RLS #1: Life Is Messy

RLS #1: Life Is Messy

Following the post on becoming our own main anchors (an important thing for our teens to learn — helps with autonomy, happiness, and health), let’s start talking about some real life skills on the road to anchoring.

Real Life Skill #1: Get head (and heart) in line with knowing life is messy — for everyone.

Oh boy, it can be easy to think we’re doing something wrong when life feels messy and goes in directions we don’t expect (or that seem “bad”). Especially in this time of social media highlight reels and photo-shopped “perfection” in magazines, TV, and elsewhere, it can be hard not to fall into the trap of thinking everyone else is doing great and has it all together, and that we’re the only ones making mistakes. And once we start counting all of the ways we’re doing things “wrong,” we might fall into thinking we ourselves are wrong and not measuring up (and maybe even broken, bad, and failing).

Beginning at the end of high school and into college (and then the next years out of college), I stumbled in and out of depression, eating disorders, and other struggles, becoming more and more convinced everyone else had it together and I was the only mess. Until I could pull myself together and get “there” (that land where I’d have my shit together and everything would always be easy, I’d never experience any doubts and fears, make any mistakes, or do anything less than perfect), I was failing, never enough, broken, and needing to be fixed. Life seemed to get worse and worse. No matter how hard I tried to “fix” where I thought I’d gone wrong, nothing seemed to make a difference. (And each time I figured I was an even greater failure, as I’d failed at something yet again.)

This place of thinking everyone else has it all together, all of the time, and that we just need to get “there” and then everything will work out, though until we do, we are bad, wrong, and failing — this is a sticky place and mindset to be. When in this rut, telling ourselves and feeling like we’re broken and failing, we’re likely to keep seeing more and more ways we’re not measuring up.

It’s hard to see up and over the edge, let alone start making any sort of changes from here. The kicker is that if we actually want to make something different happen, we’ll need to shift our mindset and thoughts. If all we’re thinking about is how much we don’t measure up, that’s what we’ll keep seeing.

When watching our teens struggle, it can be tempting to want to repeatedly reassure them that they aren’t a failure and are doing fine, to try to get them to recite some positive affirmations/self love-type messages, or to try and reward them for any and all accomplishments. And such reassurances and/or rewards may be helpful in the moment. However, they don’t ultimately address the underlying feeling of not being enough and failing when seemingly everyone else has it all together, of feeling like no one else is making mistakes and they are the only ones.

When I was struggling, while outside acknowledgment felt good, it was never enough and I could never get enough of it to sustainably feel better (and sometimes I’d feel even worse because after receiving something from the outside, I’d then worry what would happen if/when I next made a mistake). Likewise, trying to tell myself that I was “fine, enough, and perfect as is” felt phony and unhelpful — and then I’d feel worse about myself because clearly, I couldn’t even do a positive affirmation right!

The changing point for me came after almost a decade of stumbling through and trying to find a way to fix myself, though never seeming to make much progress: I began to notice that others experienced struggles too.

I remember coming across the blog and books of Glennon Doyle and learning about her struggles with bulimia, alcohol, and other addictions. Reading her words, I found myself overcome with relief. Here was someone publicly admitting to and discussing similar types of struggles! And then in the comments of her posts? Person after person relating similar experiences! Holy smokes — maybe I wasn’t alone or broken (or everyone was broken in some way).

For the first time, I began to consider that maybe, just maybe, life was messier than I’d been thinking it was supposed to be. Maybe we all experienced messy times and shit show moments. Perhaps it didn’t mean I was broken and needing to be fixed. Maybe it meant that I was human and doing okay on the most fundamental level. Sure, I’d made mistakes (and would make mistakes in the future). However, I wasn’t broken or bad or a failure. I was a human being, doing my best in the situation, and so was everyone else.

Life was messy — for everyone.

Something about looking at myself, others, and my life experience in this mindset felt different. It wasn’t that I’d missed something everyone else had gotten, nor were mistakes and failures glossed over. This hit on a deeper level: life was messy and we all made mistakes. Yes, perhaps there were things we’d need to change or remedy. However, on the most basic level, we were all human and doing okay. We weren’t failing at life. Messes were going to happen — and life would go on.

It was this shift in thinking and mindset when things actually began to change — because it was a different cycle of thoughts, a different perspective.

No, everything wasn’t suddenly perfect (I was beginning to get there was no “there”). However, what it did was something better — it helped me start recovering faster when I get out of whack and spend less time in the rut. (Because the magic happens when we see that it’s about not making any mistakes (because we all will). It’s about recovering from them more quickly, shortening the time we’re down and out.)

This real life skill was a first big step up and out the pit, where I was able to stay out. And it was something I could do for myself.

Real Life Skill #1: Get head (and heart) in line with knowing life is messy — for everyone.

In the next post, we’ll look at how to help our teens grasp and apply this skill in regular daily life.

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