Removing The Toxins

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Have you ever thought about whether you have toxic people in your circle of friends and family and how much value they are adding to your life?  Or perhaps it’s your significant other who may be toxic.  It’s not the most positive thing to think about by any stretch of the imagination.  It’s also not the easiest thing to admit that a toxic person has been in your life longer than they should have.  Some people are clearly toxic and we can come to that conclusion without much thought.  Other people may be a little more difficult to put in that category, especially if we have known them a long time or if there have been a lot of positive aspects of the relationship which have resulted in us being willing to overlook all of the toxic behaviors.

The degree to which someone can be toxic can vary greatly, ranging from people who easily get under out skin because they are so annoying, hurtful, disrespectful, or any number of other things, to people who just tend to weigh us down because they always have their own drama that they pull us into easily.  These people may have many other redeeming qualities, so we put up with the drama.  But sometimes it just gets to be too much, especially when this person may not realize or be willing to admit how much they contribute to the drama.

I am trying to focus on the positives in my life and making more positive changes.  It’s refreshing being around other people who have the same attitude and focus.  On the flip side, it is mentally draining being around people who are very critical and judgmental, who push people’s buttons but then are surprised at a negative reaction, who blame everyone else but themselves for everything and are always the victim, who are always looking for others to back them up in blaming others, who aren’t accountable for their own actions, who focus on the negatives, who tend to put their own needs first and like to be the center of attention, who tend to take more than they give, who always need to be right and in control, and who are not open to any kind of constructive criticism.

Just as toxins that come from processed foods, sugars, chemicals, air pollution, and so many other things are not good for our overall physical health, toxic people are not good for our mental health.  Sometimes we need to take a step back, evaluate the situation, and ask ourselves if it is really worth it to keep putting up with the negative behaviors.  In some cases, or for a while, the answer may be yes.  But when the answer is or becomes no, then we need to have the courage to let go of that person, even though it may be difficult at first.  It may feel like a big weight off of our shoulders right away, or it could take a while to realize that we made the right decision.  As much as some of us tend to put others’ needs above our own and want to be there for everyone who needs a shoulder to lean on, sometimes we need to think of our own well-being.  I recently saw a meme that says, “Don’t be afraid to rock the boat.  If someone falls out, then they weren’t meant to be in your boat.”  This is so true.

Part of eliminating the toxins has to come from ourselves though too.  It’s important to self-reflect and ask ourselves if we are too critical or judgmental, if we are better talkers than listeners, if we tend to look for things to complain about, if we tend to blame others rather than take ownership of our mistakes or whatever we might have done to contribute to a negative situation, and so on.  It’s never to late to start making improvements in these areas, which will not only be good for those around us, but will help us feel better too.

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Optimism

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It can be very challenging at times to be optimistic and positive, but it really can make a difference. Certainly, life throws us plenty of curve balls that get us feeling sad, angry, hurt, disrespected, disappointed, frustrated, and what have you, and it’s OK to feel all of those things.  What’s not good is to dwell on those negative feelings for too long, which is often easier said than done.

Not only is it not good for us physically to hold on to all that negativity, but it’s all too easy to let it affect other relationships and other aspects of our life.  Negativity at work can spill over into our home life and vice versa.  Anger towards our spouse can be deflected onto our kids.  Our view of ourselves and our success or productivity can be affected, too.  It’s very easy to fall into a rut of negativity, being critical of others, looking for things to go wrong, etc.  It does take conscious effort to be positive and optimistic when everything seems to be falling apart, but it can be done, and it definitely helps.  The power of positive thinking can be very strong.

Stopping to think about things for which you can be grateful is a good start, even if it is something small.  Coincidentally, I just bought a new wall hanging that has one of my favorite quotes on it … “There is always always always something to be thankful for.” For a while when I was in a pretty bad rut, before going to bed every night was writing down in a notebook at least one thing I was grateful for and one positive thing that happened that day.  It definitely helped.  Channeling any positive energy this might bring about can also help, especially if you can put it towards either doing something that makes you feel good (singing in the car always works for me) or doing something that would make someone else feel good (a random act of kindness, for example), which will in turn help you feel better.  Even smiling and laughing more can trick your brain in to feeling better.  Your brain will react the same way, even if you are fake laughing or just smiling for no reason whatsoever.  So don’t be afraid to give that a try. Finding ways to distress and let go of all the negative energy will certainly help as well.

