Have encouraging words ever served to utterly discourage you?
Like when you are saturated in “Just Keep Breathing” Survival Mode, you can’t look beyond the immediate present moment of “what is.” And that “what is” just doesn’t feel all that great. No matter how hard you try to put a positive and enlightened spin on the situation, life feels like it pretty much sucks.
You are down and feeling like bad karma has taken over your life. You are in the doldrums and stuck in idle. Your friends and family know it. And they feel for you. They go into Encouragement Mode, or worse yet, Coach Mode, and they offer pep talks, platitudes, and well-intended reality checks. Their support is so lovely. You know that they are trying and you appreciate their concern. But it still feels like the encouraging words actually serve more as a reminder of how bad things are in your life.
If you have been in this place, you know that what you are feeling goes way beyond feeling sorry for yourself. You aren’t just stuck. You are buried.
When life isn’t so hot
Not so long ago, I was going through some really challenging financial, emotional, professional, personal, and academic times. I was going to school full-time, trying to sell the dream home that I had just finished restoring, going through a really yucky break-up, working four ill-suited, part-time jobs, and trying to negotiate house showings with an insane work schedule and three dogs.
I had to rush home from work each time a prospective buying agent called, so that I could take my dogs out for what felt to be marathon walks through the neighborhood while possible buyers viewed the house. One of the three dogs was enjoying his retirement years and couldn’t really walk very far, so we four would oftentimes go sit on a bus bench up the street to wait out the showing. Buses would pull up to the stop, mistaking my wave for them to keep going as an invitation to stop. They would pull up and shout at me like I was half a bubble out of plumb, “You can’t bring those dogs on the bus!” “I know, I know,” I would tell them and wave them on. The door would hiss shut and the bus would puff off in a plume of exhaust. All I can say is this was a really low time of my life for me and for my dogs.
When friends think they are helping . . . but they’re not.
I remember the time my friend Mary was going on and on about her three-week vacation on the beaches of Mexico. I was happy for Mary, but midway through viewing an insanely-long slide show of her pictures, I realized that Mary was the farthest thing from being in tune with me as a friend. Maybe even as a human being. I didn’t — and don’t — fault her for any of this (we are still friends) but her parting words that night of “Don’t worry, Dear. You are going to get through all of this” meant so little to me. In fact, they only served to discourage me.
It’s the little things . . . and the big things
I couldn’t help but think back to my old friend Donnalyn who stopped by my house one day to see me when I wasn’t home. She left an envelope on my front porch, and in the envelope was $50 cash with a note saying, “I’ve been where you are. After my divorce, I didn’t think I was going to be able to figure it all out. You are going to make it.”
Donnalyn. What an amazing and compassionate and empathizing friend. And I can’t emphasize this enough: It wasn’t the money. It could have been $1 or $0, and it would have meant just the same. Donnalyn understood the struggle. She had been there. She knew what Panic Mode felt like in the midst of Survival Mode. I will never forget her gesture of kindness, generosity, and empathy.
Empathy in action
Thinking about Donnalyn makes me realize that there comes a time when I need to put some action into my words of encouragement. Saying I love you or You’ve got this is great but being of service is maybe even a little bit better.
It is the Little Things in life and there are so many Little Things that I can do. Every little thing makes a difference, and the little actions carry a LOT of impact. Offer your washing machine to a friend whose washer broke down. Like and share a friend’s new blog to encourage her writing. Drive a family member to his or her doctor appointment. Scrub the floors for your sister who is returning from surgery. Vacuum your partner’s car. Clean the hideous microwave in the break room. Help someone figure out how to upload photos to his computer. Leave a little note of encouragement on the table at the coffee shop for the next person who is going to sit there.
When your new paradigm is Survival Mode
I was talking on the phone with my one of my best friends, Birdie, who is experiencing a major paradigm shift, and I asked her if she ever felt like this. Birdie just graduated and is starting a new business. She said the she, too, felt as if her life is in Survival Mode while she gets everything up and running.
Birdie told me, “People have been so nice, but I sometimes feel unworthy of the encouragement. I don’t feel like I have the resources to take them up on their advice — which is all really good — and make things happen, so it sometimes feel like I am wasting other people’s energy when they are being so encouraging.”
This is so honest. It made me think back to my Epic Life Meltdown and how I felt exactly the same as her. Birdie’s words really resonate with me. There is a difference between feeling sorry for yourself and Real. Birdie’s experience is Real. She knows that, ultimately, she is going to build her practice and that some of the bumps are eventually going to smooth out . . . but in the meantime? I try to listen, and we do fun things together. It’s the little things. I think of Donnalyn and her $50, and I try to transfer that same $50-intention into Real for someone else. I knew that my Birdie’s phone was no longer holding a charge, so I ordered her a new battery on Amazon and had it shipped to her house. Once her phone was all charged up with the new battery, she called me. She laughed and said that it has made such a difference not having to conduct business while being plugged into the wall.
No one will know unless you share.
And on the other side of this . . . tell people how they can help you. You don’t have to go on a marathon downward spiral about how broke you are or how awful your relationship is in order to convey what is going on. Sometimes we are admonished by the positive intenders in our lives saying that we need to stay away from negative talk . . . but how can people help if we don’t share our Real?
As for that crazy Survival-Mode scenario in the past . . . Well, the house sold, I graduated, I ultimately embraced the release of a bad relationship, I gradually let go of each job in lieu of one single job with the standard benefits, and I started to catch a rhythm of sorts. I started to play music again and the dogs, as they always do, adapted happily to their new home. No more marathon walks for lovely old Mac! I was able to breathe a bit more easily within my Real, which was no longer hitting the door to my soul with a SWAT team’s battering ram.
The funny part: That was then. This is now. Life took yet another epic turn, by my choosing, and I am reconstructing several pieces that have flown off the proverbial bus. I am using baling wire, paper clips, and duct tape to keep things running, but I am getting there. I have come to learn that I am pretty good at making the best with what I have on hand. And there is nothing wrong with that.
How about you? Are you in Survival Mode?
- Share your situation with someone who you can trust to really listen. Ask for input as to what he or she is hearing you say.
- Reframe your feelings with new words that steer you in a more positive direction. Even if you have to stretch the truth of your reality a bit, use words that set your thinking in a new light of positivity. Not always easy, I know.
- Keep your heart open to friends, family, and colleagues who might be struggling. Give them a hug. Ask them how they are doing. Listen.
- Take action — for others and for yourself. Look for ways to surprise and delight someone who is feeling a burden. Remember, it’s the little and the big things.
- Be kind. Be positive. Be hopeful. Know that, like an EKG line, life has its ups and its downs. No one wants to live on a flat line.
- Go with the flow and smile. Looking for the happy in life is a lot more fun than accepting the overwhelm.
Author bio: Kennedy Farr’s passion for writing caught light at the age of four when she first learned how to spell her name at a yellow kitchen table on a sheet of lined tablet paper. Kennedy is a daily writer and blogger, a lifelong learner, and a true believer that something wonderful is happening right now in this very moment. Kennedy lives high on the mountainside of an emerald-green island in the Pacific Northwest.