The past week has painfully reminded me why I went to law school and chose to focus on resolving conflicts. As I told the nurse’s aide at the rehabilitation center where my mom has been since early November, I had been fighting so much for my mom and my nephew that I thought I should get better at it—and maybe get paid for it, too!
It still sometimes surprises me how much many of us must fight for what seems so obviously right to the majority: proper health care, a safe home life, fairness regardless of race or gender, freedom from violence, and more. I often get overwhelmed by the fight, but nothing seems to overwhelm me more than when I have over-invested my limited time, money, and energy in pursuits of love or acceptance. As I tweeted last week, “Do you ever wonder ‘How could I end up here, despite all I’ve done and put up with, nearly begging at times for love?’ The lesson? There are some people that will never love you, no matter what you do. Live your life for the ones who will love you, for no reason at all.”
That’s sometimes easier said than done, isn’t it? How do we forgive and move forward when we have put our health, home, and well-being in jeopardy for people who we can’t seem to please, or who always want more?
Not surprisingly, I’ve been there, and I’m somewhat embarrassed by it. For years, I’ve tolerated hostility and manipulation by the family member who abused me as a child and that abuser’s spouse, in an effort to please my mom, who is chronically disappointed in me. I’ve hired friends, family members, and others who weren’t great fits for my business, and I’ve let them stay on even when they were unproductive or stole from me. I’ve continued to work for clients who required constant services they didn’t want to pay for, and I’ve stayed in many relationships that lacked partnership. This is probably how mutuality became one of The Law Studio’s Core Values. I learned something from my “bad investments”, which makes them not so bad after all.
Take a look at your own life. Would you be further along in your career, if you had not postponed schooling or other career moves during family crises? Do you regret taking out huge student loans for a degree that didn’t actually help you get the high-paying job you thought it would? Or did marriage, children, and divorce set you back financially? Have you gained weight or gotten seriously ill because you put energy into everyone else before yourself?
The game of your life is not over yet, and it’s not going to benefit you to cause yourself more suffering. That’s why Choice #1 from my book, DIY Conflict Resolution: Seven Choices and Five Actions of a Master, is to Forgive Yourself for Having Conflicts. Have you ever considered that you will never fully give yourself permission for the happiness or success that you want if you don’t stop judging and punishing yourself for mistakes of the past? You might achieve high levels of success at work, in relationships, or with money, but you’ll probably sell yourself just a bit short of your maximum capability. Or you might look for the first opportunity to sabotage your success, out of guilt for getting what others don’t have when you “know” you’re not as good a person as they are.
You deserve just as much as everyone else. You don’t have to put up with abuse, manipulation, or disrespect. You don’t have to spend a certain amount of money or time on a person to deserve their love. Yes, relationships do require some investment, but you don’t have to walk on hot coals to prove your worthiness. If you forget that sometimes, it’s okay. With practice, you will eventually make fewer bad investments in the same areas. Instead, you will find some new areas to err, waste, learn, and grow!
Don’t let that discourage you. We all experience conflict. In our relationships. With our bodies. With our finances. With our words. At home. At work. In our communities, and in our everyday activities. Punishing yourself for being human is a little crazy.
Forgive yourself for that, too. We’re all a little crazy, especially when we try to “fix” our lives. Our lives are not broken, and neither are we—unless we choose to keep breaking ourselves. For example, I keep playing a confrontation over in my mind, trying to understand why it occurred and how I didn’t see the attack coming. Each time, I re-traumatize myself. I keep bringing it forward, as if it is still going on, instead of leaving it in the past. When I realize I am doing that, I take a few actions to get present again:
- Meditate for 10 minutes
- Create a list of things I am thankful for (which will often become a list of good investments)
- Express gratitude to someone in my life who makes it easier or more joyful (e.g., a family member, a friend, the mailman, the dry cleaner, the clerk at the cash register)