What Are You Making It Mean?

 In America

How I interpret circumstances causes me emotional pain. A prime example is an ongoing situation with my 17 year-old daughter. Despite my repeated requests that she place her dishes in the dishwasher when she’s finished using them (and she adamantly insists that she always does), I often discover a pile of dirty dishes when I come down in the morning, leftover from a late night meal. The pristine kitchen that I left the night before is now cluttered with plates, cans, crumbs, etc.

I become quickly annoyed and my blood starts to boil. Why? After all, they are just a few plates and a bit of mess that I could clean up in under ten minutes. But, I’ve developed ideas that her behavior mean she’s stubborn, disrespectful, and lazy. This well-worn story amps up my frustration and resentment and prompts me to get on her case and nag, cajole, accuse. What does she do in response? Resist, argue or ignore me completely. We’re in stand-off. The dishes remain and I’m stuck feeling a lot of negative emotion as we play out a very familiar scenario.
Instead, when I’m on my mental game I recognize that I can ascribe a different meaning to her behavior: she’s a teenager, she’s age-appropriately self-absorbed, and she’s not doing this to drive me crazy. These more reasoned thoughts allow me to approach her with gentleness and humor. Not feeling attacked and judged, she responds with willingness to complete this chore. We stay connected instead of feeling angry at each other.
Feeling peace and acceptance is so much more enjoyable than festering in resentment, wouldn’t you agree? But we so easily forget that we can always choose to create peace instead of turmoil, simply by the thoughts we think and the meaning we give to people, places and things. Because our brains have a “negativity” bias our go-to responses are typically to judge, criticize, or feel self-pity when life happens in way we don’t like. It takes awareness and practice to change these patterns.
So, where in your life do you ascribe meaning to circumstances that result in you feeling negative emotion? How does this emotion affect how you respond or behave? How can you think about this situation in a way that serves you? What can you learn from this? With  awareness and willingness to drop the old story line, we can create new outcomes and enjoy our self-mastery which results in a peaceful, happy life. It just takes a little (conscious) thought.


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