Setting Limits

808 Relax and Succeed - Self care is not selfishHow far should you let people push? How much should they get away with? How much should you be accommodating them? And how are your feelings about them playing into that? Would you put up with as much from your neighbour as your boss? Or what about your children or a spouse?

May I suggest you begin by setting some limits on the idea of setting limits? Because we’re talking about how long (how much time) we should put in before it’s too much. So can you see that the very idea of setting a limit traps you in time? You’re upset because of what’s happened again which means there must have been a before and you’ll be worried it will keep on happening which means by setting a limit you’re trying to alter your future. It’s like your mind colours in a section of your life stretching from a point in your past to a point in your future and you call that your relationship.

Fortunately one thing that actually does impact the future is what we do today. And even if we live in the moment we still have access to all of our knowledge. So we can make a decision today that we’re going in a new direction, but as soon as that person approaches us again we either have to re-make that same decision or we cave in and double back to our old decision. You can use the moments of now to plan your future but that future will still happen one moment at a time.

808 Relax and Succeed - Bent pots need bent lids

This isn’t to diminish what’s happening in people’s lives. This can get serious. If you’re dating a drug addict or someone that gets violent then these can be some of life’s most important decisions. But important and unimportant decisions are all made the same way. You can say whatever you want but your life is ultimately made out of what you do.

We all have those friends who keep going back to the same agonizing relationships over and over like a drug addict visiting their dealer. And it’s a good analogy, because the person really is addicted to the source of the drug they want (anger, sadness, victimization, whatever). So they see this person and they make them react in this predictable way and voila–they get the brain chemistry they came for and you have a perfect co-dependent relationship.

If this is something small it’s easy. You decide you don’t like this person or that activity or whatever and you just quit. You’re not setting a limit so much as realizing something doesn’t suit you. But setting a limit implies that we want to be close to a person (remember–be wary of that word want), but the person’s behaviour makes being close to them impossible or difficult. If it’s not something small and easy like an acquaintance or co-worker–if it’s a child or a spouse–then you still have to make your decisions one at a time and your only recourse between decisions is to accept your situation–which means don’t re-think a past choice.

808 Relax and Succeed - We are all searching for someoneIn the end the closest thing to setting a limit would be to continue to make that same decision, each time, for the rest of your life. But of course many of you will end up waffling. You’ll set the limit and then have a low day or a high day where you’re a little needier or a little softer and you’ll let whoever it is close enough to hurt you again. But don’t beat yourself up for that even if you do end up with a broken heart. Because that’s what the you in that moment felt compelled to do–otherwise meaning you’re living your life wisely and in the moment because both decisions are equally fine, they each just match the state of mind of the thinker at the time, as they should.

Either accept people for how they are or you are doomed to a life of vainly trying to get them to be the way you want them to be. No one owes us any sort of behaviour so we certainly shouldn’t get attached to what we perceive as good behaviour. Other people live in moments too and they are always in a state of change. But it’s also very important to remember that we too are always changing. And as we change ourselves we also naturally change our idea of just what our limits really are. 😉

peace. s

Scott McPherson is a writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and nonprofit organizations around the world.

The Suffering Sister

My sister and me both had our dad do stuff to us at night sometimes. She’s still really angry about it but I’ve cut him out of my life. I’ve been reading your blog and focusing on being grateful and I’m feeling good. My sister says I’m just suppressing my emotions and that
it will make me sick. I know she’s wrong but I don’t know how to explain it.
Can you give me an answer to give her?

Peaceful Sibling

Dear Peaceful,

I’m sorry that you and your sister had those experiences but I’m also very happy to hear that you’re practising gratitude as a lifestyle. There’s no single better thing a person could do for their psychological or spiritual health than appreciating. I hope you’re also appreciating your obvious natural skill at mental control too. And there’s no better thing that you could do for your sister than modelling the behaviours that will benefit her.

350 Relax and Succeed - Holding on to angerRemember not to expect to always be in control though, okay? That’s unrealistic. There is no road without ditches. You can’t pave the entire world and still know where to go. You need not-road to define your road. So when you doze off and lose control and you end up upset in some way, don’t add to it by being upset you’re upset. Instead just remember that your fluctuations are built into the system, so when they happen you can largely ignore them and switch back to appreciating and you’ll be fine again. Appreciating feels magnetic and wanting feels like suffering, so everything about our psychological landscape is designed to push us toward health. People make it complicated sometimes but it really is that simple.

