facing such a situation? How long did it take you to climb out of the hole and regain your footing? If you didn’t, how did you adapt to the new low? Or, are you dealing with this actively now?

The bigger question is why do we feel so overwhelmed and alone in facing such life circumstances when there are literally millions of people daily who share our burden on a daily basis?  What is it about these life experiences that makes it so unique to us when it is so commonly shared? You are not going to like the answer:  Narcissism. Yup, self-centric view of the world and ourself makes these injuries very, very personal.

Before you quit reading out of disgust, let me explain.  All of us are, to some degree, narcissistic. We take in the air around us at the expense of others when we breath. We eat food that another could eat…so survival alone demands at least a little bit of narcissism.  That is the survival instinct in all of us.  But this instinct gets extrapolated by our psyche into a set of expectations from life. Let’s call them entitlements or “shoulds”.  

I should have a good job, I should be happy, I should marry someone by a certain age, I should have money, I should never get sick, bad things should not happen, at least to me. Should, should, should.  But all of these should are false expectations. Why should these things happen to others (as badly as that may make you feel) and not you?  Why is it terrible for others to have “bad luck” but for you it is an unmitigated disaster?  How can you convey your support and encouragement to others in bad situations by saying things like “don’t worry, it will get better” but when it comes to you, self-consoling escapes your mind?

Mind you, I am not saying you have no right to your emotional reactions or even your sense of injustice, betrayal, outrage and loss. I am saying that if you begin by accepting that you are not entitled to something more than others, or entitled to a better life than others, you will find comfort in knowing that you are not alone. 

When the realization settles in that you are not alone, you will not be afraid to share your pain, your experience, your disappointment and bewilderment with others.  And in so doing you will garner support, love, understanding and compassion, all of which will sooth the pain a bit and cushion the blow of the wrecking ball that hit you sideways.

It is only in moderating your expectations and reaching out that you can find some solace and maybe even solutions, if there are any, to your problems.  Who do you have in your life whom you can talk to, reach out to? If you haven’t thought about this question, do so very soon. Make a list of at least 5 people you can reach out to. Then reach out to these people and tell them they are on your list and if it is OK for them to be there.  Give them the heads-up and the option to be there for you when you need them. Keep that list very close and accessible.  

Equally importantly, in whose life are you the person that could be on their list? Who can rely on you with their burdens?  If you don’t know, think about it and make a list. Then, reach out to them and tell them to put you on their list. Let them know you love them during good times and bad and even if you can’t do anything to fix their problems, you will be there for them.

Narcissism destroys our share humanity. Our humanity will save humanity.  The more we exercise this collective gift, the more we strengthen it. Accept that life had burdens, but also accept that humanity has the strength to carry its burdens.

Be well. And share this post, write your story or feedback.