I am turning 40 in a couple weeks, and as I approach this milestone I have been feeling a crisis of sorts. Many of the dreams I’ve had for my life up to this point have, for the most part been accomplished. When I was young I knew I wanted to get married to a man who loved me, and that I wanted to become a Mom. I imagined us living in a home, enjoying a simple, yet contented life. Well, I am married to a loving husband, and I am a Mother to two sons. I love them from the depths of my being, and I know beyond a shadow of doubt that I am deeply loved. We live in a home that provides for our needs. I live a great life. Truly I do. But deep within me I cannot say that I am content, and that discontentment brings me great uneasiness and subsequent shame.
When I first felt a hint of discontentment, a simple thought entered my mind, “I have everything I ever wanted, so why am I not happy?” Before that question had any room for consideration, any space to roll around, a second question took over, “therefore, what is wrong with me?”
The first question of “why am I not happy” is a useful one, but where I found myself dwelling is on the second one, “therefore, what is wrong with me?” Do you see the subtle yet powerful difference between the two?
If I were to take a look at why I am not happy, I may conclude that I have experienced a lot of losses in friendship over the past few years, and that I am grieving those losses. I may also see that as my kids are growing up, and will no longer be attending the neighborhood school, that my role with them, within the school, and our community will be shifting, leaving a void. I may also listen to the counsel of my doctor who suggested I work out at least 5 days a week, which would honor my body, and could hold the added benefit of meeting new people, therefore filling said void. But if I’m honest, instead of thinking proactively about what may be leading to my unhappiness and then doing something about it, I find myself lingering on that secondary thought of “what is wrong with me”.
Notice that there is a huge unnecessary leap from one thought to the next, which does extraordinary damage and results in inaction. The initial question of why am I not happy has a healthy disconnect from me as a person. It allows me to step back, take a look at what may be going on inside of me, make some shifts and changes, and move on. But that second thought of “what is wrong with me” says something about who I am; it says that there is something intrinsically wrong with me, that I am foolish, selfish, picky, ungrateful and seriously flawed. The resulting implications of such a thought are feelings of hopelessness, shame, self-pity, self-doubt, and an inability to move. This is often where I get stuck. It’s like my feet become forged in quicksand, and those shame-inducing thoughts threaten to pull me under.
A tool that I am finding useful in navigating this inner battle is to stop and take a look at what is true and not true. As an example, in my case what is true is that I am not happy. What is not true is that this means there is something wrong with me. What is true is that there is clearly something missing in my life, what is not true is that this makes me selfish, ungrateful or flawed. When inner messages attack my character, I often find I am being held to a standard which is beyond human capacity. To be human is to be powerful, brave, imperfect and in-progress. I don’t know all the answers, but I possess within me everything I need to figure out at least the next step. I will make mistakes, but I have within me the power to learn from them.
After allowing space for what is true and letting go of what is untrue, I find grace for myself, and permission to be right where I am, beyond debilitating fear, shame or remorse. From this empowering place, I am learning to ask “what do I want?” and “what do I need?” I find these questions lead me to open rather than confining spaces, where curiosity is welcome and possibilities unearthed. Figuring out what you want and need may be harder than you think. Sometimes the best place to begin is with what you know you do not want and what you do not need. The opposite of what you do not want may just be what it is you truly want.
I am growing in my ability to discern the battles that wage inside me. I am finding that as I am able to identify the messages I’m hearing, sifting through them for truths and untruths, that I am able to navigate my way through to the other side, where I learn about who I am and what I want, the power I possess within me, and where to place my next footstep in order to keep moving, rather than remaining held in place by lies which deceive and hold me captive.
We will all encounter this internal battle in different ways throughout our daily lives. If you find yourself in such a battle, here are some questions for you to ponder…
Where do you find yourself right now in battle with internal voices?
What messages do you hear?
What impact do those messages have on you?
What is one thing you could do right now to gain traction in moving forward?