More than a year ago, I met Valerie, age 19, and learned that she had tried to kill herself several times. Her anger was explosive and triggered in an instant by a wide variety of events, real and imagined. She was an emotional disaster, incapable of functioning at school, at work, or in her family.
She came with her parents to Georgia for an intervention, and when she first sat on the couch—to be accurate, she flopped down in a petulant demonstration of defiance—opposite the rocking chair I occupied, she folded her arms tightly across her chest and said, "I don't have to do crap." Her language was actually more colorful than I just described.
As calm as a summer breeze, and with a facial expression congruent with having just awakened from a fulfilling nap, I said, "Nope, you really don't."
Valerie's level of defiance diminished by at least half, and an element of uncertainty crept over her face. It was obvious that her rebelliousness had always successfully provoked some kind of disturbed emotional response from adults.
I rocked gently for several moments before saying, "You're right. You don't have to do anything while you're here. Not a thing. In fact, you can go back home right now, but if you'd like, I can tell you a secret."
She was hooked. "Like what?" she asked, the petulance decreasing steadily.
"I know how to be happy. Really happy. You don't. If you'd like—and only if you really want it—I'd be willing to tell you how you can learn to be happy too."
During a fairy tale three days together, Valerie listened, learned, melted, wept, smiled, laughed, soaked in the love, and began to discover what it might be like to live without emptiness, fear, and anger, which were all she had ever known. She continued to apply herself to Real Love principles and is now training to become a Real Love coach.
The other day, she wrote to me: "I've been watching myself for the past few weeks, and it's like I'm watching somebody else. I am becoming SO social. I mean, not compared to the social butterflies you see from time to time, but wayyy more than I ever expected. I can't stop talking to people . . . and listening to them. And the really surprising thing is that I haven't burned out! I'm not tired of people."
Prior to her intervention, Valerie had become nearly reclusive at times, so her claim to having a social nature was no small thing.
"I just want to keep going and see what happens," she continued. "I want to keep meeting people, exploring, learning, and living. How crazy would it be if I actually am this social naturally? A year ago if I could have magically moved forward in time and seen this, I would not have recognized myself. I didn't even like people a year ago, remember?"
Those who know me are familiar with my odd habit of responding to emails in pieces as I read—by responding to each concept or story—rather than at the end and all in one lump. I did that here, responding in writing (always with a double asterisk to denote that I have interrupted to respond),
**None of this is surprising, my dear. You're just discovering who you really are, which is possible only because now you're not completely distracted—and distorted, for that matter—by fear. Frankly, that's a miracle. I'm smiling from ear to ear, because I can feel how much happier you are.
"And I feel strong!" she said. "I've had some scheduling conflicts with one of my jobs, and in the past I would have either run away from the conflicts or fought like a wildcat. Now I just state what I am able or willing to do, and then I leave it to my manager to make a decision. She can accept what I can do, or she can fire me because I can't twist into a pretzel to suit her needs. Now I make my own choices instead of responding to people out of guilt or obligation or whatever."
**When you're not afraid, you can see choices everywhere. You don't feel trapped. Kind of fun feeling, eh?
"The other day it was our one-year dating anniversary [with her boyfriend, Joel], and Joel bought me concert tickets to see a band I like, and he showed them to me on the day of the concert. I thought that was so sweet and thoughtful, but I just didn't feel like going. In the past I would have felt super-obligated to go—how could I refuse something kind like that without offending him, right?—but this time I said, 'You are so sweet to remember what I like, but for some reason I just don't want to go tonight.'"
**That is stunning, kid. When I first met you, you could never have been honest about what you really wanted. What you're doing now comes from real confidence.
"And he wasn't offended that I turned down his gift. Amazing. Everything is changing."
**You two are learning to really care about each other. When you're doing that, you never get offended by the other person. You just look for what your partner wants and figure out how much you can contribute to that freely."
"Joel tried to sell the tickets, but he couldn't, and he didn't care. All that mattered was that we enjoyed our time together, so we laid around watching a movie. Losing the money for the tickets didn't matter a bit."
**You could NEVER have been that relaxed about a thing like that before. As a child you learned to be driven by guilt, pressure, and obligation, so in the past you would have gone to the concert for sure. But this time you didn't feel trapped, you made a free choice, and you enjoyed the evening while feeling Joel's love for you. Woo-hoo!!
"I'm having so much fun!!!!"
**You deserve it, kid. It's about time."
I hear stories like this every day, and they all confirm that when we don't feel sufficiently loved unconditionally, we respond with all the behaviors—lying, attacking, withdrawing, and so on—that destroy personal happiness and relationships. When we find the love we've always needed, our wounds heal, and we discover who we really are. That always leads to genuine and lasting happiness. The Laws of Happiness are quite reliable. If we follow those laws, we win. Period.
Replace your anger & confusion with peace and happiness.
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