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Addiction to Struggle: How It Shows Up (with thanks to Jung) + 3 Tips to Settle Down

Posted on 06 March 2012

In Portland last week, I was immensely enjoying dinner with my sister, her 11-month baby, and my elder daughter, now officially a ‘tween. We were having a magical time, hanging out at a hip Portlandia-esque natural foods restaurant called Blossoming Lotus, when the talk turned South. We were chatting about middle school, and the topic turned to math. My daughter got a B on a recent test and resented my questions about it. I watched, bug-eyed, as my daughter shifted rapidly from joyously carefree to angrily incredulous toward me. Storm clouds gathered rapidly around us. Frightful. Hmmm, she reminded me of someone I know…. Damn! It’s myself. There it is again! The friggin’ mirror of motherhood! "Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves." -Carl Jung. As I watched my daughter switch gears from being in the present moment with us--hilarious, charming and content, to angry and victim in 30 seconds flat--I reflected on how I do this myself.

My Safeword: "SaraSettleDown"

I thought back to my own childhood, when I would do this, and my mother would say to me: “Sara, settle down.” Mom could probably sense my stress hormones rising (I happen to be a cortisol junkie). “SaraSettleDown” was like a safeword, code for a longer transaction about how to communicate unambiguously one’s physical or emotional state to a dominant partner when approaching a physical, emotional or moral boundary. (Note to the uninitiated: I did my Obstetrics and Gynecology training after Harvard Med at the University of California at San Francisco, where S&M and the parlance of the dominatrix is required for graduation.)

Here's That Addiction to Struggle, Rearing It's Ugly Head

Earlier that day, I shifted from being blissful as I eagerly wrote my book to resentfully dealing with what I consider lesser tasks, such as reviewing balance statements and answering what feel like endless questions from my accountant. Yet, wasn’t I doing the same thing as my daughter—getting all dualistic and bratty? Struggling, again? Creating my own pie of suffering? I am Little Miss Dualistic about how writing and my book are all good, and working on my business is an annoying distraction from what I truly want to be doing with my time. I’m either happy about working on my book, or unhappy about not working on my book. And the contrast sets up suffering, as I’ve learned from my yoga teacher, Ana Forrest. I observe that when I’m dualistic and angry about non-writing tasks, my writing actually suffers. As many of you know, I’m completing my first book, called The Hormone Cure, and delivering my manuscript shortly to Scribner/Simon & Schuster on 4/1/12.

Both, And....

Yet there’s another way to hold this work: “Both, And.” What makes me write the best is when I ask myself: How can I integrate deep nourishment into every moment today, not just my book, but also into every moment of working on my business, which is the same as my writing? They are all the same parts of the whole, not separate entities the way that my mind likes to separate them. This is how we usually behave—we see a reflection of our less-than-perfect traits in others, and rather than realizing that we are seeing this in order to change and perfect ourselves, we stay focused on the faulty mirror.—Michael Berg, Kabbalah scholar and author, and Co-Director of The Kabbalah Centre. In an effort to be of service to you, Dear Reader, I came up with 3 tips for how best to find that “both, and” place today, what I’d call your container of deep nourishment. I offer these tips based on what seems to be working for me as I write the book, as I try to stare honestly in the mirror of both motherhood and the truth-wrestling that emerges from writing, as well as linger in the sweet spot of vulnerable, poetic rawness that serves as fertile ground for my best writing. How can I be the shero of my life, of my writing? I know that when I’m dualistic and push away, I become far less resourceful (and yes, the writing suffers).

Tips for How to Stay On the Middle Path

1. Signature strengths. Dr. Michael Seligman, King of Positive Psychology and Professor at the University of Pennsylvania, taught me this one recently. Rather than trying to change your weaknesses, which rarely works, bring your top 7 strengths to bear on your addiction to struggle, on your penchant for dualism. My top strengths include creativity, love of learning, appreciation of beauty, curiosity and hope. I can leverage these strengths to identify when I get into my struggle cycle, and climb out of the hole. 2. Accountability. Ask your community to keep you accountable. Honestly, I don’t like using husbands for this task. It’s too close and loaded. Virtual Assistants--great! Best girlfriends? Even better! 3. Mirroring? When you get irritated or edgy, ask: Is this a mirror? Something about answering and holding that question keeps you in a place of the poetic soul, rather than the stuck, resourceless, hypervigilent place from which there is very little flow or glow.

Of course, you know that I also recommend yoga to work on your addiction to struggle. That goes without saying, since you already know that I believe yoga is the answer to most things (with apologies and great respect to William Broad, who's new book I'm LOVIN' right now). I feel like I should also mention how a glass of wine tends to increase your addiction to struggle. Isn't that interesting? A friend of mine said to me: "Wine steals the very thing from you that you believe it is providing." True that!

Remember that you never see anything in another that you do not have in yourself, whether positive or negative. That's the beauty and healing of the mirror.

Would love to hear how the mirror heals you, and how you best recover from addiction to struggle. xoxo Dr. Sara

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1 comment

  • Renee Heigel: December 29, 2015

    Thank you for sharing this. I just posted my daily awareness practice, at http://reneeheigel.com/i-have-a-daily-awareness-practice, because I truly know that if you cannot sit with yourself, listen to your inner guidance and be present, you can still manifest fear and stress. There is nothing more important than a daily practice of awareness for your health and happiness. This is what I do daily, along with physical activity, to help me reduce “struggle”. I appreciate your tips here.

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