Life consists of choices and consequences. Unfortunately many of our choices are made on auto-pilot. We make them because of lessons we learn as children, defensive thinking from bad experiences, or even willfulness born out of addictive or destructive habits. In other words, we harden our thinking (and sometimes our hearts) because of beliefs we made up. We tell ourselves this is who we are, but is it really?
Personally, I tend to fall into a martyr frame of mind. I sacrifice my desires to satisfy what I think other people want or need. It gets old, and I get annoyed, and before I know it, I’m downright angry. It took me a while to understand this about myself, and now that I know it, I can make different choices. Your pattern may be different, but I believe, that in any unsatisfying area of your life, you can unearth a mental habit that contributes to your lack of joy.
For example, I have a friend who used to love her job. Then after a period of years, she realized that she resents it. She couldn’t place what went wrong but evenutually realized that there were some core beliefs and desires of hers that had evolved. She changed, but the workplace did not. They no longer fit.
In order to better understand your nature, I recommend the following:
1. When you find yourself in a repeated disagreement with somebody, ask yourself the following questions. Would you feel the same way if you received their message from somebody else. For example, if your mother in law constantly annoys you with advice on how to raise your family consider if you would be equally annoyed if the advice came from your own mother. Or if a friend offends you, would you be equally offended if the remark came from a sibling? Consider if you have created blocks because of perceived relationship roles.
2. Keep an open mind. Listen to what is being said and try to consider the conversation as though you are an unbiased third party. A great example from my own life is when my husband once accused me of being short and losing patience quickly. My immediate reaction was to think, “Oh hell no, I run this house, work full time, keep the kids busy. I’m not short tempered, I’m just being direct.” Then that night, when I was able to reflect on the conversation without getting irritated, I tried looking back on the week from an unbiased perspective. I recalled getting very short with the kids in the grocery store the weekend prior. I also recalled that just the day before I had caught my daughter yelling at the dog and snapping at her brother in a familiar way. Truly, kids are the most revealing mirrors. With that in mind, I reconsidered what my husband said and felt he had a point.
3. Figure out where the patterns came from, and decide if they are legit. Something I’m embarrassed about is that I have regularly chosen to harden my heart against vagrants and beggars. I avoided them and giving to them for two reasons. Fear and peer pressure. The fear comes from an experience I had when a drunk beggar grabbed me in college and tried to kiss me. I know this is unlikely to ever happen again, but it truly upset me. The peer pressure I put on myself because many friends have told me how beggars could get a job but don’t, or how they are probably faking it for money, or some other made up excuse for shunning them. Because of these reasons, I regularly chose not to give, even when I felt inclined to do so.
4. Decide if you want to change. Sometimes you’ll have realizations about yourself and choose not to change. Maye you have a lot going on and it’s not the right time to tackle that degree of self-growth. Maybe you know how to change and it requires a major move or career adjustment, and you need stability for the time. It’s entirely up to you, but knowing it’s your choice is empowering and helps you recognize that you are in control.
So back to my original example. I don’t have to play the martyr character in my life’s story. I can choose differently. Deep rooted tendencies are hard to reset, so, as I do with all difficult challenges, I pray for insight and guidance. I believe that with faith in God, and the power of our words and goals, our natures can be transformed.