“The willingness to accept responsibility for one’s own life is the source from which self-respect springs.” — Joan Didion
When asked if people were doing the best they can, a mentor once said: “I don’t know. All I know is that my life is better when I assume that people are doing their best. It keeps me out of judgment and lets me focus on what is – not what should or could be.”
I love that answer. It embodies what I seek in life: simplicity, honesty and compassion.
Giving the benefit of the doubt doesn’t come naturally to most of us. Our instinct is for survival. Yet the single most useful concept that has guided my life and theoretical orientation is that all coping strategies are a best defense.
What do I mean?
We’ve all been hurt. When the hurt happened we did the best to protect ourselves with our young resources. Over time these adaptive strategies become our way of dealing (or not dealing) with the world.
Some of us gather evidence about the disappointing state of humanity while others bury their troubles in a food, sex, shopping, etc. The bulk of us fall somewhere in between. If left unchecked, this way of being gets woven into our being.
I believe we have a built-in propensity toward realizing our best Self. We just have to get out of the way. When helping clients do this, I begin by appreciating the clever ways they’ve learned to survive. You see, curiosity creates change but it cannot be invoked when struggling with shame, blame or regret. It simply needs space.
When you begin clearing the mind of emotional clutter, you see more clearly. There’s space to choose who you want to be. This type of decluttering leads to wholehearted living because it requires the courage of our convictions to let go. We stop judging others for who we want them to be and start loving them for who they are.
Feeling enough is one the more difficult aspects to adopt within the minimalist mindset. When we’re bogged down with judgment and cluttered with criticism, it requires a leap of faith to believe that we have enough, that we are enough and that there will be enough. It’s a bit of a Catch-22. Only then can we let go.
It’s an amazing sensation to break through our small, limited self and step into our big-heartedness. The minimalism lifestyle helps us with this task because it asks us to take a hard look at what we value in life. Like anything else, it’s a practice. We have to sift through a lot of stuff to discover what’s essential.
The following are few helpful ways to help clear the way to being who you’ve always been all along:
1. Establish healthy boundaries.
Many people think of boundaries as something you set toward others. Equally important are the internal boundaries we set for ourselves. Ask yourself, “What boundaries do I need to put in place in order to stand in my integrity while extending the most generous interpretation of the intention, words, and actions of others?” Setting healthy boundaries means getting clear on what is okay and not okay.
2. Stop numbing.
There are many ways to numb, but all have one thing in common: pain avoidance. So much of the work I do is helping people sit with and accept their difficult feelings. Think of emotions as an inflatable ball. Have you ever tried “sitting” on one while playing in a swimming pool? Feelings are like that ball. You can keep it out of sight for only so long before it pops up to the surface. And the farther you hold it down, the more forcefully it erupts. Sound familiar?
3. Give the benefit of the doubt.
Assuming the best in others in not naïve. It’s generous, but must be applied with healthy boundaries and accountability. It’s not a pass or blind forgiveness. It’s the recognition that we are all in this together. Seeing the good intention in others is honest and invites compassion. And the best place to start is with ourselves.