Archives for December 2013

Happiness vs. Joy, Part 2: Dangerous Liaisons

Last week I began talking about the issue of happiness, and how happiness is hinged on external conditions such as relationships, things, careers, stuff. … Our happiness is largely conditional based on “if things go the way we think they should go” or “if people act the way we think they should act.”

This leaves a lot of our own happiness tied to someone else’s shirt-tails and when he leaves, your happiness goes right out the door with him.

Last week I related some fun stories about my mom and her concepts of happiness. What I talked about regarding my mom was her JOY which was far different than her happiness. She wasn’t always happy. My father was murdered. That certainly did not bring happiness. Her second husband stole her life savings and was a sociopath. No happiness there. Her last “main squeeze” in her life died of prostrate cancer—a lot of sadness there. Yet, my mother was unusually “joyful.”

Joy has to do with the quality of US, not them. It’s a ME factor, not a him, or them, factor. Happiness may be external but joy is internal, and, in many ways, eternal. It emanates from within us, and can exist even when the external circumstances of our lives “suck.”

Joy can be infectious and can touch others when how we are has nothing to do with who we are with. It’s a barometer reading of how we are doing with ourselves and in our own spiritual development. It reminds us of how we are doing with managing our own outlook, optimism, and future. We may not have control over what he’s doing, who he’s doing, or how he’s doing, but we do have control over how we choose to see our circumstances. This is the essence of internal joy—managing your worldview from the inside instead of taking your emotional temperature based on how well he’s behaving. How I am, or how my joy is, can’t be taken by a thermometer from his mouth. It has to be taken from our internal and eternal well-being.

When you are finally able to shift your focus of where and how joy is created, it is a mind-blowing change because you no longer hold tight to the reins of external control—“I’ll be happy when someone else does _________.” You are able to refocus on finding joy in your life, just the way it is, with yourself and all your warts.  In fact, over the past couple years I wrote about this regarding Viktor Frankel, a Jewish psychiatrist, who went through the Holocaust and developed what is now called Existential Psychology which is finding meaning in pain AND taking control of how you see what you have lived through.

If all pain is bad, then there is no gift in it. If there is no gift, there is no learning. If there is no learning, there is no opportunity to transform it. If you can’t transform it, you are its victim.

Joy comes from the right perspective when we tweak how we see ourselves, our lives, and the lessons of our lives. When life is a spiritual walk, not just a relationship destination, we are able to see the lessons as part of the journey and the OPTION of having joy even in the midst of an unplanned disaster like a pathological relationship. Joy is like a new eyeglass prescription—it clears up and crisps up how we see who we are on this journey and path of life even while in pain.

Your pain does not have to define you. That’s your choice. You are more than your pain. And so is your life!

Joy -VS- Happiness, Part 1

You were out looking for a little happiness when you stumbled upon Dr. Jekyll, as he was appearing wonderful and considerate. Strangely, before you knew it, evil Mr. Hyde was instead dismantling anything that resembled happiness, and leaving destruction and despair in its wake.

Despair is a long way from the happiness you were initially seeking. How did you get from mere happiness-seeking to a totally despairing life? How can you embrace the happiness that you set out to find?

It might not even be “happiness,” per se, that you were initially seeking. You might have been looking for someone who was introspective, spiritual and existential.  But you tell me …

Happiness is external. It’s based on situations, events, people, places, things, and thoughts. Happiness is connected to your hope for a relationship or your hope for a future with someone. Happiness is linked to “some day when I meet the right guy” or “when he starts changing and acting right,” or “when he goes to counseling”.

Happiness is future-oriented and it puts all its eggs in someone else’s basket. It is dependent on outside situations, people, or events to align with your expectations so that the result is your happiness. These expectations can be seen especially during the holidays when whether or not you have a Merry Christmas or a happy holiday depends on whether or not he is with you, shows up, isn’t drunk, isn’t cheating, or a list of other behaviors you expect for a happy holiday experience. Unfortunately, pathology rarely obliges in that way. So when the relationship falls through, or he isn’t wonderful at Christmas, or you kick him out, or he cheats again, or he runs off with your money, or he was a con artist … then your holidays were not happy and your happiness was crushed.

Unhappiness is the result. It’s a typical and inevitable result in pathological love relationships. After all, it’s the only way it CAN turn out. There are no happy endings to pathological relationships. After Christmas and New Year’s, he will still be pathological and you will still have the same problems you had in November. You notice that The Institute has not written a book called, “How to Have a Happy Relationship With a Pathological”.

