All day I've been telling stories to evoke my own pity, and it's working. Partly. The unhealthy part of me, the world-class codependent, is just mesmerized. "Oh," she cries, "you poor darling! Tell me that sad story again—the first 400 times didn't do it justice!" The healthy part of me finds this annoying: "Oh, for God's sake," she says, rolling her eyes. "Could we please stop the drama and get on with our life?"
The healthy part of me is such a heartless bitch.
On the other hand, she's got a point. Compulsively examining my stories never works for me. I keep sinking into sorrow (self-inflicted though it is) until it occurs to me that I will drown unless I can drag myself out. This can be difficult, but after decades of practice, I've created a sort of verbal tree limb I can grab in a pinch: Am I presently learning the truth about my life's work? If this sentence sounds a little vague, that's because it's actually a mnemonic code. Each phrase reminds me of a concept that helps me escape the marsh: being present, learning continuously, seeking truth, and committing my energy to my real life's work. Here's what I mean:
I just met with a client I'll call Kristin, an energetic self-pitier. We were discussing her desire for a promotion when her gaze dropped and her voice took on a timbre both sorrowful and weirdly practiced, as though she were reciting a very depressing Pledge of Allegiance.
"You know," Kristin said, her eyes welling up, "my mother never let me talk back to her, never really listened to me." Her chest began to heave. "My therapist says she may as well have been deaf." She dissolved into tears.
"Oh," I said. "So, are you going to ask for that promotion?"
"She never listened!" Kristin repeated, sobbing, her hand on her neck. "My astrologer says it totally blocked my throat chakra!"
"Kristin," I said, "Look at me, please."
She didn't want to.
I insisted. "How many fingers am I holding up?"
Reluctantly, like a dog dropping a stolen ham, Kristin raised her eyes and looked. "Three," she said. Her tears dried up. She seemed disappointed. The story-fondling thing had been going so well.
"Kristin, can you see that your mother isn't here? Can you hear that you are able to speak? You're a full-grown woman, with a functioning larynx, who wants a promotion. Full stop."
I call this anchoring, establishing a simple, physical, factual connection with present reality. Try it for yourself, right now. Look around you. Listen. Touch your hair, the floor, this page. Whatever happened ten years ago, whatever happened ten minutes ago, is not your present concern. Neither is what will happen in another ten years, another ten minutes. This moment is all you have to worry about. Narrowing your attention to this point is your reconnection with solid ground.
We Hear You!