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Finding A Way to Weather the Storms: Conjuring Happiness

 

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When opposing counsel would call and vow to grind me into the ground until I was gone and the rent was unpaid and the kid had chest pains and his father said when I tried to talk about stopping his vendetta, “1 800 Call My Lawyer” I wrote this to find normal in a sea of dysfunction, pathology, pain and cruelty.

The MicroClimate of My Soul
Warm weather is the end of the winter of my discontent.  I flourish in sun but not so much the winter rains of my home in the San Francisco Bay Area.

My pessimism doesn’t trump my optimism during winter but it slices and dices into me easier as if I mirror the storms.

Like the winter breakthrough days of sun and sitting outdoors and thinking, “Ah, life is all good, all the time.”, I move from one microclimate of my soul to another.

I am the middle of the roader in the genetic lottery. As I write this (aware that new information comes rapidly and by the end of my sentence I may be out of date) science tells us that  three types of genes determine our level of optimism/pessimism.

The first gene has two long alleles. With this you win the genetic lottery:  life is always great, problems are easily overcome, the future is unknown but never bleak.   Another  has two short alleles and with this one you are more likely to see the glass half empty and joy will be more fleeting. The third is one of each allele, and as you might expect, it falls between enduring happiness and pessimism.

This is mine.  I kiss joy and happiness as they fly into my life never knowing how long they will stay and knowing their counterpart will one day be there, but it too, I merely welcome and wait for the darkness to leave.  I know as sure as the sun will rise that sadness is not my constant companion, nor joy. They are my visitors and I make my peace with each.

But sometimes life stressors become huge and in spite of our genes we get ill from the stress. Last year I found myself more pessimistic than normal. I tried to work out of it, but it didn’t work.  Welcome illness. How did I spend my time?  Why looking at the positive side: this is a chance to learn and so I found myself researching every website I could find about this, reading ebooks, pubmed citations, contacting researchers.

In 2006 The New YorkTimes Magazine had an article on childhood abuse and the impact of alleles on how much resilience a child exhibited. Not surprisingly the winners of the genetic lottery were more resilient and had done better over the long term in measures such as education, income and relationships.

WHAT PREDICTS HAPPINESS THE BEST

But all is not lost for the short alleles or those of us with one of each.   The most powerful predictor of happiness is not the length of our individual alleles, but strong social support.   Life’s problems increase our need for social support.  This means we have a responsibility to one another: we must listen to one another.

Listening is called witnessing in many contexts. A person who listens to your pain has witnessed you suffer and  become a part of your story.  When someone validates your experience you then feel,  “I am not crazy, it really is wrong for my husband to bully me, it really is wrong for my boss to tell me I am a bitch, it really is wrong for my attorney to quit the day before we go to court.” Unless you are heard, you become angrier, more panicked and less able to confront the issues with a calm demeanor.

People who  actively listen actively respond.  They might say,  “I went through that. It’s awful. I understand why you feel so bad.  Tell me more so I can see if I know anything or anyone to help you.”  This kind of active listening provides validation and proposes action for the future. This is a support person.

We may or may not need formal support people. You don’t always need a professional when you have friends who practice active listening. As positive psychologist Chris Peterson likes to say, “Other people matter.”

When we act as if this is true, we can bring the value of the alleles down. They will not be as important as the environment.  When it comes to your friends, you are the environment. Nature vs nurture won’t be determined in one interaction, but over a lifetime, if we surround ourselves with those that care, and give it back in return, we can savor who we are and let the alleles fall where they may.

Other people matter.

Ann Bradley

4 Comments

  1. Hi Ann, do you respond to comments? No other comments on here is this new? Any way my situation is complicated, but most relationships with dysfunctional people are right? My wife was financially, emotionally, and verbally abusive to me several years ago, causing me like a under lament of anxiety and depression, while we were married I invested all my money into some real estate and she proceeded to take this property, and leave me in ruins which she did, causing me to lose everything…. finish this later…

    • I do respond to comments. Most posts have comments, this one has none so far, you are the first. I will check back when you have finished and will respond. Best, Ann

  2. I am going through a divorce with a bipolar narcissist. He has hurt us financially, physically, mentally. He cheated and has not paid child support. He continues to challenge me and lie about me every step of the way. I have lost all of my family and friends due to him talking bad about me. I just want to get him out of our lives but he insists that he gets to be around the kids. He has taken everything from them and they can’t take anymore of his abuse and lack of empathy. He has withdrawn his love and affection. Where do I go from here. He filed for divorce, he quit taking his meds, he is spending all our money and he is in the process of wiping his new girlfriend out too. He is a con artist and is leaving victims everywhere. He spends all of their money and then drops them like a hot potato. I have been with him for 20 years. I just can’t seem to stop him from hurting other people Is there a way thru the courts to show he is a con artist?

    • Absolutely. Every family code has strict rules about one spouse destroying the other financially. Forget trying to show the court alienation techniques he uses and focus on the facts of the financial destruction. If he is bipolar, Rx’ed meds, get this into the record. Part of bipolar is extreme impulse behavior, especially spending a lot of money. Get the medical records subpoenaed if a motion to request them doesn’t work – or a motion to compel. Your attorney should be on t of this and if not, go to a mental health website and ask for referrals or look around. If he stopped the meds, this can work for you. Get going! You have a lot to work with – is your attorney on top of this? Calm yourself, think strategically and don’t talk to him about what you are doing – Best, Ann

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