Chronic unhappiness leads to despair and depression. Remember the emotional rollercoaster you rode with him? You were happy when he was good and miserable when he was bad. You were hypnotically lulled into happy-land when you were with him and in intrusive thought-hell when you weren’t. Your happiness was hitched to his rear end. When he was around (and behaving) you were happy. When he wasn’t, your happiness followed his rear end right out the door and you were left obsessing, wondering, and pacing.

Happiness is what you feel when he says the “right romantic stuff”, buys you a ring or moves in. But happiness is not joy because joy is not external; it can’t be bought and it is not conditional on someone else’s behavior.  In fact, joy is not contingent on anything in order to exist. You don’t have to have him for the holidays to have joy. Likewise, you don’t have to get revenge, snoop out his shortcomings, tell the new girlfriend the truth, or anything else in order to have joy. You can lose in court with him, already have lost your life savings to him, watch him out with a new woman, or live out of the back of your car and still have joy.

You’re probably thinking, “Sure you can have joy in those circumstances if you are Mother Teresa!” Joy is almost a mystery, isn’t it? It’s a spiritual quality that is internal. My mother, Joyce, had a lot of joy, and I learned from watching her joy. Her pathological man ran off with her life savings, forcing her to work well past retirement. It forced her to live simply, so she moved to a one-room beach shack and drove a motorcycle. For cheap entertainment, she walked the beach and painted nudes. She drank cheap grocery-store wine that came in a box, bought her clothes from thrift shops, and made beach totes from crocheting plastic grocery bags together. She recycled long before it was hip to do it. But what she recycled most and best was pain … into joy.

Instead of looking externally for yet another relationship to remove the sting of the last one, or to conquer the boredom she might feel at being alone, she cultivated internal and deep abiding joy. It was both an enigma and a privilege to watch this magnificent life emerge from the ashes of great betrayal.

I use her a lot as an example of someone who went ahead and got a great life. She turned this rotten deal into an exquisite piece of art called her life. Anyone who spoke of my mother spoke MOST of her radiant joy. She had the “IT” factor long before it was even called “IT.” Women flocked to her to ask, “How did you do it? How did you shed the despair and bitterness of what he did and grow into this? THIS bright, shining, joyful person? What is your secret?”

Somewhere along that rocky path of broken relationships with pathological men, she learned that happiness is fleeting if it’s tied to a man’s shirt-tails. She watched too many of the shirt-tails walk out the door with her happiness tied to his butt. In order to find the peacefulness that resides inside, she had to learn what was happiness and what was joy.

The transitory things of life are happiness-based. She had a big house and lost a big house when she divorced my father. She had a big career and lost a big career when, according to our culture, she got “too old” to have the kind of job she had. She had diamonds and lost diamonds.

So she entered into voluntary simplicity where the fire of purging away “stuff” left a clearer picture and path to the internal life. When stuff, people, and the problems they bring fall away, there is a stillness. Only in that stillness can we ever find the joy that resides inside us, dependent on nothing external in order to exist. During this holiday season, this is a great concept to contemplate.

Joyce’s joy came from deeply held spiritual beliefs, but it also came from a place even beyond that. Joy comes when you make peace with who you are, what you are, where you are, why you are, and who you are not with. When you need nothing more than your truth and the love of a good God to bring peace, you have settled into the abiding joy that is not rocked by relationships. It’s not rocked by anything.

It wasn’t rocked for Joyce as she lay dying some years ago in the most peaceful arms of grace—a blissful state of quiet surrender and anticipation. Those who were witness to her death still tell me that her death brought new understanding to them about the issue of real joy. Joy in all things … the death of a dream, the death of relationship, or the death of a body. Joy from within, stripped down, naked and beautiful.

Follow Joyce’s lead – untie your happiness from the ends of his shirt-tails …

Merry Christmas and peace to you in this season of peaceful opportunities!

How to Avoid Going Back During the Holidays

From Thanksgiving through Valentine’s Day people relapse and go back into relationships more than any other time of the year. Why? So many great holidays for faking it! Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s, Valentine’s Day… then PHOOEY! You’re out! Why not be out now, stay out and save face? You’re not fooling anyone … not yourself, them, or your family and friends.

Here’s a secret: Even if you go back, you’re still alone. You’ve been alone the entire time because, by nature of their disorder, they can’t be there for you. So you’re alone—now, during the holidays, or with them. With them, you have more drama, damage and danger—your choice.

