One of the many definitions of the outdated word “neurotic” is “an impaired mental state brought about by conflicting motivations.” In other words, a person is experiencing strong feelings about something, some of which are in conflict with one another. And, in short, it’s making him (or her) “crazy.”
A perfect example of this came from an email I received from a website visitor. The man states that he just can’t help but be upset over the fact that his wife, whom he adores, dented his car as she was backing out of their driveway. He goes on to say that his car is a source of great pride and pleasure for him, and it now has a dent – caused by the person in the world he loves the most.
He makes a point of telling me that his wife is fully aware of his distress and has apologized over and over for her momentary carelessness. She also derives pleasure from his beautiful car, and has expressed her sadness and remorse to him. He begins to feel better, but then he walks outside and … there’s that dent. Of course, repairing it will make it look better (if the new paint matches perfectly), but it will also lower the value of his car. It will be imperfect, and he’s having trouble getting past it.
He feels bad that his love for his wife and his car are both a bit tainted by his feelings of annoyance, and is looking to me for some sort of new mindset that can help him resolve these unhappy feelings.
Of course I could emulate some TV and radio “therapists,” and belittle his feelings by saying things like, “Of course your wife is more important than your car! Snap out of it, man! It’s just a car!” But he already knows that. He needs a way to feel better about this issue that doesn’t invalidate his appreciation for his fine car and also doesn’t indict his wife for doing something for which she is so very sorry.
What he needs is perspective. Sometimes bad things happen to good people. It’s perfectly OK to feel bad about the car. But, in order to be at peace, he needs to understand that very few things are perfect. He isn’t, his wife isn’t, and (especially after a few future parking lot dings and paint chips) his car won’t be either. Would he be happier if he didn’t have the car at all (even with the repaired fender)? Would he be happier if he had his perfect car, but was not married to his beloved wife?
Though a scratched car should not be a normal price to pay for being married, it is now, for better or worse, a part of his marriage. Interestingly enough, he says in his email that, in spite of his feelings, he feels closer to his wife after seeing how she suffered with him through his unhappiness. By keeping this perspective, he can begin to resolve his conflicting emotions. Will he still notice the fender (repaired or not)? Of course he will. But instead of rekindling his irritation, it will hopefully remind him that his wife, though imperfect (like us all), understands and shares his feelings. A love like this is a lot harder to replace than a fender. In spite of his best efforts, his fine car WILL get its share of dings and chips and WILL eventually wear out. What will hopefully never wear out is their special ability to recognize and share one another’s feelings — for better or for worse. There’s the perspective!
Perspective doesn’t mean denying your appreciation for things. But most things are replaceable. A loving bond between two people is far rarer. Why waste a wonderful relationship by feeling distress? Choose to accept yourself, your spouse, and, yes, even your car, as the wonderful, yet imperfect things that they are.
To my website visitor, try this: When you see that fender imperfection, think of how much you are loved, and how lucky you are that there’s another person in this world who cares enough to genuinely share your feelings. Keep things in perspective. If this is as bad as “for better or worse” ever gets, then you are a very, very fortunate person.
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