Okay, so you have to ask you sister, if you’re suppressing emotions, then you must have a storage place for them—what is it? In what gland or duct or organ do you store these pent-up emotions? It’s as though she sees your dad’s actions as adding to you somehowas though he has poured some foul liquid into some secret body part that you must sweat and cleanse and purify of toxins. And that no matter how much pouring you do this will stay with you forever. It’s really a silly idea, but because 99% of the population believes it, it feels like it’s “real.”

The truth is you don’t store emotions for later extraction, you store thoughts for later replaying. So you have a memory. It’s yours. It’s like a big filing system of everything that’s happened to you. And yes, that stuff with your Dad is likely to be there. And if you access it a lot like your sister does, your brain will move those filing cabinets closer to the doorway to your consciousness. They’ll make it easy to think them because your brain is helpful. It does what you ask it to. So if you ask it to keep getting the same thoughts then it will start to store those thoughts in a very efficient manner.

350 Relax and Succeed - You can keep tellingThe difference between you and your sister is that you have accepted what has happened so there is no angry, regretful, suffering story to tell yourself. For you that story is over. It had an ending. Your dad did something that violated your sense of self. You’ve chosen not to think about those days in favour of thinking about what you’re grateful for. If your mind is processing grateful thoughts then you will get grateful feelings because we use our thinking to conjure our emotional reality on a moment-to-moment basis.

By contrast your sister chooses to continue to live in the past and to see your father and therefore re-trigger those thoughts. And then when they are re-triggered she keeps thinking them because she’s innocently blaming them on your father. She’s not seeing that these are choices she’s making regarding where she is choosing to place her psychological energy. She’s continuing to tell herself a story about how the past events shouldn’t have happened. But “shouldn’t” just refers to lines in our heads and people cross those all the time so “shouldn’t” is effectively an ego-based word that has little place in a healthy person’s vocabulary.

We don’t have feelings we conjure them. The past does not dictate today’s thinking. Where you have driven does not dictate which way you can turn the car today. If your sister wants to drive in circles through the same ditch from decades ago then that is absolutely her prerogative. But you aren’t crazy or wrong or suppressed to be driving down new, beautiful roads in life. You’re free. You understand that you are not your past, you are your current thoughts. That’s how you stay in the Flow of Tao—you stay in the current.

350 Relax and Succeed - We do not heal the pastRather than being conscious of your past you’re conscious of your present. I’m sure you can easily see the difference between your grateful life and your sister’s wanting one. But you’re already doing the most helpful thing you can for your sister—you’re living a happy life and you’re proving that her past does not have to dictate her future. So I’m with you—for her own sake I hope she notices that fact sooner rather than later. Because the moment she does she will be free.

I hope this helps. Maybe just print this off and leave it for your sister to find. She won’t like being responsible for how she’s felt—she really wants that to be your dad’s fault. So there will be some initial resistance. But again, the best possible thing you can do is prove to her it’s possible by actually going out and living a happy life. After all, there is no way around the sharp edges in life. There’s only what we do in the moment we’re in.

Congratulations on spending your moments wisely.

Much love, s

When Good People Do Bad Things

Don’t you get tired of it? That constant blah blah blah about whatever it was? You know what I mean. That conversation you have. The one you have over and over and over and over and over. Maybe yours is about someone who betrayed you and what you would say to them if you could. Or maybe yours is you telling someone about the 29 Relax and Succeed - Your heart was designedpain you felt regarding something they didn’t do. Or maybe yours is what you would say in court, or to the other person’s friends, or to your children, or parents. Or worse, maybe it’s what you wish you would or wouldn’t have said or done yourself.

It doesn’t matter what it’s about or who you plan to say it to, if it’s a conversation in your head it is your ego at work. Your spirit doesn’t need words. Only your ego needs to communicate by talking. Once you understand that fact you no longer use your words like legs to voluntarily walk to somewhere unpleasant. Just knowing you can walk is all you need. From there you naturally choose nicer environments.

