When Bad Shit Happens
We spend a lot of time talking and thinking about why bad stuff happens, especially to people who we consider “good” and undeserving of strife and particularly when it comes in what feels like a disproportionate avalanche. We become deeply angry and philosophical when we try to understand why bad things happen to innocents like children and animals. Often, we become so mired in our determination to understand why something happens that we fail to effectively manage the situation at all. The assignment of blame is one of the greatest time eaters and malice fertilizers ever and is usually the focus of tremendous attention.
I have often equated personal tragedy to being inside a burning house. Sure, you want to know how to avoid setting your next house on fire and it is important to learn from adversity we experience. Our main objective, however, is to get out of the burning house and find safety.
Bad shit comes in many forms. Relationships capsize. People betray us. We lose jobs, homes, and loved ones. Sometimes, it feels unbearable and we beat the ground and demand to know what, WHAT? we did to deserve this abuse. That response is perfectly normal and sometimes, “bad luck” just defies the odds to the point that it is almost funny. But after our outburst, we have to actually brush ourselves off and do something.
Almost three decades ago, I knew a priestess named Cathey. She was beautiful, magical, regal, and a really smart cookie. Among the many teaching gems I collected from her during our short time together was the “IOB Method of Problem Solving.”
Identify, Objectify, and Banish. I cannot count the times I have pulled myself back from the dangerous ledge by focusing on that three-fold method of attack.
We must be clear and very honest in our definition of the problem. “I am afraid my boyfriend is cheating” sounds pretty specific in identifying the problem, however, it can mean any or all of the following:
- I found evidence that is irrefutable
- I am insecure and afraid I am not important enough to keep him
- I am inwardly aware that I hooked up with someone untrustworthy and therefore, I do not trust him
- I am cheating on him and if I can cheat, anyone can and will
- I do not believe I deserve to be treated well, so I expect to be treated poorly
“We don’t have enough money” can mean:
- We need an additional income stream to remain financially solvent
- We have a temporary money glitch that we can soon rectify
- We are routinely careless with our money as soon as we get it and are left with insufficient funds by the end of the month
- We have enough money for our basic needs, but not enough for our bevy of wants
- We do not have enough money to live as well as those people over there
As you can see, the words we use to label our issues can effectively conceal the true underlying problem. Until we manage that root problem, situations will continually manifest to draw our attention to it, often on a grander scale than the last time. It is much like a disease. If you only treat the symptoms rather than managing the disease, the disease grows progressively worse. This is why it is essential to truly understand and identify the primary problem rather than the secondary offshoots of that problem.
It is also important to identify the exact emotion that the situation triggers. Anger, for instance, is nearly always born from fear, frustration, or hurt. Worry comes from a lack of faith in your own abilities to manage a situation effectively. Resentment comes from disappointment in yourself for placing expectations on others that they did not fulfill. Be clear on what you feel and why you feel it.
Once you identify your emotions, really feel what you feel. Honor what you feel. Claim it. “I am PISSED OFF!” “I am HURT!” “I am HUMILIATED.” Feel what you feel, but don’t pussyfoot around what you feel. You do not have to rage and take on casualties, but you at least have to admit to yourself what you feel and then let it wash over you. Use “I” descriptions rather than “You” accusations. That keeps the power with you instead of with someone else.
Emotions are weather, they are there and then they change
Water over rocks…let the emotions come and flow over you and move on
Honor and identify what you feel. Give it a name
You can control YOUR feelings and emotions, but not another person’s behavior
Notice the labels people use in crisis, which often dictate emotion. When I counsel people, I hear things like, “This is the worst thing that could happen!” or “I cannot recover from this!” Most often, those categorizations are exaggerated. When we use catastrophic language, the feelings around a situation are amplified. Using phrases such as “This is so challenging” or “She is very difficult to love sometimes” labels a situation in a way that while still accurate, is instantly more manageable. Avoid absolutes like “always” and “never,” superlatives like “worst,” and catastrophic words like “disaster” and “devastated.”
Journaling, talking things out with friends and getting objective input from people who know you well and are not there just to coddle or attack you, EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique – “tapping”), good divination, and consistent meditation are excellent ways to get to know yourself better and find underlying causes to existing problems.
