What is Struggle?
Updated: Jan 15
While working with a client recently, we were discussing what it means to struggle. I asked her what the word meant to her and while we talked, it got me thinking about the times in my life that I have felt a struggle in some way, and what the word means to me.
When I was younger, I found myself struggling to find myself amidst the socially acceptable whirlwind of what was cool and what wasn't. Fitting in, versus being true to myself. Being popular and being cool, or, being myself. I struggled because I didn't feel like I could be both at the same time. I felt this sting of pain when I tried to be myself because it didn't seem to be what was cool. Thankfully middle school and high school only last for so long, and life isn't always about what kind of jeans you are wearing, what brand of shoes you have, or what brand of backpack you carry... or is it?
As we get older, it isn't just about the brands of jeans, shoes, and bags we have, we get to think about what car we drive, what jobs we have, what neighborhood we live in, what brands our kids have, and so on. The term "keeping up with the Jones" wasn't created for teenagers. So do we ever really step out of this struggle?
Here is my question for you: Who is creating this struggle anyway? We see the ads on TV. We read the books, the magazines and we scroll social media for hours constantly comparing ourselves to others. The societal definition of what we should wear, what we should drive, and what we should buy is created. It offers us this false sense that we will be happier, more at peace, and more accepted, if we have these things and do these things. So, we start to create this image in our minds, this definition of what life should look like, and we work towards that. Why? Because overall, we want to be happier, more at peace, and more accepted. We yearn for connection with others. We live for it.
And yet this dilemma, this constant struggle in the brain, is telling us that it is not enough if we don't have what others have or do what the others do.
After high school, when I was married and having young children, I remember feeling the struggle of being a mother. I thought I knew how to be a mother, and yet with each child came a different slice of humble pie, each with its own new flavor. It is hard work. Trying to take care of other tiny human beings, while feeding them, changing them, teaching them how to do things, while you are trying to get sleep, food, hold your job down, the house down, and still manage to have a smile on your face. That is not always a peaceful process.
Then, when the little ones begin to get ideas of their own, a new elevated level of struggle begins. Especially when you have more than one child. I have five. Five beautiful, precious souls who, when each of them turned about 1 1/2 years old, somehow transformed into liberated ruffians that decided that "NO" was their new favorite word, and they had to do everything their way.
We learn that way too. I get it. But being a mother is hard. And it is beautiful. I love being a mother! But it becomes stressful when you realize that you cannot control anyone else. You can only control yourself. I wish I would have understood this better when my children were younger: That it's not about what happened that mattered, but how I responded to what happened. Because you know what? That is how they really learn. By watching the world around them. Observing how we, as adults, deal with our 'struggles' and how we respond to what is happening around us. How do we cope with our stress? Sugar? Alcohol? Drugs? Binge- watching TV? Video games? Whatever it is, those little humans are taking it all in. They watch everything. And their minds are constantly working on making sense of this world. We are their models in everything we do. We are making a difference every single day by the actions we are living. Is it a good difference or not?
Understanding this teaching is one thing. And it's a beautiful understanding. Being able to stay calm and actually live the teaching while barely getting enough sleep, trying to stay awake, and rock a screaming baby to sleep at 2 am, is another. How easy is it to understand, that our reactions are the teachings in themselves, when the 2-year-old is throwing a kicking, screaming fit in the store while you are holding on to your newborn trying to decide if you want to drop all of the groceries right there and just leave the store, or if someone is going to turn you into social services because you can't lovingly and peacefully keep your toddler well behaved in public places?
As I realized that I had no real control over another human being, this struggle became known to me. I could scare them into doing what I told them to do. I could try to force them, but in the end, it came down to whether or not they wanted to do it. And this was a struggle for me. Why? Because I wanted to be a good mother. Because all of the books I have read, or the shows I have watched, or the social media feeds I have seen, have shown me the 'right' way to be a mother. If I was breastfeeding or if I wasn't breastfeeding, I seemed to be doing it wrong. If I slept with my baby, or I chose to put them in a crib, I seemed to be doing it wrong. If I gave in to their tantrums with a piece of candy, or if I put them in their room for a time out, someone somewhere would tell me that I was doing it wrong. Constant conflict. Different teachings. How do you know what the right answer is?
This is where the struggle comes in. The battle between what others tell me I should do, and what I feel in my heart. The struggle that seems to be so real, so loud, so stressful, is inside of my head.
You see, the struggle that is bringing so much stress in your life wasn't created by anyone else. It was created by you. And all of my struggles...sigh....were created by me.
I know that may sound harsh, but hear me out.
If someone does something mean to you, and it upsets you, that person did not physically make you mad. You allowed yourself to react from a place of anger.
If a person says something cruel to you, and you feel sad, that person did not make you sad. You allowed yourself to react from a place of sadness and fear.
If someone doesn't do something you ask, and it irritates you, that person didn't irritate you. You allowed yourself to react with irritation.
The feelings you are feeling are real. But no one else can make you feel them. The emotions you are feeling are there to teach you something. How you respond to them, how you react to them, is your choice. No one can make that choice for you. No one can get inside of your head and make you feel a certain way. Others may try to hurt your feelings, or cause you to feel pain, but they cannot choose what you feel. And that is powerful!
When my client and I were discussing struggle, she said to me "It will never end. We are always going to struggle!"
And I thought to myself, "There will only be a struggle when we allow ourselves to struggle."
When life brings you painful situations, and it will, you may feel yourself struggle. You may feel conflict rising. Allow yourself to feel what you are feeling. But don't let the emotions take over and control you. Feel the moment. Feel it deeply. And breathe. Breathe in slowly, and breathe it out slowly. And allow yourself to feel that moment. When you are ready, ask yourself why you are feeling this way. What is this emotion trying to tell you? Why did it cause conflict to rise inside of you? Become mindful of all of it. And be in that moment. Pause before reacting. And allow yourself to be.
The struggle is there to help you grow. You decide how much you will actually struggle though.
As I type all of this, I almost, just almost, want to hit delete. For some reason, humility loves to teach me this: as soon as I write a new post, I have a conflict that comes into my life. I know it is there to help me practice what I preach, but it isn't fun. Just when I start to feel like I am becoming just a little bit more enlightened and have a greater understanding, I trip on my own words. So, as I continue to type this, I wonder what life is going to throw at me next. What struggle is going to show itself in my mind?
And when it shows itself, will I be strong enough to breathe in slowly, breathe it out slowly and become mindful? Maybe. I hope so. It takes practice. Or maybe I will stress eat some form of sugar as I try to figure out what the heck is happening. But inside, I know that I am growing more each day and learning more each day. And that is exciting. That's what it's all about. That is how change happens. One moment at a time.
I write this for myself. And I write this for you. I write it so that we may all understand just how amazing and powerful we truly are. We just need to learn how to stop the voices from taking over before the struggle becomes real. Hang in there. You are amazing. You can do hard things. You can choose to respond from a place of love and understanding. You can rise above that storm. You can get back up after you fall. You can take another step into the unknown. I know you can do these things. And so can I.
Let's do this.