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Can We Skip the Part in the Middle?
Edward A. Pane, LCSW, MBA, CAADA

Ed Pane

My Blog

My client presented her problem. Another family holiday meal was on the horizon. She knew that at some point it would degenerate from the usual, “It’s so good to see you. Look at how big your kids have grown!” to “I remember when you broke my toy truck in second grade!”

Arguments would start among the siblings; they always did. Parents would revert to their old ways, taking sides and giving orders. The meal would be tense; children would be restless. The day would be miserable.

Her husband and other in-laws would shake their heads, sigh and retreat to a safe distance for their own interactions, or turn on the TV hoping to find a football game.

This year, she said, would be different. This year she, her husband and children were staying home and having their holiday in peace.

So far so good.

She went on to describe how her parents and siblings would be angry and she would hear about it. There would be phone calls trying to break her down or guilt trip her into changing her mind. The more she went on the more visibly upset she got.

I interrupted and asked, “When you’re done describing the possible fallout are you going to change your decision?”

“Oh no, not at all.” She replied.

I asked, “Then can we skip the part in the middle, the part where you suffer? Because if you’ve reached a decision and are planning to stick to it the anxiety and stress you’re putting yourself through is pointless. You don’t have to explain yourself to anyone.”

That broke her train of thought. She paused, reflected for a moment and said, “You know you’re right. What am doing to myself?”

And herein lies the lesson.

Once you’ve made up your mind about something suffering serves no purpose. Decisions often come with difficulties and challenges but suffering with anxiety, guilt, anger or other exhausting emotions doesn’t need to be among them. How other people react (or perhaps not react at all) is out of your control.

An old proverb said it best, “Pain may be inevitable, but suffering is optional.”

Once you’ve considered all the information and circumstances and reached a decision that brings your mind and heart to a quiet place your work is done.

It’s ok to skip the part in the middle, the part where you suffer.