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Thoughts of a Reforming Victim

By Jillian Sarno Teta

There I was, living my life, doing my thing – from way back, before high school – and it seemed like, no matter what successes I achieved, the satisfaction was short-lived…gratification slowly replaced by some vague discontent about how something wasn’t good enough; or that I should be doing better. Failures were amplified in my mind – I thought I somehow deserved them?

It seemed like no matter what was going on in my life, something was always wrong and never quite right. Happiness was situational or tied to how others treated me. I thought being driven to achieve academically and athletically would buy me a golden ticket to acceptance, beauty, and something much better than the here and now.

My family life reminded me of a child tiptoeing through a mine field. Would today be the explosion? In high school, I felt the need to hide my family life and was on constant edge someone would find out I wasn’t a member of the Brady Bunch, and so thus be ridiculed. I over-compensated, driven to do well in school to get out of my situation, losing myself in the physicality of sports, never quite happy, never quite content – something was always a little bit wrong. Many times, nothing deep or huge, or even anything I could put my finger on….but just enough to stir negative feelings within.

I was miserable, thinking my next “stage” in life – college, med school, work, career – would bring something better, and ultimately, happiness. Arriving at each station in life I found myself just as miserable as I was in the prior station.

Through many series of events, I began to realize that only I was responsible for my feelings whether they were positive or negative. Through some (often painful) introspection, I learned:

1) There are events/situations/themes/relationships in our lives, and then there are our reactions to them. The two are separate: What’s more, there is a time interval between them – even if it is just a split second. That time interval implies choice. Ultimately, we choose our reactions to events/things/situations/other people.

We are not born with inherent responses – we learn them. This is well documented in neurobiological literature. Our brain is like an enormous forest, with infinite pathways that can be traveled. Yet, we tend to travel the same well-worn paths all the time out of habit and learned behavior. In my case, the negative-emotion path.

Realizing it was a choice I was making literally turned my world upside down. I was choosing to be miserable, so I could choose another way. This transcends good/bad and right/wrong. You can be completely justified in your misery, the whole world will tell you that you are “right”, but you are still miserable. This serves you in no way other than to keep you enmeshed in your feelings of victimhood.

We literally can choose a different way at any given second. Is it fine to still be miserable/negative? Of course it is. I would never want to change someone who did not want to change J But for me, now I realize it is a choice.

2) When you seek the approval of others, or transfer blame to them for how you feel, you essentially become their slave: This was, and continues to be, a very tough pill (supplement!) for me to swallow. It is so much easier to blame my discontent on the actions of others or “the state of the world” than to own up and be responsible for my own negative thoughts.

This does not mean that I do not try to be a good person every day – I do it for me, because that is what makes me feel good and that is how I choose to live my life.

By seeking approval of others, I literally bypass my own self-responsibility for my feelings and transfer the fate of my well-being to another person. I have come to see that this is pure insanity. Blaming my negative feelings on another person or situation? Even more insane. Those feelings are ME, they come from WITHIN.

Situations and people are what they are, and in many cases I cannot control them. What I can control is how I deal with and react to them. Caring more about what other people do or think of you than what You do or think is an abdication of yourself. You abjure your freedom, you undermine your own power in the world. And again, it’s not about being right or wrong or good or bad. It is about being completely self-responsible and closer to emotional freedom. It is about owning all aspects of yourself.

Changing my perspective, in even the smallest of ways, has literally changed my life. I am reforming. What does this have to do with fitness? Everything….and nothing. You tell us. We’d love to hear your thoughts.

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