Each moment of breath, each encounter with another human being, every situation that you encounter is an opportunity to decide who you are. You are not a hapless victim of life, you are the author. While you may not be able to control every circumstance that you find yourself in, you always have the power to control your perception of its meaning (to you) and your reaction to it.
Please take a moment to look at the photograph below. Take note of your thoughts. What emotions does this evoke? What story do you invent to describe what is taking place?
Maybe you saw a threatening figure, a stranger, misplaced and ominous. Maybe you saw yourself as the figure, looking out of the darkness to the dawn of a new day. Maybe you saw someone lurking outside your bedroom window. Maybe you saw someone who invoked a feeling of compassion in you, a desire to comfort and shelter them from their sadness. Maybe you saw something completely different. The point is that when you interact with others, you can make inferences about them based on your shared history, but really you do not know what is going on inside their minds any more than you know the actual circumstance depicted in this photograph. And even if their intent is perfectly clear, you are not bound to react to them in an habitual or expected way.
Let’s take a typical situation that we all encounter: a surly sales clerk throwing attitude at the supermarket. You can do what you did with the photograph above and write a story in your head that says something like “what a bitch, what is her problem, I didn’t do anything to her to deserve this rude treatment” and you can allow this person to put you into a bad mood, and you might throw some attitude back at her. Or, you can allow yourself the freedom to write a different story, one that says “wow, this person is having a bad day, she’s stuck in a crappy thankless job, I hope she’s ok” and you can choose not to take her mood personally, and even try to brighten her day a little.
Though we don’t know the stories of strangers who throw shade our way, it’s helpful to keep in mind that there may indeed be legitimate reasons for their foul mood, like an abusive husband at home, or a sick child, or a new baby in daycare that she would rather be snuggling. Nine times out of ten if we respond with kindness to folks who are clearly struggling to make it through the end of their shift, you can see their spirits lift. Acknowledging someone’s humanity reveals your own. So, it is worth your time to make connections with people, and even if they are still a grumpy bitch when you walk out of the store, at least you haven’t internalized their mood and taken it on as your own. You have that choice. It feels good to take the brighter path.
Closer to home: let’s say that you have a particularly challenging spouse. I’ll give you the kindness of acknowledging that he or she is a total jerk. A narcissist. This person can and will find something to complain about no matter what you do. You’ve run yourself ragged trying to make things better and it is just an endless cycle of drama. Gaslighting, denial, personal attacks, childish behaviors, aggression. You name it. I’ve been there. It’s bullshit. I know.
So you’re asking how you can possibly react in a way that will make anything better? Well, if they really are a true narcissist, nothing you say is going to make them feel or act better (and eventually you will make the decision to leave) but in the mean time, there is a way you can make yourself feel better. You now have the opportunity to get really, really good (and I mean amazingly good) at controlling yourself. You can learn not to take the bait. Each round of attempted crap shoveled your way is an opportunity to practice taking a deep breath a denying them the drama that they crave. You get better at it with each try. Eventually, instead of walking away from every encounter with them an exhausted, frustrated, angry, upset mess, you can deny them the reaction they crave, and end up getting so good at it that you walk away from each denial-of-drama session with a shit-eating grin on your face because you are incredible at this whole self-mastery thing! I know it’s a consolation prize for not having a spouse that’s an adult, but every little bit helps. (Really.)
You can choose to see challenging people and situations as frustrations that drag you down and mess up your day, or you can choose to see those same people and situations as the very gifts that are here to help you learn to be the kind of person you want to be.
When you practice finding the gift in every situation, you will find that you get better and better it. You can reach a level where you find gratitude in your heart for everything that happens. Is it more fun to be filled with gratitude because your baby slept through the night than it is to be filled with gratitude because you have the patience and kind heart to give your baby the compassion it needs to grow up and feel loved? Yes. It is more fun to have easy situations, but the situations are not in your control, only your reaction to them are.
So this one doesn’t get filed under the Darkness or under the Light, because the choice is yours. You can make any situation you encounter a negative or a positive. You can decide today to be the person who seeks their own peace and doesn’t play the game the same way everyone else does. You really can.