Note: This post was written by Andrea Lee and originally appeared on her site here. We are sharing it with her permission. –Michael
When it comes to being abusive, and the harm we cause to others, it might seem uncomfortably self-serving (not to mention politically-incorrect) to ask ‘what’s in it for me?’ or ‘is it worth the effort?” to change. We’re talking about not harming others, after all, and well…not harming others is, and should be enough reason to change in and of itself, right? Right.
But here’s the thing. When we get really practical about this, and stare down the job of living life as a non-abusive person, hour by hour, day by day, I tell you what. The question “why bother” becomes really important. If we aren’t strongly connected to things that will keep us on track, or get us back on track each day, we’re going to find it hard to have non-abusive days over longer periods of time. This is especially true when things get hard, and even though it will feel unfair given all your effort, there will be days that are harder than others.
By the way, if you’re relating this to the last time you created, or tried to create, a new habit, that’s perceptive, and helpful to hang on to. In fact, the process of stopping your abusiveness involves the same habit change mechanisms as creating any habit, and there’s a lot that habit change science can offer us.
Motivation is a funny thing when you stop to look at it, I think. We need all kinds of it at different times: short term, long term, external, internal, rule-based, flow-based, and probably other kinds of motivation that haven’t even been discovered yet. In order to stop being abusive, you need a plan and motivation that fits for you. I’ll write more about planning in future, and I hope you’ll work on one for yourself. For now I want to say more about what I personally found made the work of changing worthwhile.
(1) I feel like I’ve been let out of prison.
Not every minute of every day is joyful, of course, that would be a lie. But when I think back to how controlled I was by my anger and abusiveness, the visual that comes to me is me: shackled at the ankles and wrists, and covered in concrete, a couple of nose holes for air. It was such a heavy, weighed-down, immobilized feeling. I thought I was living, but I was really only living inside a tiny circle I’d drawn, and I didn’t realize how imprisoned I was.
For just a minute, imagine yourself carrying around a backpack filled with rocks. Can you feel it pulling at your shoulders, arching your back with the strain? Now imagine discovering that you can take it off and set it down, never to put on your back again. That’s it. That’s an example of what life can feel like after you stop harming others. It’s real, and it can be yours.
(2) I feel bone-deep capable.
Unlike a lot of people – maybe even you as you read this – I know I can change myself and that gives me confidence. The fact that I’m no longer that old Andrea, and that I can enjoy and explore life as new Andrea, is something that will always be on my life resume. I understand that if I can stop being abusive, I can do anything I choose. That is an extremely sweet thing that you can have too.
Before when I was abusive, life felt like a tornado in a fun house, unpredictable and unsettled. I imagine you can relate. Now, there’s a quiet clarity. Things are going to be better than okay. They can be way better than okay. Really.
(3) My emotions are available to me in useful new ways.
And finally, I think you might relate quite a bit to this. When I was being abusive towards my husband, my emotions were oh so in charge of me, and I was at their whim, a slave with no say in things. (You could say that they had made me their b*tch.) Now, I call the shots, and my emotions support me instead. They’re my teammates, my helpers, my fans that cheer me on. Want just one example of what I mean? When I write an article about something that pisses me off: wow, the impact I can access by collaborating with my emotions so my words are as powerful as possible? That’s special.
So what’s in it for you as you commit to changing your harmful actions? Instead of being driven around helplessly on a crazy bus of emotion, you can be the driver of a a sleek and agile vehicle and take it beautiful places. It’s a great feeling, and one I really want that for you, too.
No longer feeling imprisoned, relishing the experience of feeling extremely capable, and able to put emotions to use in my creativity… these are just three of the ways it’s been wildly worth it to change.
Clearly there are a lot of other reasons to bother that will be uniquely yours. These might include:
- the safe, rich, rewarding relationships you’ll get to enjoy with people you love, new and old…
- the flourishing of the lives of the people around you when they no longer live in fear of you
- your contribution to a world that’s freer from violence, and being an example to future generations
- and more.
My experience of the gifts that come from all the work of stopping my abusiveness – honestly? They continue to arrive, year after year, like a piñata of delights on the other side of what you’re going through now. I’m here to tell you that you can do it. It starts with picking just one thing that clicks for you right now.
Got any ideas what that one thing might be – something you can choose today to get you (or keep you) going on this road to a new you? (There are a few resources here if you get stuck coming up with your own.)
After reading the above, I’m curious where your thoughts are regarding what’s ‘in it’ for you and how you can be ‘bothered’ to stay on the path to change.