When the bag of microwave popcorn burned at my daughter’s school and the fire alarms went off her anxiety about fires began. It’s a loud noise and they’d never held a fire drill before, so she didn’t know what was going on or what to expect. She began crying in the morning before school; was afraid to go to the bathroom while at school in case the alarm went off and she was alone in there.
We brought her to therapy for a number of months and she and the therapist worked through the worst of her anxiety. We did nurturing, connecting activities and she and the therapist explored the content of her worries. But though it got a lot better, the fear of fires has stuck around and arises here and there. Through helping her work through this and the other 9-year-old fears that arise for her, I’ve realized a valuable tool I use as a therapist with my adult clients that I think most parents should know:
In the quest towards spiritual and personal growth, I have one entreaty: Resist the urge for sanitizing. Resist the desire to achieve airbrushed perfection status. Just say “No” to exquisitely arranged living rooms and Martha Stewart-esque fruit tarts and children’s gorgeous birthday parties.
You are human. Messy, dimpled, tender and jealous. Your car is filled with empty yogurt containers or crumpled tissues. You had a spat with your husband this morning and your library books are two days overdue. Your children drool on their pillows while they dream their sweet, soft dreams. Your thighs jiggle.
It’s too easy to get off track on the path towards your dreams and goals if you forget that humanness will make tangents, roadblocks, and delays inherent in the process. Humanness is not a state to surmount, but one to embrace.
In the insidious sanitization of life in the media, we can forget how wonderfully sticky life is. (Click for more dear reader!)
I just finished Aziz Ansari’s book Modern Romance and I highly recommend it. Aziz Ansari is a comedian and the main character of his show, Master of None, which is hilarious. He wrote the book to explore why dating in this culture at this time basically sucks. I won’t go into the whole book, but I’m going to focus on a concept he discusses in the middle of the book: maximizers and satisficers.
Maximizers are folks who want to be as sure as possible that they are making the right purchases and choices. They are the folks who research every taco place in NYC before picking one so that they can make sure to go to “the best.” They are the folks who go to 42 open houses and are in the real estate market for 3 years before they put in an offer on a home.
Satisficers might do a little research, but they pick more quickly and are less interested in finding “the best.” They might not mind buying the first jacket they see in the store if they like it or renting the first apartment they go look at if it seems to basically meet their criteria.
Most of us are some combo of maximizer and satisficer. But in our affluent Western society, more and more of us are maximizers in more and more areas. And here’s the clincher: research shows that even when a maximizer ends up with a purchase (or partner or experience) that is “better” than that of a satisficer, THE SATISFICER IS HAPPIER.
Even if you pick the BEST TACO PLACE in the world after an hour of research, you won’t enjoy it as much as the person who picked the 2nd taco place they saw on the street that looked good and smelled great.
WHY?!? And why are we all becoming maximizers?
With greater choice, comes higher expectation and more comparison. With more comparison comes the possibility that somewhere out there, there is an even better choice. And with the possibility that your choice is less than ideal, there is dissatisfaction and SELF-BLAME.
As Barry Schwartz, the author of Paradox of Choice, states, “The secret to happiness is lower expectations.”
Now obviously, there are some serious benefits to choice and to having options. No argument there. But there’s a spectrum between no choice and too much choice and we’re leaning out on the extremity of that spectrum, goggly eyed and freaking out over the 175 different kinds of salad dressing and 72 different cell phones we have to decide between.
So. This holiday season, when we are all barraged with messages trying to tempt us into buying the best gift, making the best cookie, hosting the best party, wearing the best outfit…try this on for size:
Aim for average. Embrace “good enough.” Revel in so-so.
Let’s all put on our satisficer hats and enjoy the sh$%&t out of what we’ve got. Right here, right now.
P.S. watch Barry Schwartz’s tedtalk: The Paradox of Choice
Dear Blog Friends,
Recently my site was messed around with by hackers but now it’s fixed. The mess affected the site statistics so any clicks on my site are greatly appreciated right now.
Today is Yom Kippur…the Jewish holiday where we set the intention to make better choices and be more kind in the New Year, and where we ask for forgiveness from those we’ve hurt–even animals and our lovely planet Earth.
We ask to be “inscribed in the book of life” for a sweet, healthy, New Year and I wish the same for all of you.
A new blog post on aging is coming soon!
It’s so hard for us–being animals with overgrown brains. All of the biological systems on which we depend–our bodies–can’t help but respond as animals do. Our bodies are on the look-out to see if we’re safe, if we’re going to get enough of what we need…and we can’t help but subscribe so much significance to our lives. Our lives ARE significant–to us at least–to others who love us–but what do we do when our tribe, our village, our family, our cities don’t meet our needs?
We are animals, longing to be nestled in the dark den. Surrounded by brothers and sisters. Eating and playing. Living and growing. These are the deepest longings of our cells. If, when we’re young, we experience some lack–of safety, of food, of nurturing–we carry that through our lives searching for the pack that will give us what we never got and so desperately needed.
It may be your journey to find healing from the wounds of the family who wasn’t able to give you what they probably never had themselves. But there is a hitch. In my practice–I see people who turn again and again to those wounded families hoping for healing. Hoping for a chance to get the love and acceptance from their mothers and fathers which they didn’t get as children. But most often, unless those family members have also been on a path of growing and healing my clients are disappointed. The mother still doesn’t stand up for her daughter, the father is still critical of his son.
What do you do when you need to heal but your family won’t give you what you need? Won’t apologize? Doesn’t even see your pain? Still believes the judgments you’ve come to internalize?
Here are some steps for moving forward:
1. Turn towards your inner child: For all the cheese of the term–it’s true. The parts of yourself that are longing for healing need attention and if your family can’t or won’t give it to you, you have to give it to yourself. Think of a young child or animal in your life whom you nurture and send that same kind of protection, empathy, and kindness to the young You.
2. Write a letter which you won’t send (unless you want to): Even if your family won’t listen and won’t understand–you need to express your disappointment, anger, righteousness, passion. Center yourself before writing this. Consider burning it ritually and sending the ashes into the ocean or some body of water…
3. Find relationships which support a new kind of family: Find friends, teachers, therapists who nurture, love, and accept you for who you are. Who communicate with you in kindness and authenticity.
4. Challenge yourself (in a kind way) to understand your own family’s wounding: It’s easy to play the internal tape of “If I was only X enough they would have loved me more (or criticized me less or whatever).” No. It’s not you. It was their job to raise you. They were your family. You ended up playing a role in the general dynamic, but it’s a parent (or guardian’s) job to keep their children safe and to nurture them. But they could only give what they had themselves. They could only teach what they understood themselves. It doesn’t make pain or abuse or neglect okay, but it is the truth about why it happens. It can be freeing to see how stuck they are and to see if you can forgive or understand how they came to be who they are.
5. Catch yourself trying to get what you need from them if your Wise Self wants to let that go: The ego part of you (or the inner child) tends to think that their love and approval are necessary. It’s certainly a beautiful thing to get that love and approval, but if it ain’t gonna happen, it’s going to prolong the pain. This often comes in the form of unrealistic expectations for “this get-together to be different” or “this time they’ll listen and respect what I say.” Check yourself for realistic expectations.
6. Allow the feelings of pain and disappointment to be there, and then move forward into your own beautiful life with tenderness–hug the folks who are ready to hug you, and know that you are a whole, lovable person by virtue of being alive.