for release January 17, 2003
by Melodie Davis
This Is Not About You: Healing From Pain
You have to admire the dog's unabashed simplicity. She thinks the world revolves around her.
Last fall we had huge amounts of leaves to rake. When the girls piled them high, we all got a kick out of our dog running straight into the middle of the pile of leaves, completely hidden, and then coming out, enjoying not only the rush but our laughter and attention. I think that she thought we had piled up the leaves purely for her benefit.
Then we had our first snow of the season: what German shepherd mix doesn't dearly love the cold frothy stuff? She romped, she ran, she frolicked, chasing every shovelful of snow that I heaved out of the driveway. I think she thought I was making a game for her.
Frequently I say to the dog: "You know, this really isn't about you. I'm not really doing this for you!" She just looks at me happily, like Odie in "Garfield."
This can be a good and bad trait.
I was interested to read how a similar line-"this isn't about you"-helped a woman recovering from her husband's suicide. She was in deep pain and depression. She didn't feel like going on, even though she had two children whom she dearly loved. She took an overdose herself, and ended up in the psychiatric section of the hospital for a week. She went to a therapist who finally broke through the fog and terrible grief that filled her by saying, "This has nothing to do with you. Sometimes things just happen. Your job is to recover from great loss. This isn't your fault. This is not a lesson to be learned." And somehow that was what she needed to hear as she began the excruciatingly slow journey out of depression and grief.
Your boss tears apart your latest written report. What you often don't realize is that her boss has just torn apart something she did-and passes her frustration on to you. Now of course sometimes there are criticisms that we need to listen to, that we need to learn from, but there are times when we would benefit from saying, "This is not my fault. Now where do I go from here?" So it is important to be able to sort out when it is a problem you need to deal with, and when it is the other person's problem. Sometimes a second party/listening ear is helpful in sorting out those kinds of tricky things.
How often would we benefit from having that attitude? Someone cuts you off in traffic. Remind yourself: This is not about me; it is not my problem. He did not do it to make me mad or cause me problems. He's just a jerk. What is his problem?
Children going through the pain and trauma of divorce would do well to keep this in mind. Frequently children wonder if the divorce might be their fault: they remember times when Mom and Dad argued over childcare, who was going to get up in the night, who was going to do the carpool. But they need to know and understand that even though they may cause problems for the parents, this is part of parenting. Their parents should be grown up enough to handle the responsibilities of parenting. Healthy, functioning children who deal with their grief and pain can be helped to the place where they say, "This isn't about me. It is about Mom and Dad." That may not help the problem, but it allows inward healing to begin to happen.
Anyone who has a dysfunctional family, abusive parents or relatives, or has a just plain difficult, hard-to-live-with family member, would do well to remember this line. When your mother criticizes your Christmas present for the 10th year in a row saying, "Whatever will I do with this? I really don't need any more sweaters," you can realize: "This isn't about me or my gift. This is my mother's problem." As in dealing with someone with a problem with alcohol, it doesn't work to try and fix the other person's problem. You can confront them, you can love them, you can care for them, but if they don't care enough to try and correct their own problem, you will only beat yourself up if you keep trying to fix the other person.
And in the paradoxical way that is true of many ironies in this world, you end up fixing your own problem. You end up taking care of yourself, which helps you be a more whole person to all the loved ones around you. And maybe, maybe help the other person in the process, as well.
Take a lesson from the dog: while we wouldn't want to be as self-centered, na´ve or gullible as the dog, in watching her run pell mell through the snow, I see something wonderfully carefree and without stress.
For a free booklet on "Forgiving Your Family for Not Being Perfect" write to: Melodie Davis, Another Way c/o Name\Address of YOUR newspaper; or e-mail: Melodie@mennomedia.org.
You can also visit Another Way on the Web at www.thirdway.com.
Melodie Davis is the author of seven books and has written her column since 1987. She taught feature writing and has won awards from the National Federation of Press Women, Virginia Press Women and the American Advertising Association. She and her husband have three daughters.
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