Comebacks Part 3: It All Comes With You

Have you gone through a rough period in life and looked back, wondering how you made it? When you’re at that stage you are through the most difficult period. It takes perspective to see that a hard time has passed and you are on the other side.

Feeling back to normal does not mean that you are “ok” with your tragedy or unfortunate situation. Nor does it mean that you need to be grateful for enduring it — even if you can point to positive outcomes following it. In fact, even though a better life can be the outcome after a difficult period, I strongly believe that nobody deserves to have gone through something painful in order to be happier.  For example, leaving behind an abusive relationship for an eventual happy marriage is a “happy ending.” But I believe that everyone deserves a happy partnership without having to suffer.

This is the last chapter I’m writing about Comebacks. What do the end stages of a Comeback look like? You have begun to rebuild, and now you must let some things go. Now is the time to notice that you can be yourself without feeling like a fake. Now is the time to let yourself enjoy things you used to enjoy without any guilt. How do you do this?

It is important to recognize that your life will always be about holding feelings and experiences that seem conflicting — forever. As a client once said, “I wish the divorce hadn’t happened, but I wouldn’t change a thing.” This is a more complicated idea than it seems. You can always mourn the loss of someone or something. You will always miss this person, this part of your health, this experience. AND (not “BUT!”) you can feel optimistic about the future, see the ways your experience has humbled you. You will take comfort in your rituals of remembrance and grief as well as pleasure from what your life is about today.

You will know that you are nearing the end of your comeback when feeling happy and like yourself feels like a relief. It won’t feel guilt-inducing or scary to feel normal. It may take longer than you hope. But remember that you will always hold both ideas — “I wish this hadn’t happened” and “I like my life as it is now”.

Please read Comebacks Part One and Part Two to get the full picture.

Jealousy and Envy: An Invitation To Focus On Your Own Life

Jealousy and envy are raw, primal emotions. They can turn people inside out and make monsters out of mild-mannered people.

What’s the difference between jealousy and envy? Jealousy is when you are worried about being replaced by someone else. It makes someone feel watchful, paranoid, or suspicious.

Envy is about bearing a grudge or bad feelings towards someone because you covet what they have. In a milder sense, you can also envy someone without bad feelings towards them — you just simply envy something they enjoy or possess in a more passive way. So envy is wanting what someone else has. Jealousy is fear of being replaced by someone else (think relationships).

While mild feelings of envy or jealousy are normal from time to time, I don’t know many people who enjoy the effects they have. Both emotions bring up feelings of emptiness. It is very dispiriting to think that you or your life is not good enough. It is unsettling to worry about being replaced by someone. There are deeper reasons why some people are more prone to feeling this way, and we examine those in therapy. But to kick the basic feelings of envy and jealousy, I suggest:

  • Get busy with your own life. Find a project, hobby, or mission to dedicate yourself to. This will help your feelings of self-worth, get you distracted from ruminating, and help you build more of what you want and focus less on what you don’t have.
  • Make friends with the enemy directly. Jealousy, like anxiety, is often made worse by assumptions we make. Get to know the guy (or girl) who concerns you. Address your concerns directly with your partner (or boss, or friend…whomever you are worried about losing). Don’t let your paranoid mind run amok - go see for yourself.
  • Remind yourself that you are only seeing part of the picture. Don’t let chipper Facebook posts or glossy magazines trick you into thinking this is the whole story! We present the best parts of ourselves to others and skip the rest. The relationship you idealize, the home, even the daily activities contain plenty of drudgery and chores.

If you are often besieged by jealousy when in a relationship, or feel especially prone to comparisons with others lives, seek a few sessions of counseling to better understand why. You can fix this problem at the root level and keep it from destroying your relationships and quality of life.

Why Do You Procrastinate?

Procrastination is an interesting topic to work with in therapy. A client is usually quite self-aware when they seek therapy for procrastination. They have tried many different tools to try to keep themselves “in line,” “on task,” or focused. Sometimes they are genuinely confused as to where their time goes, or why they find themselves drifting to email or random web searches.

True, we are usually aware of when we are procrastinating. My college bedroom was completely clean every time I sat down to write a paper. I’ll do almost anything to avoid folding laundry or emptying the dishwasher. And these are fairly unimportant tasks without much repercussion. What happens when you are self-employed and need to be entirely internally motivated?

First consider a few reasons why you might be procrastinating, and see if any of the solutions might work for you:

You haven’t clearly defined what you’re doing. Do you avoid an item on your to-do list even though it’s been there for days or weeks? Try to break it down only to the very next step. For example, “get in shape” becomes “pack running shoes for work”. “Write econ paper” becomes “write down specific terms to query or articles to read.” “Fix bathtub” becomes “Look at Yelp and choose a plumber to call.”

You have no idea what you hope to accomplish when you begin. We usually procrastinate until we have just enough time to not attend to the undesirable task. Try estimating the amount of time for that first task that you’ve just defined. For example, I had a client once who routinely avoided doing the dishes until one time he decided to time it. Knowing that it took him 12 minutes start to finish even with a full sink made the task doable.

You have magical thinking. There is that little voice inside all of us that says, “You don’t really need to do that now. Just watch another episode on TV and then you can start it.” This voice will convince you that almost anything is possible in the future and that now is not the time. Try coming up with some challenges to this voice in advance. (Some people keep them on post-its on their computer; I also teach cognitive thought charts to control this voice once and for all). What can you say back to this voice that is determined to sabotage your time line, business goals, and final paper? Tell it to go away.

You are overworked. Your procrastination might be necessary down time that you are not allowing yourself! It is very difficult and possibly even inefficient to concentrate at a high level for more than 90 minutes. Many high achievers like college students and the self-employed think more is better. When you don’t build in some allowed diddling time, or make plans to leave your desk and meet a friend, your brain tries to make this happen and procrastination is one of its tools. Try allowing yourself some down time and scheduled breaks and see if it isn’t easier to focus afterwards.

For procrastination that doesn’t improve with dedicated techniques, you might consider looking at the symptoms of Attention Deficit Disorder, which affects adults too.