Since I am an admitted optimist, I will also admit it drives me crazy being around “perpetual downers.” You know the people I’m talking about. Not the ones that are having the random bad day or might be in a temporary rough patch. We are ALL that person now and then. And, I’m not talking about the person who struggles with mental illness or any other chronic illness. My heart holds a special place for them. I’m talking about the people who complain about EVERYTHING, seemingly just to hear their own voices. They are the drama queens and kings just looking for a good “drama-gasm.” (I don’t think that needs a definition, but just know it describes a “special excitement” from life’s drama.) They are my complaint.
This morning, I almost joined them. I could list my morning’s complaints, if you really want to hear them, but I doubt you do. And, it wouldn’t help the situation. They’re the same frustrations faced by any and all of us with truthfully little to complain about. It could be a dirty kitchen, a sick family, or a lack of sleep that starts the day off on the wrong foot. Or, it may be a lousy boss, the guy that cut you off in traffic, or the bills that appear insurmountable that trigger the negativity. And, sometimes, there’s nothing specific–just an itchy feeling under the skin. That itchy, itchy feeling that is very contagious.
Nothing spreads like negativity–I call it “a cancer.” When I was a manager in the corporate world, I kept an eye and ear open for any “budding” negativity and would take immediate action to correct it with both individual and team-wide coaching. Though negativity can spread fast, I believe a good dose of optimism and encouragement is often the best antidote. However, it didn’t matter how good someone’s “numbers” were if they perpetuated negativity; they were cut because of the potential damage to the overall team morale. Easier to replace one than to replace an entire team pulled down by one. Those were some of the toughest choices I ever made.
Life is often the same way. Around this time of the year, stress levels can skyrocket due to overfull schedules, stretched budgets, and family gatherings that trigger past patterns. The “most wonderful time of the year” can quickly dissolve into “the most angry, negativity-fueled, how soon is this going to be over time of the year.” It could be a friend that keeps pulling us down and the relationship needs to be changed or dropped. Sometimes, it’s a brother, sister or other family member and contact needs to be carefully limited. And, sometimes, it’s the person staring back at us from the mirror. When there is no identifiable reason at all–just that itch that says “I want to crawl out of my own skin”–I start with the person in the mirror.
This morning was one of those times. Last night, as I headed up to bed, I mentally flogged myself for all the work that was left undone. This morning, as I tripped over items left out and snapped at the cats for being too attention-demanding, I itemized the list of things I needed to get done. I even resentfully added “holiday baking” to my
stress to-do list. (Baking is something I usually really enjoy but, while grocery shopping yesterday, I listened to a fellow shopper lament about her baking “chores” and her family’s expectations. Like I said, nothing spreads like negativity.) And, that’s when I caught myself.
Living with teen girls is very much like living on a roller coaster. One day they’re up, the next they are down. Sometimes both come in the span of 10 minutes. I am a big believer in helping my children learn to feel, process, and respond appropriately to their emotions. I always say, “We wouldn’t have them if they didn’t have a purpose.” I believe emotions are life’s best compass, particularly when we get off track. When I feel restless or angry, I’m usually making choices that need to re-evaluated. And, the answer is typically found by asking some simple questions: How much and what I am putting on my to-do list? Where and to/with whom am I devoting my time and energy? What am I getting out of it? Is it/are they healthy and supportive? Am I taking care of myself? And, perhaps most importantly–Am I part of the problem or part of the solution?
Because we all know, “When mama’s not happy, nobody’s happy,” I believe it is important to check myself first. And because I tell my kids that they are not allowed to throw negative emotions around “like M&M’s”, scattering them throughout the house, I must live by the same rules. Sometimes, the answers don’t come easily or right away, and I’ve been known to simply tell them to “change their attitude” when the M&M’s start flying. Exactly what I told myself when I looked in the mirror this morning.
The picture in the upper corner of this post is a close up of a poster I had professionally framed many years ago. It was a cheap poster placed in a good frame because it is the mantra I try to live by. My attitude dictates every choice I make and word I utter. It dictates whether I respond to life or react to life. I may not be able to control others, but I can certainly control myself and the choices I make. And, that makes the biggest difference of all, especially during the hustle and bustle of the holidays.
This morning, I walked away from the dirty dishes stacked in the sink and turned on a favorite Christmas CD. I looked at the lights that twinkled in the dark and gave thanks for my blessings. In the quiet hours before my family awoke, I clarified what wasn’t supporting me, made some decisions about my choices, modified some plans, and changed my attitude all by starting with the woman in the mirror.
Who do you see when you look in the mirror?
©2011 Mary Lanzavecchia/Transitioning Mom