It’s very often said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. And while this threadbare cliché is hardly correct, it does have some merit in the reminder that beating one’s head against a wall might very well lead to brain damage, which could be sadly mistaken for insanity.
We are all guilty of such folly from time to time, beating our heads against the wall, that is. I’ve noticed that most often this behavior is a misguided interpretation of the old adage “Hope springs eternal” and usually plays out in the context of relationships. This reaction is particularly prevalent this time of year… I suppose we have Hallmark and Hollywood to thank for releasing all manner of sappy happy-ending movies around Christmastime, lulling otherwise intelligent individuals to somehow think “this year will be different.”
The delusion goes something like this. Even though Dad (Uncle Charlie, cousin Octavia, pick your relative) has gotten snot-faced stinking drunk every Christmas in memory, we still hold out hope that he will be miraculously sober and meticulously polite this year. My mother-in-law has never said “I love you” to her only daughter, but Tina keeps her hopes up nonetheless and feels constant rejection at her mother’s hostility toward her, no matter how much she does for her mom. And my friend, JoAnn, whose borderline brother has never responded to an invitation to Christmas dinner, will once again set a place for him at her table and be disappointed when he doesn’t show.
Don’t get me wrong…it’s not that I believe that people can’t change. As a Life Coach, I’m in the transformation business and I’ve been witness to plenty of remarkable paradigm shifts. But allowing ourselves the luxury of being hurt or angry when a relative does what he’s always done is akin to drinking poison and expecting the other person to die. Pinning our happiness on the lapel of someone else’s actions is the rocky road to disappointment. In the end, we are each ultimately responsible for our own happiness, and while we can clearly choose to be miserable in the presence of another, we alone choose how to feel and how to react in every scene that plays out in the story of our lives.
A number of years ago, the wisdom of my higher self declared thus: Pain resides in the gap between expectation and reality. I made a conscious decision to not let what someone else did or didn’t do or say mean something negative about me. I got out my shovel and start filling in that gap, and life became markedly better, joyous even. The realization that people are going to be who they are going to be and that their behavior has nothing to do with me was an empowering AHA! moment. I am now reminded when the ground around me settles and that old gap begins to appear, as it is wont to do, to get shoveling again. What about you? Are there people in your life who disturb your equilibrium or ruin your holiday? Shovel or pain? What will you choose? I hear they’re having a sale on shovels at Ace Hardware.