Why is this important? Because you become your thoughts. So if you keep dwelling on negativity it will eat you from the inside. The Buddha said it twice: Anger is like throwing a hot stone. It is you who gets burned, and; Resentment is like drinking poison and thinking your enemy will die. If you engage in ugly thinking you will become an ugly person.

29 Relax and Succeed - Everyone you meetA woman contacted me about working together. She insisted it be by telephone because of what it regarded. She had done the worst thing in her life and the victim was someone she cared about deeply. She was so ashamed, so guilty, so confused by her actions that she was suicidal. I told her I had a lot of students who worked with me over the phone so that wasn’t a problem. We started her first session immediately and it was clear she was deeply distraught.

Imagine the middle-aged woman most women dream of being physically, intellectually and financially. She appears to have everything. Yet one of the most painful aspects of her life is that people respect and praise her constantly. She has enormous numbers of things to be very proud of but she feels thoroughly undeserving. She hates it when people call her lucky because she’s wealthy and has the attention of many handsome, wealthy men. She is lonely and she would trade her life in a moment. And now it had reached a new low.

She was sitting in a chair. A chair that had become a habit. Her success at work came at a price: she lost her husband to someone who actively cared for him. She didn’t mean to leave him out in the cold. She hadn’t even really noticed, even though in hindsight he had pretty much said as much on several occasions. She loved him, was hurt by his leaving and she could not believe how blind she had been. As he went on to be happier and happier, she attributed that to the fact that she had held him back. The problem was who she was. She 29 Relax and Succeed - When another person makes you suffercouldn’t keep a good man. She remembered every criticism her mother had ever given her. And as she looked in the mirror at an aging reflection she told herself she would never get any man ever again. And these conversations cycled and combined and built into a torturous habit, along with that chair and a couple glasses of scotch. Then it got really bad.

One day she was doing what she’d done a hundred other nights, but the narratives were building upon one another. As she sat there with her beloved cat of 12 years on her lap, her internal conversation got so ugly, it was so mean and cruel and vicious that she sincerely believed no one would ever love her ever again. She felt a million miles away from anything. And that’s when the cat wanted down. But she was so lost. She just wanted it to sit there a bit longer. It tried to get off again. But she needed it. It was like the cat was the only thing holding her to her sanity. But the more she wanted it there, the more it wanted to go until finally the cat—who’d been with her for 12 years and had never, ever clawed her owner before—took a good swipe.

When she grabbed it and began to strangle it she wasn’t the least bit bothered by the cuts on her hand. She didn’t even notice they were there until much later. It wasn’t the cat’s defensive attack that bothered her. As she choked it she just kept crying and muttering, “why can’t you just love me?!” When it got to the point where the cat was in obvious visible distress, that fact stuck a stick in the spokes of her thoughts. Everything suddenly changed as she came to her senses and released the cat, which I’m happy to report is completely fine and still in love with its owner.

29 Relax and Succeed - Forgiveness is the most powerful thingThis is obviously a horrible story and it’s easy to see why she would feel suicidal. It would be easy to question your sanity if you hurt a helpless animal you had loved for years. But what proved her sanity was fine was that she called me the very next day because she was so upset. We can hardly say someone’s a bad person when they feel so terrible about their actions that feel they should die for them.

The simple fact is, it was a horrible act carried out by a desperate person. There’s nothing wrong with the person, but all of that cyclical negative thinking took her brain chemistry to a very dark, agonized and ultimately dangerous place. Do not practice going to dark places so much that you end up changing your entire personality. Because your personality is made of the thoughts you think most often.

I’m glad the woman didn’t kill herself. I’m glad her cat still loves and trusts her. And I love that she now knows that anyone is capable of horrible things if they think horrible thoughts. After what happened she now has the perfect motivation to think almost exclusively happy, grateful and generous thoughts. She never wants to go there again. And there is the value in the experience.

Just as her life got worse, yours can get better. You can make yourself ugly enough to hurt those you love dearly or you can make yourself so beautiful that you can impact everyone you meet in no time at all. The only question is, which person’s thoughts will you think?

peace. s