I expect that I’ll be posting on this topic throughout the year. It’s a biggie, isn’t it?
Often when this really important issue comes up, I’ll say, “You know …. it’s the serenity prayer.” I said that at a group session last week and everybody nodded. Then somebody asked me, “Exactly how does the serenity prayer go again?” After I bumbled around for a little while (still spacier than usual because I was SICK, people), tossing words out like “control” “wisdom” “difference” “patience” — I gave up, left the group room, went back to my office (just down the hallway), and got the notebook where I write down things that help and things that don’t help. I knew I had written down the serenity prayer under “Things that Help” because …. it helps.
After I returned to the group, I read aloud what I had written in my notebook:
Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.
Man, that just blows my mind — how simple and profound that is. I think I have trouble remembering it because it seems so …. perfect. When I try to quote it from memory (and my memory can be so imperfect), I just want to stop trying to approximate it, and get to the Real Deal.
As we ended up discussing in the group that night, Part 3 of that Perfect Prayer is REALLY tricky. “The wisdom to know the difference.” I don’t think I’ll ever reach and stay at THAT level of wisdom. I mean, I don’t think I’ll every attain a Personal Development Nirvana, where I’ll immediately know, in the moment, what I can change and what I can’t change. It seems like those are lessons I have to keep learning, again and again.
And even when I name “guidelines” about what we can and can’t change, I have to keep re-learning those, too.
For example, here’s something I often name as “something we can’t change.”
Realizing that, over and over again, does seem to help. Now, that doesn’t mean losing faith in other people’s ability to change. Geesh, if I didn’t believe in THAT, I couldn’t do the work I do. And I’m not saying that we don’t have an effect on each other.
(Wow, this IS tricky.)
But we can’t make other people change, as much as we might (1) yearn for that change, (2) think we need that change, and (3) believe they need that change.
This brings to mind another profound, ancient piece of wisdom:
Q: How many therapists does it take to change a lightbulb?
A: One, but the lightbulb has to really want to change.
Just some final thoughts before I end today’s post. Acceptance of where other people are — and letting go of that need for other people to change — seems to help. That doesn’t mean tolerating a bad situation and letting go of your own needs. It also really helps to clearly state the effect that other people’s behavior has on you, and to express your needs and wishes, and even name consequences, at times. (I’ll write about “I-statements” in a future post, I’m sure, which is a handy-dandy prescription for more effective interpersonal communication.)
But, what other people think and do? Not in my realm of control.
And I’m still working on the wisdom to know THAT difference. Like right now, writing this.
Thanks, dear reader.