We are wired to deal with disruption. From the moment of our disruptive entrance into the world, we are wielding strategies. What do we do when our strategies fail?
When we were young, our response to disruption was instinctive. When hunger or tiredness or an irritating sibling disrupted us, we cried. And that worked well. Eventually, we learned our environment and our people and quite naturally developed a skill set that would protect us from disruption. Whining or stoicism; hitting or passivity; acting out or being well-behaved. The strategies vary, but the goal is the same for all of us: protection from discomfort or pain.
And then we grew up. We were the adults. Finally in control of our lives. Curiously, disruption followed us and grew exponentially. Each of us acquired “adult strategies” for managing life’s intrusions. The macro-disruptions in my adult life came packaged as loneliness, job stress, marriage (beautiful, but disruptive), years of infertility, job rejection, adoption, unplanned (but welcomed) pregnancies, relocation, financial stress, disappointment with friends, family conflict. I could go on. You can recall your own life disruptions that threw you off balance, interspersed with a million micro-disruptions. Whatever our backstory, we share a common tool belt of coping skills. Which of these strategies do you most frequently use to respond to disruption?
Denial – “What disruption? That’s just life. No big deal.” Consciously or subconsciously, denial keeps us happily in the dark. Some of us have the capacity of living in denial for a long time. Maybe you are naturally optimistic, resilient, faith-filled. You’re not trying to be Pollyanna – it just comes naturally to you. The problem is that Disruption needs neither your recognition or permission to begin shaping you. Disruption will erode your sunny disposition and wear you down. . . over time, bit by bit.
Distraction – You aren’t ignoring the disruptions in life, but you expend great energy keeping your attention elsewhere. And sometimes this can feel super spiritual. Count your blessings. Trust in God. Our hyped up, over-connected culture offers us a buffet of distraction choices: social media, Pinterest, shopping, eating, compulsive caring or over-commitment to good causes. Distraction keeps us in the shallow end of life’s pool. But Disruption isn’t fooled. Disruption will devour your heart whether you are spending your days on Facebook or tutoring refugee kids at a local school.
Deadening – When Disruption gets past denial and distraction, the pain can be intense. Our strategies are designed to keep pain at a distance, right? So what do we do when Disruption kicks down the door and pain explodes our heart? Make it go away! We may not have a happy pill, but there many ways to numb the pain. Sleep, wine, vaping and Netflix are just a few means of escape that help us forget the pain. . . at least temporarily. But at some point you wake up and Disruption is still there. This strategy is short-lived at best, or addictive and disastrous at worst.
Demanding – For those of us who grew up feeling confident and empowered, this strategy is cloaked in resourcefulness and responsibility. Meet every life disruption head on. Challenge it, bark out orders, wrestle to take back control. There are countless sub-strategies: get organized, communicate better, expand your resources, set clear goals. Your MO is to anticipate and prevent disruption. But competence does not protect us. Disruption is glad to sit in the kitchen of our heart, waiting for us to run out of pages on our “to do” list. All the while Disruption is spiking our coffee with resentment and anger.
Despair – For those of us who grew up feeling insecure or powerless, this strategy is cloaked in acceptance and submission. Despair recognizes the inevitability of Disruption and sees no point in resisting it. Despair opens the door and lets Disruption take over the house. There is no point in trying. Disruption serves as a handy excuse for not making an effort in other areas of your life. At this point, Disruption is most likely to steal our heart, because we feel powerless to resist.
There is no order or progression to these strategies. If you are like me, I can wield any or all of these strategies, depending on the day and the disruption. But every one of these responses to disruption has failed me. Every one of these strategies makes Disruption the enemy to be fought. And I am learning that Disruption is just the front guy for a much deeper enemy. But that is another post. . . .
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