Ask Dr. Gayle Lotus Guide column
Q: I feel like I’m being bombarded with difficulties, as if I were the Biblical Job. How can I cope?
A: It seems like the way humans learn to overcome our core deficiencies is by suffering in order to get our attention that change is required. It’s like steel has to be purified in intense heat to clean out impurities. Otherwise we float along the familiar way of living without evolving. You may be learning to establish a firm foundation of inner strength. You can imagine transforming each hit into a golden brick that builds a strong path for you to walk on, like Dorothy moving through challenges down the yellow brick road to the wizard, the symbol of wisdom. If you’re anxious about when the next shoe is going to drop, imagine colorful shoes of all styles dropping around you, laughing when they hit the ground.
Amusement is a very powerful tool to help you keep centered in the face of adversity. You could make a game of it by putting a gold star on your monthly calendar for every challenge that confronts you. “Wow, three stars today! I’m really facing my issues head on!” Also, make sure you have a good friend or therapist with whom you can unload your burdens. I have several good friends who feel free to call and ask each other, “Is this a good time to bitch?” It’s healthy to get things off your chest to whine and complain until you have more perspective and feel lighter. Then you can move on to rational problem solving. It’s also helpful to remember that our problems are small compared to the one billion slum-dwellers who don’t have access to toilets, clean water, or enough food.
Q: My teen stepdaughter came to live with us after her mother couldn’t handle her. She’s defiant and out of control. What to do?
A: Keep her busy with positive activities. Restrict her communication with friends who lead her in the wrong direction. Treat her as you would a terrible two toddler with clear consistent consequences, lots of choices when possible, and praise good choices. It’s important to stick to the rules you establish with her input so she learns it’s a waste of time to violate them. As she matures, she’ll respect you for giving her secure boundaries, but ideally the biological parent should be the main disciplinarian.
Q: I’m in middle school, a dancer. Girls tell me I should eat more, but my parents and I think I have a beautiful body. The girls bother me; what can I do?
A: They’re probably jealous, as about one-third of American kids are overweight. Think of it as a compliment that they’re envious. They want to upset you, so don’t engage in discussion with them. Try, “Thanks for your interest in my body,” and then, “That’s an old topic. What’s new?” Don’t smile when you reply as this comes across as wishy washy, and do practice making a firm statement.
Q: I’m being proselytized by a church that appeals to me because of its family-focus and they want to baptize me soon. Should I go along with this?
A: Ask them about how church leaders are selected and if women have equal opportunity. Do you want your children to see all men in powerful positions? Read their materials and also read critics who’ve left the church so you hear both sides. Take your time. There’s no rush to commit without more knowledge and inner certainty.
Q: My son is in denial about his alcoholism; he says he’s fine. What can I do?
A: Most people think of alcohol damaging effect on the liver, but it also harms other organs including the brain. Have him read this article: http://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/aa63/aa63.pdf You could benefit from attending Al Anon meetings to see how other people deal with this problem. You may need to do an intervention led by a professional addiction counselor. If he’s resistant to AA’s focus on surrender to a higher power, there are secular approaches to recovery such as www.smartrecovery.org and books like Many Roads One Journey: Moving Beyond the 12 Steps by Charlotte Davis Kasi.
Q: I don’t like the outside of my rental place looks; it’s not aesthetically pleasing to me. Any solutions?
A: As you approach your house decide what kind of exterior environment you’d like—maybe today a Japanese Zen garden, tomorrow a formal English rose garden. Rely on your imagination to give you pleasure. The unconscious mind doesn’t know the difference between fiction and reality, as when we get upset or laugh seeing colored light on a big screen watching a movie. Post beautiful photos inside your home and participate in a community garden.
Q: My boss creates emergencies throughout the day to get attention. I get angry and tense, which I know is unhealthy. What can I do?
A: The Buddha suggested we should be able to meditate by a clanging bell. Look at her as your bell to keep you from descending to her negative energy. Try making a game of predicting when she’ll go off and with what intensity. It feels like she’s addicted to the control she feels when she commands attention so I don’t think a rational discussion with her will bear fruit. This calls for an attitude change from you and perhaps other workers joining with you to explain the problem to her boss.
Q: When I meet someone I like, I find myself energetically merging with him or her, and then I feel off centered and confused.
A: That’s a habit to break. When you hold a book too close to your eyes, you can’t read it. Visualize a distinct energy bubble around you and another around the person you’re interacting with. Surround your energy field with a clear boundary such as flowers or a circle of colored light. Imagine exploding the flowers to clear your field when you say good-bye and replace them with fresh ones.
Q: I regard job-hunting (and the workplace in general) as only a slight improvement over, say, extensive dental surgery. At least with the latter, you get nitrous oxide! But I need a job—what to do?
A: We develop unconscious directions for how we expect to be treated. If your belief is you’ll be rejected, that’s what you’ll attract. I’d focus on getting a job that interests you and save worry about how you’ll fit in for a more appropriate time to worry. Just tell yourself, I’ll worry about that later. You don’t need to be best buddies with co-workers to succeed but you do need to be a team player.
Q: I’ve written several inspirational books and would like to get them published. How can I do it?
A: You can start with an e-book. Book Baby and Amazon are examples of companies that will convert your Word file to the formats used by the various e-book publishers. They don’t do publicity so you have to be very proactive to generate sales of your books. Research books such as Publicize Your Book by Jacqueline Deval.
Q: I’ve stayed with my husband because I didn’t want my children to go back and forth to two homes. He doesn’t treat us well but I’m reluctant to break up our family. Should I stay or go?
A: It’s almost impossible for two people immersed in a long-term relationship to change on their own, so go to a counselor to see if it’s possible to teach an old dog new tricks. In my book How to Survive Your Parent’s Divorce: Kids’ Advice to Kids, many of the kids wished their conflicted parents had divorced earlier. Have you checked out your assumptions with them?
Q: My son thinks his stepfather is his biological father. Should I let sleeping doges lie?
A: Secrets usually aren’t healthy because on an unconscious level we pick up on them. Ask your inner guidance for the right time to tell the truth.
Q: I grew up in a critical fundamentalist family and am still very critical of myself. How do I get over this habit?
A: Don’t try to ignore or stuff the critical inner voice. Talk to it; ask it how it’s trying to help you. Then shift to your rational adult self. You could write in three columns: the criticism, the reality, and what you’d like to achieve. Gradually build a supportive subpersonality.