Some people are naturally more optimistic than others, and I often wonder if they have a more positive outlook on life because things seem to be going well for them most of the time, or are things good for them BECAUSE they are so positive and optimistic.  Perhaps they become a magnet for attracting positive things and other positive people.  It can’t be just luck or coincidence.  I’m sure part of it is not waiting around for other people to make positive things happen and make them happy. They (we) try to be proactive not only with positive thinking but also in our actions, whether things are going well or not, maybe not all the time but as often as we can. It IS challenging at times, but it’s worth the effort.

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Letting Go

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Often one of the most difficult things to do is letting go … letting go of fears, negative thoughts, pain from being hurt, the need to be in control, , the need to be right, expectations that things will be the way we want them to be, guilty feelings, the notion that others will change their ways because we want them to, negative feelings such as anger and disappointment, and plenty of other things.  Sometimes it’s difficult to let go of tangible objects too because they are sentimental and remind us of someone or something.  So in that case, letting go is difficult because we are trying to hold on to our past or our memories.

While letting go is not easy to do, sometimes it is harder not to.  But if we don’t, then all the things we are holding onto prevent us from moving forward or living in the moment because they weigh us down.  They can cause stress and frustration and prevent us from focusing on the positives, what’s really important in life, and what we need to do to make changes so that we can move on to bigger and better things.

Fear of change can be pretty powerful, but sometimes we just need a little push or to get to the point where we are willing to let go of whatever is holding us back.  For me, there seems to be a connection with getting rid of stuff I no longer need or that is cluttering up my house (or my brain) and wanting to make changes for the better.  It is both cleansing and motivating.  Sometimes the decluttering motivates me to make other changes, even if it’s just in my attitude about things, and sometimes my desire to make changes motivates me to purge.

There are plenty of things I would not ever want to let go of though, and those would be my dreams and hopes for what’s to come for myself and my kids; the important people in my life whom I cherish; the willingness to learn and grow to be a better person, to have an open mind and give people the benefit of the doubt, and to be kind and empathetic to others; and my desire to make a positive difference somehow. Maintaining a positive outlook is definitely easier once I consciously let go of all the negative thoughts and feelings.  It’s something I struggle with at times, but I am working on it.

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New Beginnings

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Lunar eclipses are supposedly considered to be opportune times for growth, release, and new beginnings.  They are said to inspire us to let go of what no longer serves us in order to prepare ourselves for personal growth or starting anew, perhaps turning over a new leaf.  Oddly enough, that expression is associated with autumn and not springtime, which is when one might more readily consider a time for new beginnings. But really, new beginnings can happen at any time, whether we plan them or they are unexpected, and they often require us to shed what is weighing us down in order to prepare us for a fresh start.

Seasons changing, life cycles, and things of that nature are full of natural beginnings and endings that happen on their own.  Other beginnings we can plan, like buying a new house or car, or perhaps deciding to make a positive change for the better such as losing weight.  We can prepare for these things by cleaning out our closets or trunks or getting rid of all the sweets in the house.  Other bigger changes like moving to a completely new city or changing jobs may require much more effort as well as letting go of relationships we have formed with others who we know we won’t be able to see as often.  Some of the preparation we need to do is physical and some of it is mental.  It may involve making a clear decision and conscious choice to make whatever change we would like to see happen.  And then we may need to establish goals and deadlines, find ways to stay motivated as well as the determination to keep going, and keep our focus on the end result, depending on what we are trying to change.

Then there are the things that are beyond our control, which take us by surprise.  This might include the death of a loved one, the ending of a relationship not by our choice, a car accident, damaging weather conditions, being laid off work, or changes forced upon us due to the decision of someone else.  It is easy to think of these situations as endings and focus on the negatives, but it is when we try to find the positives and look at the situation as a chance for a new beginning of sorts and a chance to grow as a person that it becomes easier to deal with and we can begin to move forward without fear of change.

One of the things I enjoyed about teaching is that every fall is was chance for a new beginning with new classes and new students to teach and new co-workers to get to know.  It was always a mixed bag of emotions at the end of the year saying goodbye to students I would not teach or see again, but that was a necessary part of the job.

