Ten or so years ago I developed a friendship at church with a very kind, very wise lady who counsels families in the court system. It took a while to let my guard down with her, as I had a serious chip on my shoulder toward anyone with authority, especially women.
Once I did feel at ease, I don’t know how I didn’t run her off with my endless supply of frustrated questions about human behavior. However, she mentored me very patiently.
This was during an intense time when my life was a mess due to issues of deep dysfunction, addiction and heated conflict that surged within my family. During which I sometimes called her four or five times a day.
Several times, after mentally untangling me from the chaos, she would end the conversation with the question: “What’s your plan for next time?”
The first few times she asked I was confused.
My plan? I didn’t have a plan. I was just venting, it hadn’t occurred to me that I might need a plan, let alone change something I was doing!
Her thoughts were: “These things are probably going to keep happening, they are being themselves…what’re you going to do different next time?”
That question was the game changer.
My friend advised me that thinking about the next time, ahead of time, might change some of the usual outcomes. Maybe even enough to improve life.
These conversations gradually lifted me out of the chaos that was happening in almost every area of my life. They literally changed my thinking and set me on the path of setting boundaries and creating a healthy, peaceful life for myself.
She helped me realize that I could continue to get “hit by the same trucks over and over” and turn to someone for answers and comfort…
Or, I could interrupt the pattern and handle things different next time.
(What’s Einstein’s definition of insanity? Doing the same thing over and over…?)
Have a plan.
When you desperately want peace in your life, you become willing to do whatever it takes to obtain it.
The first time I decided to devise a plan concerned the next time someone severely disordered in my personal life was due to ask for a favor, a ride, or something I was unable – or even quite possibly, unwilling to do. Being intensely pressured to change my answer was the common occurrence.
I decided that next time I gave my answer, if there was further arguing or backlash, I would end the conversation immediately. I would not argue, defend, explain or feel guilty.
Believe it or not, that was a life-altering revelation for me.
A few examples she led me to consider…
If you are bombarded with conflict, what’s your plan?
- If no foreseeable solution, try to calmly state your position and exit the conversation. It is perfectly acceptable to have a No Conflict Rule for yourself.
If your Loved One relapses, what’s your plan?
- It’s normal to melt down, go ahead and do it if you need to. But then figure out how to accept that it is happening. Next, think about what you will do to safeguard yourself and encourage him/her toward treatment without becoming enmeshed with the disorder of addiction.
If someone stings you with manipulation, what’s your plan?
- Try to be mindful that they can be prone to it. Keep it “light and polite” and don’t let your guard down in areas they tend to target.
If a coworker, acquaintance etc., sabotages your efforts, and misconstrues your motives, what’s your plan?
- Calmly present truth, keep proof and maintain a cool head. The truth eventually comes out about everyone. Give it time. Trust the truth to run its course. They’ll reap what they sow. How you handle it will be remembered and eventually rewarded.
If someone makes an embarrassing scene in public, what’s your plan?
- My personal rule is to never participate. Personal matters – especially when volatile, are to be handled privately.
If someone drops plans with you without communication, what’s your plan?
- Reach out, if no response move forward peacefully. Sometimes people who are not meant to be close to us remove themselves from our lives long before we have the heart to.
If you know you are triggered to explosiveness by certain calls or conversations, what’s your plan?
- Don’t answer the calls. Or, answer only during times when you’re in a positive, calm mood and won’t be easily rattled.
If your Loved One agrees to go to treatment in the spur of the moment, what’s your plan?
- Have phone numbers written down in advance to call and locations checked out that fit needs, insurance, financial situations, etc. This helps things flow easily should that time come.
If you are ambushed with someone else’s crisis, what’s your plan?
- Stop, take a breath, mindfully consider your role – if any, in the problem. Carefully consider how close are you willing to stand to someone else’s fire.
That’s not selfish, it’s healthy.
Obviously we can’t predict or plan for everything, but we can prepare enough to make wise decisions in moments that catch us unaware, or pull us into someone else’s intensity.
These thoughts helped me carefully evaluate reoccurring situations I often felt feel run over by (or hit the ceiling because of), so that next time around I wouldn’t be easily blindsided.
And that greatly improved my life.
What a difference a little adjusting can make.
“You can always change your plan, but only if you have one.” ~Randy Pausch
Think of the last time you were caught off guard, if it happens again, as well it just might…what’s your plan?
You can only change you.
Author of Unhooked
Book 2: “Unbroken, Navigating the Madness of Family Dysfunction, Addiction, Alcoholism and Heartache” coming soon
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