Esther Gendelman, MS, LPC, CPCNEFESH International Publications and Information
One word encapsulates the theme of staying the course. That word is LIFE. If we want to choose life, we choose to stay the course no matter what happens. Sometimes, the course is filled with pain and grief while at others, there are experiences that elicit intense joy and we savor each moment.
I might be a young child whose world changed when a parent died, or a special needs sibling was born, or my parents divorced, or I experienced emotional neglect. How do I cope? How do I maintain a belief in my own worth and hold on to optimism that life will still be worth living? What does my course look like? Can I trust myself or those around me?
I might be a parent struggling with my own insecurities while doing my best to be there and tend to the physical, emotional, financial and spiritual needs of my family. The juggling act constantly needs rebalancing or some important aspect will get lost in the shuffle of endless tasks and insufficient sleep. How can I stay the course, much less maintain a smile?
I might be a high school teacher working diligently on lesson preparation only to confront apathy, technology addiction and parroting, rather than processing. Do I stay the course? Can I form relationships where students feel secure that my interests are centered on their learning more than on my teaching? Can I put aside my own feelings of hurt and disappointment to see the world from their perspectives? Can I be there in the present and model the behavior I wish to see? Can I see past the behaviors to the spiritual and emotional beings who need care and nurturing and yes sometimes firm confrontation? Can I see past the eyeball rolling?
I might be a client who has gone through painful experiences. Can I stay the course and trust the process? Can I be vulnerable in a session and allow myself to connect with my therapist one moment at a time? As I wonder about my ability to change after experiencing disappointments, do I dare to risk facing my fears again?
I might be a therapist who invests time and effort in giving my clients the best of what I have and sometimes they continue the same old coping mechanisms that brought them into therapy in the first place? Can I stay the course despite the ups and downs? Can I maintain my compassion and drop the judgment while I simply just experience being there with them in this process?
And the human experience goes on in every stage of life in every relationship, in every challenge and in every profession. We all experience disappointment, hurt and rejection. We all need to be seen and heard. And perhaps, the way we learn to respond to rejection might be the most significant key in determining the quality of how we stay the course.
Rejection evokes powerful emotions. There is no one who will go through life without experiencing some level of rejection. Whether it’s as minor as waiting until mommy gets out of the shower when we want her attention or not getting into a school play, being rejected in employment or being passed over for a shidduch, the possibilities are endless. Rejection, especially from those we love and respect whether actual or perceived, can be incredibly painful. The more we invest into any relationship, the more we tend to care and the more it matters to our sense of self. Even a word or nonverbal gesture might be enough to knock us off balance. And then, staying the course from a wise, centered place becomes incredibly tough as we tend to go to a place of self-protection which leaves us in a place of fight, flight, freeze, or submit.
How we respond to rejection is so vital. If we proceed to reject ourselves because, at some level, it soothes the pain of being rejected from others, we continue the cycle of harm which causes us to trip and lose our balance as we navigate the course. If we work on internalizing our own worthiness and that no matter what, there will be those who might be incapable of seeing or hearing us at a given time, we can develop the resilience needed to navigate challenging situations.
The more we cultivate a sense of innate worthiness, self-acceptance and self-compassion, the more resilient we are to the winds that blow us off course. Rejection and painful experiences are inevitable in life. Our growing pains can become a platform for sensitivity and emotional maturity if we invite ourselves to respond authentically and compassionately.
Wherever we are on our individual obstacle courses, we can meet others, connect, and support one another so that together we can hold hands and stay the course.
Esther Gendelman, MS, LPC, CPC is a licensed psychotherapist and certified professional coach who specializes in working with relationships. She is the coauthor of The Missing Peace (Menucha Publishers).