I personally have had to deal with plenty of changes in my life, many of which were not ones by my choice.  For a while it seemed like most of them were making me feel like I would perpetually be in limbo, which is not a feeling I enjoy, but fortunately there are more changes coming that may change all of that.  I am beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel and am feeling weights lifted off of my shoulders. T hat certainly helps me to stay focused on the positives of each situation and appreciating the changes to come rather than resisting them.  The transitions may not always be easy, but they are necessary to get to the point of feeling like it is truly a new beginning, just as it is necessary for leaves to fall off of the trees.

Even though autumn represents things coming to an end, I think it is the most beautiful time of year.  The fall colors and the smell and crunch of the leaves feed my senses, and I can’t get enough pumpkin and apple cinnamon flavored foods and drinks. Endings can sometimes be just as beautiful as beginnings, and we need to look at them that way.  Whether it’s a change or ending we wanted or not or anticipated or not, if we can look at it as an opportunity for a new beginning, then hopefully that makes it a whole lot easier.  As Maria Lago has said, “We all change colors and lose our leaves, then we bloom again.”

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Learned Helplessness

In my last post titled “To Be Or Not To Be…Just Like Our Parents“, I said I didn’t necessarily think that doing everything for our kids is a good idea.  I certainly don’t mind doing things for my kids like making their lunches to take to school and plenty of other things, but I am also conscious of the idea of learned helplessness where the kids become so dependent on their parents to do everything for them that they are not capable of making good decisions and doing things for themselves.  I watched my roommate my freshman year of college completely fall apart and almost fail out of school because her parents practically made every decision and did everything for her up to that point.  They even unpacked her things for her and decided where everything of hers including her furniture should go on the first day.  She had no idea how to manage her time and belongings and get things done.

There are things I wish I had done more at home before leaving for college like laundry and cleaning so that I was better at them once I needed to do them on my own.  I’m still not all that great at cooking, but then again, I wasn’t home much when my mom was making dinner, and it’s not a big interest of mine. Maybe it would be though if I was better at it.

When I helped in my son’s classroom and when I was teaching, I could sometimes tell which students had parents who sit with them through doing most if not all of their homework and are right there to help them figure everything out.  The problem I see with that is that the child doesn’t learn to think things through themselves and struggle with something for a bit before asking for help.  They are also being deprived of the opportunity to feel that sense of accomplishment and pride when they do figure it out on their own, which builds confidence.  It is these students who raise their hands as soon as they don’t understand something when working on class work to ask the teacher to re-explain it to them individually.  That makes the teacher’s job a whole lot harder and why my help was greatly appreciated.  Their homework then is also not a true reflection of their ability, and neither are their projects when parents do a lot of the work on them.

I know kids don’t like it much when they are asked to do things for themselves that they are used to someone else doing for them or when they are given new responsibilities, but hopefully they appreciate it down the road when they realize how many things they don’t need to rely on anyone else to do for them and how helpful they can be to others.  The people I know who are the most willing to do whatever needs to be done to help out without being asked are all people who were raised to do things for themselves and others at an early age.

A Wall Street Journal article from this week titled, “Why Children Need Chores” says that “giving children household chores at an early age helps to build a lasting sense of mastery, responsibility and self-reliance” and that “chores also teach children how to be empathetic and responsive to others’ needs.”  One study noted found that “young adults who began chores at ages 3 and 4 were more likely to have good relationships with family and friends, to achieve academic and early career success and to be self-sufficient, as compared with those who didn’t have chores or who started them as teens.”  Apparently, it is strong relationships that are a more reliable predictor of personal happiness than high achievement.  So it is not only important to teach children to be responsible for themselves but also give them that sense of connection and responsibility beyond themselves as well.

I think particularly with the youngest or an only child, it is sometimes hard to come to terms with the fact that they don’t need us as much as they used to, so it’s hard to give up some of the routines like giving them a bath and start encouraging them to do things for themselves.  While some people may think doing so many things for their children and helping them with everything is the best route because they are being so nurturing, they may actually be doing their children a disservice by not allowing them to learn how to figure things out, do things for themselves, and learn to help others as well.  I think there’s a delicate balance that needs to be found where we are doing enough for our kids so they feel loved and nurtured but not so much that they are too dependent on us for everything.

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