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I sometimes know what clients will say before the words are out of their mouths. This happened with my client Antoinette. After doing well in many ways, she succumbed to an urge to binge which led to a “medical” diet, weight loss, and rebound eating. After discussing what she’d learned, she lamented, “But, I’m fat again. It’s the truth.”
The phrase, “but it’s the truth” is the one I want to call your attention to as I did to her. I believed her. It was the truth: she had regained a portion of the weight she’d lost and now her clothes were tight again. I couldn’t argue with her, but—here’s the point—since when does something being true mean we need to dwell on and obsess about it?
I reminded her it also was no lie that there’s a horrible war going on in Ukraine; poverty, guns and COVID continue to kill people; and the polar ice caps are melting at an alarming rate from human-induced climate change. I asked if there was anything else true for us to feel awful about and she added the maltreatment of Greyhounds in Spain while I threw in how women are being abused in Afghanistan.
We could have gone on and on, but she got the point. There are always terrible, sadly true things going on in the world which can generate distress, rage and helplessness. Every minute of every day we’re getting older and watching the people we love inch closer to when their time is up. But if we dwell on these things, we’ll surely go mad.
Something being true should not be the arbiter of holding our attention. Of course, we want to recognize pain others suffer and perhaps even dwell on it long enough to try to do something, such as help out in some way to relieve it. When we feel others’ pain, we empathize. When we feel our own pain, we offer compassion.
But if the point of empathy when someone is suffering is to do something about it, what about when we can’t? In that case, ongoing suffering in the face of powerlessness only makes us feel awful. It’s causing ourselves pain and that’s called masochism.
The way out is to empathize, do what we can to help others, then refocus on positive things happening in the world which are equally true. We can be grateful for things going our way, for the amazing acts of love and kindness people show each other, for temperate weather and cash in our pockets. So, don’t dwell on negative things because you think you must because they’re true. Think about them in order to change them, then focus on new habits. And while you’re changing, keep in mind all the lovely things that are also true to boost your spirits as you move forward.
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