Tell yourself a life story in which you, the hero, are primarily a problem solver rather than a helpless victim. – Martha Beck
I had been betrayed by a colleague. I told him in confidence that I was looking for another job. He turned around and told my boss.
The incident threw me into a tailspin. I felt betrayed and insecure in my job. I was disoriented by my colleague’s behavior, since I had thought I could trust him. I was unsure of how to handle it and unsure to whom I could go for help. I felt that I had lost my resources and I was scrambling to regroup. I felt very much like a helpless three year old.
At the same time I hated myself for feeling like a three year old. Rationally, I knew that I was an adult but I certainly didn’t feel like one, which in turn made me feel defensive, angry and hurt. So, not only was I feeling bad about something over which I had no control but I was harshly judging my own reaction to it.
I would wake up angry in the mornings and ruminate about the situation throughout the day. Frankly, it was exhausting. I knew I would come out of it but had no idea how to do that. I needed to feel safe again in order to let go of my attempts to control a situation that was now out of my control.
Rationally, I knew what I wanted. I wanted to know that everything would be all right. I needed to be sure that this incident would pass, that everything would be back to normal, that I had no control over gossipy back-stabbing people and that I was better off without such people in my life.
I couldn’t seem to find my own resilience and pull myself out of my funk. I needed help. I called a friend I knew I could trust and who would give me an honest assessment of the situation. I said, “I need you to be my therapist for five minutes – do you mind?” Intrigued, she said, “Not at all, what’s going on?”
I told her and she did the most amazing thing for me. She told me to stop beating myself up. She reminded me that my judgment was sound and that my feelings were perfectly normal under the circumstances. She also reminded me that I wasn’t a victim and that everyone bumps up against someone they cannot trust once in a while.
She said that we all lose our resources from time to time and I was being too hard on myself, expecting to be ironclad. “I think you’re doing just fine”, she said. She was modeling for me the resilience I couldn’t seem to find in myself. My perspective on the situation began to shift. I viewed the situation as not so consuming but as a brief period of suffering in my life. Suffering is something we all experience. It is normal. It isn’t a disaster. It doesn’t last forever. We will come out the other side – one way or another.
I could actually feel myself straightening back up and feeling strong again. Nothing on the outside of my life had changed one bit. I was still unable to prevent any fallout that may occur from my colleague’s betrayal yet, I just wasn’t worried about it anymore. Whatever came my way, I knew that I would be able to handle it. The universe had proven again and again that it had my back even when my fellow mortals did not. I knew that something greater than any of us was already working on my behalf to guide me to the next step.
When we get knocked off center, our adult selves are taken over by our hurt inner child who feels helpless and powerless. The best response is to remind ourselves of the strong, resilient person we have grown to be. It can help to picture ourselves as a wise elder, looking back on the situation from years in the future and to ask that wise elder what he or she thinks about it all.
If we can’t seem to find the tools to find our way back into our adult mindset, a great friend can help to remind us of who we are. When we feel back to our grown-up, wise and strong adult selves, we can face whatever suffering we are experiencing. It is from the perspective of our powerful wise selves that we can then stand up, dust ourselves off and begin to move forward.