By Matt W. Sandford, LMHC
I often talk with people who are struggling because they feel that they are behind in life in some way. Maybe they have been timid; maybe they missed an opportunity because of circumstances or obligations, or maybe they made some poor choices earlier in their lives. Maybe they struggle with anxiety or shame that kept them from pursuing something they wanted. They talked with me and express how much they long to be married, or have the kind of job they’ve always wanted, or their longing to control their anger, or their compulsive sexual acting out. They feel regret about their past and maybe their current situation as well. And they struggle with hope as we discuss their vision of their future and how they can get there.
It turns out that often the struggle involves a vague belief that they are in some kind of race with their peers and others of their generation. Now, don’t get me wrong, any time I ask them this, invariably they all say they don’t think this at all. However, they communicate in ways that show that the belief is in there. What about you?
Do you sometimes feel like you are behind in this thing called “life”? Okay, lets’ say you are just interested because you know a “friend” who is struggling. Let’s explore how you can help your “friend”, shall we?!
The irony about this is that your friend is not alone – far from it! I don’t know if that comforts you, I mean your friend, but it should. For your friend’s belief is grounded in the sense that they are behind others and if others feel the same way, then it means your friend actually isn’t behind them at all. What we are talking about is… our perceptions!
Perceptions are pretty powerful, aren’t they? We all have them and in fact live by them. I don’t know if you realize this – I’m going to drop a bomb on you – wait for it…YOU- DO- NOT- LIVE- IN – REALITY. You only live in your perception of reality. Frankly this isn’t such an outlandish statement. I simply mean that all we have are our perceptions. No one has a completely objective stance on life. We all have a world view, which is based on our personality, our upbringing, conditioning, experiences, culture, and unique blend of all of these. This blend, this interaction between our conditioning, experiences and our interpretation of those experiences has formed our world view, and it continues to be reformed as we go along through life.
It’s like a scenario I came up with recently while talking with a client about just this struggle. I proposed that that it is like looking at life through a key hole. From your vantage point it looks like everyone is successful. They are moving around, getting where they want to and making things happen. But you are here hiding in this room, just watching the world go back. But, what you cannot see, until you step outside your door, is that those others moving around have crutches and wheel chairs and canes, and are leaning on other people, or are being pushed or pulled along or helped in some way by others.
You see, I find that a lot of times, those who feel behind struggle because they believe that they have to somehow get themselves caught up on their own, by sheer effort. They believe that everyone else has gotten there by pulling up their boot straps and that they must do the same. They believe that somehow getting help is cheating or not “the right way” to get caught up. They feel inadequate and then doubly keep themselves stuck by believing that the rules of life define success by how much you do without any help and to get help means you don’t actually get cosmic credit otherwise.
I will them challenge these folks to tell me of someone who “made it” without any help at all. How about the President? How about a CEO? Well, they have had tons of support all along the way, haven’t they? Education, family financial backing, people that believed in them. Okay – how about an inventor or someone like Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg? Well, even in their cases they needed investors who believed in them and then a public who liked their product and invested in it. Yes, there have been marvelously smart, talented and industrious people who achieved great things. But – none of them did it all on their own. That’s my point.
So, if your “friend” is stuck believing that they not only are behind, but need to get caught up on their own, here’s what I recommend.
1. Confront your desire to succeed on your own without help. Challenge this perception and seek to understand what is underneath it, keeping it afloat.
a. Is this about pride? My desire to do it on my own isn’t just about wanting to catch up, it’s about wanting to be better than others.
b. Is this about fear? I am afraid of doing it wrong, or not good enough. Or – afraid of asking for help because you have not experienced safe, supportive relationships before, or you have been burned, rejected, abandoned, or neglected before?
c. Is this about anger or resentment?
d. Is there something here about not wanting to grow up?
2. Back up – ask yourself if you the pain of staying stuck is greater than the pain of asking for help?
3. Categorize what things you reasonably can/should do on your own and what things would be best to enlist help with. (It may be practical to get feedback on this to ensure you are being reasonable about it).
4. Learn more about safe relationships and about how to discern safe people and how to build safety and trust in relationships.
5. Now – you are ready to step out and ask for help –
6. Be prepared to uncover more perceptions that you will need to review and challenge along the way – and so walk through the steps again when these arise.
We all have needs and we all have limits. Learning to accept our needs and limitations is not weak; it is maturity and wisdom. And doing so enables us to strategically become successful in the ways we always wanted.
Remember, God designed us to be in relationship with others, to support, to equip and to love. That’s the way we are all successful.
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