How Hurricane Harvey Brought Out the Best from Within Us

“Hard times don’t create heroes. It is during the hard times when the ‘hero’ within us is revealed.” –Bob Riley

Photo Credit: David J. Phillip, AP

The news reports from Texas this week have been heartbreaking.  Hurricane Harvey has left behind devastation and despair.  But, watching the reports has also been inspiring.  People have traveled from across the country to help in any way they can.  People and businesses have made generous donations to provide resources to those in need.  There have been many stories of heroism and people who have risked their lives to help complete strangers.  It is during times like this that our true nature shines through.

When I think of us as people, I envision that we all have an authentic spark within. Religions call this the soul.  It is the part of us that is our core essence.  At this authentic place within, we are loving, caring, altruistic people.  All people have this authentic self within, but I envision it being surrounded by the ego.  The greed, fear, anger and violence that is demonstrated daily in many different ways is part of the ego.  When the ego is in control it chokes off access to our authentic self and we forget who we are.  It is like the bushel hiding the light within.  In the moments when we see people, who we call heroes, risking their lives to help others, it is a demonstration of breaking through the shell of the ego to act from the authentic self.  These heroes are able to put fear aside and help because they are in alignment with their true nature, their authentic self, their soul.  They become focused on helping and giving instead of the ego based worry.  When we see people who are acting from their authentic self, we are inspired and reminded that we can all be heroes in our own way.  They call us to shine our own authentic spark brightly.  We can all be heroes in a difficult time and no matter where you are right now, there are difficult situations that need heroes.  Fred Rogers sums this up beautifully.    Please watch:   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-LGHtc_D328  

Forgiveness Does NOT Equal Condoning

“Forgiveness says you are given another chance to make a new beginning.” –Desmond Tutu

We are often told to ‘forgive and forget.’  I don’t believe these two words should ever go together.  Forgiveness does not mean forgetting what happened.  Whatever happened did happen and we do not have a magic eraser to clean it from our mind.  We remember what we did or what someone did to us and forgetting the event simply, does not happen.  The work of forgiveness is challenging.  There are many layers to it.  I often hear people say that they have forgiven themselves or someone else, but if there is still something about the situation that continues to bother us, the work is not complete.  I once heard someone say that there were some people who were not safe to walk the streets of her mind.  Whenever she thought of ‘that person’ or what they did she would attack them.  I love that visual and whether it is someone we are rehashing an argument with or beating ourselves up for something we did, as soon as the thought occurs, our brains go into attack mode.

Forgiveness is something we do to release the anger we are holding.  This is for both self-forgiveness and the forgiveness of others.  The Buddha compared holding onto anger, to holding a hot coal with the intent to throw it at someone.  The problem is that while you are holding the hot coal you are the one who is getting burned.  We need to drop the coal, because we are only hurting ourselves.  Releasing the anger does not mean saying that what happened was okay.  It does not mean that we condone whatever happened.  What it does mean is that we can move forward.  We have not yet developed the time machine, so none of us can go back to change the event.  We can decide to release the anger over the event though and that is powerful.  Choosing to forgive is to accept our own and other’s imperfections.  It is to acknowledge that what was said or done was painful, but we don’t need to carry the pain indefinitely.  It is a choice to say that we have suffered enough and we are ready to forgive.  It is a personal choice that can have a profound effect.  Who are you ready to forgive?

It’s okay to say ‘no.’ Choose when to say ‘yes.’

“All the mistakes I ever made were when I wanted to say ‘No’ and said ‘Yes.'” — Moss Hart

“But, if I say ‘no’ they won’t like me!” Julie recently told me.  We discussed what makes it hard for her to say ‘no.’  She told me it is her responsibility to put everyone else’s needs before hers.  I asked if she feels the need to please others before taking care of herself may have anything to do with the current addiction she is suffering from. She noted that she hadn’t thought about it before.

The need to please others is something that is common, especially in females.  While there are many reasons why clients have a hard time saying ‘no,’ one of the most common reasons I hear is that they believe friendship is based on doing things for other people.  There is a belief that the friendship isn’t really about being with a person, but is more a way to get needs met. They look for people that can give them what they need and then do favors for them, expecting to get their own needs met.  For people who don’t drive, they may befriend a person with a vehicle.  They start doing favors and giving the person things so that they can get the ride when they need it.  This ‘banking of favors’ does not usually end well.  Often, when they have a need and expect the favor in return, it is met with rejection.  Since they have based the friendship on balancing of needs, when they are let down by someone they end the friendship and go looking for someone else who will be able to meet their needs.  This becomes a perpetual problem.

Another reason is that they feel their needs are secondary to other people.  They justify how their children’s or spouse’s needs are more important than theirs.  Minimizing their own needs leads to resentment.  When they do express a need and it is rejected there is a reinforcement that their needs are not important enough to be met.  One of the things I discuss is how in a healthy family system, everyone’s needs are equal.  There can be negotiation and compromise, but denial of anyone’s needs is never acceptable.  When someone has sacrificed their needs for the family it is often difficult to start saying ‘no.’  One of the things I discuss is starting to set better boundaries with other people.  Boundaries are not cutting people off, but are new agreements that can get made between two people.  It is respecting the new agreement so that everyone’s needs are met.

When I worked with Julie, one the things I had her work on was to set a goal to make at least one person mad each day.  If she made more than one person mad in a day that was a bonus!  I asked her to consciously choose whether she wanted to say ‘yes’ or ‘no.’  It took a lot of courage for her to start saying ‘no.’  She told me that after I gave her this challenge, she got a call from her brother asking her to babysit her niece.  She told me she had other plans, but before would have rearranged her plans.  She got up the courage to say ‘no,’ fully expecting him to be mad at her.  She discussed how surprised she was that he just said, ‘okay.’  It was empowering for her to realize that he still liked her!

Setting boundaries and choosing ‘yes’ or ‘no’ is a gift to yourself.  Other people will respect you more when you negotiate agreements to get everyone’s needs met.  Don’t be afraid to say ‘no.’  People will still like you!