For an audio version of this blog post, please click below:
“You should be going for a run around the block each morning.”
“You’re doing nothing to help yourself.”
“You should be doing boot camp.”
“But isn’t it just in your head?”
“You need to get back up on the horse and get going.”
“You’re so limited in what you can do.”
“You don’t need to be taking that medication, do you know it’s not a lolly?”
“We need to toughen you up.”
“It’s a shame you were a dampener on the night.”
“I thought you’d be better by now.”
“Get up and walk out the front door like a normal person.”
Opinions. That’s all these are. And whilst being on the receiving end of each of these certainly hasn’t been my ideal as I’ve journeyed through chronic illness, I can’t deny that they have absolutely been rewarding lessons in disguise. I now have to be feeling pretty bloody sorry for myself to be knocked down by the hurl of an unhelpful opinion, however the turnaround to discovering this strength certainly wasn’t speedy. It’s also a forever work in progress, so I thought I’d share how I keep that in check.
First of all, I make sure I only take these scenarios for what they are. I do this by reframing the opinion as a ‘verbal offering’. Whilst it is something I can’t unhear or necessarily sensor, it is not something I must accept unless I actively choose to do so. Take for example the situation where we are offered a food or beverage that isn’t to our taste; generally speaking, we politely decline and give it no further thought or energy. Imagine we did the same with an equally unenjoyable and distasteful opinion! How much time and energy would we save?
The noise that another may ‘verbally offer’ is only guaranteed a life when we decide that should be so.
When I do engage and allow an unhelpful offering to filter into my mind, it is easy to become my own worst enemy; despise myself, and forget the kindness and love my recovery thrives on. In contrast, when I am the conscious gatekeeper to the flourishing mind garden that I have grown and tended to, I don’t attach, react, or embody these words, and no detriment is felt, only pride in the knowledge of who I am and the values I stand by.
It was a rapid realisation for me that my confidence, self-assurance, and mindset are everything in recovery. Given that, one of the most powerful things I can remember is that no one else is me. No one else lives with my body, and no one else is living my experience. It’s therefore impossible for them to know what is infinitely right for me.
Then, to take this a step further, I reflect on the character and lifestyle led by the person who has gifted me their verbal offering. By reflection of their own life or qualifications, are they an expert in the area they are choosing to advise me on? Do they exude kindness, love, generosity, wisdom, or intellect? Are they themselves a picture of progressive happiness, health, and success? This is often where I am able to see the lightness (and sometimes humor) of their offering and it begins to wash away.
My chiropractor couldn’t put this idea any better when he talks of people “should-ing” on him – “you should do this”, “you should try that” – but the question of highest importance is: “actually, should I?” because we ourselves are the only ones who know and can answer with certainty.
When the offerings or opinions of others clash with my personal values, I choose (to the best that I can) to take that sting, judgment or misalignment, and utilise it as a beautiful confirmation and reminder that I am in fact already on the right track.
I use it as a trigger to stop and check in against my current priorities, to be appreciated for that, and then to be smiled at and let go.
I also seem to find – not always, but often – that the type of person who has such an outward focus that is required to make the more ‘bold’ versions of these offerings, is often not the best placed for an open mind and factual discussion around their ideas anyway. Their investment may be in assuring that their voice has been heard, and that their way is the only or best way. When this is the case, I am able to identify and bring awareness to such a characteristic, which is neither enjoyable nor valuable. It brings priceless perspective as to the whether the offering measures in worth. I can then choose compassion or amusement, rather than engaging in an ugly flare of egos.
At this point, it’s probably worth mentioning that sure, it would be easier to tell ourselves that those with the unhelpful opinion should try and be more empathetic, should stay silent if they have nothing supportive to say, or that perhaps they should deal with that village sized ego they’re carrying around. And I can understand that, because it’s also where my mindset started. The question I would ask is this: how effective is that in dissolving the distaste and disharmony we feel from their presence? Is it working out for us? Or do we find ourselves wound even tighter in an internal battle of our mind as to why they ‘should’ or ‘shouldn’t’ behave in that way? And in ‘should-ing’ on them, haven’t we just taken ourselves to their level?
I’ve learned very well that if I live my life from a place of anticipating that others will agree with my values or situation, I’m actually setting myself up for almost guaranteed disappointment – and who in their right mind would do that?! The best version of myself today truly has no expectations of anyone who comes into my life to understand my values. Because of that, I am absolutely thrilled and humbled when they find it in themselves or their past experiences to do so. It’s genuinely like a little lottery win! This doesn’t mean I’m not a meticulous gatekeeper as to who I interact, give and receive my energy with – I absolutely have standards around that – just no demands for anyone to meet them and most importantly, a willingness to let go of anyone who is unable.
So, these are the techniques I use to maximize the power of my mindset, but how do I verbally offer in return? I know it’s my responsibility to see the irrelevance of the offering, acknowledge any well meaning, and to gracefully receive and simultaneously dissolve it. I also judge a situation as to how firm I feel I need to be with the perpetrating ‘should-er’. It might be as simple as saying “you could be right, thanks for sharing that with me” or “that’s really interesting, thanks so much for raising it”. However if someone is relentless with their ‘should-ing’ I generally respond by saying “thanks so much for thinking of me, however it doesn’t feel right for me and I’d appreciate it if you could respect that”. Whether they choose to be offended by my honest opinion and clear communication is their own business. After all, I’m only politely returning their exchange. I especially believe this when it surrounds chronic illness; safely conversations that us spoonies are extremely well informed upon and can be exhausting in nature.
Simply put, when the words of another sting, judge, or misalign – question their value and integrity before taking them on as your own. Be sure not to crumble, doubt, or lack confidence under words that hold no truth in your heart.
Stand strong and reaffirm your own right. Back yourself. Find the gratitude and lesson in the unhelpful opinion, and then dissolve it with an even deeper knowing of who you are, and why you’re freaking amazing, because you are!