As I’ve mentioned before, I do a lot of reading and I’ll often be reading several books at the same time. I’ll pick up whichever one fits my mood when I have a few moments to read.
One of the books I’ve got open these days is The Seven Wonders That Will Change Your Life by Glenn Beck and Keith Ablow, M.D. I found one particular passage interesting because it reminded me about perspective and how my life has changed since I got divorced. The passage is actually a quote from Robert Pirsig’s book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance which I read about a year after my divorce was final. Here’s the passage:
The trap consists of a hollowed-out coconut chained to a stake. The coconut has some rice inside which can be grabbed through a small hole. The hole is big enough so that the monkey’s hand can go in, but too small for his fist with rice in it to come out. The monkey reaches in and is suddenly trapped – by nothing more than his own value rigidity. He can’t revalue the rice. He cannot see that freedom without rice is more valuable than capture with it. The villagers are coming to get him and take him away. They’re coming closer…closer!…now!…
There is a fact this monkey should know: if he opens his hand he’s free. But how is he going to discover this fact? Be removing the value rigidity that rates rice above freedom. How is he going to do that? Well, he should somehow try to slow down deliberately and go over ground that he has been over before and see if things he thought were important really were important and, well, stop yanking and just stare at the coconut for a while. Before long he should get a nibble from a little fact wondering if he is interested in it. He should try to understand this fact not so much in terms of his big problem as for its own sake. That problem may not be as big as he thinks it is. That fact may not be as small as he thinks it is either.
When I got divorced, I felt like that trapped monkey – terrified and held captive by my fears about what I thought was important at the time. What I thought was important back then was that my life after divorce needed to work pretty much exactly the same as it had before my divorce – except that I now had an ex-husband. This was the fact whose nibbling I ignored. I ignored the reality that one person cannot be as productive as two people working together. I ignored that it would take me longer to do all of the household chores on my own instead of sharing them with someone else. I ignored the fact that caring for 3 attention-loving pets on my own would be more of a challenge than it was when I was married. I ignored these realities and expected that I could do it all with at least as high a quality as had been done pre-separation and divorce.
I kept ignoring all of these facts about my home life and kept expecting that I could and should do it all as had been done before. I also kept expecting the same high-level of performance from myself at work, at the gym and at play. I expected so much of myself that I virtually eliminated any time for myself – any down time to just relax. I had built a very elaborate trap for myself – one that kept me frazzled and eventually led to burnout.
Today, more than 10 years later, I’m amazed by what an elaborate trap I had created for myself.
The thing is, I’m not the only person who got divorced and created a trap. I regularly meet and work with divorced people who create their own elaborate captivities.
Back then, just like the people I meet and work with today, I simply wasn’t capable of identifying my captivity when I got divorced. I thought it was just how my life was and that somehow I was defective because I couldn’t keep up with everything I thought I had to keep up with. Today I know that wasn’t the case. Today, I know that back then I wanted my rice (all my expectations of myself) and didn’t realize I was selling my freedom to have it.
Like most people dealing with divorce, I’ll bet that you are holding yourself captive unnecessarily too. Check out Your Functional Divorce Assignment to help you identify and loosen the bonds of your trap.
Your Functional Divorce Assignment:
What trap are you in? There are all kinds of traps people create for themselves when they get divorced. Maybe your trap is similar to mine in that you expect your life to be pretty much the same. Maybe your trap is a belief that you’re too old to ever find another significant other. Maybe your trap is a belief that you have no employable skills and no way of getting any. Or maybe your trap is something else all together. It could be big or small, the size doesn’t matter. What does matter is identifying how you are feeling captive.
What are the reasons you believe your trap exists? Come up with every single reason your trap is real no matter how small or how big. You might want to write them down so you can get them out of your head and make sure you’ve got them all covered. Besides, having them all listed in one place will help you with the next step.
For each of the reasons, ask yourself “Is this reason 100% true?” and “What makes this reason true?” I wish I had known how to ask myself these questions when I was recovering from my divorce. What often happens when I compassionately ask my clients both questions is that they’ll start to get a nibble of a fact they had been ignoring. That nibble will often lead to a new idea or a new perspective that allows their trap to be loosened – at least a little bit – which will often entirely change their trap if not eliminate it completely.