Another part of the identification process is establishing what is yours to change and what is not. There is a huge difference in blame versus accountability. Blaming others for the problems in your life is different than being accountable for what you can change and wise enough to distance yourself from what you cannot. “Not my monkeys, not my circus,” is a new phrase making its rounds and it has its place. Know what is truly your problem to manage and what is not and distance yourself from what is not. You – and only you – are responsible for your own feelings, emotions, and reactions. No one “makes” you feel or act a certain way. They may elicit certain natural reactions in you, but you are ultimately accountable for how you behave and interact. Likewise, you are not responsible for how others behave. NEVER take on someone else’s drama if you can avoid it. You can be sympathetic without collapsing into their situation.
This is a critical step too often ignored. Albert Einstein wisely said, “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” We become so embroiled with the emotions of what we feel, chiefly fear, righteous indignation, panic, and hurt, that we become lost in their madness and cannot see the forest for the trees. It is essential that we step outside of the problem, whatever it is, and view it objectively. We can do this by writing it out in list or flowchart form, listing pros and cons, possible solutions, etc. We can imagine what we would tell a friend who came to us with the same dilemma. What wise advice would we offer?
There is a psychological trick that lets us sneak through the back door of problem solving. When we ask ourselves, “What is the answer?” our brain becomes like a deer trapped in headlights and we feel put on the spot. Instead, we can ask ourselves, “If I did know the answer, what would it be?” This can be especially productive when meditating. Visualize a wise counselor, a deity figure, or a spirit animal, and ask them what you need to know about the situation. Imagine that you are holding a scroll with the answer on it. Open the scroll and see what is there. You can also ask these questions right before sleeping to receive answers in dream time.
What is important at this stage of the process is to step outside of the panic and the emotion and look at the situation from a safe distance. When the knight is on the battlefield swinging a sword, it is hard to strategize anything other than his own survival. The king on the hill overlooking the battle, however, can see the full panoramic view and can objectively an the entire course of offensive or defensive strategy. You have to shift into the king on the hill rather than the knight on the field, as least for a little while.
“I’ve said my piece and counted to three.”
“To know, to dare, to will, and to be silent.”
“That is outside of my realm of influence.” (another Catheyism, by the way)
“Let the world turn a few more times while you disengage.”
We should either solve a problem or release our attachment to the outcome of it. If there is anything we can do to resolve the issue, it is up to us to be accountable and do so. If we have legitimately done all we can do, then we must release our attachment to the outcome and let the situation progress rather than worrying it to death, continually instilling more fixated energy into it. We do not owe it to a problem to obsessively mull new ways to solve it when we are exhausted.
A common Hoodoo spell is to take an item (such as three lucky mojo beans), make a wish, and toss the item(s) over your left shoulder and walk away without looking back. In Hoodoo, there is a lot of “not looking back,” which is very psychologically healthy. In Wicca, we are taught to do the spell work, act in accord, then let it go into the ether to do its thang. In Christianity, we are encouraged to “leave our problems at the foot of the cross.”
There is good psychological wisdom in disengaging from a problem, even one that is right in front of you aggressively demanding attention, once you have done all you can do or even while you take a break. Banishing is not just about resolving the issue. It is also about removing the hooks it has dug into you. It is about freeing yourself from emotional attachment to the problem.
My clients tell me, “But I can’t! That’s too harrrrrd” and as the ass-kicking, loving counselor I am, I say, “And that’s a cop out.” Yes, it’s hard, but it is also necessary and you can do it. Sometimes, you just have to take a break from all that feeling and all that work and step outside of the situation for a while. Imagine that the crisis needs a break from you just as much as you need a break from it. Trust me. It will either be there when you get back or it will work itself out in your absence.
The only attachment that cannot be willfully banished is grief. Grief over death or relationship loss takes as long as it takes and is a beast unto itself. Each person grieves differently and no one has the right to tell another person how they “should” respond to grief.
We are all confronted with conflicts and problems, some that seem unsolvable and some that are easily vanquished. We are down on the Wheel of Life, then we are up, then we are under it. When it is your turn to face a formidable challenge, try the IOB strategy.