Beat Head Against Wall. Repeat.
We’ve all heard the saying, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Why are we so prone to beat our head against the same wall repeatedly before we finally decide to try something different? Very often, the answer to that question lies in our propensity to base our actions on the way we wish things were rather than the reality of how things really are.
Living with someone who suffers from addiction and/or mental illness seems to magnify this “wishful thinking,” (and, in turn, the painful “head-banging” effect), but so can living with a workaholic spouse, a rebellious child, a battle with cancer, the loss of a parent, a financial crisis, and so on. In the midst of these trials, sometimes our yearning for the way we think things should be or the way they used to be causes us to continue behaviors and attitudes that just don’t work in our present reality. When we finally learn the art of acceptance, we will find the courage to try something different and experience very different results.
Eleven years ago, my then-fiancé and I went to Duluth, MN for the weekend. I thought the trip would be a perfect release from the stress of our upcoming wedding, but it quickly became my worst nightmare as the first signs of Sean’s PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) reared their ugly head. From the moment we drove down the hill into that city, he was alternately irritable, withdrawn, or agitated to the point of rage. The city of Duluth was laid out in the same manner as a trouble-filled city in Bosnia, where he had served in 1999, and he was instantly triggered by nearly everything in his surroundings.
Last year — ten years after that disastrous trip and with much more knowledge and wisdom under our belt — we made a return trip to Duluth with our children. Somehow, we expected things to go differently. They did not, and we nearly packed our bags and returned home just hours after we arrived. Why, after years of treatment and education about PTSD, did we get the same results we had ten years earlier? Because we changed nothing about our behaviors in light of our reality. We naively tried to experience Duluth as a “normal” family would, refusing to accept that things are not as we wish they could be. Beat head against the wall. Repeat.
Two days ago, our family returned from a wonderful trip to what has now become our favorite summer destination – Duluth. Why was it different this time? Because we did things differently. We gave Sean time to decompress upon arrival before we expected him to go out into the city with us. We chose activities that kept him away from crowds and noise, and we gave up breakfasts together to allow him time to mentally prepare for the day. The children and I understood there were some activities that Dad just couldn’t do with us – so we went without him and everyone remained peaceful. In short, we finally accepted our reality and adjusted our behaviors to match it instead of continuing the painful struggle caused by our “wishful thinking.”
How about you? Is there a hard reality in your life that you’re refusing to accept, leading you to continue in behaviors and actions that solve nothing or perhaps make things worse? The solution lies not in beating your head against the same wall, but in knocking down that wall through the power of acceptance. Life may not be what you wish it could be, but through acceptance you can create windows of new opportunity where confining walls once stood.