  • The holiday season is an extremely stressful time. It’s a time when it is more likely for:
  • Domestic violence to occur or recur
  • Dysfunctional families to be even MORE dysfunctional
  • Pathologicals to be overt, blatant, and to target your joy and ruin your holidays
  • Former pathological partners to magically reappear and try to hook you back in
  • People to eat, drink, and spend too much
  • People to not get enough rest
  • People to feel pressured to “be in a relationship” and accept dates or stay with dangerous persons “just until the holidays are over”

It’s an idealistic time when people have more depression and anxiety than at any other time of the year because they think their lives should be like the picture postcards and old movies we see this time of year. Depression creeps in, anxiety increases, and to cope, they eat/drink/spend/date in ways they normally would not. But you can’t make a “picture postcard memory” with a psychopath!

Those with the super trait of “sentimentality” will focus on the past when they had that one perfect Christmas with the pathological.  The other drunken, absent, or abusive 14 Christmases are forgotten, forgiven or overlooked. But what IS focused on is that one year when it was nice and the pit-bull stronghold on the hope it will be this way again.

But we know that pathology is permanent. The bad 14 years are a much better and more realistic presentation of what pathology is like during the holidays than the one fluke of a year he held it together. Pathology is very stressful to experience under any circumstances. Add to it the expectations for a pathological to be different (i.e., act appropriately) this time of year, and the pathological’s and everyone else’s stress is then through the roof. Sometimes even our hope can be “pathological” when it is focused on something that cannot and will not change.

The glittering fantasy that resembles your Christmas tree lights places not only you in the path of misery, but all those you plan to spend Christmas with—your family, friends, kids and pets.  It is much kinder to unplug your glittering fantasy and tell yourself the truth of what will happen if you expect a serene and joyful time with a pathological than it is to drag others through your fantasy.

Here’s a mantra to say out loud to yourself: “I’m pretending that staying/going back with a psychopath will make my holidays better.”  Pretty ridiculous thought, isn’t it? Something happens when you say the REAL thing out loud. It takes all the romanticizing and fantasy out of the thought and smacks a little reality in your face.

“I want to be with a psychopath for the holiday.”  Say that three times to yourself out loud …  NO!! That’s not what you want. That’s what you got LAST YEAR. You want to be with a nice man/woman/person for the holidays. And, as you VERY well know, they’re not it.

“I want to share my special holidays with my special psychopath.”  ???  Nope. That’s not it either. But that’s what’s going to happen unless you buck up and start telling yourself the truth. It’s OKAY to be by yourself for the holidays. It sure beats pathology as a gift.

Peace, gratitude, and all the spiritual reflections that are supposed to happen during this time of year cannot be found in pathology. They were not created there but they do end there. If your goal for the holidays is to find some peace, joy, hope and love, don’t spend it where and with whom it cannot be found. After the holidays, you will be a lot happier for not having attempted, for the millionth time, to find happiness where it does not exist.

Here’s a real gift for you—some tips!

TIPS FOR A HAPPIER/HEALTHIER HOLIDAY

  • Stop idealizing—you are who you are, it is what it is, pathology is pathology. If your family isn’t perfect, they certainly WON’T be during the season. Accept yourself and others for who they are. This includes accepting that pathology cannot and will not be different during the holidays simply because you want the Christmas fantasy.  “Emotional suffering is created in the moment when we don’t accept what ‘is.’” (~Eckart Tolle)
  • Don’t feel pressured to eat more/spend more/drink more than you want to. Remind yourself you have choices and that the word “No” is a complete sentence. Don’t be held hostage to exhausting holiday schedules.
  • Take quiet time during the season or you’ll get run over by the sheer speed of the holidays. Pencil it in like you would any other appointment. Buy your own present now—some bubble bath—and spend quality time with some bubbles by yourself. Light a candle, find five things to be grateful for, repeat often.
  • Take same-sex friends to parties and don’t feel OBLIGATED to go with someone you don’t want to go with. People end up in the worst binds going to parties with others, and get stuck in relationships they don’t want to be in, because they feel obligated. Find a few other friends who are willing to be “party partners” during the holidays.
  • Give to others in need. The best way to get out of your own problems is to give to others whose problems exceed yours. Give to a charity, feed the homeless, buy toys for kids.
  • Find time for spiritual reflection. It’s the only way to really feel the season and reconnect. Go to a church service, pray, meditate, reflect.
  • Plant joy—in yourself, in your life and in others. What you invest in your own recovery is also reaped in the lives of those closest to you.
  • Pick ONE growth-oriented issue you’d like to focus on next year for your own growth on January 1.  It creates hope when you know you have a plan to move forward and out of your current emotional condition. Invest in your opportunity to grow past the aftermath of this pathological love relationship.

Happy Holidays from The Institute!