Escaping the Piranha Tank




"The best revenge is to be unlike him who performed the injury."
-- Marcus Aurelius

A friend turned to me the other day and said, “I’m always surprised at how much you smile.  Because I know you have so much not to smile about.” 

My response?  “What else am I supposed to do?  Die?  No, thank you.”  And I smiled even bigger, realizing how sweet it was of him to say it, but even more, realizing how proud I was of myself that smiling took so little effort.  "I actually think I have more to smile about now than I ever have."

Feeling happy is not about preventing bad from happening in your life.  Bad people will always be here like spiders, waiting for you to stumble into their web and trying to glue you in place to satisfy their own needs.    And bad circumstances – a hurricane, the loss of a job, the death of a loved one – these are all simple facts of life outside of our control. 

Very often, we get into even more danger, and experience even more darkness, the harder we strive to prevent it or avoid it.  We hold onto the faulty idea that if we try hard enough, or work to be just a little bit better in our lives, that somehow we will dodge the obstacle, or better yet transform the darkness in our lives into light.  Especially the “fixers” and “givers” among us for whom giving the benefit of the doubt is like breathing.  All this serves to do is to keep us in the darkness longer.

No, we cannot avoid the bad that lives out there in the world.  For every up there is a down, and for every bright light in the world, there is an equally black hole of negativity.  When one of these energy suckers pulls us in, we want to fight back, hurting it just as deeply as it is hurting us.  But slowly, over time, we come to the realization that we have a choice – accept the darkness into our beings, becoming dark ourselves, or transform that energy into something positive through the power of our own strong internal cores.  And we come to understand that it’s not just a choice, but a duty, because each of us that allows a dark person or event to dim our lights, makes the world even darker.

So how do we do that?  We go home.  And I don’t mean that literally, although it may very well be your geographical home to which you retreat.  Home is anywhere where you are surrounded by real love.  All too often the effects of a bad experience can give you what a friend of mine dubbed an “emotional infection”.  The negativity and malice of others soaks into you, especially if you are an empathetic person, sensitive to others' feelings and energies.  Just as it is essential for some to go away to rehab to deal with substance abuse, it is vital to “go away” to recover from emotional infection.  The longer you stay away from the people and situations that were draining your energy, making you feel crazy and lowering your self-esteem, the more and more of the blackness that you expel.  You’ll be amazed at how your happiness increases and your sense of anxiety diminishes as the “virus” leaves your system.

But, what if you can’t get away from the situation, for example, a divorce in which kids are involved, forcing you to interact with a spouse full of darkness?  Then, you create your own “home”, figuratively by finding someone or a group of people who are there for you emotionally and spiritually.  Depending on how deeply your emotions are infected, it can be difficult to tell who to trust, especially if you've been hurt.  There is a quick and easy way to separate the good from the bad. 

I picked up the term “Constant” from a book I read awhile back.  A Constant is anyone with whom you can completely be yourself without worry; whose love makes you feel warm and supported; whose friendship is trusting and loyal and real; who genuinely wants to see you succeed and be happy – and to whom you return these same comfortable feelings. Literally, they are constant - a rock.  Being with your Constant is not always free of disagreement or strife, but you know that your Constant will never intentionally hurt you, and that if by chance a conversation goes badly, they will work to ensure that you both move past it together, sincerely, and that your relationship becomes stronger as a result. 

Can you think of a Constant in your life? Maybe it’s your mother or another family member, a friend, your boyfriend or girlfriend – it doesn’t matter – just someone who you know will always be the same, loving person whether you see them today or next month.  Now close your eyes and think of this person.   Imagine their smile, the feel of their hugs, and the sound of their kind words.  Think about how good they make you feel just to be you and to be around them.  Focus on how your body and mind feel while you are doing this.  Aren’t you relaxed and just a bit happier than before you imagined them?

Now, pick one of the difficult people in your life and think about them in the same way.  When you're with them, do you feel at ease or anxious?  Do you feel like you can just be yourself and be accepted, or like you have to act in a certain way in order to gain their approval? When you think about interacting with them, is it open and honest, or do you feel as if you and this person are speaking two different languages?  Most importantly, think about how you feel about you when you're with them, making sure to note physical responses within your body - breathing pace, heart rate and overall "icky" feelings.  

Most likely, this difficult person doesn't make you feel anywhere close to how you feel with your Constant.  Because, there is nothing "constant" or consistent about them.  

Do this again with all of the difficult people in your life.  Do you ever feel like you're the only one in a group that isn't constantly putting other people down or trashing someone?  I call it the "piranha tank".  When one person isn't present, they're badmouthing her; when she is, they're praising her and badmouthing the other friend who couldn't make it.  Just like piranhas kill their prey by taking hundreds of small bites out of it, being in groups like this can begin to seriously drain your energy and your spirit.  Little jabs meant to make you feel like an outsider, little manipulations designed to make you feel stupid, ignored or unworthy - they are all the tactics of people who are truly unhappy.  

The only solution is to climb out of the tank, dry off and head home.  The piranhas will continue to jump out of the tank trying to take any last minute bites they can get, but they'll never leave the school willingly because underneath it all, they are hurt and scared and abused people and have no strength on their own.  Stay true to yourself - that is the one thing that difficult people can't stand, because they are desperately trying to pull you down to their level.  When you ignore them and their game, you drive them crazy.  At that point, just sit back and watch them expose their true faces.  Eventually they will implode all on their own, because good people know the difference between lies and the truth.

Lastly, begin to look within yourself.  Maybe the dark situation you've gone through has resulted in financial difficulties, the loss of friends or family or the loss of dreams.  Through my own experiences, I truly believe that this is where we should stop and thank the universe, God or whomever - when we are basking in the pain of all these losses, not later.  Because each painful situation provides us with a choice - continue to shine and grow as a whole, healthy person, or allow bitterness to take over and become more like those who injure us.  Shine baby, shine!  Be somebody's Constant - most importantly, your own.

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