Blog 23: A Philosophy for staying and feeling alive What gives purpose, motivation and energy Part 2

Published: Tuesday, 21 April 2020 Written by Jim Sheehy

3 states we all experience - victim, survivor, warrior/ambassador of healing 

If life is very difficult, we ask questions of ourselves.  What’s wrong with me? Why do I get trapped and stuck, not wanting to connect and engage?  This is ‘the victim’ zone and is a natural and understandable place to inhabit for a while.  Because I do have limitations and others might manage difficulties better and quicker.  But when we ask another question: ‘What happened to me?’ the world shifts into ‘the survivor zone’.  We move from inner harsh critic to a realistic appraising of what led me to where I find myself.  Some of what’s happened may be my own blindness and stupidity, part might be others labelling me as stupid or worthless, some things are just tragic and life’s not fair.   A phenomenal part of choosing to move from victim to survivor is the energy that is sparked inside.  We choose not to be prisoners of our past or despairing of any good for my life in the future.  We zoom into the present moment and consider the possibility of change.  What I can change, by myself and with support, making the tiny steps that are hugely important.  Inserted into that change is failure and rejection because change involves failing a few times until I’m certain what I’m good at; also deciding on the few who you absolutely trust includes dumping those who won’t give you the time of day. Just to emphasise here that a particular hour, a certain day or week can weave in and through being victim and survivor. 

People who are ‘successful’ in a human way are often not wealthy but they have layers of warmth others admire and are attracted by.  They are grounded, part of the earth, knowing that winter and spring happens in their lives as much as nature around them.

If you do reach this way of merging and accepting the limitation of victim and energy of survivor, you enter a third zone – ‘Warrior and Ambassador of Healing’.  Warrior because for others on the tough journey of life, you model the joy of the possible, you are the human testimony that my struggle is going to be worth it, I want the oxygen of being real that you breathe.  I remember a client who had a serious issue with alcohol.  The big test, after 6 months sober, was going on a stag abroad.  He had certainly known the victim zone of blaming and shaming himself for the disasters in his life, he had bravely worked the survivor tunnel by discovering the reasons for the empty hole in his soul.  That weekend, as he chose to stay sober, two men with similar drink problems took him aside and asked for support.  He was the warrior. 

The Ambassador of Healing is the gift of being sure-footed in choosing the right word or holding a silence, of the gesture that is perfect when language is pointless.  When it comes to inner turmoil like tragic loss, addiction, financial anxiety we search for those who have travelled courageously the road of victim, survivor or warrior.  They enter my company, hold my hand, contain my scream, encourage the possible.  In my gut, I know that they know my pain – I trust them and I let them in.   And they lead the first tentative steps in my feeling alive and human again.  The child and the elder are experts in the 3 zones.  The child is fearless and energetic in starting with a limitation, struggling to overcome that boundary and, yes, can they celebrate their achievements and make the whole world smile.  And our older folk, don’t we busy adults love to snuggle into their huge embrace, because when they say to us in our worst moments ‘You are going to come through this’, our spirit inside is roused, the embers catch fire, the journey back to better times begins.

                                 Timing and do you want to change –

                                 ‘This is my time and I am and will change’

At times, we all get stuck practising habits that are unhealthy.  Unless they are severe and intrusive, we put up with them.  If the concept of changing that habit is essential for my own and others’ contentment, two things have to be in place.  The first is timing.  We are probably referring to 3 or 4 occasions in life when our daily experience becomes very challenging.  We might try to deny there’s an issue, or distract ourselves in any number of ways but it persists.  So, there’s a mighty clamour for change, be it in your self-acceptance, relationships, behaviour etc.  So when does our inner self decide that now is the moment to change?  Perhaps the consequences of our habit are stark and harsh so costs hugely outweigh the benefit of continuing the habit.  Perhaps our self-awareness gets clearer: we imagine observing ourselves like the member of an audience seeing how I operate on the stage of everyday life and wonder increasingly why that person is so predictable, so stuck, so dangerous. Or perhaps, a certain someone has the secret of unlocking the armour and mask and believing in somebody, me, that I can’t remotely see not to mind believe in.  But because that person is the one I have chosen to trust, the armour now looks shoddy, even rusty and cracks.  I am now allowing myself to be vulnerable and fragile; the clay is now available to mould and shape.

You can understand why change for some will not happen.  It’s by far a more difficult route than staying with the mask and armour I hate but am so familiar with.   There’s trade-off between security and unhappiness, the familiar and the risk.  If I am unable or refuse to change, others will either part company or co-depend.  The ones who part company are saddened and frustrated that change has been rejected and know that a much stricter boundary needs to happen so they are protected from harm. The ones who co-depend sacrifice their own dreams and become a crutch for the person who doesn’t change.  The wife stays in the home with the violent husband because the children adore him and he is so respected in the community.  The employee dreads each morning coming to the office because he is treated like a servant by a domineering boss, but he so needs that salary to avoid homelessness.   The trade-off is on offer, but so difficult to grasp.

