“Goodness and Karma Bat Last” – Anne Lamott
I will be honest. I’m writing this post to process and hopefully connect with others who are struggling with the notion of why bad things happen to good people. This theme continues to be repeated throughout my personal life, with family and friends, work, and even in the world at large with government, natural disasters, and just plain the problem of evil.
In therapy, clients struggle with the meaning of it all. Too many times I have no answer. I feel inept and want to comfort them and tell them it will turn out for the best in the end, but REALLY will it? Why is it that good people often suffer and the unscrupulous seem to get ahead?
I’ve often heard that situations repeatedly present themselves in your life until you have learned the learned the lesson you are supposed to heed.
I attempt to take comfort in this notion, but it’s very HARD when you are in the midst of soul-crushing despair, anxiety, or depression. It’s very HARD when you have to bury a child or when you are struggling to put food on the table because your plant has closed or the government has shut down.
The whole notion that horribleness is occurring for your own good can make one feel very cynical and often leads to self blame.
So, as therapists and people, where does that leave us? Do we just teach reframing- to look on the bright side and go on? Or is something else needed?
I DO know when things have been at their bleakest in my life, someone telling me to look at the positives has NOT made me feel better. If anything, it usually makes the crushing despair worse. If I am not able to do what I “should” and put on my rose-colored glasses, I have guilt and shame creep into my soul.
So, again I ask: What do we do when we constantly sit with the underbelly of life with our clients and then struggle with this in our own lives as well?
How do we stay sane knowing that sometimes bad things do happen to good people and it’s not fair? As I tell all of my clients, I do have degrees and years of experience, but I am not God and unfortunately do not have a crystal ball. I don’t know it will all work out for the best. Some things just suck and will suck the life out of you.
While I don’t have all the answers or a magic wand, I can offer what has worked for me and for my clients.
I am offering 4 ways we as therapists, and humans, can hold and experience the ugliness of life without resorting to platitudes or despair.
1. Be nice to yourself.
Seems simple. I usually think I’m way more awesome than anyone else. But, in tough times, it’s hard to even think about being nice to anyone, much less ourselves. I try to think of what I would say to a beautiful, new child. Most likely it’s nothing NEAR how I talk to myself. In fact, I’d probably call protective services if someone was treating a child the way I treat me. In times of crisis, take it easy on yourself.
2. Connect to the spiritual.
Even if you and God (or Gaia, etc) are having a lover’s quarrel, stonewalling will cut off any relationship fast. Even if you don’t FEEL like He or She is out there and cares, act “as if” for a bit and see what happens. To use the old AA adage, “fake it til you make it” and just see what happens. We take refuge in times of crisis in rituals. Don’t forget this- do the ritual even if you don’t feel like it. Your body needs it and ultimately you need it.
“Action is the antidote to despair.” -Joan Baez
3. Be in the flow.
Remember what made you really happy as a young child? Do that. For me, this was being immersed in a good book or laughing so hard I couldn’t breathe. Anything where you become so involved in what you are doing that you forget time is the key. When things are closing in, it seems that nothing will ever be better. It will though. You will wake up tomorrow. Being in the flow helps some of that time pass less painfully until we get to the part where we can breathe.
“Follow your bliss and the universe will open doors where there were only walls.” -Joseph Campbell
4. Have a person who will just sit with you while things are horrible.
While it’s our instinct as humans to provide solace when others are hurting, sometimes using words does not even begin to do justice to the amount of pain being experienced. Small words are just that- small- in comparison to gigantic hurts. For therapists, using experiential exercises, such as sandtray therapy or Gestalt techniques often help clients move in and through the pain that is simply too primal and strong for the weak medium of words.
“Often the hands know solve a riddle which the intellect has wrestled in vain” -Carl Jung
Walking through a dark path in the woods is
frightening, but it’s less scary if someone is there to
hold your hand.
So the moral of the story is this: There is no moral right now, but there will be one day. Getting through the fog of despair, loneliness, or grief is hard. Take care of yourself, do things that make you happy, connect to your Deity, and most importantly, have at least one person who will just sit with you and hold your hands, heart, and soul until you can breathe again.
I’ve shared some of my story with you. I’d love to hear your thoughts and feelings. What gives you strength? How can you help others when they are going through the dark nights?