Ever wonder what it’s all for? Why is life so darn hard sometimes (or like every single day of 2020)? What are you even good at?
Let’s discover how our greatest challenges become our greatest gifts.
During my time in high school, I had a really hard time. Life felt hard and dark and lonely. This was the peak of my challenge with disordered eating.
My heart ached a lot and often.
When I stopped to think about what my parents went through in watching me struggle, I can’t imagine their pain. They would’ve done anything to simply lift the burdens I carried… to make those burdens disappear… to make my life easy.
If you’re a parent, or if you love someone who has struggled, you can probably relate to my parents’ sense of helplessness. As a mom, I can certainly relate. I often find myself wanting to protect my son.
This brings me to his challenges.
As he got older, he started asking questions and making comments about our family and how our family is different from his friends’ families. When we moved from Florida to Montana, these differences were highlighted because he was meeting new kids and they were asking normal kid questions… like ‘why is your family this way or that way?’
It’s probable, or at least possible, that these differences will be one of his significant challenges to navigate in this life – the way body image and disordered eating was a significant challenge that I had to navigate.
As much as I may want to shelter and protect him, I can’t; just like my parents couldn’t shelter or protect me. I believe, wholeheartedly, that there’s a reason for that.
Our greatest challenges become our greatest gifts.
Where I have been challenged, I am now resilient and strong and confident.
Where I have taken the easier road, I feel fear and insecurity because I don’t trust my strength.
I know that my greatest gifts are waiting just on the other side of my deepest challenges, so why is it that I still want to protect, or shelter, or bypass. Why would I want to block myself from knowing my gifts?
Seriously, what’s up with that!
Well, there’s evidence to suggest we’re coded that way. As part of the animal kingdom, there is a part of us that is coded for survival, and that part of us will seek out what is familiar, and therefore feels safe, over the risk of a brand new experience. This part of us hears, ‘what doesn’t kill me makes me stronger,’ and thinks, ‘but what if it kills me!’
What do we do when faced with a level of deep resistance to facing our challenges?
Our big challenges are challenging because they bring up big emotions. Next time you’re feeling that flood of big emotions, try this technique. It’s one that I regularly use with patients for softening some of the more overwhelming emotional moments.
Emotions – sadness, anger, anxiety, etc – are usually just words used to describe a particular set of physical sensations. Anger may be the name we give to sensations of tension coupled with heat building in our core and face, as a sense of pressure rises upward. Sadness may be the name we give to the sinking sensation in our stomach or heaviness in the region of the heart. Anxiety is the name commonly assigned to sensations of constriction around the chest, rapidly beating heart, and racing thoughts.
Everyone has their own flavor. These are just examples.
Step 1 is simply to focus on the physical sensation associated with whatever emotion you are experiencing. So instead of repeating to yourself, I feel sad, you would notice the sensation in your belly, chest, throat, etc. Feel the sensation fully.
Step 2 is to ask yourself, silently or out loud, “does it kill me, in this moment, to feel this sensation?”
While this might seem silly, it’s the most important part for getting the thumbs up from that part of you that is solely focused on survival.
NOTE – I have never seen or heard of someone dying from experiencing the physical sensation of their emotional state, so let’s assume your answer will be, “no.”
Step 3 is to acknowledge that you’re not dead and then give yourself permission to feel the sensation fully. You do this simply by repeating, “I give myself permission to feel the way that I do,” as you take very, very deep breaths.
One of two things is almost certain to happen. You will either feel a lessoning of the physical and emotional state, or it will shift into a new one. If it shifts, repeat the process with the new one.
This exercise can be magical in creating the emotional space we need to face our challenges. In facing our challenges, we have the privilege of experiencing our greatest gifts.