My home is surrounded by large, mature oak and hickory trees, which shed nuts all over the place. This sustains an abundant population of squirrels, which dance in the branches overhead and scurry across the lawn and leaves. Sometimes the squirrels venture out onto the road, and when a car approaches they often seem to lose their minds. They begin to dash out of the path of the car, but then they stop suddenly, dart back into the path of danger, and stop again. In just a few seconds they can zigzag back and forth several times.
Some drivers are so confused by this “crazy” squirrel behavior that they drive off the road, resulting in an accident. On other occasions, the driver simply continues on his course, hoping the squirrel will figure out his salvation at the last second. Sometimes this works out, and the squirrel lives, but sometimes the squirrel zags directly into the path of the tire that snuffs out his life.
The behavior of a frightened squirrel is impossible to predict. Imagine standing on the side of the road to coach or direct the squirrel. Impossible. No matter how you waved your hands or shouted, your efforts would be fruitless, only adding to the squirrel’s fears and inability to make the right decision.
People can be as difficult to help as herding squirrels. Allow me to illustrate.
Cindy married late, and after only a few months, her marriage was failing badly. After she separated from her husband, I saw her in person. After she went home, however, she quickly forgot what she had learned and felt, so her mind raced along the downward spiral of all the mistakes and wounds of her life. We exchanged a great many phone calls and texts, one of which follows:
Her: I can’t stand this pain. I can’t keep living like this.
Me: I agree that you can’t keep living in this much pain. But you can learn to live differently. You believe you can’t do this because all you can remember is how you lived BEFORE, when you were miserable and alone. You have 40 years of evidence that life is hopeless. But now you have something that can make a powerful difference. What is it?
(Ignoring completely what I said)
Her: It’s just overwhelming. My parents have been married for 45 years, but I couldn’t make it for six months.
Me: And how happy are your parents? (Awful relationship)
Her: At least they got to have children. Now I’ll probably never have children.
Me: You’re actually jealous of your mother, who has a horrible marriage and two miserable children? Your goal in life is to be like her?
Her: At least she HAD children. I probably never will, and I’ll regret that the rest of my life.
Me: My dear, if you’d had children before this, you wouldn’t have had the first clue how to raise them. You don’t know how to love, you don’t trust anybody, and you’re miserable. In that condition you’d turn children into versions of you and your mother.
Her: I just can’t handle this.
Me: In the past you would NOT have been able to handle this, but now you have exactly what you said you’ve been missing all your life. Tell me what that is.
Her: (with a dismissive, sarcastic tone) Yeah, you love me. But my husband doesn’t love me.
Me: He doesn’t love anybody. He can’t. (Terrible childhood)
Her: So now I have nobody who makes me a priority in their life.
Me: What exactly have I been doing with you for the past week? I’ve spent more time with you by phone and by text than I have with all my blood children put together.
Her: And I don’t have a place to live. Every place I look at is too expensive.
Me: Within just a few miles of where you live and work, apartments are everywhere. You’ll find something. You will.
Her: I can’t afford a furnished apartment.
Me: So get an unfurnished apartment.
Her: I have no furniture.
Me: Easy. Rent it. That’s inexpensive. Or furnish it piece by piece from secondhand stores. Very inexpensive.
Her: This really hurts.
Me: I’m sure it does, but only because you forget that now you have the most important thing in the world.
Me: Yes—or at least the love I offer you—and that ain’t nothin’. If you remember that I love you, and that other people love you, you won’t ever have to be alone for the rest of your life.
Her: This is more pain than I can handle.
Me: Again, no, it’s not. I’m with you. Other people are with you. The inconveniences of life will continue, but you will be all right.
Her: I have no home.
Me: You’re right. At this moment, you do not. But you WILL have a home. Soon. And you’ll also have what you’ve been looking for all your life. When you think about the future, it’s VERY difficult for you to factor in the effect of the one thing you’ve never had—love. You’ve never had it, so it’s hard for you to imagine your life WITH it
Her: I guess I do have people who love me.
Me: You do. Name some of them.
Her: You, Lisa, Margaret.
Me: How do you know we love you?
Her: You call me. They call me. You all never leave me, no matter how negative I get.
Me: And you can get pretty negative, my dear.
Her: Yeah, I guess I can.
Me: Up to this point, how many people have genuinely loved you?
Me: So this would be more, wouldn’t it?
Gradually, her texts and phone calls became more positive.
Coaching Cindy was like herding a squirrel. Initially, no matter what I said, she darted back onto the course of death, almost as though she were determined to be miserable. But of course that was not her goal. She was simply reacting to the fears of a lifetime, and she was using the ineffective—even destructive—tools she had been given all her life.
Cindy had known only pain all her life, so when I—and others—tried to demonstrate our love and support, she could only repeat the past, stating over and over how terrible everything was. I just kept trying to herd the squirrel off the road, and finally she listened. Some people don’t ever listen, but it’s certainly worth trying to find out if it’s possible.
Recover from your negative habits and beliefs!
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