The second criterion: Do I want to change?  Even if I decide the timing has to be now, I need more than that.  Even with the best of support from family, friends, community and professionals, the individual has to work so hard.  For a long time, they only function on what gets them through a day which can be anything from bitterness and resentment at how the world has treated them to anaesthetising the pain with addictions and violence.  Here is a field of opportunity but where to start – identity confusion, traumatic episodes, helplessness in naming and communicating feelings.  Like a farmer transitioning from growing grain to rearing cattle, he has to be humble, assume she knows nothing, trust unreservedly the support team who see and believe in him.  The ‘who I am’, ‘the what happened that caused me pain,’ and ‘expressing sad, angry, anxious and depressed’ develops into a farmstead that thrives.  It takes time, energy and heroic commitment but the product is what makes it exhilarating to be human, because humans can change.

Assume nothing

This a belief I picked up from 2 life experiences.  For twenty years, I taught 11 and 12-year-olds.  Here were these children learning umpteen skills and attitudes.  An idealist and visionary by nature, I tried for some years to have set targets and tended to cajole and pressure the children to measure themselves against the targets.  Worked for some but other children struggled.  I went back and changed how I taught completely.  I started assuming the children knew nothing and observed how each child preferred to explore a new topic.  Some were linguists, others manufacturers, some artists and others philosophers.  I, the teacher, was the conductor, who facilitated and celebrated when they achieved mastery of a topic. 

Then, at 37, I was diagnosed with MS and ‘assume nothing’ held meaning for me in a different way.  Walking, toileting, grasping were assumptions no longer real for me. 

How might this be relevant for anyone who struggles with a condition.  Say a person has social anxiety.  S/he is shy, finds communicating and relating with others tricky.  Assuming nothing is s/he playing with these skills and starting from scratch.  An example: I had as a client an 18-year-old with Asbergers, a form of autism.  Right through Primary and Secondary education, making and maintaining close friends proved elusive.  Now he was starting in College and came for help.   So, his baseline was that he was uncomfortable for any length of time in a social setting, club / bar / canteen.  In therapy, I discovered his goal in life was to be a movie screenwriter and he had already produced potentially excellent material.  He adored Stephen King, the writer.  So, writing and reading were this client’s ‘passion and discipline’, a framework he was very comfortable inhabiting.  And the pathway to sorting his social anxiety.  Could he join or initiate a group composed of different ages, gender and cultural hues around ‘Stephen King / horror / science fiction / creative writing …?’  With these people, he had a peg on which to hang his hat, chat for hours and see where the group experience led.

Personally, I often question: ‘Will my next step be sound or lead to a fall, my presenting in public be possible with bowel and bladder complications …?’  Like the 18-year-old, I am scared and frustrated having to assume nothing.  But this attitude means I need a huge passion and self-discipline if I still walk, still present in public.  For you, assume nothing right now might mean that you take your relationship with your child and teenager and start today initiating and risking being more open and vulnerable, or more available to spend time chilling and participating in the activities s/he prefers, rather than adult stuff. If single and lonely, assume nothing might be joining that afternoon class or activity and risk the possibility of human touch and connection.

 Work hard; Play hard.

Around the age of 30, I lived a couple of years working and travelling the U.S.   ‘Work hard, play hard’ is part of the culture I decided to bring home with me.  On the work side, we need to feel productive and this usually blends the creative (imagining, designing, planning and implementing), social (leads us in some way to communicate and relate with persons and nature) and redemptive (changes and makes better what was there before).  Work can be very broad in interpretation: paid or unpaid, outside or inside the home, interpersonal or virtual.

Take a student whose work is study of certain topics.  S/he will work well if the study-environment (class, peer network, topic material) encourages creative innovation, social interaction and proof of performance that testifies to their mastery of a zone of learning (making a product, a breakthrough in new ways to approach an old problem).  For a student who is asked to just remember information, or is isolated from his peers, or has no sense of making their individual mark on a topic – this is not constructive work and students won’t learn effectively.  A trade or craftsman will do the ordinary task but don’t their eyes light up and their step quicken when they’re challenged by a project that requires innovation, networking with others, discovering a unique solution. 

What about Play.  We are not arranged as humans to be serious all the time and there is more than enough to be serious about.  The balance needs to be struck.  The harder your work is - as an employee, a carer, a volunteer - the more intense and joyous your need for play.  In the States, I’d meet lads holding down three jobs Monday to Friday.  Chatting in a Boston pub, they’d have the weekend lined up skiing in Vermont.  Work hard, play hard.  Anticipation, something to look forward to in the grime and hassle of everyday toil, keeps the spirit aflame.  We know we deserve the laughs, camaraderie and fun-activities; and delivering on what we deserve is essential.  Play brings out the child and adolescent in us: exploring with curiosity, risking, making mistakes and laughing about it.  Time out so we are reenergised for the Time in when we have to be serious again. 




Contact me:

Jim Sheehy M.Ed. MIACP
Co Donegal 
F94 WV99

087 2137922


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