I was livid with anger. Who else could generate such self-righteous indignation in me other than my husband? He had as usual blamed it all on me under the veneer of honesty, without taking any responsibility, no compassion or empathy for my feelings, and what seemed like irrational exaggerated anger-laden accusations. I was ready to quit, because for a long enough time, I had so desperately tried to change my husband’s communication style with no success.
In the moment, I decided to try something different than my usual urge to run away. I decided to sit and meditate over my anger, as long as it would take, determined to understand all sides of this debilitating emotion. After all, we had little children who we both cared very deeply about and somewhere in my mind I had some guilt about my part in our conflict. Slowly I got insights into both our predicaments and a deep sense of empathy. I truly appreciated my husband’s fierce loyalty to our marriage, his original way of thinking about problems, and the reason why I had fallen in love with him in the first place.
Something very significant happened as I was sitting in meditation. For the first time, I took full responsibility for my own weakness which was stopping me from having a relationship; a great relationship – not just a workable one. My weakness was my narcissistic need to feel “extraordinary and perfect.”
As soon as I felt fallen from the pedestal and an ordinary imperfect one, I was engulfed in restless resentment. I would lash out in a way that usual destruction would follow. I also realized that I probably did that with friends as well, keeping all relationships at bay. What had made it difficult to identify was the fact that I did possess some unique qualities that made it possible to create a pool of admirers/friends around me. The sad truth was that I was alone and uncomfortable in the middle of so many intimate friends.
Now comes the good part! This realization started a very important process. Ironically, my acceptance that I am just like everybody else brought my unique qualities out effortlessly. Once I let go of the need to be extraordinary and began identifying ways in which we are all together in the same boat, my energy was redirected in appreciating people’s unique and enchanting qualities, including my husband’s. I did not need to be perfect and this allowed me so much creativity without worrying about the failure. It was OK to make mistakes and admit them. I can seriously mark this as the beginning of my having better personal relationships and more professional success.
Life still held sometimes excruciating difficulties, but I no longer felt unstable and alone. I could patiently wait for the light at the end of the tunnel without the usual restless wiggle and wounds. Light always shows up!
But this article is not about how to make a relationship work, or about benefits of meditation, or how to achieve your professional goals in life. It is about identifying your “Achilles’ heel:” the one trait which weakens your otherwise strong qualities and makes you unstable. More importantly, it is about how to heal the Achilles Heel. I promise a much higher quality of life!
I want to call this process RAIN, a modified version of a mindfulness meditation termed RAIN.
R: Recognize your Achilles’ Heel. Not as simple as it sounds! The best way to recognize it is to look at a crisis you have had in life. Think of your behavior that may have either created the crisis or made it worse. Some crisis just happen, like natural disasters, but your Achilles’ Heel can blow it out of proportion. Here comes the important aspect to notice. Can you identify a pattern of such behaviors from the past, albeit in milder situations? How do you typically behave when you are under stress, distress, disappointments or not in control?
What are the people close to you telling you about you? Is there any truth in their analysis? @SwatiMeditate (Click to Tweet!)
If you take away justification or judgment from assessing your own behaviors, what do you objectively and honestly see?
Here are some examples:
You may be otherwise a fair and reasonable person but when disappointed or when something seems unjust, how angry do you get? Do you act out against yourself with self-harming or addictive behavior? Or do you harm the other person by an explosive violent behavior? You may have a good reason to feel the disappointment, but acting out too intensely is your Achilles’ heel.
You may be otherwise fun to be around but when reality does not fit the ideal picture in your head, you become very irritated. You try to control others by ordering them around or blaming them for not doing the right thing. Others feel constantly on edge around you because they don’t know when they will be subjected to your sudden mood-swings. Your inability to accept imperfections in people and your surroundings is your Achilles’ heel.
You may otherwise be a joyful person to be around, but when you promise great outcomes are you able to fulfill your own promises? People may feel wonderful around you initially but eventually disappointments may mount, either because of your unintended flakey behavior or your overly optimistic careless estimation. Believing in you may lead to disastrous outcomes. People pleasing by carelessly promising too much may be your Achilles’ heel.
If you are not aware of your Achilles’s heel, all such situations can lead to a crisis or can make a natural crisis unbearable for you and everybody around you.
A: Accept your Achilles’ Heel. This may sound like cliché advice, but it really is the most important prerequisite for looking at yourself objectively. This involves self-acceptance and being okay with whatever you find. In fact, full acceptance of “this is how it is” will already begin to make a difference in the outcome of events. Accept with humility that it is a weakness and apologize to yourself that it has created so many problems. Surely there are strong justifications for your reactions, but it has created unwarranted problems nevertheless. Accept that you don’t know when things will change but that you will keep up your efforts. In order to feel safe in accepting your Achilles’ heel, it helps to have one or two allies who understand your weakness and are still supportive.
I: Investigate Insights. Insights are about knowing why you developed your Achilles’ heel and about alternative ways to deal with the familiar distress. You want to investigate and get insights; however, this is not a project with a deadline and performance evaluation at the end. Let it evolve at your own pace. I suggest a few ways to investigate. One is to meditate over the distress by watching how the distress feels and seeing where it goes. Second is to put in focused effort by reading books, going to therapy, and actively contemplating. Third is to daydream about how you want the outcome to be. In the process, sometimes creative solutions can come up. In all these different ways, you will be surprised to find an insight falling into your lap in unexpected ways.
N: Notice the Change. As is said in the “Autobiography in Five Chapters,” you may find yourself in the same hole again but each time you will get out sooner. There may be a disappointing relapse of a familiar pattern, but notice if you got out of it sooner this time around. Even when you feel disappointed that “it happened again,” notice that it is not the same as “nothing ever changes.” Actively look for changes and acknowledge them.
Just remember, when it RAINs, it pours. May you be blessed with ample RAIN followed by sunshine and fresh air.
Dr. Swati Desai is on sabbatical from her position as the Director of Integrative Psychological Services at the The Akasha Center for Integrative Medicine, a Meditation Teacher, and a Psychotherapist. For more, please visit her website and follow her on Facebook and Twitter.
Image courtesy of Sergio Alvarez.